Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Are you really saving the turtles and feeding the children of Africa? Find out who to really donate to, $1 for $1!



Whether you're looking to lower your annual tax bill, looking to give a little back after the holidays, assist with a natural disaster or whether you enjoy donating to a cause, everyone should know where their money is spent, including donations.
 
So, how do you know if your money is doing any good?
 
Charities might say that they "give 80 cents of every dollar to 'support' whatever cause they you're in to" but if that 80 cents is going to fund some other non-profit who is spending 80 cents on the money that *it* receives, then your money is being poorly spent.
 
Other charities may say that 51cents of every $1 donated goes straight to charity, okay, great, but where does the other 49 cents go? And why only 51cents, why not the whole dollar?
 
It's sad to say, but sometimes non-profits and charities aren't what they're cracked up to be and if you're not careful you could give your money to an organization that won't make the most use of your donation.
 
It's important to think twice before you give to your charity of choice and to consider which one really does the most with your hard earned donation.
 
For Australian charities, it is a good idea to review the annual AMR Charity Reputation Index.
 
This is an index compiled to measure the reputation of the country’s top 40 charities on a range of dimensions including Innovation, Workplace, Citizenship, Governance, Leadership and Cost Management, and ranks them accordingly. As part of the research, 2217 Australians were surveyed.
 
Australia’s Royal Flying Doctor Service was named the country’s most reputable Not for Profit organisation in 2013, ranking highest in the AMR Charity Reputation Index for three consecutive years.
 
Ranked second in the 2013 AMR Charity Index is the McGrath Foundation – which rose eight places from 2012 to come second in 2013.  The charity was also viewed as having the strongest leadership and demonstrating the most outstanding citizenship among the individual charity attributes measured.
 
Other charities to fare well include the Guide Dogs (fourth), National Breast Cancer Foundation (fifth), Fred Hollows Foundation (sixth), Starlight Children’s Foundation (seventh), Beyondblue (eighth), the RSPCA (ninth) and The Salvation Army (10th).
 
But we must also not forget about our local not-for-profit charity organisations that don't quite make the register of the 40 largest Australian charities.
 
Donating to local causes through your local community Rotary Club and Lions Club guarantees that 100% of your donation is given straight back to the community.
 
These clubs are run on a volunteer-basis and don't use any of the donation monies made towards wages or income. The best part about donating to these clubs is that you know exactly where the donation monies goes and it mostly goes back to improving your community and benefiting you and your other locals. Other times they donate to local, State and National appeals and relief funds. All donations are tax deductible too.
 
Same goes for other local not-for-profit charity groups should your local community have them; it's the larger charities you need to watch out for! You'll know which ones they are; where they have vendors in the shopping centers begging you to come over and 'chat', come knocking at your front door, send you donation slips in the post, advertise on television, radio and print... They are the organisations that seem to be constantly in your face screaming for your money! But wait a second, where do they get all that money to constantly be advertising? ... donations.

Some of Australia's biggest charities are spending almost half their donations on fund-raising, a Fairfax Media investigation has revealed.

An analysis, conducted by Fairfax Media Group, of the performance of 15 well-known charities shows some are spending up to 40¢ in every donated dollar on fund-raising, while others are spending less than 5¢.

For example, the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Australia received more than $12.8 million in donations last year but spent $5.2 million, or 41¢ in the dollar, on fund-raising, marketing and communications. After other expenses, only 54¢ in the donated dollar went to granting the wishes of sick children.

 

So when donating, think wisely and do your research by reviewing the AMR Charity index and look up charities on the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) website,  www.acnc.gov.au/ACNC/

The ACNC Register contains information about the more than 59 000 charities registered with the ACNC.

The charities listed on the Register have met the ACNC’s legal meaning of being a charity and other requirements under Government Acts and have ongoing obligations to the ACNC, including keeping their information on the Register up-to-date. Other not-for-profits will not appear on the Register.

You can do a quick search using a charity name or ABN, or a more advanced search to find charities based on, for example, where they are located or operate, who they help, what charitable purpose (‘charity subtype’) they have (such as advancing education), or the names and roles of the responsible people for a charity, such as its board or committee members or trustees.

Another way is to look up charities is to do a simple online search engine hunt, aka 'just Google it'.

Don't let your charitable giving go to waste. While your heartstrings might get tugged in one direction or another, taking a few minutes to do some basic evaluations can do a lot of good. It helps to make sure that the charities out there that are doing good get rewarded, and the charities out there that aren't don't.

 
BEST CHARITIES:
1.   Rotary Clubs. Rotary Clubs use all donations to go back into the community. This is because all account monies are the responsibility of the club and are kept in a separate account to any personal accounts. $1 for every $1 raised goes back to the community.
 
2.  Lions Clubs. Like Rotary Clubs, all donations go back into the community. 100%.
3.   Australia’s Royal Flying Doctor Service was named the Australia's most reputable not-for-profit organisation in the 2013 AMR Charity Reputation Index.
 
4. Other charities listed on the 2013 AMR Charity Index, the ACNC Register and future indexes but remember to view the donation to advertising and staff cost ratios.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Travelling Contiki - My first and last time with Contiki - EVER

 
25 Day European Escapade Tour

I don’t think you can really categorise the people that go on Contiki tours. It’s always going to be a mixed bag and you can never really tell what the group is going to be like until you get there. But I must say this, expect a majority (95%) of people on tour to be Aussies.
 
On my tour, we had 51 travelers, a tour operator and a driver; out of those 53 people two were South-African, one was Canadian and the remainder were Australian.
 
I hear a lot of people talk about how great their group was, how everyone got along and how it was one big party and friend fest and I know a lot of people who love Contiki tours! Just unfortunately mine sucked and I wasn't the only one from my group that thought it too... and here's why.
 
Unfortunately for my travel experience, my bus consisted of 41 women and only 9 men. Don't get me wrong, the men loved it (at first) and they had an array of single women to choose from (about 35 or so after taking out the women who were in relationships) ... but there was not one person on our tour that wished there were less females and more males just to divide up the group a bit. My Contiki trip was 25 days of non-stop female created drama and even by the end the single men didn't even want anything to do with the women and wished they had more guys to do blokey stuff with.

Don't get me wrong, I am all for girl-power and have nothing against women but even as a woman myself I must admit there was TOO much estrogen on that tour. By the end of the trip most of the guys had hooked up with at least two women each so of course there were lots of cat fights, e.g. "You slept with Jason after me!".. "He was mine bitch".. 'I can't believe she slept with him/he slept with her" and so on and so forth and blah, blah, blah! The other downside was that if it wasn't fighting over men the other half of the time it was the women bitching about the other women on tour; it was just one huge bitch-fest! It felt like a high school camp all over again!
 
Another thing about my trip was that I may have travelled solo while on Contiki but I was a taken girl and to be honest I'm glad I was as I didn't have to get tangled into that drama-filled female/male sex circle crap! My problem was though that many people asked me "why are you going on a Contiki tour if you're not single? Don't you know only single people go on these!"

The saddest part about my tour was that people assumed that because I was in a relationship than I would be no fun and couldn't party, drink or join in on activities and I was actually excluded from a lot of things just because of that. I did expect to get some feedback from people asking why I wasn't travelling with my partner but I didn't expect to be isolated because I wasn't. It was really unfair and for those people I do have a message for you... it doesn't matter if you're bloody single, taken or have two heads, anybody is allowed to take a tour if they want to so do not judge and do not discriminate; If my partner could of came he would have but sometimes those things don't work out and that's okay because it's my relationship, not yours. Anybody is allowed to travel, whether it's Contiki or not.
 
The other downside to my Contiki was that I found my trip extremely lonely, despite many travel agents and the Contiki crew advising me before going that I would be anything but lonely and would make "lots" of friends. There are also countless websites with past client reviews that rave about travelling solo and making awesome life-long friends... however these reviews aren't actually real, they are endorsements for the company to encourage you to book. 
 
On my tour there were rarely any other solo travelers and everyone was in groups or cliques and wouldn't let strangers like me in. It was a very lonely 25 days when I thought I wouldn't be lonely for a second. To be honest I may as well have back packed across Europe for the 25 days alone... I am sure I could have found some others back packers to join travelling with and could have saved a hell of a lot money! There were many days of ringing up my man back home in tears wishing I never went and wishing I was with him... or anybody that I knew for that matter. I just remember that gut wrenching lonely feeling of just wishing I had someone to talk to, laugh with and share these memories with.

I think I just unfortunately got a bad tour group where people didn't get along and didn't want to befriend those other than those they travelled with originally.
 
Some people love travelling alone and I am sure would have loved this experience but for me it was a huge fish out of water experience. I definitely learnt a lot about myself travelling alone, learnt a lot about people, culture and life. Would I do it again alone though? I have decided that I AM DEFINELTY NOT a travel alone type of gal and I am not a person who likes to be alone. I do thank the trip for making realise how much I love my family, friends and partner and how much I took them for granted. The trip also helped me grow up that little bit faster and made me a little more wiser.
 
Contiki was never actually my choice of travel though; I originally planned to backpack around Europe with a girlfriend for five weeks when a week out from the trip she pulled out and decided to go stay with a friend in Germany instead - I wasn't allowed! I was furious at first, mostly because she begged me into travelling to Europe with her as she didn't want to go alone, and then funnily enough it was me that was left standing alone with a pre-paid $2200 return ticket to and from London with no plans, accommodation, company or anything. Call me shallow if you want but I never spoke to that girlfriend again - she could go F herself for all I cared. 
 
So what did I do instead? I did what any rational 21-year-old solo female traveler with no plans and courage to travel alone would do...book a 25 day Contiki tour to fill in the space!
 
Would I travel to Europe again? Yes
Would I travel alone again? Yes (If I had too)
Would I do a tour again? Maybe
Would I travel Contiki again? No
Would I tell you not to do one? Porbably not, it is one of those lifer experience I think everyone needs to experience at least once. If not Contiki then
 
And here's why...
 
 
*The sights, shopping and food*
 
The food on the included meals was highly disappointing and not worth the value. Dismal if you ask me.
 
We had breakfast everyday and it was usually room temperature milk, cereal, toast, jam, coffee and tea. On the rare occasion we had ham and eggs and once cheese. We had to fend for our own for lunches (most of our lunches were from pit stops we had made on the coach) and the inclusive dinners were barely edible with terrible service.

You are also allocated into 'roster' duties where you are required to either serve food at many meals times or clean up. I do not recall being told before signing on with Contiki that with many mornings I would be required to get up before 5AM to go help prepare, serve and clean up breakfasts... and likewise with dinners. The other downside to this is you also can't eat until everyone is done so you are either left with next to no food or the bottom of the barrel scraps. Again, this felt like a high school camp where you are told to do your 'chores'.
Serving out meals at tea time
You also have the option of optional lunches and dinners recommended by Contiki whilst on tour. All of these optional meals I wouldn't recommend; you would be much better off finding your own restaurants which can be half the cost with much better service and quality food.
 
This also goes for the 'optional' tour activities. Though I found some of the optional activities extremely fun they were all VERY over-priced. If you do your research before going you will find the same tours and activities by other providers at half the cost.
 
The one thing Contiki doesn't tell you though is that with all most all of the 'optional' activities, they are actually included stops in the tour. Therefore if don't participate in these 'optional tours' you get to instead wait on the bus while everyone goes and enjoys the activities... while you wait... on the bus! You can't even get out and go for a walk. So, if you don't mind paying the exuberate costs for these activities then there won't be a problem.
 
It is also very routine that before we would site see in any new city, we would have to go into one of many, “Contiki assigned stores” and spend anywhere from 45minutes to an hour and a half there listening to the merchant blab on about how wonderful their product is before being “encouraged” to make a purchase. It really does take a chunk out of the already short time you spend in each city.
 
Another thing to mention is that Contiki is a business out to make money every way possible. I felt like a cash cow (minus the bell) the minute we stepped onto the coach. We listened to the tour manager raving about how great “this store is” and how fantastic “this restaurant is” which I found nothing but over priced and disappointing every time. I wish I had known before I signed with Contiki that the TM’s & Contiki get kickbacks for bringing their guests to certain shops and restaurants.

Well plated frogs legs on a tray - buffet style at Contiki  (come and get it)
 
If the tour operators weren’t so busy trying to up-sell everything to us, from perfume in Paris, Swiss Army Knives in Lucerne, crystal at a Swarovski Museum in Austria, glass in Venice, Leather in Florence, etc…and did what tour managers should do, (show us the actual city ATTRACTIONS) it would have been a much more enjoyable and productive trip.
 
Be prepared to spend a lot time in 'Contiki' stores instead of actually exploring cities and feeling pressured to purchase their items. Hint - do your own shopping and do not feel pressured to purchase something you don't want too! I didn't.
 
*The parties*
 
Contikians sure know how to party and parties on this tour is what you will get!
 
For those that love to party - every night can be one! Just make it your own party and not the one recommended by Contiki.
 
Contiki hosts quiet a few 'party theme nights' at some of their Contiki owned accommodation, which you will stay at particularly in Florence, Rome , Switzerland and Hopftgarten for example. But these parties are extremely expensive for drinks! Think $10 euro ($18AUD) for a 'cocktail' which is nothing but vodka, orange juice and red cordial (aka a vodka sunrise) ... and the money goes straight back to Contiki.
 
Other nights on the town Contiki will recommend certain bars and clubs to go to and on some nights will physically take you there; particularly for karaoke nights. I wouldn't recommend going to these places or if you do, leave. Literally you will get there and the only people there are your Contiki group or another passer-by Contiki group and no one, and I mean no one else! There is a reason for that and it's called the bar is shit and a dive! Instead, look around and you will find some great places to party and have fun and can join on some of the local culture and party with locals, way more fun! 
 
Oh and on those 'theme party nights' be smart and duck down to the corner-store and buy your own alcohol for the evening (which you can do). You will save lots of money and get just as drunk, if not more (if you want to) and that way you don't miss out on the fun!

* The Accommodation*

Contiki is called budget travel for a reason.
 
Even though I selected the middle range travel option which was advertised as "hotel" accommodation, this was anything but... it was all hostel and dormitory style and the lower end range of hostel accommodation too! Not one night was a room alone; usually a small roomed crammed with two bunk beds to accommodate four people.
Contiki's 'modern/middle' range accommodation - four-way shared bunk bed huts
 
Also, think bed bugs, insects, cold water, mold, leaky ceilings, no heating in sub-zero temperatures, urine stained mattresses, garbage, cum stains, the lot... that is the classy accommodation advertised by Contiki as "middle-range accommodation". I wouldn't even let my dog sleep in such conditions. You will get it all as I surely did! Was it worth the cost? Hell no!
 
So why does Contiki still insist on having their clients stay at the dreaded, bed bug infested, Jail Hotel? Because they have a contract with that prison where they (Contiki) receive a discounted, group rate. You are warned people!

*Being on time and living on the coach*

Being on a ‘tour" has a very tight schedule so being on time is crucial. It is no joke when the tour operator tells you that if you are not back to the bus in time then they will leave with out you... and they really will leave without you! It is then your responsibility to find a way back to the tour, no ifs or buts or refunds. Do not be late!
 
Also be prepared to spend about 50% of your time on the coach. We travelled every 2nd day, spending on average 7-13 hours on the coach (the coach became our home away from home). Out of the 25 day tour at least 12 days were just coaching and coaching alone!
 
One day we drove 3 hours out of the way to Rome just to spend 20 minutes at Pisa. We had enough time to take a picture, wave and then take the 10 minute walk back to the far away free parking lot where the coach is parked because Contiki doesn’t want to pay for parking at the closer parking lot. Only 20 minutes at Pisa! And yet this was not the worst!
 
After travelling six hours to arrive at Munich, Germany, we were told that as we were stuck in congestion for longer than expected, we had exactly 40 minutes to spend roaming around central Munich... 40 minutes was all I go to spend in the whole of Munich before we then departed to leave Germany all together! I literally got off the coach, found a bathroom, brought a pretzel to eat and was back on the bus! Talk about a hello, goodbye moment.
 
The other extremely offensive thing about travelling Contiki was that there were literally days spent up to 11 hours on the bus and having one on-coach toilet. The bus sewage container only got emptied twice on our 25 day tour... So after day three on the bus of my tour the bus the sewage container filled up and we were told no one and NO ONE was allowed to use the toilet until about day 15 when it could be emptied again! No joke, I had to see both males and females excrete into bottles and bags as they couldn't use the bathroom and the bus wouldn't stop for toilet breaks! And of course there were those 'hard partyers' that can't keep down their night-before drinks and lots and lots of vomit was expelled all over the bus! It was absolutely disgusting and a disgrace on behalf of Contiki I say.
 
The tour operator then had the nerve to tell us all that it was our fault the toilet container filled up so quickly as we should be using bathrooms before departure or when we stop for 'fuel ups'.. well I'm sorry that I can't magically design my urinary tract to fill up when you want it too! I expect that if 53 people are travelling on bus up to 11 hours a day then the toilet should be emptied regularly, not once every 10-15 days!
 
*The Contiki Cough and Travel Bugs*
 
Yes, the “Contiki Cough” is very real & not a myth. Pack cold medications, hangover pills, aspirin and get antibiotics. You are guaranteed to get sick at some point of your trip!
 
I really didn't party that much but got extremely run down with a nasty cold for half of the trip... Being stuck on a bus all day surrounded by run down people guarantees you are going to easily catch what  is floating about in the bus air conditioning! But the Contiki cough didn't disappear after a couple of weeks either; after returning back to Australia after my trip the cough seemed to stick around with me for more than three months (I do have asthma though).
 
I wasn’t that bad though in comparison to a lot of people on the tour who were really sick and it took them days/weeks to recover. One girl was diagnosed with pneumonia (contracted from the trip - probably from staying in the crappy accommodation with no internal heating) and was transferred to spend five days in an Italian hospital. Another girl mixed her cold medication and antibiotics with her anti-depressants and was admitted to hospital for an  accidental over-dose and nearly died; caution to those that mix medications. 
 
Another sad part is that the tour continues without you no matter what; so on my tour both of the girls admitted to hospital had to find their own travel back to join the tour again. Wise words - have good travel insurance!
 
*Tipping Contiki*

Tipping is highly enforced by Contiki; although you are not informed about this before booking with them.
 
Each person gets their own envelope at the end of the trip before you get off the bus and you are told to “write a thank you letter” and write about what you enjoyed about the tour, the tour operator, etc. You are then told YOU HAVE TO TIP YOUR TOUR OPERATOR AND BUS DRIVER and that the standard for tipping is $2 Euro per-day per-person. I will stress again that you are told you ARE REQUIRED to TIP BOTH your TM and the Driver of the Coach at least $2 per day PP. For my trip of 25 days that equated to $100 euro tip each person which was about $350 AUD when I visited after conversion rates. That is $350 AUD extra to tip on top of the all ready over-priced $2,990 I had paid to do the trip in the first place and all the extra charges included I didn't know about!
 
One of the excuses used for tipping was that during the trip the tour operator on some evenings out would 'shout' everybody a round of drinks or shots! They would then exclaim  'it was really expensive to shout all 51 of you drinks while on this tour'... But what the operator fails to mention is that Contiki has set-up contracts with these bars and restaurants where they either get commission from bringing you to those bars/restaurants and the drinks are given out free ... or Contiki has all ready pre-paid them to give you a free round from the funds you paid for the tour as a 'bonus' (Talk about a set-up!). The tour operator then has the nerve to come around and personally ask for your letter and opens it in front of you to see if you tipped and if you haven't god forbid... they will point you out in front of everyone and not ask but demand you tell them what they did wrong to not deserve a tip!
 
Now overall this tipping sounds like homework to me. I don’t have a problem with tipping but this method is not only degrading, rude and disrespectful, it’s forceful. Come on, we are adults here not children and I was not tipping for an all ready over-priced and shitty travel experience. If I loved the tour, loved the tour operator and driver than sure, I would have tipped but I lived on a uni budget and was barely able to afford the trip as it was, let alone tip the tour operators $350 that I thought were non deserving of the money! A tip of $50 maybe? Sure, not $350!
 
So, would you travel Contiki?

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Stepping around Nara - Japan's must see!


  

Japan's first permanent capital was established in the year 710 at Heijo, the city now known as Nara.
 
As the influence and political ambitions of the city's powerful Buddhist monasteries grew to become a serious threat to the government, the capital was moved to Nagaoka in 784.
 
Nara is located less than one hour by train from Kyoto and Osaka. Due to its past as the first permanent capital, it remains full of historic treasures, including some of Japan's oldest and largest temples. Nara's best feature is its small size: it's quite possible to pack the most worthwhile sights into one full day. Many people visit Nara as a side trip from Kyoto.
 
  
 
Indeed, with eight Unesco World Heritage Sites, Nara is second only to Kyoto as a repository of Japan's cultural legacy. If visiting Japan this is one beautiful place not to be missed!
 
I visited a little while ago and travelled from Kyoto on the JR Train Line and landed at the JR Nara Train Station. Located at the Nara train station before departing are brochures available in varying languages, mine English, and a Nara Sightseeing Map.
 
The map supplied was that of below and it was indeed extremely handy! Make sure to grab one!
 
 
If you're one for walking then this map for just great for you, it has trails for you to follow around Central Nara to view all the best spots! If you're not a walker, do not stress - there are taxi's and public transport in Nara!  
 
Unfortunately I only planned to visit Nara for one day when I travelled there but I recommend at least an overnight stay! This is a truly magical city!
 
A lot of sight-seeing can surprisingly be squeezed into one day however... and on foot too!
 
The centerpiece is the Daibutsu, or Great Buddha, which rivals Mt Fuji and Kyoto's Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji) as Japan's single most impressive sight.
 
  
 
Housed in Tōdai-ji, a soaring temple that presides over Nara-kōen, the Great Buddha temple is also a park filled with other fascinating sights that lends itself to relaxed strolling amid the greenery and tame deer.
 
Another great attraction in Nara is feeding the deer at the Nara Park Deer Park.

Considered in Shinto to be messengers of the gods, these Sika deer are all over the place in Nara, but are mainly concentrated in the expansive Nara Park found on the way to the local sites. There are apparently around 1200 deer in the park and they have become the symbol of the city of Nara and have also been designated a natural treasure, therefore it is illegal to harm any of the deer.

  

The Deer Park is free to enter and you can buy food, crackers called shika senbei, to feed the deer from one of the many stall holders for 150 Yen.

It is really quiet a funny sight when you see the deer peacefully surrounding the vendors but as soon as you pick up a biscuit from the vendor you will be swarmed... and swarmed you will be!
 
I had an absolute blast feeding the deer and received quite a few nuzzles and licks and even a cheeky nip on the butt from one female deer who could smell crackers in my jacket. I found them friendly and didn't have a bad encounter... this was one of my favourite experiences visiting Japan.
 
  
 
My male travel partner however did have a full grown male deer charge him twice and stalk him around the park for a while, so do be aware. The male deer's do have their antlers removed for this reason to prevent the risk of being hurt this way and while most the deer are very tame there is that risk they can become aggressive, particularly if you are carrying food. Like all wild animals, there is that risk so just be cautious.
 
I visited Nara in Autumn and would highly recommend this season for anyone who like me, LOVES, autumn colours! Nara is filled with Japanese maples and the city is filled with red, pink, yellow, orange and green tones! For the flower lovers though, Spring time is for you as the city is lined with cherry blossom trees!
 
The best places for seeing Autumn colours include the Kasuga Taisha and Usien Garden!
 
   
 
Kasuga Taisha, the city’s most celebrated shrine. Located in the Kasugayama Primeval Forest, another Unesco World Heritage Site, the shrine is most famous for its massive collection of stone and bronze lanterns.
 
It is a short walk away from the Nara Park and there are beautiful photo opportunities along the way!
 
   
 
A little further up the road, you can stop by the Nigatsu-do Temple and look out at the amazing views of Nara from on top of the hill. The Nigatsu-do Temple is only about 10 minutes walk from Todaiji Temple. There is great scenery, shops and a tea house while on the way there. Be prepared to climb the staircase to reach the top - about 70 steps. Take a moment to enjoy the lanterns and shrines along the way and up to the temple.
 
The view on top of the temple is great also! You can take a moment to relax, pray, light an incense and sip on tea. Entrance is free and once you are done here you can continue along the road to the Grand Shrine after your visit.
 
  
 
The one great thing about Nara is everything is within walking distance from one another!

 
So when travelling to Kyoto or Osaka, plan to add in an extra day or two just to visit Nara! Whenever I travel back to Japan, this is the one stop I will be sure to re-visit and take my partner too! Hopefully next time it'll be in the Spring time so we can enjoy all the cherry blossoms in Nara instead. I hear it's just breath taking!
 
  
 
 
 Recommended DIY Day Walking Tour in Nara
 
Information sourced from: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2165.html 
 
Nara Park
 
Nara Park (Nara Koen) is a large park in central Nara. Established in 1880, it is the location of many of Nara's main attractions including Todaiji, Kasuga Taisha, Kofukuji and the Nara National Museum.
 
The park is home to hundreds of freely roaming deer. Considered in Shinto to be messengers of the gods, Nara's nearly 1200 deer have become a symbol of the city and have been designated a natural treasure.
 
Like the deer on Miyajima, Nara's deer are surprisingly tame, although they can be rather aggressive if they think you will feed them. Deer crackers are for sale around the park, and some deer have learned to bow to visitors asking to be fed.
 
Nara Park is a five minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station or a about a 20 minute walk from JR Nara Station. Alternatively, the park can be reached by bus. There are multiple stops around the park.
How to get to and around Nara

 
 
Todaiji Temple
 
Todaiji (東大寺, Tōdaiji, "Great Eastern Temple") is one of Japan's most famous and historically significant temples and a landmark of Nara.
 
The temple was constructed in 752 as the head temple of all provincial Buddhist temples of Japan and grew so powerful that the capital was moved from Nara to Nagaoka in 784 in order to lower the temple's influence on government affairs.
 
Todaiji's main hall, the Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall) is the world's largest wooden building, despite the fact that the present reconstruction of 1692 is only two thirds of the original temple hall's size. The massive building houses one of Japan's largest bronze statues of Buddha (Daibutsu).
 
The 15 meters tall, seated Buddha represents Vairocana and is flanked by two Bodhisattvas.

Big Buddha (Daibutsu) - his open hand alone is as tall as a human being
 
Several smaller Buddhist statues and models of the former and current buildings are also on display in the Daibutsuden Hall. Another popular attraction is a pillar with a hole in its base that is the same size as the Daibutsu's nostril. It is said that those who can squeeze through this opening will be granted enlightenment in their next life.
 
Along the approach to Todaiji stands the Nandaimon Gate, a large wooden gate watched over by two fierce looking statues. Representing the Nio Guardian Kings, the statues are designated national treasures together with the gate itself. Temple visitors will also encounter some deer from the adjacent Nara Park, begging for shika senbei, special crackers for deer that are sold for around 150 yen.
 
 
Kasuga Taisha
 
Kasuga Taisha is Nara's most celebrated shrine. It was established at the same time as the capital and is dedicated to the deity responsible for the protection of the city. Kasuga Taisha was also the tutelary shrine of the Fujiwara, Japan's most powerful family clan during most of the Nara and Heian Periods. Like the Ise Shrines, Kasuga Taisha had been periodically rebuilt every 20 years for many centuries. In the case of Kasuga Taisha, however, the custom was discontinued at the end of the Edo Period.
 
Beyond the shrine's offering hall, which can be visited free of charge, there is a paid inner area which provides a closer view of the shrine's inner buildings. Furthest in is the main sanctuary, containing multiple shrine buildings that display the distinctive Kasuga style of shrine architecture, characterized by a sloping roof extending over the front of the building.
 
Kasuga Taisha is located in the east of Nara Park. It is about a 30 minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station, or a 45 minute walk from JR Nara Station. Alternatively, it can be reached by bus from either station. Get off at the Kasuga Taisha Honden bus stop (190 yen, frequent departures).
How to get to and around Nara

 
 


Hours and Fees

Kasuga Taisha
Hours:6:00 to 18:00 (April to September)
6:30 to 17:30 (October to March)
Closed:No closing days
Admission:Free (outer area), 500 yen (inner area)
Botanical Garden
Hours:9:00 to 17:00 (until 16:30 from December to February)
Admission ends 30 minutes before closing
Closed:Mondays from December to February (or the following Tue if Mon is a national holiday)
Admission:500 yen
Treasure House
Hours:9:00 to 17:00 (Admission until 16:30)
Closed:Closed irregularly for exhibit changes
Admission:400 yen

 
 
Mount Wakakusayama
 
Mount Wakakusayama is the grass covered mountain behind Nara Park, located between Todaiji Temple and Kasuga Shrine. The mountain is about 350 meters tall and affords unobstructed views over Nara City. Tourists are allowed to climb Mount Wakakusayama only in spring and fall to protect the native grasses that grow on the mountain. A small entrance fee is charged. The grassy slope of the mountain is lined by cherry trees that are usually in full bloom around early April. A steep trail leads along the leftmost edge of the slope to a plateau halfway up the mountain with great views over the city. It takes about 15-20 minutes to reach the plateau and many people do not hike farther. An additional 20-30 minutes would get you to the mountain's peak. Every winter on the fourth Saturday of January, Mount Wakakusayama's slopes are burned during the spectacular Wakakusa Yamayaki. The origins of the event are unclear. One theory claims that it resulted from a boundary dispute, while another claims the fires were used to drive away wild boars. The burning of the mountain is preceded by a short fireworks display.
 
 

How to get there

The base of Wakakusayama is located about a 10-15 minute walk from both Todaiji Temple and Kasuga Taisha. The mountain can also be reached on foot from Kintetsu Nara Station in about 35 minutes or from JR Nara Station in about 50 minutes. Buses run from either station as far as Kasuga Taisha (190 yen). How to get to and around Nara


 


Hours and Fees

Hours:9:00 to 17:00
Closed:Late June to mid September, late November to late March
Admission:150 yen

 
 
Kofukuji Temple
 
The Eastern Golden Hall and Five Story Pagoda
 
Kofukuji used to be the family temple of the Fujiwara, the most powerful family clan during much of the Nara and Heian Periods. The temple was established in Nara at the same time as the capital in 710. At the height of Fujiwara power, the temple consisted of over 150 buildings.
 
Today a couple of buildings of great historic value remain, including a five story pagoda and a three story pagoda. At 50 meters, the five story pagoda is Japan's second tallest, just seven meters shorter than the five story pagoda at Kyoto's Toji Temple. Kofukuji's pagoda is both a landmark and symbol of Nara. It was first built in 730, and was most recently rebuilt in 1426.
 
While entrance to Kofukuji's temple grounds is free and possible around the clock, there are two areas that require paying an entrance fee: Kofukuji's National Treasure Museum and the Eastern Golden Hall. The recently renovated National Treasure Museum exhibits part of the temple's great art collection and is an absolute must-see for lovers of Buddhist art. Among the many outstanding exhibits is the three-faced, six-armed Ashura Statue, one of the most celebrated Buddhist statues in all of Japan.
 
The Eastern Golden Hall, located not far from the national treasure museum, features a large wooden statue of the Yakushi Buddha. Another pair of interesting buildings are the Northern and Southern Octagonal Halls. They both originally date back over a thousand years, and their present reconstructions were completed in 1789 and 1210 respectively. The buildings also house some of the temple's treasured artifacts, but are only open to the public a few days a year.
 
Kofukuji's main building, the Central Golden Hall, was destroyed in a fire in 1717 and - although a replacement hall was built on a smaller scale in the 1800s - the original Central Golden Hall was not reconstructed. In recent years, however, it was decided to rebuild the hall in its full former glory. Reconstruction works are currently ongoing and are scheduled to be completed in the year 2018.
 
Construction Notice: As mentioned above, the Central Golden Hall is presently being reconstructed and scheduled to be completed in October 2018. Further reconstruction works around the hall are planned to continue until 2023. Despite the construction works, a visit to Kofukuji is still recommended.

 
 

How to get there

Kofukuji is a five minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station, or a 20 minute walk from JR Nara Station. Kofukuji can also be reached from JR Nara Station by clockwise running loop bus number 2 or any of the buses bound for Kasuga Taisha (7 minutes, 190 yen). Get off at Kencho-mae bus stop. How to get to and around Nara


 


Hours and Fees

Hours:9:00 to 17:00 (National Treasure Museum and Eastern Golden Hall)
Closed:No closing days
Admission:600 yen (National Treasure Museum), 300 yen (Eastern Golden Hall), 800 yen (both)

 
 
Naramachi
 
Naramachi (奈良町, literally "Nara Town") is the former merchant district of Nara, where several traditional residential buildings and warehouses have been preserved. Boutiques, shops, cafes, restaurants and a few museums now line the district's narrow lanes.
Many of the buildings in the Naramachi district were machiya, long, narrow "townhouses" that served both as the shops and the living quarters of the local merchants. The machiya's front was kept narrow in order to save on taxes, which used to be calculated on a property's street access rather than its total area. A few of the preserved machiya are open to the public.

 
Before the 15th century, the spacious grounds of Gangoji Temple occupied the area that is Naramachi today. Gangoji was one of Japan's most important temples during the Nara Period and has been dedicated a Unesco World Heritage Site. Only a couple of buildings of the temple remain today.
Below is a list of Naramachi's main attractions:
 
 

How to get there

Naramachi is located about a 10-15 minute walk to the south of Kintetsu Nara Station. From JR Nara Station, it is about a 20 minute walk to the southeast. Loop bus numbers 5 and 6 serve Kintetsu Nara Station, JR Nara Station and Naramachi. How to get to and around Nara