Travel: Osaka, Kyoto and Nara with Kids during the Golden Week

I’ve always been somewhat of an impromptu traveller, but this was the first time that I embarked on a trip with blanks in my itinerary – there were a few days where we decided on the place on the day itself by looking at Tripadvisor! When I told my friends that we were going to Osaka, their responses were mixed. They felt that there was “only shopping and eating” in Osaka. Before going there, I was a bit worried but it turned out that my worries were unfounded, because the places of interest differ for people with and without children. Neither of us spoke Japanese, but we got through as the people there were polite and helpful. 

We brought along our two children aged 3.5 years old and 1.5 years old. 

Getting There

We flew to Osaka on Singapore Airlines on promotional fare. It was a 6-hour direct flight to Kansai Airport (KIX) and the inflight entertainment and service helped to make things slightly easier. On arrival, we purchased the ICOCA card which could be used for the airport express into the city as well as on all the trains we took. The ICOCA card can also be used at convenience stores, much like the T-Money in Korea or EZ-Link here.

My friend passed us a data SIM card with unlimited data that we used during the trip. It was much more convenient than using a WIFI router. 

Accommodation

Being budget-conscious, I booked an AirBNB apartment located a minute away from Kishinosato station which is a few stations away from Osaka Metro Namba station and seven minutes away from Tengachaya, an interchange station that the Airport Express trains stop at. The space was clean, spacious, newly built and had all the necessary facilities like a kitchen, washing machine and bathtub. It was a small apartment complex with one apartment on each floor.

However, it seems like most apartments have rather late check-in and early check-out times. In addition, we had to register at a tourist cafe before we were allowed to check in as part of the regulations. It seems to be only for our host, so it depends.

Our first day was ruined because we took a red-eye flight and reached Osaka very early in the morning yet could only check in at 4pm. That said, we liked the neighbourhood. There was a takoyaki booth, old-school supermarket, convenience stores and the kids loved that there was a fire station nearby.

Getting Around

Taxis are scarily expensive in Japan and it was not considered as one of our modes of travel. There is Uber in Osaka if you are in a desperate situation, but otherwise, the trains served us just fine. As we had two children, we borrowed a travel stroller from a friend and had a baby carrier. Most stations we were at had elevators. In Osaka, the train lines have different operators, so you have to be careful which line you get on to. There are signs in English with corresponding platform numbers and departure times. Trains in Osaka are extremely accurate, efficient and punctual. 

I’d downloaded a few travel applications but in the end, nothing beat Google Maps. 

Places of Interest

Kids Plaza Osaka

Directions: 1 minute away from Ogimachi station

Kids loved this place. Start from level 5 where the main exhibits are. It’s a large space with so many things for kids to do! There are live reptile and fishes, a bubble station, a large ball run, news studio, percussion instruments, a “world exhibit” where children can put on costumes from other countries, train station mock-up and in the middle there’s a slide for kids above 120cm (?) to slide down to level 4. There’s also a long netted bridge suspended in the air for kids to venture to the lower floors. 

On level 4, there’s the Kids Town with some interesting features such as the supermarket. Kids can choose their groceries, scan them and get a printed receipt of their “purchases”! There are little kiosks for kids to play pretend – a cake stand, bread shop, sushi kiosk and the takoyaki booth has to be the most fun of all. There isn’t much else to do in the other parts of the towns, but the kids can play postmen by delivering letters to the right postboxes. The Kids Town portion is nowhere as interactive as Kidzania but it will entertain young kids. 

Level 3 is the “IT zone” and where the craft workshops are held. 

Ogimachi Park

Directions: Right outside Ogimachi station

This is just a small park with slides and there’s no pressing reason to visit this place other than the fact that it’s near Kids Plaza. This was where I had an accident on the slide which left me with a huge bruise on my eye for the entire trip. Let’s just say that adults should not go on slides that are meant for children. 

Nara Park

Directions: Take the Kintetsu-Nara train from Osaka Namba station or follow this guide. The park is about a 10 minute stroll from the station. 

It’s that ~famous~ place populated with wild deer. We heard of news that the deer were starting to become more aggressive, but decided to go anyway because I believe animals don’t attack for no reason. 

There are pushcarts selling packs of deer crackers, or senbei for 150¥. The deer have a keen sense of smell and we had a deer stick its nose in my bag where the senbei were hidden. Some deer follow you if they want more. Some deer have been overfed and don’t budge even if there’s a cracker in front of their faces. Some deer can bow to say thanks. 

Walk beyond the main feeding area and there’s Todaiji temple and a beautiful green grassy patch for the kids to run around, albeit scattered with round deer droppings. These pellets are everywhere, there’s no use trying to avoid them. A long, slow trek brought us up to a shrine and medieval forest. It was sunset and we were the only ones along the stretch. The musky scent of forest trees and fresh cool air was refreshing. 

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#bibimbubsinosaka Day 3 Nara Park is listed as one of the must-go places with children. We met up again with @childrenlovetoplay and took a train ride to Kintetsu Nara station which was a short walk from the start of the park. We'd heard about the deer being aggressive and there were warning signs stating that the deer bite, kick and headbutt but we went ahead to buy the deer crackers. The deer are smart and can sense when you have food and will come running over. Some will prod you for more crackers. Some deer have learnt how to bow to say "thank you". Further up ahead was a large green field with loads of deer droppings but with a "couple tree" and the best scenery! The kids loved running and making us swing them around. The entire park is large and we took a stroll up to the shrines which were closed by the time we reached. The walk down was serene and quiet. #osakajapan #osaka #kidstravel

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Tsurimi Ryokuchi / Flower Expo Memorial Park 

Directions: Outside Tsurimi Ryokuchi station

This place is large, and we probably didn’t manage to see it in its entirety. We went around the areas that were modelled after various countries (no Singapore pavilion, we’re too insignificant). If you like flowers, this is where you should go. The colours are so relaxing to the eyes. The main feature of the  

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#bibimbubsinosaka Day 5 We woke up early and set off for Tsurimi Ryokuchi, a flower park with features dedicated to various countries of the world. The kids discovered dandelions, hunted spiders and watched ducks swim in front of a manmade waterfall. After that, we met @childrenlovetoplay at Osaka Aquarium. I purchased tickets at @klooktravel_sg to beat the queue. Being at the #2 attraction in Osaka in the Golden Week meant that the popular exhibits like the Penguins and Dolphins were utterly crowded. The aquarium starts from the 7th floor and goes in a downward spiral to the 3rd floor. The kids managed to squeeze themselves inside and the crowd thinned as we went downwards. Then it started pouring after, but we got on the Tempozan Ferris Wheel anyway. It being a rainy day meant that the view was disrupted, but it helped allay my fear of heights. #travel #travelwithkids #osaka

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Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan

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#bibimbubsinosaka Day 5 On this day, the whole family somehow woke up extremely early. We had breakfast in our apartment instead of spending an hour at the eatery and were out by 10am. We decided to go to the Flower Expo Park, also known as Tsurumi Ryokuchi. There are mini versions of the attractions in various countries. The highlight of this park is a large windmill with a field of flowers in front. The kids seemed to enjoy the Canada attraction with the waterfall where the ducks were more. After the Flower Expo Park, we went down to the Osaka Aquarium. We entered at about 4pm, but the aquarium opened until 8pm. Elise loved taking photos with her tiny kid's camera. I'll have to download them into my com first. #travelwithkids #osaka #japan #sgmum #sgkids #sg50 #sg52

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Kyoto: Yasaka Shrine, Maruyama Park, Gion Street

Directions from Osaka: Hankyu Umeda Station -> Limited Express train to Kyoto or use this link

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#bibimbubsinosaka Day 6 & 7 It's actually #bibimbubsinkyoto, because we took day trips out on both days. All you need to do is hop on a Limited Express train from Hankyu Umeda station. The journey only takes 40 minutes! . . Kyoto is indeed scenic, but there are mostly temples and shrines which may not keep the kids entertained. There is a railway museum, aquarium as well as other smaller museums which could be suitable for younger children. . . On the first day, we headed to Maruyama Park and Yasaka shrine. We traversed through Gion and caught a glimpse of Kinomizudera Temple. The second day was horrible. We queued up to enter Nijo Castle but it was a complete waste of time. We didn't appreciate walking past rooms of murals and should have toured the castle grounds instead. It was also horrible because we had a disagreement and sulked the entire day away. The saving grace was when we found this quaint place called Maeda Coffee, a cafe/restaurant that grinds and roasts their own coffee and serves the best hashed rice and katsukare. . . #japan #maruyamapark #kyoto #yasakashrine #gion #sg50 #sg52 #travelwithkids #travelgram

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Osaka Castle

Directions: Morinomiya station

Kodomonia 

Directions: Namba Parks Level 5, near Namba station

Referral Links

Gain credits by using my referral links to book your trip! Shopback can be used on top of promotional codes to book your accommodation through AirBNB or other hotel sites!

Lodging/Apartment: AirBNB
Attractions:
Klook
Cashback: Shopback

Expenses

Airfare, accommodation and travel insurance totalled S$3,211 and I changed S$2,000 to Japanese yen (164,000¥) and brought along an additional S$500 (41,000¥) as emergency money. In total, we spent S$5,011 for 9 days. 

Airfare

We managed to secure promotional fares through Singapore Airlines for S$2,438 (2 adults, 1 child, 1 infant). This included S$200 in change fees for rescheduling our flight. 

AirBNB

The AirBNB apartment cost me S$710 for 8 nights inclusive of cleaning fees. I booked the apartment from An, a Superhost

Transport

Most of our money seemed to go towards transport. Each time we topped up the card, we used about 4,000¥ for two. We must have spent about S$200 on transport alone.

Food

Decent food can be had for about 2000¥ (~S$25) per meal for 2 adults and 2 young children. Due to our children’s preferences for gyudon, we mainly had our breakfast meals at Sukiya and Matsuya. These are just chain restaurants with standard fare. One of the more memorable meals we had was at Maeda Coffee in Kyoto, which my husband stumbled upon after a huge argument. It happened to be a highly recommended place in the end, which alleviated our moods. 

Otherwise, food is abundant in Osaka, from kaitenzushis to ikazayas, chain eateries and restaurants, you’ll never go hungry. Even the convenience stores offer tasty options like oden and bento. 

Trip.com X Nirwana Gardens Hotel Bintan *GIVEAWAY + PROMO CODE*

Trip.com

Trip.com is a one-stop travel solutions provider offering hotel, flight, train and car bookings. Part of the CTrip Group (which acquired Skyscanner), a NASDAQ-listed company since 2003, Trip.com has over 30,000 employees and over 300 million members with worldwide coverage of over 1.2 million hotels in more than 200 countries and flights to over 5,000 cities. 

One of the largest online travel agencies in the world, it ranked in the Top 30 of Forbes World’s Most Innovative Companies. It has 9 global offices with one in Singapore.

Bookings can be made via Trip.com or on its mobile app (Apple and Android versions available). The app is fuss-free and straightforward. Plan your trip in-app using My Trips to monitor your flight status and hotel confirmations. There’s a Rewards Program called PointsPLUS where you can accumulate points to redeem airline miles and other services. 


Nirwana Gardens

Nirwana Gardens is a resort located at the northern part of Bintan with various accommodation types to suit all sorts of travellers – from families with children to honeymooners, employees on corporate retreats and solo backpackers. Spanning across 330 hectares, there is a wide range of facilities such as the infinity pool, fitness studio, dive centre, jumbo elephant park, recreational activities, water sports and kids club. Food and beverages are available in the resort’s 14 restaurants, bars and pubs.

There are a total of 5 unique properties in Nirwana Gardens:

  • Nirwana Resort Hotel, where we stayed at, is the largest accommodation with 242 rooms, all facing either the pool, garden or sea. All the standard facilities of a hotel room are included. 
  • Indra Maya Pool Villa, 8 exclusive and beautiful pool villas with individual courtyards and private pools facing the South China Sea. Indra Maya Pool Villas come with Personalised Villa Host Services. 
  • Banyu Biru Villa, newly refurbished double-storey 2 or 3 bedroom villas fully equipped with all the comforts of home that are perfect for group gatherings or large families. 
  • Mayang Sari Beach Resort includes 51 air-conditioned chalets with attached bathrooms and private verandahs. Choose between the Sea View chalet, Garden View chalet or Family Loft. 
  • Nirwana Beach Club is for water sports lovers. 42 decorated cabanas situated near the dive centre provides easy access to the sea. Sundecks are available for those who suntan.

The latest addition to the group is Grand Lagoi Hotel by Nirwana Gardens. It is approximately 10 minutes away by car from its sister resort.

You might not be aware, but Nirwana Gardens has a Newborn Turtle Release project as part of its corporate social responsibility efforts. They operate a turtle conservatory and hatchery to protect turtles and hatchlings from predators and poachers. Established since 2005 to increase awareness of marine conservation and increase the declining number of turtles in the region, the successful programme has seen 431 green turtles and 916 hawksbill turtles released into the ocean in 2017 alone. Resort guests are welcome to view the release of turtle hatchlings into the ocean which occurs between June to September each year.



The resort is well paved with roads but of a distance to travel via foot. With the convenient travel options like the complimentary shuttle bus, buggy or car, we didn’t see anyone walking from point to point!

Nirwana Resort Hotel

From Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal, it takes a comfortable 55-min ferry ride via Bintan Resort Ferries and a 10-min land transfer to reach the hotel lobby. Upon arrival, we were treated to a traditional Indonesian dance with live percussion music. Only Indonesian Rupiah is accepted in Bintan, and there is a money changer located at the hotel lobby for convenience. Indonesian timing is GMT+7, an hour behind Singapore.

We checked in on a Monday and the process was smooth. The resort is rather full on weekends. Singaporeans make up the bulk of visitors, followed by tourists from China.

The resort provided an extra bed for the kids, but look at those monkeys on the big bed. Standard amenities were provided – a TV, study desk, armchair, bar fridge, closet, rain shower and hair dryer. Our room overlooked a water fountain and there were lots of greenery. The room was clean with no visible traces of the previous occupant. 

Facilities/Activities

I was surprised to find out that there was a dive centre in Nirwana Gardens! It’s been more than five years since I last dived but I couldn’t due to time and kid constraints. For those who live for water sports, there’s a whole host of activities ranging from diving, snorkeling, banana boating, jet skiing, parasailing, kayaking, windsurfing and more. Here’s the full list of activities and corresponding prices.

We were brought on a tour around the resort and stopped by the D’Ranch Oasis, a herb garden and mini-zoo. There were rabbits, a resident parrot, monitor lizards and guinea fowl waddling to the small stream beside for water. How cute!

Traditional fishing can be done here at this small lake with the most basic type of rod with no reel. My husband gave it a go and hauled in a bountiful catch of zero fishes. The fishes were too smart for him that day. 

For a fee, you can ride around the compound in a horse carriage or on horseback. 

The Jumbo Elephant Park houses seven Sumatran elephants. The elephant in this photo is a grand dame of 28 years old. I’d never been up close to an elephant in my life, and we got to touch its trunk and watch them drink water from their trunks. The park provides an opportunity for visitors to get up close and personal with the gentle giants and watch a show where they can observe the elephants’ individual characteristics, living habits and group behaviours. 

 

The camping ground at the resort has many outdoor adventure equipment and is suitable for school groups and company team bonding activities. There’s a four-storey Flying Fox zipline, paintball park, Air Rifle, archery corner and indoor AirSoft gun shooting.   

A two storey complex houses the 14-lane bowling centre, cafe, meeting rooms, fitness centre and NABLEZ Kids Club. 

The NABLEZ Kids Club is suitable for children aged four years and up and you can choose to pay per session or per day. Parents can sign their children for the day course if they want to sneak off for some golf or a spa session.

The indoor playground has full length glass windows to let in natural light and is decorated with familiar cartoon characters. A messy creative corner for painting lets your child unleash their inner artistic talent. The cosy beanbag and TV area is perfect for lounging and relaxing. Younger babies are not left out, as the fully padded play area stocked with toys protects against injuries.

Our time was tight and we chose to forego the indoor kids’ playground for THIS.

The four ‘S’s of any perfect outdoor holiday – Sun. Sand. Sea. Sky. The weather happened to be perfect throughout our stay and we were blessed with this view. As it was a weekday, the beach was practically empty! We actually couldn’t resist it when we were taken there in our day clothes and ended up with sandy and wet kids. We made sure to go again after lunch in proper swimwear, and again the next day.  

I let the kids play in the sand. Didi put some sand into his mouth, but that boy eats just about anything. The kids touched seaweed, flung sand around and dug holes. There was sand everywhere. 

The outdoor pool was where we spent most of our time. Overlooking the sea, the pool is a nice place to read a book, suntan or sip a drink at the pool bar. The infinity pool is not suitable for small children because it’s where the deep end is, demarcated with floats, but the rest of the pool is huge. 

The 0.5M wading pool where Elise fulfilled her sisterly duties of pushing her little brother in his inflatable whale throne around the pool. 

My Prince of W(h)ales.

What we loved about the pool was that the temperature of the water was perfect for swimming. Not bone-chillingly cold where you have to say a prayer before dipping yourself in, but toasty warm. 

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Peekaboo! . . @tripcom.sg @nirwanabintan

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Food

Spice Restaurant

Located at the main lobby of Mayang Sari Beach Resort, this restaurant with a view of the beach and sea serves authentic traditional Indonesian and Indian cuisine. We had the Nasi Goreng that my husband couldn’t stop raving about, butter chicken with naan and fish masala. The kids had chicken noodle soup and Mac’N’Cheese.    

The Kelong Seafood Restaurant

The Kelong Seafood Restaurant is a Chinese restaurant situated on top of the sea. The restaurant is naturally ventilated with a balmy sea breeze from the South China Sea and has a laid-back atmosphere. We were pleasantly surprised with a small cake before dinner as part of Elise’s belated birthday celebration. 

The walls were adorned with messages scrawled on crab shells, typical of seafood places serving crabs. There’s a small kelong below the bridge where the fishes are reared.

Dinner was a scrumptious spread of cereal prawns, seafood soup, kailan in oyster sauce and their signature dishes, black pepper crab and sea snails (gong gong). Part of a set menu, it was sufficient for two adults. The crab meat was piquant, sweet and easily separated from its shell, a sign of freshness.

The fresh seafood, service and sea breeze made for a pleasant evening. 

The Coffee Shop

The Coffee Shop is where daily breakfast buffet is served at. Check out the view. 

The food stations are modelled after traditional food push carts, giving it a rustic feel. 

The generous buffet spread included the standard egg station, salad and fruits bar, bread counter, cereal station and cooked food from International (ham, baked beans, potato wedges), Chinese (stir-fried noodles, fried rice, congee) and Indonesian (nasi lemak, soto ayam) cuisine. 

Poolside Restaurant

Our last meal in Nirwana Resort Hotel before checking out was at Poolside Restaurant. As the name implies, the restaurant mainly serves visitors who want a quick meal near the pool. 

We had two set meals with seafood pizza and grilled chicken leg as mains. The kimchi beef soup as a starter was a winner and gone so fast, we didn’t manage to take a photo. There was a good variety of kids’ meals and we ordered the mini pizza with french fries and steamed fish with mashed potatoes and boiled vegetables.  

Conclusion

Our 2D1N stay at Nirwana Gardens was on a packed schedule and we only wish we had more time to explore the more thrilling ATV, water sports and dive spots. With children, there’s still plenty to do at the beach, pool, bowling centre, elephant park and planned activities like the mangrove swamp tour and elephant experience. 

It was a brief respite from our daily routine and we enjoyed the large pool and the beach view. It’s an option worth considering if you only have a few days to spare, due to its easy accessibility from mainland Singapore.

Promo Code

Use code JAMIEK18 for S$18 OFF hotel bookings through the Trip.com App!
Valid till 31st Jan 2019!

Giveaway

Hop on over to Facebook for giveaway details! 

*** This is a sponsored review. We were invited to review Nirwana Resort Hotel by Trip.com.  

[Korea Summer 2016] Songdo Central Park

Winter has already started in Korea but this is a recap of our trip there in September. That day, we went sightseeing at Chinatown in Incheon which was a total tourist trap and unmemorable. There are rows and rows of shops selling cheap, useless trinkets and majestic looking Chinese restaurants which serve mediocre Korean-Chinese food. To give an idea of how we got ripped off, we paid 50,000 won for 2 people for an “8 course set lunch” which didn’t fill our stomachs.

I also twisted my ankle. Nothing but bad memories. Despite the pain, I insisted on going to Songdo Central Park because it’s where the triplets Daehan, Minguk and Manse from Superman Returns live at. They’re all grown up and not-so-cute anymore, but my husband also wanted to check the place out.

Songdo is built on reclaimed land and is touted as one of Korea’s “smart cities”. It’s a business district as well and there’re quite a number of foreigners residing there. Right smack in the middle is a hanok village hotel which we were unable to access. There are many such hanok villages in Korea which have yet to be demolished (unlike in Singapore where old residential buildings are marked for SERS or flattened to make way for redundant expressways or underground train stations).

There were bicycles for rent. We were with Elise so we decided to rent one of these family bicycles (10,000 won for 30 minutes).

Our very experienced bike driver, preparing to take us around the park.

“I’ve got this, mom”

She was so experienced, she didn’t even need to steer with her hands. I mean, what could go wrong? This little lady had it all under control. The family bicycle requires quite a bit of legwork so both adults have to cycle and while there are three steering wheels, only one is working.

There’s a little river with kayaks, canoes and paddle boats for rent, but we didn’t manage to take them. The river reminds me of Clarke Quay, and my husband also agreed that both places have a lot in common. Since Songdo is newer than Clarke Quay… copycat, kiss the rat, go home let your mother slap -_- I wonder who came up with that nonsensical chant.

We hung out on the top floor of a cafe for a while doing nothing, enjoying the scenery.

As dusk fell, we did a bit of shopping at the nearby Lotte Mart. My husband couldn’t control himself and bought 1 large carton of grapes because they were on sale. They were very tasty but we lugged them back on public transport. We had dinner at the food court. In Korea, you purchase your meal from a main counter and receive a buzzer to collect your meal from the respective stalls.

My dinner was this tonkatsu set which came with chiraishi don and hot udon. The entire set cost S$9 and was chock full of ingredients.

This tonkatsu set with chiraishi don and udon cost 7,800 won (~$9)

After dinner, we strolled around the park and took the subway home. There was another building which reminded me of the Artscience Museum at MBS. The building hosts plays and performances. Overall, I enjoyed that day because it was relatively quiet and we were away from the crowd. It’s quite a distance from Seoul station, so I’m not sure if it’s worth the visit specially for this place.

Reminds me of the Artscience Museum.

Songdo Central Park

Directions
[Subway]
Central Park Station (Incheon 1 Subway Line)

[Bus]
Regular Bus No. 6, 6-1, 8, 909, 780, 91
Red Bus No. 1301, 9000, 9100