As many of you know, I’m currently in the midst of planning a family trip to Asia in 2020. I’m a bit obsessive-compulsive, so like to get the details squared out in my head before the flights are even booked. Originally, I was planning on going to Japan and stopping in Hawaii on the way. All of that is ancient history now because I have a new plan. 🙂
The other day I was picking up the kids from school and my son said he was studying China history that day. He then proceeded to ask me if I could take him to see Great Wall instead of Japan. You know what, bud? We can actually do both.
The idea of adding China to Japan itinerary did occur to me before. However, there are so many places I want to explore, and a three night extension (at most) just wouldn’t do it justice. For amazing images of China interior, I highly recommend watching the movie called “The painted veil”, starring Edward Norton and Naomi Watts.
Besides, visas to China would be expensive for my family, close to $1k when factoring in various fees. But guess what? Upon some research, I have discovered that we can add a Beijing visit and qualify for a visa-free stay. You can see the specifics of this policy here. I also recommend this Flyertalk thread that details potential issues. Here is the gist of 144-hour visa-free transit in Beijing: We can’t fly from US and back if we are only visiting China, but coming from Japan and flying to US is fine.
Some folks even book a flight with a short connection in the third country, but it’s risky and airline agents in US may not let you board the flight. I will be saving China for last anyway, just in case.
Obviously, the policy could change and entering China visa-free is at the discretion of immigration officers. For example, if you’ve been to Middle East (I haven’t), they may turn you away. Basically, you are at a whim of Chinese officials, but most people don’t seem to have any problems as long as they qualify. I’m willing to take my chances in order to save $1k. I’ve emailed Stefan at RapidTravelChai, who is an expert on China and even happens to have a Chinese wife. He told me my itinerary is perfectly fine.
I’ll have to give up Hawaii, but that’s OK. Given a choice of seeing a Great Wall of China or staying in Waikiki, I’m going to the Wall, y’all!
So, here is my rough plan:
- Fly to Tokyo and spend 3 nights.
Fly to Hiroshima and then take a ferry to Miyajima island (spend 2 nights there)
Take a bullet train to Kyoto and spend 3 nights.
Fly to Beijing from Osaka and spend 3 nights. Back to US.
Yes, I know it’s a very hectic itinerary and no, we can’t stay in Japan or China longer. Factoring in overnights in US airports on the way to/from Asia, this is all I have to work with. I also have to make sure my husband has at least one day off before going back to work.
I realize Miyajima island is a very odd choice. Originally, I was planning on spending two nights in Hakone, near mount Fuji. However, my husband specifically requested visiting Hiroshima and A-bomb memorial. I honestly have zero desire to do that. It’s a depressing place that to me represents the worst of humanity. I realize it’s important and respect others’ desire to go there. I just don’t want to, and would be lying if I said otherwise.
But we will be going regardless, and Miyajima seems like a neat base to spend a few nights because it’s right next to Hiroshima. It’s scenic and laid-back, a perfect antidote to Tokyo. Most people come to Miyajima for only few hours, but I want to stay and enjoy it in the evening after the hordes of tourists have left. I really don’t want to do Hiroshima as a day trip from Kyoto. It’s doable, but I don’t think my husband would approve. Plus, if we stopped in Hakone, it would be for the sole reason of getting a clear view of Fuji. And the chances of that are slim in May.
I have enough miles to pull this thing off, and we may not make it to Asia as a family again. I really want to do it right and to have no regrets afterwards. I probably won’t book any tours, and do sightseeing at a leisurely pace to make up for all the moving around.
I’m not good at keeping a secret, so already told the kids about my plan. My son was excited at first. However, when I refused to take him to Burger King for a snack, he angrily said that he wants me to cancel the trip to Japan and China. I told my husband about it and he goes: “Son, even daddy can’t cancel Japan and China, and I’ve tried. What do you think your chances are?”
I hope he feels the same way when I book him a Kawaii makeover in Harajuku district, similar to what Conan O’Brien got during his trip to Tokyo:
So, what do you guys think? What would you change in my plan?
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.