Mel and Jared have returned with their latest adventure in Japan, the Cycle Kyoto to the Coast Self-guided. They have once authored a guest piece about their challenging ride in Vietnam and we are happy to host them on our blog again.
Arigatoo gozaimasu. This small phrase, meaning thank you in Japanese, is used constantly by the easygoing, friendly, endlessly polite people of Japan. As often as we heard this from locals on our tour, it was us who felt the gratitude expressed by these words. We were excited to be on yet another experience-of-a-lifetime with Grasshopper Adventures, although this time our biking exploration came with a twist – we were on a self-guided tour, meaning it was up to the two of us to get from point A to point B each day. Over the last few years, we have done a number of guided multi-day tours with Grasshopper Adventures around Southeast Asia. For this next adventure, we decided on a self-guided tour in Japan as it was not only a more affordable option for us, but would also give us the independence and the flexibility to go at our own pace and take detours – sometimes for sights, but often in search of coffee and food. We also felt it would be a more ‘intrepid’ experience, having to find our own way.
Did the tour deliver on our expectations? Absolutely, without a doubt. Self-guided touring allowed us to experience a beautiful part of Japan on two wheels, taking us well off the beaten track, while retaining the highest of standards of accommodation each night. Being on a bike was a wonderful way to take in the ever-changing sights, smells, and sounds of this enchanting country. The ability to stop when and where we chose to and make any detour we felt like, made for a fascinating, flexible, and fun experience. Japan is an incredibly easy and rewarding country to travel by bike. The tour route follows endless cycleways, and when you need to ride on a road, the traffic is sparse, and the drivers very polite. We pedaled through varied terrain over the 7 days, from vast rice paddies and lush green tea plantations to hilly forests containing spectacular rivers that were a welcome relief from the intense summer heat. We were never far away from a ‘kombini’ or convenience store, where a refreshing beverage, a tasty snack, eating areas, toilets, and much-needed air conditioning could always be found. And when there were no convenience stores nearby, there were often vending machines in the most random of places serving up cold drinks.
What made the self-guided experience so awesome? Don’t get me wrong – Grasshopper guides are first class, and past guides we have had the pleasure of touring with have become life-long friends. We have loved every guided tour we have been on. However, we were keen to do some bike touring that allowed us to be more independent, go at our pace, and head out of bounds if we chose. The self-guided option fit the bill perfectly. A wonderful aspect of the Grasshopper self-guided tours is that you know you are completely supported the whole time behind the scenes. At our pre-ride meeting with the Grasshopper support team (at a local craft beer bar - in true Grasshopper style), they set up our phones with a SIM card and an app that allowed us to be in direct contact with them should we need anything. The few times we did message them, they responded quickly and sorted things for us straight away. We also really loved the fact that even though we were completely independent on the bike, we were able to turn up at our accommodation each night, knowing that everything had already been organized for us – the check-in process was seamless, meals included in the tour were always delicious, and it all ran like clockwork.
Is the navigation easy? Grasshopper Adventures provided us each with a Wahoo navigation system that had each day’s route pre-loaded. We simply had to dial up the route for the day, hit start, and we were ready to go. Navigation was easy to follow, with alerts and flashing lights for upcoming turns etc, and we always knew when we were off route as the navigation display alerted us to the fact with flashing red lights and re-routing. In addition, we were provided with two apps for our phone – one had the each day’s entire route mapped out, with exact geographical areas that we were going to pass through and detailed elevation profiles, and the other included descriptions of points of interest during the ride as well as dining suggestions.
What is the accommodation like? As always, Grasshopper provides a variety of interesting and comfortable stays along the route. My personal favourite was our ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) in the mountain town of Yoshino, where we had a beautiful, traditional tatami-mat room with forest views, a communal onsen (bathhouse), and dining room where we were served fresh, tasty Japanese meals. Another standout was the shukubo (Japanese- style accommodation within a Buddhist temple) in Koyasan, complete with an outlook onto a traditional Japanese garden, communal onsen, beautifully presented vegetarian meals served to our room, and the opportunity to take part in the Buddhist prayer ceremony before sunrise. To sum it up… With every Grasshopper tour, we book comes the thought, “I wonder if it will be as amazing as our last one.” And the answer is always a resounding “Yes.” Thank you Grasshopper for yet another truly authentic experience and more cherished memories. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the Grasshopper Adventure experience is second to none.
About Mel and Jared Curry: Mel and Jared are veterans of multiple cycling adventures with Grasshopper including those in Laos and Vietnam. now they are just back from Japan, where they completed their first ride from Kyoto to the coast. This time they went on a self-guided adventure.