Hokkaido Winter Drive – Concluding Thoughts

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It was a fantastic time doing my first winter road trip in Hokkaido, Japan. I first fell in love with Hokkaido 10 years ago on our first trip there. This time, we experienced a whole new dimension and we found ourselves falling in love again with the country and the wonderful people here. This are the things we will remember from the trip:

  • Driving in the Snow – we had some truly unforgettable legs, especially at Jozankei and Niseko, where we were literally driving through a winter wonderland. It was a very surreal special feeling. What beautiful mountains and countryside they have in Hokkaido, and with the entire landscape capped in snow, it was simply magical.
  • Check the Dates! – can you imagine my horror when I went to collect my car rental in Sapporo, only to find that I had booked the car on the wrong dates? In my rush, I had carelessly put the month as October instead of November on my car rental booking. To make it worse, there was no longer any car available to rent from Sapporo. Thankfully, I had my brother-in-law to save the day. We managed to find an available rental car in Otaru two days later. So the first two days of the road trip to Jozankei and Otaru, we used my brother-in-law’s rented car to shuttle both our families.
  • The Wonderful People of Hokkaido – In Otaru, my wife and son had to wait for me at the hotel lobby while I drove back to Jozankei to pick up my brother-in-law’s family. After some time, my son became hungry, and my wife had to walk to the nearby convenience store to pick up some food for him. Now this would be a trivial affair for most of us, but my wife suffers from cerebral palsy which affects her walking and her balance. It can be quite a scary ordeal for her to navigate uneven ground or even steps. When she walked to the convenience store, she found the store front had steps at the door with no railings to help with balance. An elderly Japanese man was waiting for his bus at the nearby bus stop. He noticed my wife’s hesitation at the store front and asked her what the matter was and if she needed any help. After my wife explained the situation to him, the man offered him his hand to help her up the stairs, which my wife gratefully accepted. As my wife looked around the convenience store, she then noticed that the man came back into the store and he started speaking to one of the attendants at the convenience store. As it turned out, he explained to the attendant my wife’s situation and that his bus was about to arrive. He had asked the attendant to help my wife down the steps after making her purchase. My wife was extremely moved my the man’s simple act of kindness. He really went the extra mile to make sure that my wife’s needs were taken care off. When my wife shared with me what happened, I was really bowled over. How amazing the people are… so thoughtful, so sincere, so genuine. The world would be a better place if we were all like the wonderful people of Hokkaido.
  • The Amazing Food – I always tell people, it is almost impossible to find a bad restaurant in Japan. The food here is amazing, and even the fast food taste better than what we get back home. We believe that it is because the people of Japan take pride in what they serve their customers. The attention to detail, the commitment to quality ingredients and food preparation processes, all these result in a food paradise that is unlike any other country on the planet.
  • Thank God for Google Maps – This was a life-saver, especially when the supposedly English-enabled GPS unit in our car strangely did not have an English keyboard to input the required destinations. What’s the point of having an English-enabled GPS when there is no English input mechanism? SMH.
  • My Son’s First Experience with Snow – He took to the snow like a dog to a bone. 🙂

All in all, these four days on the road in Hokkaido really opened our eyes to a different world, one that we will always remember. We hope to go back soon!

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This is part 10, and the final entry of my Hokkaido Winter Drive blog series, look out for my next blog series which will start shortly!

My wife and I enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship over a nice home-cooked meal. If you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!


2017 Hungary Winter Drive Blog Series

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

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Hokkaido Winter Drive – Back to New Chitose Airport

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How time flies when you are having a good time. Sadly it was time for us to head back to New Chitose Airport, where our winter escapade began.

We had to choose between the quick route along the Hokkaido Expressway and the more scenic seaside drive along Route 36. Naturally, we chose the Route 36, also avoiding the expressway tolls which aren’t cheap.

This was a surprisingly smooth journey, except around the Tomakomai area, where there were plenty of traffic lights. This is a great area to have a meal or to shop, but pity we didn’t have the time to do so, as we were rushing to return our car before the 12noon deadline.

Thankfully, we made it to the Times Car Rental depot in good time. It was a pretty smooth and quick process returning the car, and in no time we were on the complimentary shuttle bus heading towards the airport.

The New Chitose Airport is nowhere as big as Changi or Narita, but it is certainly a shopping and dining paradise nonetheless. There are loads of wonderful restaurants. We settled for lunch at a Sushi restaurant which amazed us with its high tech checkout process.

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All the waitress had to do was to use a handheld device, armed with Near-Field Communication technology, to “scan” all the empty sushi plates on the table. It looked a lot like a magician waving her magic wand. In a few seconds, the cost of our meal was automatically displayed on a compact LED screed which we then brought to the cashier to settle our bill.

After lunch, we explored the myriad shopping and entertainment options at the airport mall. There were a lot of places to keep kids entertained, from Hello Kitty World, to Doraemon World, to Royce Chocolate World:

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Only in Japan, where kids of all ages never grow up! 🙂


This is part 9 of my Hokkaido Winter Drive blog series, click HERE to read my concluding thoughts about our trip!

My wife and I enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship over a nice home-cooked meal. If you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!


2017 Hungary Winter Drive Blog Series

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

 

 

Hokkaido Winter Drive – Kojohama

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After our visit to Hell Valley, we proceeded down the mountain to our accommodation for the night at the Kojohama Spa Hotel. We chose a Japanese style room with tatami beds which provided a more authentic local experience compared to the western style rooms we are more accustomed to. The only issue with our room was that we could not find the bathroom, even after opening every single door in the room. There was a toilet, a sink, but no bathroom. After going back downstairs to check with the reception, it turned out that the rooms literally DID NOT have bathrooms, and it was expected that the guests would use the onsen facilities, shared with other guests, to shower and bath. Interesting indeed. The only issue being the inconvenience for my wife, who suffers from Cerebral Palsy. Having poorer balance, it would not be easy for her to manage on her own in the shared bath with steps and slippery floors and all.

Thankfully, the hotel staff, after some consideration, offered us a complimentary upgrade to a bigger family-sized room, which had a shower facility inside the room. We were eternally grateful for their kind gesture, a real unexpected blessing indeed!

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After settling down in our new room, we proceeded out to a nearby Izakaya restaurant そばの池田 for dinner.

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This was a quiet place, where mainly the local people hang out, with hardly any tourists. With no English menu, it was a little difficult to figure out how to order, but the staff were very patient and helpful. With the food pictures that were available and whatever limited Japanese we knew, we made our orders. Man, the food was amazing!

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The tempura was the most well prepared we have ever tasted in Japan, fried just right, delicious, crispy but not oily or soggy. The sashimi set was amazingly fresh, and well presented.

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All in all it was a wonderful place to have our final dinner of our road trip, before heading back to New Chitose Airport in the morning. The prices, while not cheap, were still reasonable considering the quality of the food provided.

This is one of the greatest advantages of doing a road trip, you have the flexibility and convenience to drive out to find good food!

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After dinner, we returned to the hotel, where I had a long soak in the onsen. For the first time for the trip, I tried the outdoor pool. It was an interesting feeling, being completely naked outdoors in the freezing cold. Surprisingly, although the temperature must have been around zero degrees Celsius (it was snowing lightly at that time), it didn’t seem all that cold, perhaps because of the heat emanating from the hot spring. It was certainly a good way to unwind and relax, and I begin to understand why the Japanese love their onsens!


This is part 8 of my Hokkaido Winter Drive blog series, click HERE to read part 9 where I share about the final leg of our road trip as we head back to New Chitose Airport.

My wife and I enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship over a nice home-cooked meal. If you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!


2017 Hungary Winter Drive Blog Series

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

 

 

 

 

Hokkaido Winter Drive – Jigokudani (Hell Valley)

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After lunch at Lake Toya, we proceeded to Noboribetsu Hot Springs for our final night of the road trip. After arriving in mid-afternoon, we proceeded to walk the infamous Jigokudani (Hell Valley) in the bitter evening chill.

With the smell of sulphur and the billows of smokes from the bubbling pits, there will be no prizes for why it has acquired such an ominous moniker.

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This is the valley of fire and ice, where the warning signs abound of untold dangers:

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All in all, a very memorable trek through an unforgettable landscape, one which we read about in our Geography classes, but never had the opportunity to experience for ourselves first hand.

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This is part 7 of my Hokkaido Winter Drive blog series, click HERE to read part 8 where I share about our little unexpected surprise at our hotel for the night!

My wife and I enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship over a nice home-cooked meal. If you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!


2017 Hungary Winter Drive Blog Series

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

 

Hokkaido Winter Drive – Niseko to Lake Toya & Noboribetsu

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The next morning, we enjoyed a wonderful buffet breakfast spread at the resort and watched with intrigue as the snow plough worked hard to keep the driveway clear of snow.

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There were some incredibly brave souls who were determined to have a go at the ski slopes in spite of the hostile weather and the ski lifts not being in operation. They must have taken at least half an hour to trudge up the slopes and only 1 minute to ski down. Pretty hard work for a fleeting moment of pleasure.  It reminds me of how at amusement parks we have to wait 1 hour just to take a roller-coaster ride that lasts less than a minute. The lengths we humans go through to pursue our passions!

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After breakfast and when the weather calmed down a little, we set off for what would be the most entralling leg of our winter drive, heading towards the Noboribetsu Hot Springs.

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Driving through the highlands that morning was truly magical, with the snow glistening in the morning sun.

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At some points, save for the tire marks and the marking posts lining the sides of the road, it would be practically impossible to make out where the road ends and the fields begin. It simply looked like a single sheet of winter white, the colour of the ground perfectly matching that of the cotton clouds in the sky.

We reached Lake Toya around noon-time. Wow, what a scenic place!

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Lake Toya is a volcanic caldera lake within the Shikotsu-Toya National Park. With its crystal clear waters and little islands in the middle, it is so beautiful that it is impossible to take a bad photograph!

After lunch we continued on our journey towards the Noboribetsu Hot Springs.


This is part 6 of my Hokkaido Winter Drive blog series, click HERE for part 7 where I share about our walk through the valley of fire and brimstone!

My wife and I enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship over a nice home-cooked meal. If you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!


2017 Hungary Winter Drive Blog Series

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

Hokkaido Winter Drive – Otaru to Niseko

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After one night in Otaru, we set off for Niseko, a town near the dormant volcano of Mount Yotei,  surrounded by major ski resorts. We were eagerly anticipating this leg of the journey, as we were keen to experience the wintry conditions there.

Our first challenge of the day would be to figure out how to pump petrol in Japan. The pumps were truly amazing, offering a completely self-service experience from start to finish, except that we had a bit of trouble because we could not read Japanese and we had to get help from fellow motorists and eventually the station manager in the office to key in the correct settings onto the touch screen. The key things to remember is to pump the correct fuel! Normally, the green colored pump will dispense diesel and the red and yellow colored pump will dispense regular petroleum and high-octane petroleum respectively.

Before you start pumping, you have to make payment via credit card or the automatic currency counting machine, and you have to put your hands on the red hand diagram to discharge static electricity and avoid sparking off a fire.

After you finish pumping, the machine will automatically dispense you the change, which was pretty cool!

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At our rural gas station, the fuel lines came down from the ceiling!

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After pumping fuel, we headed into the highlands, and we were treated to some seriously snowy driving conditions. The scenery was surreal and beautiful beyond words, especially for people like us who come from a land of perpetual heat and humidity. There were lengthy stretches where the roads were white, and we could not see where the roads end and the fields begin. It was a real treat!

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Eventually we arrived at our beautiful resort – Niseko Northern Resort An’nupuri, which I highly recommend for its wonderful facilities and amazing food (the buffet breakfast is to die for!). We also enjoyed our visit to the Onsen here, and did plenty of playing in the snow!

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We must have had a full metre of snow fall that night, it was just so magical. The only problem is trying to find our car the next day!

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This is part 5 of my Hokkaido Winter Drive blog series, click HERE to read part 6 where I share about the beautiful Lake Toya as we drive towards Noboribetsu Hot Springs!

My wife and I enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship over a nice home-cooked meal. If you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!


2017 Hungary Winter Drive Blog Series

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

Hokkaido Winter Drive – Otaru City

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Otaru Music Box Museum

This is the third time we have come to Hokkaido, but in our previous trips we have never visited Otaru. Otaru is a small harbour city, easily accessible from Sapporo by a 30 minute train ride. It is famous for the freshness of its sushi, as well as its canal walks and quaint shopping streets.

Having only one afternoon and evening to explore, we decided to take a walk down the Otaru Sakaimachi Shopping Street, which is popular with tourists and locals alike. Along this street, you can find plenty of local delicacies to eat, restaurants, snacks, deserts, mementos, everything that a tourist will need!

We had lunch at a sushi restaurant, and the food was delicious indeed!

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After lunch, we topped up with desserts from the Japanese Maccha Sweets shop, where they serve all sorts of Japanese Green Tea desserts, pastries and ice-cream.

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Walking further down the street, we picked up some souvenirs and eventually ended up at the Otaru Music Box Museum. This is a very interesting place, filled with music boxes of all shapes and forms. They also sell a host of music boxes of different grades and designs, but all of them were well crafted and unique. The prices are also pretty reasonable, considering the workmanship.

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Creative Designs

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Intricate and Captivating

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Sushi Music Boxes

We happily chose a simple music box with a lovely tune to bring back as a keepsake.

After the museum visit, we headed back to the hotel to rest and recharge.


This is part 4 of my Hokkaido Winter Drive blog series, click HERE for part 5 where I share about how to navigate the Japanese petrol stations without knowing any Japanese and our trip to the highland ski resort at Niseko!

My wife and I enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship over a nice home-cooked meal. If you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!


2017 Hungary Winter Drive Blog Series

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series

2017 Drive from Singapore to Thailand Blog Series