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.)

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