Should I travel to Japan or Thailand in January?
August 28, 2008 9:04 AM   Subscribe

Should I spend two weeks in January in Japan or Thailand?

I'll be flying to Australia in January. I have two ticket options, one of which will let me stop in Tokyo, while the other would let me do a side trip from Hong Kong to Bangkok. I would really like to see Japan, but in January it will be freezing in Japan, but warm in Thailand, and I gather than Thailand is easier to travel in because people speak English.

I would appreciate any advice/experience you can share. Where should I spend two weeks en route to Australia, and what factors weigh one way or the other?
posted by Dasein to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Thailand. Less of a language barrier, the people are far more friendly, there is a more accessible and open cultural experience, its less expensive, there are more interesting market places, the malls are more entertaining, there is a wider range of religious expression, and you don't have to worry about Tokyo's electric toilets.
posted by ewkpates at 9:16 AM on August 28, 2008

Where in Japan are you planning to go? Tokyo is around the same latitude as Raleigh-Durham and isn't necessarily freezing in January (although it certainly isn't warm like Thailand). Kyoto, on the other hand, is generally very cold at that time of year. Of course, then you can spend lots of time visiting fabulous onsen, perhaps enjoying a steaming rotemburo with noodles and cold beer afterwards. Most relaxing experience on the planet!

Either option definitely has its pros and cons -- what sorts of things are most important to you?
posted by chihiro at 9:20 AM on August 28, 2008

I love Japan, but it is very blah in January, especially after New Years celebrations are over. It will be chilly in Tokyo. You'll need gloves and a scarf to be comfortable walking around.

That said, Bangkok is awesome and it is absolutely one of my favorite cities in Asia. It's cheap, the food is fantastic, there is plenty to do and there are lots of potential side trips. For the price of one night in a decent hotel in Tokyo you'll be able to have one custom suit made in Thailand. Plus, for the price of a pack of gum in Japan you can have two amazing fresh fruit smoothies at the Chatuchak Market.

The only drawbacks compared to Japan:
1. Thailand is 100 times more chaotic than Japan
2. People will follow you around and try to sell you things. Many will not go away even if you say 'no'.
3. You'll need to be a lot more careful about what you eat and drink.
posted by Alison at 9:56 AM on August 28, 2008

Budget will probably heavily bias your choice; Tokyo hotels typically cost about $200 US a night, though there are some lower priced options, while throughout Thailand you can stay at a hostel for around $5-20/night and a real hotel in the thirties to forties. Food is also five to tenfold as expensive in Japan, and the price of getting around is extremely high. Both countries are a blast, in different ways, but if I were doing this I'd rather save Japan for a trip where I've had time to put a dedicated budget aside.

A nice side effect of going to Bangkok is that it's also relatively easy to arrange side trips around the country (or to the neighboring ones) for relatively cheap; after a week or so in Bangkok you'll probably be a little overstimulated, and a change to a more relaxing venue might be desirable. Bangkok Air has flights to a range of destinations, and there is also train and bus transportation.

P.S. If you decide on Bangkok, get the Nancy Chandler map. I have seen no better tourist resource, for any city.
posted by monocyte at 10:10 AM on August 28, 2008

I went to Thailand in january. great time of year to go: rainy season will have just ended (just) but tourist season not quite started yet. I havent been to Japan but seems to me like it would be cold in jan.
posted by supermedusa at 10:28 AM on August 28, 2008

Best answer: I sense from your question that you have more of an interest in Japan than Thailand. If that's the case, go, despite the price, weather, and language barrier. All of what the above posters have said about Thailand is true, and I had a wonderful time in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. But Japan absolutely blew me away with its beauty and style. Every meal and subway ride was like a little puzzle to solve (as was Onsen-etiquette), but it's all logical, once you figure it out. The Japanese expect foreigners to make little mistakes and are quick to help you with a little demonstration and pantomime, even though they tend not to speak English. I've traveled a lot, and Japan just might be my favorite place I've been.

And I loved the electric toilets :D
posted by jillsy_sloper at 12:19 PM on August 28, 2008

I don't know if you've been following the news, but Thailand is getting more unstable by the hour.

That said, I found Thailand to be a lot of fun, and cheap. I would go back again myself, once the country gets a teensy bit more stable.
posted by maxpower at 12:30 PM on August 28, 2008

January and February are the slowest months in Japan. Not really much going on at all.

Which is why it's the perfect time to find a little onsen town and soak in a hot spring for a week. And there's some great skiing and snowboarding.

Much of Japan doesn't get that cold. Hardly ever snows in Tokyo for example. I once rode roller coasters on Christmas day in the shadow of Mt Fuji and don't remember being cold. You can go to Okinawa, which stays in the 60's in the winter.

If you think this is your only chance you'll ever have to go to Japan, then go. It's still Japan and still very nice. But if you think you'll have another chance to go, I would pick just about any other time of year to really see the country in its best light. My favorite time of year in Japan is August, despite the oppressive heat. The festivals, celebrations, parties and fireworks are amazing.
posted by Ookseer at 1:30 PM on August 28, 2008

The big advantage Thailand would have is that during your two weeks you could easily spend a few days or more on one of the beatiful islands doing a beach holiday in addition do doing Bangkok as a city, for shopping and cultural stuff.
As others have said, Thailand is cheap, easy to travel, and I'd go back just for the food.

Concering the political situation, I doubt that would keep me from going. A friend was there when the military took power 2 or so years ago, and while there was the occasional tank in Bangkok, he did not have any problems. The country can't afford to scare the tourists away.
posted by Lynx at 1:38 PM on August 28, 2008

I loved Japan, but haven't been to Thailand.

factors to consider
-budget (japan is likely to be more expensive, but $200/night is waaaay more than I'd expect. I would look up some actual potential numbers before using this in your decision)

-weather (thailand will be warmer, could go to beaches)

-one-off-ness (how long will you be in Australia? Will you be able to visit one of them later, when you have more money/a friend/better weather?)

-interest (have you always wanted to go to japan? Or do x in Thailand? If you go to A, will you spend your time thinking 'I could be doing B now, dammit!')

-any specific events/activities (Do you want to climb Mt Fuji? Or go to the beach? Or go to an onsen?)

-language? (thailand might be easier, but we didn't have much trouble getting around japan only knowing english)
posted by jacalata at 6:25 PM on August 28, 2008


Japan is definitely "blah" in January, though no, it's not that cold, and it really won't snow in Tokyo. Maybe once.

Thailand is nice even in rainy season.
Thailand is a lot cheaper.

English is not a problem in either of them, from my experience.

I live in Japan, and have spent quite a bit of time in Thailand.
posted by whatzit at 5:47 AM on August 29, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses, everyone. I've thought about it for a few days, and decided to go to Japan. This thread almost sold me on Thailand, especially whatzit's response, but the more I thought about what jillsy_sloper said, the more I realized I really want to go to Japan. Thinking about what jillsy said swung me, so I marked her(?) response as best answer. Thanks to everyone for taking the time to respond. Questions about Japan to follow.
posted by Dasein at 11:51 AM on September 3, 2008

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