9D8N Tokyo + Hokkaido: Self-Drive

Never did I expect that I will be visiting Japan again this year, 3 months after my previous trip to Osaka.

Before I start, I would like to share my awesome all-time-low exchange rate (100Y = 1.088 SGD) changed in end June 2015. As I type, the exchange rate is surging back up to 1.15 range due to the crisis in Greece.

Well, this trip has been pretty different from all my other trips free&easy trip to date as I was more flexible on the budget whereby we did not choose the cheapest option, especially for accommodation.

The budget of SGD $3,000 was set for this trip (actual figure: $3,315) – with $941 being set aside for my air tickets. Another $1,136 was for 7 nights accommodation and 7 day car rental where my friend chose all the accommodation which turned out to be an average of $126/night per person. For the second time ever, (with the first being at Sofitel Krabi last year), I stayed in a 5 star hotel with L’occitane toiletries.
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Lake Akan on a Rainy Day

Visiting Lake Akan was the second most disappointing thing that happened to us this entire trip (50% due to rain and 50% due to the marimo exhibits).

After our visit at the [Kushiro Crane Reserve], we drove about 1 hour 20 mins from Kushiro to Lake Akan. The weather wasn’t on our side that day as it was raining throughout the entire drive. Furthermore, we were rushing to be in time for the hourly Lake Akan cruise which would bring us to see the Marimo (green moss balls).

We literally ran to the counter to purchase the tickets (1,900Y) for the cruise ride. Any second later, we would have missed the 15:00 ferry and not have enough time to wait one more hour for the next cruise.

The cruise had a capacity of about 100 to 150 but there were barely 30 people during our session. I guess the rainy weather probably turned away a lot of people.

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Asahidake Hotel Deer Valley

According to the plan, we were supposed to visit Lake Abashiri and Sounkyo (Daisetsuzan National Park) before arriving at our hotel in Asahidake.

After our disappointing Lake Akan experience, we decided to give Lake Abashiri a miss too as the weather wasn’t looking too good either. We headed straight to Sounkyo despite the rain but it wad bad too.

Left: Expectation; Right: Reality

Lake Abashiri
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Furano & Biei

Summary of our day trip to Furano/Biei on a beautiful July morning:

We started from our accommodation at Asahidake.

(1) Seven Stars Tree セブンスターの木

(2) Furniture Slope (Random wood shop we spotted along the way)

(3) Blue Pond

(4) Kanno Farm

(5) Farms Chioya (Beef Stew Lunch)

(6) Roller Coaster Road

(7) Farm Tomita

(8) Curry Omurice @ Yuiga-Dokuson 唯我独尊

(9) Furano Glass Forest

 Furano glass forest Furano Glass Forest
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Otaru: Canal, Museums, and Much More.

After visiting Shiroi Kobito Park (the place which produce the delicious white chocolate biscuit), we headed on to Otaru, which was a 30 minutes drive away.

Otaru is one of the recommended destinations for tourists to visit as a day trip from Sapporo as it brings about a charming vibe with its low-rise conserved buildings. However for this trip, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed with my visit to Otaru – mainly due to its overcrowded streets filled with tourists. The entire town has been infiltrated with endless gift shops, eye-catching banners in English and a lot of people.

We visited on a Saturday, where the locals could possibly contributed to the crowd, and the available carparks were very almost packed (and expensive at the same time). Parking cost approximately 300-400Y for 30 or 60 minutes.; can’t exactly remember. If I didn’t recall wrongly, we parked at the parking area for a hospital. Everywhere in Otaru is within 20 minutes walking distance so I don’t think it really matters.

 Otaru town Sapporo
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The Lake View Toya Nonozake Resort

Despite running late for our buffet dinner (included in hotel’s price), we took a break at an observation area which was directly opposite the action and buzz of all the other Lake Toya resorts and hotels.

As it was close to dinner time, this place was.. empty; but I like it this way. The temperature dipped as the sun sets and we were pretty much braving the wind as we walked around the area. We also spotted a helicopter which probably offered bird’s eye view tour of the vicinity. The gift shop/restaurant at that area was not open too.

 Lake Toya view

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Mt. Asahidake of Hokkaido

Visiting Mt Asahidake was one of my highlights this trip because we chanced upon “snow” (or rather yet-to-melt ice) despite it being the start of summer already.

As mentioned in the previous article, it was drizzling in the morning so we switched to visiting Asahidake’s city, before returning to this mountain in the afternoon.

Although it wasn’t raining when we reached, the forecast at the bottom of the ropeway indicated “Cloudy” weather and “Unclear” for visibility. Since we were already there and there was nothing else to do anyway, we decided to proceed with going up the mountain (2,900Y for two way). If we had more time, we could have done a one way up by ropeway and trek down (1.5 to 2 hours).

 Mount Asahidake condition
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16 Hour in Sapporo: Shiroi Kobito Park

After having curry omurice, we headed off on a 2 hours drive from Furano back to Sapporo city. The drive was done on the tolled Doto expressway was approximately 1,200 or 1,400Y, can’t really remember.

Our stay in Sapporo was planned to be a short and quick one since it is likely that we will return here on our next visit.

For the night, we stayed at Cross Hotel Sapporo, which was situated right in the heart of the city. It was somewhat a hipster hotel with live music and band performances happening on some nights. Room wise – it was a very small quadruple room – 2 super-single bed with a queen mattress on the sofa-bed – given the hefty price of almost $500 (no breakfast) for a night. There was barely any walking space after we open our luggage. Thankfully it was only for one night.

 Cross hotel sapporocross hotel sapporo
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Unkai Terrace, Obihiro and Kushiro Crane Reserve

After chancing upon a picture of Unkai Terrace (Sea Clouds) before our trip from an online article, I knew that it was a place that I had to visit.

Unkai Terrace

We had to alter our itinerary time and again as you can only visit Unkai Terrace during pre-dawn timing to catch the waves of Sea Clouds. Furthermore, Sea Clouds occurrence (which only happens in summer) is not a guarantee and the sea of clouds possibility occurrence will be updated on their website on the afternoon before. Use google chrome to automatically translate the page, otherwise, you just have to look for the number before the % sign.
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Shiretoko Five Lakes Tour

It was a pity that our time in Shiretoko was very short (1 night & 1 morning). We could only choose 1 attraction to cover – which was visiting the Five Lakes National Park, hoping to spot a brown bear since it was the high season.

After bidding farewell to the awesome ryokan at Hotel Kifu Club Shiretoko, we took a short drive to the Five Lakes National Park. Thankfully, the skies were slowly clearing up from the rain yesterday.

As you can see, there’s still a bit of snow on the mountain top..

 Shiretoko mountain top snow
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