Friday, May 26, 2017

Hokkaido Trip Summary

I'm back! And oh, how I wish I wasn't. Now cue the long wall of text!

How was the trip?

Firstly, my trip was a day short - thanks to AirAsia moving my flight a day later, and giving me seats I didn't book. Yay for AirAsia and their low budget service. Indeed, everyone can fly! Yes, I'm still sour about what they did. But alas, that's the AirAsia we know and love. With that said, the summary below will be a little different from the initial itinerary. Though, I must say, that despite spending one day less, I enjoyed my getaway in the cold of Hokkaido. Was it better than Tasmania, though? Hmm...

Day 1: Touched down in New Chitose Airport earlier than expected. After picking up the car, rented from World Net Car Rental through Tocoo, we headed to Noboribetsu. Chitose itself was colder than I've ever experienced, but Noboribetsu outdid it. It had a wind chill of 3 degrees celsius! We didn't spend much time there, as it was too cold to bear. But, we did have ice-cream at Milky House before heading straight for Hakodate. After checking-in, we went to Daimon Yokocho for dinner. It was too cold to ponder over what to eat, so we settled for the ramen shop by the entrance.

Day 2: We woke early for our drive to Matsumae. The sky overhead Matsumae was unlike the gloom in Hakodate and Chitose. Matsumae basked in heaven's spotlight, mimicking the first light after a storm. A place known for their variety of Sakuras, it's no surprise the weather was in its favour. As for the rest of the day, the itinerary was tinkered - we visited Goryokaku Park for tea time at Rokkatei, followed by Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse for shopping, and then Lucky Pierriot for dinner. Oh, fun fact: Sakura ice-cream tastes a lot like cough medicine... which I like. But unfortunately, the soft serve version was only available in Matsumae.

Day 3: Because of the change of travel dates, we had to check-in to another accommodation in Onuma Quasi National Park (more on this lodging below). But before doing so, we visited the morning market for squid-fishing and kaisendon. And since the weather was chilly, we decided to ascend Mount Hakodate under the morning sun. After which, we spent the rest of the day in the national park area - far from fun in the rain.

Day 4: Traveling day; we headed to Lake Toya for the trails, then Lake Hill Farm for ice-cream. The farm is worth the visit, as it not only offered decently priced gelato but mirrored the opening scene from The Sound of Music. Since we were pressed for time, we headed for Otaru right after (a place we can all agree wasn't worth the drive). Then in Sapporo, we strolled to Sapporo Factory Mall for a filling and cheap buffet dinner (of 1500 yen per person).

View from Lake Hill Farm - about 20 feet from a goat acting as the farm's
friendly pet dog (it had a dog house and was on a leash - no kidding).

Day 5: The day went pretty much as planned, except we omitted Ramen Alley. The Mount Moiwa hike took exactly an hour to the peak, and was a good mid-trip workout. We got to practice our 'konichiwas' while burning calories. Since we were staying in the city centre, we had time to return to our accommodation for a quick shower before exploring Sapporo city.

Dinner at Jingisukan Daikokuya.
They suggested 2 servings per person - a
serving costs about 700 yen. So, we had 10! 
Do also try their radish and almond salad.
It's really refreshing after a long day.

Day 6: Checked-out and headed for the Historical Village of Hokkaido. The village itself is pretty large, so we spent about an hour before leaving. It's a cool place for pictures, with history surrounding structures. As for Asahikawa's Ramen Village, it's smaller than it looks - don't expect much. However, I personally enjoyed Asahiyama Zoo. Aside from the glass panel, nothing is between you and the animals. In fact, some areas don't even have glass separations! It definitely beats Taipei Zoo.

Day 7: There's actually much less to do in Biei than expected. Most of our time were spent at Tokachidake Observatory, where we played with snow. It might've seemed strange to the other visitors, but coming from Malaysia, we couldn't resist making snow angels and having snowball fights. We also opted out of sushi dinner and went for Genghis Khan (Jingisukan Daikokuya) instead. Do note that if you don't reserve a table at Genghis Khan, you'll have to arrive early to get a number. I was there at 4:25pm and there were two other groups arriving at the same time - trust me, you want to be early. The restaurant is also quite difficult to pinpoint, so if you don't have an image, look out for a fat man on the restaurant header.

Day 8: The day we were looking forward to! But, we went during the wrong season... for hiking - my fault, mostly. I thought we could hike to the summit of Mount Asahi in trainers. But when we arrived, it was white. We couldn't even do the Sugatami Pond Circuit, because the ponds and circuit track were topped with snow! The most we could do was explore the vast whiteness, before our toes numbed - forcing us to retreat. And with ample of time on our hands, we dropped by a few of the 'flowering' spots in the vicinity (it wasn't flower season yet), before calling it a day.

It's still winter on the mount. The experience of sinking thigh-deep into snow is something 
we would remember for a lifetime. Or, until we see snow again.

Day 9: We departed early for Furano, making Campana Rokkatei our first stop for dessert/breakfast. Then, we headed to Furano Marche - to be honest, it didn't live up to its name. After which, we drove to Ningle Terrace. Ningle Terrace is beautiful in the day, and I can only imagine how amazing it would be at night. Once done with the sightseeing, we headed for Aeon Chitose to shop for meat for our barbecue dinner - our accommodation in Eniwa was the best (more on it below).

Sweet treats from Rokkatei - a fraction of what
Hokkaido has to offer.
Day 10: Booked a ride (from Chitose to Lake Shikotsu) and buffet lunch with Mizu No Uta. Frankly, Lake Shikotsu doesn't have much to offer. So after lunch, we rented bicycles for a one-way return trip to Chitose Station. It took almost 2 hours. If not for the need of some physical activity, I would advice against doing so. Also, since my last bicycle fall in my childhood years, I brought home a decent graze.

Day 11: Our Eniwa host kindly offered to drive us to the train station at 7am. The vacation ended shortly after some duty-free shopping, when we left Hokkaido soil for Malaysia.

Did the budget work?

We had an access of approximately 7000 yen per person, totaling around 28k as a group. This excess was after spending 15k (collectively) on unplanned, last minute shopping. 

Most of the excess came from the transportation budget, while some came from the food budget. With cheap meals from Seico Mart, and reasonable offers from Aeon, we could splurge in Genghis Khan, go on two buffets, snack on Hokkaido treats, and fill a basket with meat. So yes, RM5,500 is more than enough for 11 full days in Japan. 

*The budget summary is based on the initial 12 days 11 nights plan, despite only spending 10 full days in Japan as mentioned above. If you're curious about our 10-day budget surplus, it was around 38k.

How was the lodging?

(Click HERE for $25 off your first Airbnb stay!)

Hakodate: Spacious but with a bathroom on the ground floor. Also, narrow and steep stairs. Its location is pretty close to popular attractions. And the host made up for the lack of coffee and tea with free drinks.

Paarde Musee: I had to book this place after the flight change, and it didn't disappoint. It was more expensive than the other accommodations (about RM200 a night, per person), and the container home is rather small. But the surrounding farm, with horses ten feet from the doorstep, is a fun escape for a city dweller - a good stop for an overnighter.

The farm surrounding our container home.

Sapporo: It's a small living space on the third floor, with a challenge to find on a GPS. But the host is helpful, and it's only a 5-minute walk from Sapporo Factory. It's also very cheap for its central location.

Alas, our final stay.
Asahikawa: Unresponsive host, and useless wifi - it had reached its quota upon my check-in. So, don't bother with this place. The reviews on the Airbnb page is dated. I'm guessing the host gave up being a host, seeing as she didn't leave any reviews to allow newer reviews (possibly bad ones) to appear on her page. So, really, don't bother - stay as a last resort.

Eniwa: Yes, it is indeed, out of the way (placing between Sapporo and Chitose). But this home is worth the distance. For the price you pay, you get a fully equipped home with four bedrooms, and a kind, helpful host who lives right behind. Also, the host has the equipment you need to have your own barbecue! So consider this home if you're visiting Sapporo and Lake Shikotsu.

Did I do any shopping?

A minimum of 15k, yes. It's hard to resist the variety of Kit Kats and popular Hokkaido treats. And when you see people bagging boxes of the same stuff in the duty-free shops, one cannot help but do the same.

The new Kit Kat flavours I managed to get my hands on were Raspberry, Premium Mint, Hokkaido Melon, Sakura & Roasted Soy Bean, Sakura Matcha, Sakura Nihonshu, Wa-Ichigo, and that-dried-cherry-tomato-with-dark-chocolate-flavour-I've-no-idea-what-it's-called.

To sum the summary...

It was a fun escape from reality. I definitely love the self-less and laid-back culture of Hokkaido. And I plan to return in the future - to the places I've not been. Japan is a wonderful country with lots to see. I'm so glad I'm not done with it yet.

Where to next? Most probably - definitely aiming for - New Zealand.

(For more pictures of my trip, head over to Instagram! I'll be posting a whole lot of #throwbacks.)

Monday, April 24, 2017

How 'Price Less: A Musical' Changed Me

Let’s be honest, it’s not the musical that changed me - it was the arduous journey. But before I get into ‘how’, I have to admit that I wasn’t in glee to be part of the team. When I agreed to be one of the stage managers, I couldn’t shake off the immediate regret. I was aware that I had to sacrifice my time for a task I found little joy in. You see, I’m not a people person. I’ve not made new friends in years. And being thrust into an environment, where I only knew few of those involved... I actually kept to myself for months. So why - why did I agree to do it if I was going to dread it?

 The only reason I said ‘yes’ was because there was a need - a need I was prompted to fill. I knew God had placed this role on my lap, with reasons I wasn’t privy to. However, He didn’t force me to do it - He only hoped I would. And because I wanted to make Him proud, I grudgingly agreed. True enough, His reasons prevailed.

I joined the team in June, 2016 - wow, it’s been almost a year! And in those 10 months, I’d skipped hours of workout, ruined my diet at times, missed out on much needed sleep - and all for what? A questioning of my life’s priorities. What were they? This, was what I used to claim my priorities to be: God, Family, Dream, Exercise, Friends.

I use the word ‘claim’ because I claimed God was first. And by joining the Price Less team, God called me out on this claim. Yes, I agreed to do it because of God. But I wasn’t happy about it for the first few months - I wasn’t happy because I had to put God before family and my workout sessions. So in truth, God wasn’t on top of the list. Jeng jeng jeng.

When I realised this - no, when He made me realise this - my perspective changed. I decided to stop whining about the death of my muscles (yes, I’m exaggerating), and the hiatus of family days, to actively practice what I preached. And when I did, the journey became meaningful. Not only did I grow in my relationship with God - allowing Him to teach and mold me along the way - I was also open to meeting new people, and to offer my time to others.

Like I said, I’m not a people person. Friends came in last in my priorities. In fact, I rarely agreed to plans - especially dinner plans, because ‘I need to workout’. For me to actually say ‘yes’ to spending time with you, you’d have to be someone I’d consider almost family. Because the reality before Price Less was this: I was comfortable being alone. I didn’t need people to be physically around. I was completely fine in my own bubble. But, the reality after Price Less is different. I didn’t realise how wonderful it is to have a bigger circle of friends - to laugh with, cry with, fret with, and play with. The people I’ve met in this journey burst my self-bubble. And I’m glad it did. Though it took a couple of months, I eventually opened up to the idea of including new people in my life.

 It’s strange to hear me say this, but I look forward to meeting people now. I’m willing to give up my time - make a few sacrifices - for those I call ‘friends’. I’m still a little awkward with those I’ve just met, and I still avoid saying the first ‘hello’ to strangers, but I’ve learned to trust more and share more with those around me. And I wouldn’t be like this, if I said ‘no’ in the first place.

Honestly, I’m relieved that the tiring season is almost over. But I’m also sad - sad I wouldn’t be able to see the people involved, as frequently as before, after the curtain call. Nevertheless, I’m thankful I got to meet all of them. And I’m grateful, so very grateful, that God prompted me to do this. It has truly been... a priceless experience.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Budgeting Hokkaido - 12D/11N

Japan is pricier this time around. Malaysia didn't do well economically in 2016, and it is not strengthening its ringgit this year either. With the weak currency, I had to set the budget at RM5500. Now if only 100 yen was still RM 3, it would've been a cheaper holiday.

12 Days, 11 Nights in Hokkaido

*Ringgit is estimated based on currency exchange. Refer to yen for budgeting accuracy.
**Also, cost has been divided by 4 pax.

Transportation: RM 2560.69

KL to Hokkaido (return) via AirAsia: RM1240
10 Days Car Rental via Tocoo: RM523.74 (54,000 yen per group)
Tocoo fees: RM116.41 (RM465.67 per group)
10 Days Hokkaido Expressway Pass: RM90.20 (9300 yen per group)
Driving Permit: RM37.50 (RM150 per group)
Misc transport, parking, and petrol: RM552.84 (14,250 yen)

Entry Fees/ Activities: RM 75 (1920 yen)
*Entrance fees and boot rental.

Accommodation: RM 1432.50
Hakodate: RM486.50 (3 nights)
Sapporo: RM296.25 (3 nights)
Asahikawa: RM365 (3 nights)
Eniwa: RM284.75 (2nights)

Food: RM 1400 
(Daily budget of 3000 yen)

*At time of cash conversion, currency rate fluctuates around RM 3.90 = 100 Yen

Estimated Total Per Person: RM 5468.19

To view in-hand cash breakdown, scroll to the end of the itinerary in the itinerary post. What you see above is the breakdown of the complete budget, without going into the minute details. I'm glad I managed to keep it below RM5500. Hopefully, I'll have a surplus. Once I return, I'll let you know if the budget worked in the trip summary. 

*Now, I know I over-budgeted on miscellaneous transport. With little experience in self-driving holidays, I prefer to be safe than sorry. Besides, the extra can be transferred to the food and non-existing shopping budget. Who has a problem with that? 

Check out my other posts on Hokkaido:

Post-trip posts:

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Airbnb Hokkaido

I've never booked a hotel since I discovered Airbnb. That's how awesome Airbnb is - price wise. When it comes to the accommodation itself, you'll just have to read the comments by other guests. But generally, the places are pretty decent. Depending on the country, location, and your budget, there are hidden gems to be found. These are the four I've decided to go with.

(Want to give Airbnb a try? Click HERE to sign up and get 20$ off your first Airbnb stay!)

Do note I'll be driving in Hokkaido - I've filtered my search to include free parking on site, and a washer/washing machine (because we all have to wash clothes). 

Hakodate: This is the most expensive stay of the entire trip - RM162 per night per person. There are other cheaper Airbnbs in Hakodate, but this is most central. I'll be able to walk instead of drive, saving on parking and fuel. Also, it looks pretty spacious compared to the others... AND it has a washer. Oh, and despite the Japanese on the Airbnb page, the host speaks English.

Sapporo: Talk about price, this is the cheapest stay of the entire trip - RM99 per night per person. The basic search on Airbnb didn't show this lodging. I can't recall how I stumbled onto it. I just did. And when I did, I bookmarked it immediately. I imagine it to be pretty small as it always is with Japan, but with such a price and ideal location, it's a wonderful find.

Asahikawa: There aren't a lot of options in Asahikawa offering free parking. With the little variety, I settled with this. I do not have any expectations as the comments aren't all praising. However, it is only RM122 per night per person. I can't complain.

Eniwa: Just like Asahikawa, there aren't a lot of options near New Chitose Airport either. As this is my last stop, I didn't want to travel much on the day of my departure. So after discovering only one option, I settled with it. To be honest, it looks pretty awesome - it's a whole house! There's also a BBQ pit, and I intend to do some BBQing during my stay. The cost is RM142 per night per person. Also, the host speaks English. (*I found this listing on Airbnb first, but booked via Homeaway.)

The total cost of lodging is RM1433; averaging RM130 per night. I won't be able to find a comfortable hotel, with a washer, at that price. Comparing with my previous Japan trip, it's the same average cost - not accounting for the weaker ringgit this time around. What did I say? Airbnb is 'lit'. 

As always, I'll return with short reviews on the accommodation. I don't expect them all to be as wonderful as their pictures, but Japan is known to be clean. That's all I ask for. 

Check out my other posts on Hokkaido:
Hokkaido It Is - Trip Itinerary

Post-trip posts:

Monday, February 27, 2017

So It's Hokkaido, Eh?

The initial plan was New Zealand South Island. But during the planning, NZ blew my budget. Hence, I settled for a cheaper holiday though not less wonderful: Hokkaido. Having loved my previous trip to Japan, any reason to go back is a good reason to go back. So it didn't take me long to settle on this place.

Being the advanced planner I am, my itinerary was pretty much set in December. I've only decided to post it now, certain I won't make anymore significant changes to it. And with the current exchange rate (higher than my last Japan escapade), I've capped the budget at RM5500 - more on the complete budget and accommodation in future posts. For now, here's the itinerary.

*This isn't the full itinerary. Maps, dates, and accommodation were removed. 

Check out my other posts on Hokkaido:

Post-trip posts: