Suggested Itinerary: Northeast Asia from Taipei to Seoul via Japan

ITINERARY SUMMARY 

(Taiwan) Taipei – Tianan – Alishan National Park – Sun Moon Lake – Hualien – Taipei (Japan) – Tokyo – Nikko – Matsumoto – Takayama – Nara – Kyoto – Hiroshima – Fukuoka (South Korea) – Busan – Gyeongju – Seoul

Beginning in bustling Taipei, it’s an easy train ride south to Taiwan’s oldest and most interesting city, Tainan. Alishan National Park, with its easy-to-navigate hiking trails was a highlight of the country for us and we also enjoyed the couple of days we spent mooching around centrally located Sun Moon Lake. Heading to the eastern side of the island, Hualien is the best base for visiting Taiwan’s top tourist destination, Taroko Gorge. This is especially the case if you want to go there independently and don’t want to join a tour.

It is necessary to return to Taipei in order to get a flight to Japan but if you have a day to kill, Juifen is a worthwhile (albeit rather touristy) excursion out of the capital. Book yourself into an obligatory shoebox-sized room for at least four nights if you want to do Tokyo justice then head north to ancient Nikko. As with several places in Japan, Nikko is an easy day trip from Tokyo, but an overnight stay is far more rewarding and means you can avoid the bulk of the tourists.

The efficiency of Japanese trains (and the stations – all have tourist information and left-luggage facilities), means it is easy to jump off and visit the important pilgrimage-city of Nagano en route to Matsumoto. After visiting the huge castle in Matsumoto, Takayama, is the next logical destination. We thought sleeping in Nara was worthwhile even though it is really close to Kyoto but, on the flip-side, we visited Kobe and the bright lights of Osaka as day trips only. Kyoto itself lived up to expectations and kept us amused for several days.

Heading further east, the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima is essential viewing and the shrines and walking trails on the small island of Miyajima offered a welcome respite from the larger cities. There isn’t a great deal if interest in Fukuoka, but it’s from here that the regular hydrofoils and ferries depart for Busan in South Korea. The plethora of temples, pagodas, tombs and shrines in the vicinity of Gyeongju make it a great place to break the journey between Busan and the capital. As for Seoul itself, we weren’t really taken by the city (we need to revisit) but the excursion to the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) that divides North and South Korea was fascinating and definitely worth the expense (around the US$60-80 mark).

Number of countries: 3

Number of UNESCO sites: 8

Best time to travel: From late March to May and September/October

Recommended duration: 6 weeks

Best places to slow the itinerary down: Sun Moon Lake, Nikko, Nara and Kyoto

Mode of transport: Mostly train, the odd bus, a flight from Taipei to Tokyo and a ferry between Fukuoka and Busan

HIGHLIGHTS

Visiting the DMZ from Seoul

The bright lights of Osaka’s Dotonbori district

Staying in hostels in Japan

Travelling by train – they are efficient and comfortable in all three countries

The hiking trails in Alishan National Park

People-watching, especially in Japan

Taiwan in general – we really didn’t know what to expect and the country remains one of our travel highlights

Eating shushi, ramen and Katsu karē in Japan

Temple-bashing in Gyeongju

The inevitable culture-shock that comes with visiting Japan

OPTIONS FOR EXTENDING THE ITINERARY

From Seoul there are plenty of flights to China. There is also a ferry to China (Qingdao), if you want to continue the journey overland

It is also very easy to get to the Philippines and all major hubs in Southeast Asia by air

TRAVEL TIPS & ADVICE
Be sure to purchase your Japan Rail Pass BEFORE arriving in Japan!
FURTHER READING

Admittedly, we haven’t written much about our travels in this region but you may also like to read some of our blog posts featuring the region…

Twelve Forts and Castles from Around the World

Cycle Rickshaws: An Asian Icon

Culture Shock: Japan

Friday Flashback | Day trip to the DMZ from Seoul, South Korea

Twelve Doors and Doorways Around the World

OTHER TRAVEL PLANNING RESOURCES

Taiwan Tourist Information

Japan Rail Pass

Japan National Tourism Organisation

Visit Korea

Depending on our itinerary and destination, sometimes/often we find our accommodation as we go, particularly in smaller places. In big cities, for slightly longer stays, during peak season or just when we’re being a bit more organised, we tend to make a reservation in advance using Booking.com.

There are a lot of great guidebooks to this part of the world available but we’ve always used Lonely Planet and it’s hard to change a habit of a lifetime!

Lonely Planet’s guides: Taiwan | Japan | Korea

And if you need a few more reasons to follow this itinerary…
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall Taipei, Taiwan
Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan
Tokyo, Japan
Tosho-gu temple complex Nikko, Japan
Kinkaku-Ji Kyoto, Japan
Fushimi-Inari Taisha Kyoto, Japan
Busan, South Korea
Gyeongbokgung Palace Seoul, South Korea
Pan Mun Jom (DMZ), South Korea

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