Archive | August 2014

Hong Thai Travel: 8 Days Hokkaido/Tokyo: Day 4

// To recap, we signed up and went for Hong Thai Travel’s 8 Days Hokkaido / Tokyo tour package and in this post and the upcoming posts, I will be sharing them via the days (e.g Day 1, Day 2 etc) but if some locations interest me enough, I will share them in details in a post on its own! This is so if anyone is researching on Hong Thai Travel’s tour package, you can have an idea on what to expect. So stay tuned!

The overview of the tour package can also be found here. Day 2 and Day 3 itinerary is already shared in previous posts! Day 2’s post is here and Day 3’s post is here!

Day 4 was a fun filled day with plenty of activities! We started off at a plum and blueberries farm and had lots of fun picking and eating as we go! Haha. I will be sharing more pictures in a separate post for this sight!

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Next up, we went to a Mt Showa Bear Ranch and had lots of fun feeding them!

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Just next to the Bear Ranch is Mt Showa, the youngest active volcano in Hokkaido! Will share more on the Bear Ranch and Mt Showa in other posts.

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During this trip, our itinerary didn’t include visiting any flower farms in Furano so the tour guide decided to stop by a sunflower field for us to take pictures!

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As we have some time in between, the tour guide decided to stop us at a Seaweed information center which was outside of the itinerary! At this place, it shows us how seaweed was collected and processed and there were lots of seafood products on sale.

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Lunch was yummy with Hokkaido scallop being the prime ingredient, we had grilled scallop, scallop in soup, scallop in rice and a stuffed squid. The rice was really good.

We then proceeded to Fort Goryokaku which was beautiful! A pretty and peaceful park and if you are here during the cherry blossom season this entire park will be in pink! My favourite was going up Goryokaku Tower to see the overall view of the Fort which is a star shaped fort! Will share more pictures in other posts!

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Hokadate Meiji-Kan (Old Post Office) was not listed in the itinerary but it turns out to be a beautiful place! I love the vibe of this place and there is a building selling pretty stuffs! Stay tuned to check them out in a separate post!

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After visiting the Old Post Office, we went for the worst dinner ever! It was a buffet with some hot food and BBQ but as Japan is under a nuclear energy crisis, the place didn’t turn on it’s air conditioner or probably turn to a temperature which was not cooling and we had a stuffy, warm and smelly dinner.

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Immediately after dinner, we head up to Mt Hakodate via cable car and the queue is crazy long! We queued up for almost 30 minutes before boarding the cable car and it was crowded! But we are not complaining as the view and cool breeze is enjoyable!

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After a very long day, we finally checked into our hotel which was spacious and clean!

Jigokudani or Hell Valley, Hokkaido

//Last week, I shared on an overview of our long awaited Hokkaido/Tokyo trip via Hong Thai Travel and I also shared on some of the places of interest we visited in our Day 2 and Day 3 of the trip. In this post and more, I will be sharing on some of the sites we visited in Day 3 in details with a lot more pictures! So stay tuned!

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I love visiting natural sights and it thrilled me to see a natural phenomenon which is not available in Singapore (come on, we only have Bukit Timah Hill) and something I’ve never seen before. So when we are at Hell Valley, I was thrilled.

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It is a valley with hot steam vents, sulfurous streams (means smelly) and other volcanic activity! It is also th emain source of our resort’s hot spring waters in the area of Noboribetsu.

Apparently there are many walking trails through the forests above Noboribetsu and if you follow them for 30 minutes, you get to Oyunuma, a sulfurous pond and nearby mud pond. Also, flowing out of Oyunuma, there is a river where you can enjoy a natural foot bath! But in a group tour, we do not have this luxury of hiking up to see them, but instead was given some time to walk on the wooden platform to the centre of the valley!

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Beware, if you are someone who pukes easily after smelling rotten stuff, please stay away! It smells like hundreds of rotten eggs all around you! I had to press my nose with a wad of tissue to survive the walk! Clean air is something we don’t appreciate until it’s taken away!

Shiraoi Ainu Museum,Hokkaido

//Last week, I shared on an overview of our long awaited Hokkaido/Tokyo trip via Hong Thai Travel and I also shared on some of the places of interest we visited in our Day 2 and Day 3 of the trip. In this post and more, I will be sharing on some of the sites we visited in Day 3 in details with a lot more pictures! So stay tuned!

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In the Shiraoi Ainu Museum houses a replica village of Ainu houses along a lake. Ainu people are the indigenous people of northern Japan and every hour (starting 15 minutes after the hour) there is a free performance with traditional Ainu folk dances and songs demonstration. Some of the performance are simple lullabies while others are chilling performance before the killing of animals.

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There is also a museum at the village showcasing the lives of Ainu people. It is a little creepy when we visited as there aren’t anyone else there and the thought of the movie, The night of the museum popped out. Heh.

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The other section of the village was an area with bears and Hokkaido dogs in cages, which I thought was pretty unnecessary. The cage is small and the living condition was not exactly the best. It is definitely interesting for tourists to see live animals but they could improve their living area. As for the Hokkaido dog, can’t it be trained and be allowed to run freely?

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Outside the village, there are also some souvenior shops selling wooden crafts and they even cut a tiny piece of wood to let us smell them. It is a nice fragrant!

Ishiya Chocolate Factory, Hokkaido

//Last week, I shared on an overview of our long awaited Hokkaido/Tokyo trip via Hong Thai Travel and I also shared on some of the places of interest we visited in our Day 2 and Day 3 of the trip. In this post and more, I will be sharing on some of the sites we visited in Day 3 in details with a lot more pictures! So stay tuned!

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In this post, I will be sharing on the second spot we visited in Day 2, the Ishiya Chocolate Factory. Ishiya is the brand of the famous “White Lover’s Chocolate” which in the past can only be bought in Hokkaido and was never imported. But because of its growing popularity, it can now be found in Tokyo airport and in Singapore whenever there is a Hokkaido fair.

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Even though the place is called a factory, it is more of a mini theme park than a factory. The owner of this place, created a happy and chirpy place and other than housing a mini showcase factory, there is also a rose garden, and some exhibits of his collectibles e.g antique tea cup sets, chocolate boxes, toys and gramophone etc.

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According to the guide, some tour agency only brings their customers to the rose guide and does not include the entrance ticket to visit the collectibles and the factory. So if you are coming with a tour, do read the itinerary carefully!

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We spotted an apple tree at the rose garden! Haha.

His collections are very extensive and it is like a mini museum in there.

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Beautiful antique tea cups.

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Love the floor tiles! Haha. Sorry for being random.

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These are my favourite. Antique chocolate boxes. Look how intricate these chocolate boxes are, chocolate in the past are luxury items and cocoa beans are really expensive. This fact I learnt from a Nutella event, where the creator of Nutella wanted everyone to enjoy having Chocolate spread, he created a Chocolate – Hazelnut mix as Hazelnut was cheap than and chocolate was only for the rich. I can imagine how expensive chocolates are in the past just by looking at the boxes.

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Beautiful vintage posters.

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Here’s where the factory begins.

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The factory is so beautiful as well. But of course, this is only a showcase factory where they produces limited quantities each day. They’ve got another full scale factory somewhere else in Hokkaido.

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After touring the factory, you can also see and buy these beautiful hand crafted sugar crafts. These are too expensive and pretty to be eaten.

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Children can also sign up for workshops! Now sure how though, it’s all in Japanese.

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The antique toys collection continued before we end the trip with some Ishiya soft served ice cream! If you are trying them, get the duo flavours one with milk and chocolate! Yummy.

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This won’t be the only ice cream you see as eating in this trip. Haha.

Hokkaido Jingu (Hokkaido Shrine), Japan

//Last week, I shared on an overview of our long awaited Hokkaido/Tokyo trip via Hong Thai Travel and I also shared on some of the places of interest we visited in our Day 2 and Day 3 of the trip. In this post and more, I will be sharing on some of the sites we visited in Day 3 in details with a lot more pictures! So stay tuned!

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“Hokkaido Shrine enshrines four kami including the soul of the Emperor Meiji. A number of contributors of the Exploration in Hokkaidō such as Mamiya Rinzō are also enshrined.”

” Emperor Meiji (明治天皇 Meiji-tennō, November 3, 1852 – July 30, 1912), or Meiji the Great (明治大帝 Meiji-taitei), was the 122nd Emperor of Japan according to the traditional order of succession, reigning from February 3, 1867 until his death on July 30, 1912. He presided over a time of rapid change in the Empire of Japan, as the nation quickly changed from a feudal state to a capitalist and imperial world power, characterized by Japan’s industrial revolution.”

In his reign, Japan fought and win during 1894, the Sino-Japanese War; where Japanese victory establishes Japan as a regional power with control over Qing Dynasty and Korea. And also in his time, 1904–1905, the Russo-Japanese War; Japanese victory earns Japan the status of a great power.

– Extracted from Wikipedia

So with all these history, our tour guide advises us, all Chinese from various parts of the world to not worship in this shrine. Buying the pretty amulet is also not encouraged as it is also inviting blessing from Emperor Meiji. This is definitely a history lesson as I’ve visited so many temples and shrines in Japan but was unaware of who they are worshiping. According to the guide, there are many Buddhist temple in Japan and those are alright. For example, my favourite temple in Asakusa worships Goddess of Mercy and the temple in Nara which worships Buddha. So these, according to the guide, is alright for us to worship there. But not Meiji Shrine in Tokyo and this.

With that, the idea of buying those pretty exclusive Hello Kitty amulet as souveniors is gone!

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Now back to the touristy pictures. Like in all temples and shrines in Japanese, visitors are encouraged to wash your hands and rinse your mouth before entering the temple.

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If you look carefully at the structure of the temple, doesn’t the roof resembles those ancient Japanese armour or helmet we see in anime?

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But no harm taking some pictures of these pretty Rilakkuma Wishing Board! Too cute and only seen in Hokkaido Shrine.

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Gah, my arms is huge! That’s the consequences of not going for my combat classes regularly.

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Pretty entrance towards the shrine. These are cherry blossom trees and when in full bloom, this corridor will be bursting in pink! Awww, I can only imagine.

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The shrine is so peaceful and the air is cooling and clean!

Near the entrance to the temple near the carpark, there is a shop selling handmade pastries and in there, there is free pastry given to all visitors. It tasted a little like red bean mochi pancake.

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There are also free hot green tea provided at the little hut.

Hong Thai Travel: 8 Days Hokkaido/Tokyo: Day 3

// To recap, we signed up for Hong Thai Travel’s 8 Days Hokkaido / Tokyo tour package and in this post and the upcoming posts, I will be sharing them via the days (e.g Day 1, Day 2 etc) but if some locations interest me enough, I will share them in details in a post on its own! This is so if anyone is researching on Hong Thai Travel’s tour package, you can have an idea on what to expect. So stay tuned!

Day 3 was a fun filled day with plenty of activities!

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We woke up bright and early for breakfast before heading to Hokkaido Jingu / Hokkaido Shrine. As the intended Naebo Yukijirushi Factory is full, we were brought to Hokkaido Jingu instead. It was a peaceful shrine and it is the only shrine where you can get Hello Kitty embroidered amulet. Great for Hello Kitty lovers, however the guide told us not to pray at this shrine as this shrine was build for the then Emperor Meiji who was involved in many wars. I will be sharing more pictures in another post!

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We then proceeded to Ishiya White Chocolate Museum which also deserves a post on its own!

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After Ishiya White Chocolate Museum, we visited Tokei-Dai, which was the first western university in Japan. All of the campus building were destroyed except the main building which houses the oldest clock house in Japan. This wooden building dates back to 1870s!

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After visiting 3 sites in the morning, we stopped for our lunch, DIY tempura lunch which was a disaster. Whoever came out with this idea is seriously insane. In the middle of our table is a hotpot filled with boiling oil, we gingerly put in the sticks of flour coated ingredient, but was scalded by oil popping out from the pot! OMG! I got scalded a few milimeters away from my eyes which resulted in a light scar. I could have been blinded! I know I’m just being a whiny drama queen, but this was a bad idea.

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After lunch, we headed to Sapporo Beer factory where we were walked through the beer making process and treated with 2 glasses of Sapporo beer! Great for beer fan!

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We then headed to Shiraoi Ainu Village to learn more about their aboriginal cultures. Will share more of this place in another post too!

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Another highlight of the trip, is to visit Hell Valley, a spectacular valley just above the town of Noboribetsu Onsen. It displays hot steam vents, sulfurous streams and other volcanic activity and is a main source of Noboribetsu’s hot spring waters. I’m a geography student back in my school days and I love visiting sights like these. A warning though, it stinks really bad. I almost give up the walk but press on with tons of tissue covering my nose! Will share more of this place too!

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We were then checked into a hotel where we need to sleep on Tatami at the Noboribetsu town. The lake view out the window is spectacular and there is an in-house hot spring public bath at the hotel. The facility is very much like a public swimming pool and I wasn’t tempted to soak myself in there. We were then served with in-house traditional dinner which wasn’t too bad.

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During summer, the lake in front of the hotel has mini fireworks display, and it was great to enjoy a cool walk by the lake watching fireworks! This is life! And this concludes the second day of our 8 days tour!

Hong Thai Travel: 8 Days Hokkaido/Tokyo: Day 2

// To recap, we signed up for Hong Thai Travel’s 8 Days Hokkaido / Tokyo tour package and in this post and the upcoming posts, I will be sharing them via the days (e.g Day 1, Day 2 etc) but if some locations interest me enough, I will share them in details in a post on its own! This is so if anyone is researching on Hong Thai Travel’s tour package, you can have an idea on what to expect. So stay tuned!

Day 1 was counted as departing from Singapore’s Changi Airport and Day 2 transiting in Tokyo. Day 2 was the most painful of all. The journey to Hokkaido was treacherous. Ok ok, maybe I am exaggerating a little. The overnight journey via Japan Airlines to Tokyo wasn’t that bad. It definitely wasn’t SQ standard, the food was not fantastic, but it was comfortable.

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Food served on Japan Airlines

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After 5 odd hours on the plane, we finally reach Nippon land! Oops, that’s me looking tired without makeup. My bad.

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We had almost 5 hours to transit to Hokkaido and it was a long 5 hours. Ate some crappy expensive curry rice at the Airport.

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Thereafter, we started shopping and walking around their domestic airport. Bought a small pack of Tokyo banana to share before hopping back on to continue our journey to Sapporo, Hokkaido!

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The first stop to visit in Hokkaido was Sapporo city. It in the late afternoon and yes, the transiting and traveling wasted most of our first day. We were brought to Odari Park where we get some time to walk about and shop in their underground shopping street.

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There are Zakka stores like these at the underground shopping street that has many pretty household items!

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There is a departmental store selling all yummy treats and we got ourselves the popular chocolate coated freeze dry strawberry to try! Yums. Love the sweet and sour combination.

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There was also a supermarket at the underground shopping street, and we can’t wait to have a taste of the famous Hokkaido melon!

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Shortly after the walk about at the underground shopping street, we were brought to enjoy a steamboat buffet. Nothing to rave about as the soup was practically water. There wasn’t any taste at all. There were unlimited shabu meat ranging from chicken, pork, beef and lamb but everything else is non refillable. Yes, very strange, vegetables and noodles were chargeable but not the meat. Strange ya?

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After dinner, we were whisked to our hotel and it gosh, the bed looks inviting. It was a pleasant stay and the room is spacious and comfortable.

That concludes our non eventful Day 1.

Overview of Hong Thai Travel: 8 days Hokkaido/Tokyo (Aug 14)

It has been a really long time since I last blogged and it only goes to show that my life is filled with fun filled activities! I hardly find the time to sit down in front of my Mac to blog nowadays! On top of my usual 3 days of yoga per week, I’ve got to go for 3 sessions of chiropractic therapy per week. Gosh. Anyway, I’ve got lots to share, first up will be on my Hokkaido/Tokyo trip via Hong Thai Travel, Hanoi trip with my company, Lighthouse Tour organized by National Heritage Board and upcoming in September, a short getaway to Tioman! Hehe. If you miss me on WordPress, you can follow me on Instagram here! Just search for somethingboutrenes!

Back to my Hokkaido/Tokyo trip via Hong Thai Travel, due to some last minute arrangement and family constraints in terms of traveling period, we decided to go with whichever tour agency that has a confirmed departure during our intended travel period. In the end, we signed up for Hong Thai Travel’s 8 days Hokkaido/Tokyo tour. It is technically a 7 days trip as the 1st day is counted in as departing from Changi Airport and overnight on the plane. So in my blog here, the first day of activity with transiting at Tokyo Airport is considered as Day 2. Booo.

Pros
Generally, the hotels provided in the tour was comfortable and spacious, unlike typical Japanese hotels which I stayed in most of the time. The food arranged was also wide in variety with opportunities to try Hokkaido’s crabs and top up for expensive food. The tour leader (a Hong Konger) was a typical uncle, he was also rather caring and self sacrificial in bringing the group around during his free time. He also brought us to one or two more additional sights which is not in the intended itinerary when time permits.

Cons
Some of the down sides, like all other package tour, most of the places we went to were touch and go, we didn’t get to enjoy enough time to truly soaked in the atmosphere. As the group is a rather some group of 20, there were no local tour guide allocated to us. So in the end, details of local cultures and history were not shared during the trip. We also picked a wrong package of squeezing both Hokkaido and Tokyo in one trip as we didn’t get to see much of Hokkaido in the short span of time, but yummy Ichiran Ramen and shopping in Tokyo more than made up for it. The route in this package also did not cover Furano which is famous for their huge flower fields and Lavender in June/July/early August. Lastly, it was not the best season to visit Japan, Summer in early August in Hokkaido is still bearable with occasional cool breeze but Tokyo was crazy warm!

So if you ask me if I would recommend this package tour of 8 Days in Hokkaido/Tokyo if given a choice, I would not recommend. I would love to visit Hokkaido on a free and easy pace in the future but as we were traveling with parents and in a group of 6, logistically speaking, package tour is the way to go.

During the trip, the trip was not planned according to the above itinerary, the flow of sights was ammended but all the sights stated was covered. In the upcoming posts, I will be sharing them via the days (e.g Day 1, Day 2 etc) but if some locations interest me enough, I will share them in details in a post on its own! So stay tuned!