How to Explore the Best of Laos in 4 Days

Travel Destinations

Laos or formally known as Lao People’s Democratic Republic (LPDR), is the only landlocked nation in Southeast Asia. Probably, few people may not heard of it yet or see it as a “so-so” destination, brace yourselves, this article might dramatically change your perspective.

How did we get there?

It was the second leg of our 10-day Southeast Asia trip (Thailand-Laos-Vietnam). We hopped on an overnight sleeper train from Ayutthaya to Nong Khai, and from there we rode the next train heading to Thanaleng, the border crossing of Laos. Supposedly, Filipinos are visa-free in Laos for 30 days, but upon our arrival the border control officer asked us to pay a certain amount. Anyhow, our takeaways were worth more than what we paid. Let’s begin!

Explore Vientiane (Capital City of Laos) on Day 1

Buddha Park

It’s also called Xien Khuan, which means “Spirit City”, and was built in 1958 by Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat. It holds more than 200 religious and peculiar sculptures portraying the gods and spiritual characters of both Buddhism & Hinduism. It’s a public park maintained by the government, hence, you will see not only foreign tourists but also Laotians particularly pupils having a school trip.

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Looks like a giant pumpkin with three stories that represents Hell, Earth, & Heaven. Visitors can enter it by passing through the mouth of a demon then climb their way from Hell to Heaven. How I wish it’s as easy as that to enter heaven (if you know what I mean).

Patuxai

The name literally means Victory Gate or Gate of Triumph since it was built in memory of the Laotian soldiers who fought for their independence from France. The monument has 5 towers that represent the Buddhist principles of thoughtfulness, amiability, flexibility, honesty, honor, and prosperity. It essentially resembles the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, hence, it’s also called as “Arc de Triomphe of Vientiane” or “Patuxai Arch.”

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Riverside Night Market

It’s a long strip of vendors on red-roofed stalls offering countless travel mementos, knickknacks, Laotian inspired clothing, etc. Make sure to try eating at the food carts near the market too!

Take a Breather in the Sleepy Town of Vang Vieng for 2 Days

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During the second day, we travelled in a minivan from Vientiane to Vang Vieng. The travel time was roughly 4 hours, so, we left early in the morning and arrived at the town after lunch. Tip: You can approach the hotel’s concierge for information and contact numbers of the travel agencies offering the trip.

Vang Vieng is my favorite place in Laos because it’s the home of the most affordable hot air balloon ride and I love the town’s quaint vibe and surrounding karst hills. We used the rest of the afternoon searching for an agency offering the best rates of outdoor activities we wanted to try the next day.

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Hot Air Balloon Ride

You may choose to do it before sunrise or sunset, we opt for the first because we have to leave for Luang Prabang in the afternoon. We chose a package that included transfers, hence, we were picked up from the hotel just before dawn and reached an empty field with three enormous balloons ready to be fired up.

We were quite full in the balloon, nonetheless, I enjoyed every second of the ride while in awe of the majestic sunrise and fascinating landscape.

Want to see the view from the top?

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Who on earth doesn’t love sunrise?

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The hills were enlivened by the early morning fog.

Rock Climbing

After the remarkable ride, we went back to our hotel and got ready for rock climbing. It was not my first, yet, I’d be a hypocrite if I’ll say the obstacles weren’t a challenge. I didn’t worry though, a professional guide and safety gears were all provided.

We were able to finish the activity just before lunch and in time for our trip to Luang Prabang. The journey was quite longer, so, we arrived in the city late and famished. Good thing our hotel was just at the heart of the city where restaurants are at reach.

Immerse Yourself in the Historic City of Luang Prabang on your Last Day

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Tat Kuang Si Waterfalls

Tat Kuang Si (UNESCO World Heritage Site) is the most picturesque waterfalls I saw in my entire life, having the perfect combination of green foliage and turquoise pools. It’s a three levelled waterfall, all but one are open for public swimming. Along the trail, there’s a rescue center operated by the Free the Bears organization protecting especially Asian Black Bears or Moon Bears.

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Wander Around the City

Luang Prabang is a wonder itself, full of French colonial buildings, remarkable wats and monasteries, rustic-themed shops & restaurants, and the home of the Royal Temple Museum. Do it during the golden hour for perfect snapshots!

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While strolling around, I was dumbfounded by how a Laotian man cut his nails using a machete (see picture below). I mean, doing so requires expertise and a peaceful environment with no chance of surprise… or else! Update: I left the place knowing the man was not harmed.

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Tourist Night Market

Located at the city proper, you can shop till you drop at the night market displaying assorted goods like herbal teas, souvenirs, handcrafted scarves and bags, street food, and more.

Tak Bat or Morning Alms Walk of Buddhist Monks

If you’re an early bird, you can witness the silent ritual between the almsgivers and Laotian monks. It is a sacred ceremony where the monks are given sustenance in their meditative life, while almsgivers take merit for spiritual salvation.

Be a Volunteer at Big Brother Mouse

It’s a school that initiates literacy activities, they welcome English-speaking tourists to engage in casual conversations with their Laotian students. I was surprised with the number of children and young adults eager to hone their speaking skills, and I dared not miss the chance. Actually, it’s a “win-win” exercise where the foreign visitors can ask more about the country and their culture.

The day after, we headed to Luang Prabang International Airport to catch our flight for the next stop… Hanoi, Vietnam.

(All photos were taken using my Fujifilm X30)

Laos is known for its support of communism, hence, struggled at first to open its territory to foreign visitors. Gradually, it has become a tourist-friendly and visit-worthy destination offering so much history, rich culture, and exceptional wonders of natureSo, will you include Laos on your next travel goals?

A Mellow Wedding in Siargao Island, Philippines

Travel Destinations
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Meganoi’s Invitation was graphically designed by one of the their friends (for free).

First and foremost, this is not my wedding… It was Noi’s, my only brother, with a femme française (French woman) who is now my sister-in-law, Megane.

Let me begin with an anecdote…

They were both migrants in the island, Noi comes from Cagayan de Oro, Philippines while Megane hails from Paris, France. They met each other while staying in Siargao, the unfamiliarity of the place became the bedrock of their friendship that ultimately turned into romance. They found a home in each other’s arms. In fact, Megane left the island once, but of course the inevitable happened and love brought her back to Siargao Island.

Finally, both decided to tie the knot on the 19th of September 2018. It was a day of pure happiness and gaiety; My first time to witness a union of two souls in a rustic, simple but meaningful, and intimate setting. The compounded impression of the ambience, carefree guests, sunlit weather, good music and food made it one hell of a day. There was a short drizzle before the start of the celebration, but the sun and azure skies appeared just in time for Megane to make her dazzling entrance.

Alright.. So what made it remarkable?

The Location

It was held in Siargao Island, Surigao del Norte, specifically in a secluded and private property located in Malinaw, General Luna. It’s owned by one of the couple’s friend, who I heard lent it for free. Some locals call it the “secret beach” where they can halt from the flock of tourists visiting the island. The property is situated between the beach and a lagoon having few mangroves along the coastland.

Tip: I heard the owner intends to open it for public next year and name it Maison Bukana Resort.

Here’s a view of the beach…

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And the lagoon (Too bad I was not able to take a picture of the mangroves)…

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Hopefully, these pictures can already give you a sketch of the solitary place.

Synergy of Friends

The bride’s Santan (Ixora) bouquet, her floral headdress and the blossomy garnish on the wedding cake were handpicked by her friend “Leah”, no wonder all of it have the vividness of colors. Further, each layer of the wedding cake has a different flavor (Calamansi, Chocolate, and Carrot) and was baked with love by Siargao Sweets.

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Even Megane’s classic bridal car was owned by one of their friends and it set the mood more folksy. She was met by “Thomas”, one of her closest comrades from France who visited the Philippines for the first time just to see her happy tears. Kidding aside, isn’t this photo tear-jerking?

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IMG_3243Again, the location is still not open for commercial purposes, thus there was no electricity in the area. Lo and behold! Another couple’s cohort brought a generator, portable speakers, and music instruments too! I was surprised few of the guests were gifted and sang out their wishes for the couple. Even the cab used to fetch guests and run some errands during the celebration was owned by someone they know.

Gaps Sabuero & Leighton Andante, both are Meganoi’s friends, were the videographer and photographer respectively of the surf-themed prenuptial session and during the wedding. I saw the vid by Island Monkeys, and it was lovely!

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Moreover, what’s also amusing was when the supposed person to initiate the union failed to arrive in Siargao due to cancelled trips brought by a storm, their Yogi cohort “Davide” (the one on the picture) accepted their request to stand-in and composedly managed to lead the vows. Namaste, indeed!

Meganoi’s Hearts and Hands Into It

Very heartwarming to know that the couple used their hearts and hands to make the event more cherished. Noi personally built the wooden tables for the reception, and Megane embellished it with neutrally colored candles and table mats, plus the “Banig”. Voila!

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All other decorations were personally chosen by Megane and designed it herself. Moreso, their wedding souvenir was a Filipino native “paypay” or Abaniko. All ornaments were an epitome of basic supplies turned into ingenuity.

A Warm and Merry Celebration

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It was a cordial invitation, guests were allowed to wear anything comfortable and advised to bring beach mats for resting, but if they don’t mind lying on the sand then no problem too!

 

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Of course there was wine, baguette, jam, and cheese (imported from France just for the wedding), Filipino cuisine like Pancit, Sinugba and of course Lechon! It was catered by Mama’s Grill, one of the favorite restaurants in Siargao. It was not just Megane and Noi’s union, but also of the French and Filipino culture.

It was festive the whole day, there was even a bouquet throwing for the men! The one who was able to grab it came along with his Filipina girlfriend to whom he gave the bouquet afterwards. Cheesy!

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It was a day of joi de vivre and love, strangers became friends, storm became sunlight, and sweethearts became husband and wife.

By the way, the photos above were captured by me & my connoisseur cousin, Mich. Follow her on instragram (holamishka and mishabalos) and see more of her portfolio.

This write-up is not against couples who want to have extravagant and fancy wedding, everyone deserves the freedom to choose how to make their day extraordinary. Rather, this is a remembrance that weddings are personal events that should be celebrated candidly, where the couple is saved from uneconomical expenses and socially constructed wedding programs that are usually the source of anxiety, and be celebrated together with people who sincerely cares for them. A union of two souls can be memorable in any way it is celebrated, what’s important is the commitment and candor to share life’s ebb and flow side by side.

Here’s a snapshot of the couple with the bride’s closest friends and the groom’s relatives (of course, I’m wearing my precious hat):

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Photo Credit to Leighton Andante

 

Love,

jmademoiselle_Transparent

 

Essential Tips When Traveling to Coron, Palawan

Travel Destinations

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Bonjour!

Planning to visit Coron, Palawan this 2019? Here are my suggestions for a smooth and worth-the-money kind of excursion:

ACCOMMODATION

Any travel (international or domestic) must be planned sensibly, that includes booking ahead your accommodation. You can use booking channels (Booking.com, Traveloka, Trivago, etc.) or contact the lodge directly, in our case, I  was able to reserve a room at Divine Castle Travelers Inn through Agoda.com.

I have to say, Divine Castle Travelers Inn surpassed my expectations (Note: I’m not getting paid to write this review nor a co-owner, just want to give you an impartial write-up). First and foremost, it’s affordable, roughly Php 800.00 to 900.00 per night for every person, and breakfast is already included. Next, the room, parlor, reception are sparkly clean. The staff was amiable and accommodating, they even arranged our transportation going to the airport. Lastly, the location is ideal, it’s just a 5-minute walk to the public market and restaurants but secluded enough from the bustles of late night parties.

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What’s more gratifying is the chance to eat our meal at the rooftop facing the limestone landscapes in Coron.

RESPONSIBLE TOURIST

The very basic is NO LITTERING, and speaking of, Coron observes a plastic-free environment. Aside from that, I implore beachgoers to use REEF SAFE SUNSCREENS. The ocean has been plagued already with industrial waste and pollution, we should spare them from toxicants brought by chemical sunscreens. The use of mineral sunscreens (contains Zinc Oxide & Titanium Dioxide in lieu of destructive chemicals like Oxybenzone, etc.) with non-nano particles to avoid being ingested by the coral reefs is safer for both human and marine life. Here’s my recommended list of Reef Safe Mineral Sunscreens.

BOOK A TOUR PACKAGE

For solo travelers, couples or small groups (3 to 4 persons) trying to save especially on boat rentals, I suggest to avail tour packages where you will be sharing the cost with other tourists. Plus, all are arranged by the agency including van transfers, lunch, snack, and environmental fees. In our case, we booked the following tours with Calamian Islands Travel & Tours:

Coron Island Tour –  7 Highlight Destinations (Php 1, 600)

  • Kayangan Lake
  • Twin Lagoons
  • Balinsasayaw Reef
  • Beach 91
  • Skeleton Wreck
  • Malwawey Reef & Coral Garden
  • CYC Beach

Island Escapade Tour (Php 1, 700)

  • Malcapuya Island – snorkeling and fish feeding is a must!
  • Banana Island
  • Bulog Dos Island

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Hints:

  1. There are other travel agencies offering almost the same arrangements at a lower price.
  2. If you opt to avail the Coron Island Tour, I suggest to skip the CYC Beach (just an average beach, nothing fancy) and stay longer at the Malwawey Reef & Coral Garden where you can revel in the various species of coral and fish.
  3. But if you desire to hire a private boat and freely manage your time, I recommend to leave early (8:00 am or earlier) for the tour to avoid the flock of tourists, especially during weekends and holidays.

DIY CORON TOWN TOUR

Travel agencies, like Calamian Islands Travel & Tours, offer town sightseeing for a fee of Php 700.00, but I suggest to do it on your own and spend less. Two of the town’s highlights are the sunset in Mt. Tapyas and the Maquinit Hot Springs. You can actually hire a public tricycle for both destinations and pay only Php 500.00. And please don’t forget, do the hike in Mt. Tapyas first then wallow in the hot springs afterwards (ugh, the feels!).

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-Tourists adoring the sunset at the top of Mt. Tapyas-

DANGGIT LAMAYO & CASHEW NUTS

We first enjoyed the fried Danggit Lamayo in one of our breakfasts at Divine Castle Travelers Inn, and I got to believe in love at first taste. I normally think of Danggit as the salty dried fish sold in Taboan Public Market in Cebu, but Danggit Lamayo tastes different since it’s marinated with vinegar and garlic.

Cashew nuts as souvenirs are quite pricey but certainly delectable, especially the garlic flavored.

GLITTERING FIREFLIES NIGHT TOUR

I booked this tour with Calamian Islands Travel & Tours, and to speak candidly, I haven’t appreciated it much since we only saw a speck of fireflies and an iota of plankton. Our guide informed us earlier that it was hard to see them since the moon braved its way to the clouds and shined brightly at us. So they say, it was worth the try, besides the included dinner buffet at Panget Floating Restaurant was dainty.

RECOMMENDED DINERS & CAFES

Try the seafood platter at Kawanayan Grill, splurge on Italian dishes at Trattoria Altrove, rollick on grilled recipes at KT’s Sinugba sa Balay, and chill out with a cup of coffee at Coffee Kong & La Morena Cafe.

Well, that sums up my two cents on how to make your Coron trip enjoyable. And to guide you more, here’s our itinerary:

Day 1



0820H - 0930H Departure from Francisco Reyes Airport (Busuanga) to Coron Town Proper


0930H - 1400H Lunch. Check in at Divine Castle Travelers Inn


1400H - 1600H Rest


1600H - 1800H Sunset at Mt. Tapyas


1800H - 2000H Maquinit Hot Springs


2100H - 2200H Dinner at Trattoria Altrove



Day 2



0830H - 0840H Pick-up by van to Coron Port


0900H - 1700H Coron Island Tour -  7 Highlight Destinations


1700H - 1800H Back to Divine Castle Travelers Inn


1800H - 1810H Pick up by van to Coron Port


1810H - 2130H Dinner Buffet at Panget Floating Restaurant. 

              Fireflies Watching.


Day 3



0715H - 0725H Pick-up by van to Coron Port


0800H - 1700H Island Escapade Tour


1900H - 2000H Dinner at KT's Sinugba sa Balay


2000H - 2200H Chill at Coffee Kong



Day 4



0800H - 1000H Shop for souvenirs (Danggit Lamayo & Cashew Nuts)
 
              at the public market or stores near the pier.


1230H - 1340H Coron Town Proper to Francisco Reyes Airport (Busuanga)

To show you a glimpse of  what Coron has to offer, watch my travel video here Paradise Beaches in Coron, Palawan.

(All of my photos and videos were captured by the super handy DJI Osmo Pocket)

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” Gustav Flaubert

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Coron is now a famous tourist destination in Palawan along with Puerto Princesa & El Nido. Those seeking for a more tranquil and slow-paced vacation, check Port Barton in San Vicente, Palawan (adding it to my wanderlist too). Still, Coron has the gem, and I hope the visitors as well as the locals will continue to safeguard it.

Love,

jmademoiselle_Transparent

10 Nifty Reminders for your DIY Mt. Fuji Climb

Travel Destinations
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“When everything feels like an uphill strugglejust think of the view from the top.”

Anonymous
  1. CLIMB ALONE OR WITH A GROUP. A guide is not required to climb Mt. Fuji. No need to worry of getting lost, trail marks are almost everywhere and the massive volume of foreign and local climbers will keep you company.
  2. SUMMER IS THE OFFICIAL CLIMBING SEASON. Summer usually starts from early July to mid-September; During these months, almost all of the mountain huts are open and public transportation is easily accessible.
  3. AVOID THE OBON WEEK (Mid-August). As much as possible, do not set your climb during Japan’s major holiday season as well as on weekends, otherwise, expect intensive foot traffic.
  4. YOSHIDA TRAIL IS THE MOST POPULAR. There are four main trails heading to the summit: Yoshida, Fujinomiya, Subashiri, and Gotemba; Yoshida trail attracts more visitors considering it is the most accessible from Central Tokyo and there are around 20 mountain huts to choose from.
  5. BOOK YOUR BUS TICKETS & ACCOMMODATION IN ADVANCE. If you’re planning to rest overnight near the summit, you better make an advance reservation because a lot of mountain huts (especially in Yoshida Trail) get fully booked even before the start of the climbing season. Also, unavailability of bus seats can cause sudden changes in your itinerary; No one likes to be rushed or delayed, right? Thus, it is best to buy your tickets ahead of time and you can do it online. Easy peasy!
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Look! The buses have USB charging outlets, amazeballs!

  • I was able to book our tickets through Highway Buses; You just need to present your web or mobile ticket before boarding the bus.
  • We stayed at Tomoekan 8th Station, it is one of the closest huts to the summit. They also offer meal options, though not really delectable but something that can temporarily fill your stomach; Well, you still have the option to bring your own food. Furthermore, one should not expect a queen size bed of roses, just like in any other hut in Mt. Fuji, you’ll be resting on sleeping bags and side by side with other travellers. Apparently, they’re maximizing every inch of the lodge. Lastly, Tomoekan only accepts cash at the site or credit card payments made online prior the arrival.
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There are two Tomoekan mountain huts, one at the 7th and
another at the 8th station.
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                        Fuji Subaru 5th Station

 

6. EVERYTHING AT FUJI SUBARU 5TH STATION (Yoshida Trail). There are restaurants, grocery stores, and souvenir shops available at the 5th station. The registration and voluntary contribution of 1000 yen for conservation fee are also located here. Tip: They’re giving gifts to those who donate!

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I received a souvenir made with timber from Mt. Fuji.

7. OPEN FOR CHILDREN & BEGINNERS, BUT DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE. During our trip, I saw a boy who’s probably 5 years of age, enjoying the climb assault as if it’s a normal walk in the park. Sounds pretty easy, but believe me it wasn’t for me. Don’t underestimate the ascent and prepare for the following:

  • Temperature can drop anytime especially in the evening and the early morning climb to the summit; At least four upper body layers (base, outer light, two insulating layers) and three lower body layers (base, trek pants, & rain pants) will give you enough warmth;
  • Weather in Mt. Fuji is unpredictable, use rainproof clothing, bring ponchos or raincoats, and backpack rain covers;
  • Trail Food & Fluids, drink enough water to fight altitude sickness;
  • Climbing Equipment, head lamps and hiking sticks will come in handy.
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8. THERE ARE NO PORTERS. Climb as light as you can since the hike will be full of assaults.

9. DAY HIKE OR OVERNIGHT. Day hike is cheaper, but overnight climb is the most common and safe for beginners.

10. TAKE NOTHING BUT MEMORIES. Last but definitely not the least, bring your best cameras to capture lifelong memories, especially the picturesque view from the top of the highest mountain in Japan. If you’re lucky enough to experience a good weather and arrive at the summit on time, you’ll be able to witness the sun rising gloriously above the sea of clouds.

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Breathtaking. Surreal. Magnificent.

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I’m out of words, just WOW!

Other tips:

  • After your descent, you can do a brief side trip at Gotemba Premium Outlets that is roughly two hours away from Fuji Subaru 5th station. You can hop on a bus from the 5th station to Kawaguchiko, then transfer to another bound for Gotemba station. From there, you can ride a free shuttle bus going straight to the premium outlets.
  • Most of my international travels are seat sales, I got my Manila-Tokyo-Manila ticket for only Php 2, 582, it was during Cebu Pacific’s Valentine’s Day Seat Sale last February 2018. Saving money on airline tickets means more fund for food and shopping.
  • Don’t underestimate the hike, shop the essentials ahead of time. Look for the best gears here: Hiking Essentials.

Here’s my Mt. Fuji Itinerary…

Day 1
0935H - 1200H
Departure from Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal to Fuji Subaru 5th Station

1200H - 1310H
Lunch and Registration at the 5th Station

1310H - 2030H
Start of climb to Tomoekan 8th Station

Day 1 to Day 2
2030H - 0200H
Dinner and rest at Tomoekan 8th Station

Day 2
0200H - 0400H
Ascent to the summit

0400H - 0500H
Sunrise. Sea of clouds. And everything nice.

0500H - 0600H
Return to Tomoekan 8th Station

0600H - 0700H
Breakfast

0700H - 1000H
Descent to Fuji Subaru 5th Station

1000H - 1230H
Travel to Gotemba Premium Outlets via Kawaguchiko

1230H - 1900H
Shop! Eat! Shop! Eat!

1900H - 2100H
Going back to Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal
(Buses heading directly to Shinjuku are available at Gotemba Premium Outlets)

“Thorough preparation makes its own luck.” – Joe Payer

The success of our DIY climb is a combination of good luck, determination, and conscientious planning. I know this may sound cliché but it pays to be prepared; So, plan your trip, don’t forget the nifty reminders, and hope for the best experience, au revoir!

Love,

jmademoiselle_Transparent