Saturday, October 31, 2015

Japan (Hokkaido) Autumn 2015

Beautiful autumn leaves in red & yellow in Hokkaido
Changing of leaves peaked in mid Oct-Nov in Hokkaido
Spectacular colour in mid-Sept

" You can always make money, you can't always make memories "

" Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer " 

" Life is short and the world is wide " 

" My 7 days (5 nights) joining an Autumn Fall Special (Round the Island) package tour with my wife to Hokkaido, Japan from 24-30 Oct 2015 - fulfilling our dream in seeing Hokkaido during the Autumn season "

Total expenses incurred (7days 5nights): Rm6,164 (US$1,447)

Tour Organiser: Apple Vacations & Conventions Sdn Bhd, Tel 603-21411818
Tour Package to Hokkaido: Rm6,099 inclusive of  hotels, food, tips, transport, Onsen baths & travel insurance
Flight: Air Asia Departing KL23.35 Arriving Chitose 08.10. Return Flight Departing Chitose 09.20 Arriving KL 17.00
Taxi: Rm65.20
Exchange Rates: Rm1(Ringgit)=Yen27; US$1=Rm4.26; Yen1,000=Rm36

Travel Highlights (Apple Vacations Travel's Itinerary 7 days 5 nights):

1) Experience: Natural Onsen / DIY Muachi Making/Fruit Picking

2) Attraction: Akan National Park / Daisetsuzan/Otaru Canal/Hokkaido Shrine/Ikeda Wine Castle

3) Enjoy: Shopping fun at Tanukikoji / Rera Chitose Factory Outlet Mall

4) Taste: Gala Seafood Lunch, Grilled King Crab + Abalone + Scallop/ Ishikari Nabe Set + Sashimi + Hokke Cuisine/ Deluxe Kaiseki Crab Cuisine/ Seafood Steamboat + Tempura

Travel Itinerary(7 days): Kuala Lumpur > Chitose > Ikeda > Akan National Park > Abashiri > Monbetsu > Mt Daisetsuzan > Otaru > Sapporo > Chitose > Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Map of Japan
Map of Hokkaido

In mid-August, our group of 4 had signed up with a local travel agency in Kuala Lumpur for a 7 day package tour to Hokkaido (Autumn season) departing from KL on 15 Oct to Chitose via a transit in Bangkok. However, a month before the departure date, we realized that due to a lack of number (minimum of 15 people) who had registered for this particular company's tour program / date, the agency had to cancel our booking and refunded our deposits ! What a big let down !

But it was a blessing in disguise ! We ended up signing up with Apple Holiday's tour package (a reputable tour agency in KL specializes in Japanese tours) which was a better option as we were able to fly Air Asia direct from Kuala Lumpur to Chitose, Hokkaido and some saving too in terms of tour price ! The rest is history  !

The number of tourist attractions we visited in this trip were superb (a good combination of city & country side viewing of Hokkaido), food was excellent and hotel accommodation was first class ! Both our Tour Manager (Lee San), Tour Leader (Felicia Ho) & Japanese driver were very professional in conducting their duties and displayed excellent team work & leadership, we were thoroughly satisfied with the excellent service they had rendered to this tour group ! After this trip, I believed Apple has scored some brownie points and overnight, we become "Apple-nian". Customer satisfaction is paramount important especially in winning business in a travel industry !

The weather in Hokkaido in late Oct was around 11c to -2 so make sure you bring along sufficient warm clothing to keep you comfortable especially in the mountainous area of Hokkaido. Otherwise, you could end up as a frozen Apple-nian !

If you love eating seafood & beef, Hokkaido makes you smile ! Plenty of seafood for you to savor and everyday is a seafood bonus day for you !
Sleeping on a Tatami bed & taking an Onsen bath (hot spring) were great experience for first timers. As a senior citizen, what an opportunity for me to strip naked, soaking my body in a hot spring bath to get rid of the tiredness due to daily morning calls and long distance travelling !

Hokkaido is a shopping haven especially for winter wears, shoes, souvenirs, cosmetics and food like confectionery, candy, dried seafood ie scallops & dried herbal products etc. For your happy & merry shopping, please bring along a stack of big Japanese notes preferably in 5,000 yen denominations - the more the merrier and shop with every opportunity in between meals in shopping streets or arcades !

Towards the end of the tour, I believe most of our group had seen quite a fair bit of Hokkaido tourist attractions; eaten gorgeous Japanese food especially seafood, tempura, miso soup , prime beef etc; having the fun of at least taken an Onsen (hot spring) bath; dreaming, snoring or sleeping soundly in a Japanese Tatami room on a cosy Tatami bed & last but not the least, shopping & shopping till the last pennies ! 

After the trip, I believe all of our tour members have emerged as winners of this 7 day fabulous Autumn Hokkaido trip organized by Apple Holiday. Indeed, Sapporo makes you smile, Apple makes you smile and we all smile, ever lasting smile after this Hokkaido trip !!! The pictures I posted in this travel blog said a thousand words ! Happy travelling and keep dreaming !

Day 1
KLIA2 (Kuala Lumpur) > Chitose Airport, Hokkaido (23.35>08.10 + 1)

Air Asia KLIA2>Chitose,Hokkaido direct

Day 2
1) Ikeda Wine Castle

2) Ainu Akan (Cultural Heritage & Handicraft Village) , Akan National Park

3) Lake Akan, Akan National Park

Day 3
1) Lake Machu, Akan National Park

2) Ryuosan Volcanic Valley, Akan National Park

3) Lake Kussharo, Akan National Park 

4) Fruit (Pears) Picking, Akan National Park

5) Okhotsk Tower - Underwater Drift Ice Observatory

Day 4 
1) Monument of the Crab Claw, Monbetsu

2) Okhotsk Sea Ice Science Museum of Hokkaido - Minus -20 Low Temperature Simulation Room

3) Okhotsk Tokkari Centre - Seal Protection Centre

4) Brown Bear Farm

5) Daisetsuzan National Park - Sounkyo Gorge Gin Ga No Taki (Milky Way Waterfall)

6) Daisetsuzan Sounkyu Mt Kurodake

Day 5 
1) Otaru Handicraft Street

2) Otaru Canal

3) Sapporo TV Tower 

4) Odori Park, Sapporo

5) Tanukikoji Shopping Arcade, Sapporo

Day 6
1) Hokkaido Former Government Building, Sapporo

2) Hokkaido Shrine

3) Okurayama Ski-Jump Stadium

4) Rera Chitose Outlet Mall

Day 7
Chitose Airport - Hokkaido > Kuala Lumpur (0920>17.00)

D-1 (24 Oct 2015) - Kuala Lumpur > Chitose Airport, Hokkaido

Air Asia Flight from KLIA2, Kuala Lumpur to Chitose, Hokkaido

Map of  Hokkaido

Our group of four from Subang Jaya (William Boey, Soon Hoh, Soon Mae & myself K M Cheng) joining a package tour (a total of 35 tour members) organized by Apple Holiday, Jalan Sultan Ismail, Kuala Lumpur ( Tel 03-21418250) for the Hokkaido Autumn Fall Special (7 Days 5 Nights) trip from 24-30 Oct 2015

Boey, Soon Hoh, Soon Mae & Cheng

Yokoso ! Hokkaido

Air Asia flight departing Hokkaido 08.35 arriving KL 17.00

Our Hokkaido tour group was led by Apple Holiday's Tour Manager from Kuala Lumpur (Lee San) & Tour Leader (Felicia Ho) - Thanks to the excellent service & commentary provided by Lee San & Felicia Ho for making our stay in Hokkaido a very pleasant & enjoyable one ! We were proud to be called Apple-Nian after this fabulous Hokkaido trip !

Tour Leader Felicia Ho (middle)
Tour Manager - Lee San 

Throughout the 6 day, the Apple's tour bus in Hokkaido was driven by an experienced Japanese driver and the bus was fitted with special anti-slippery tyres to ensure utmost road worthiness especially driving along the winding snowy mountain roads in Akan & Daisetsuzan National Park regions. The 6 day round the Hokkaido island trip had chalked up approx 1,000km of mileage from the moment we arrived at the New Chitose Airport to our final day hotel accommodation in Chitose Grand Terrace. Hokkaido (5.5m population) is twice the size of Switzerland so it is not that stressful taking the tour bus ride - an average of about 2 hour interval from one major tourist site to another tourist attraction and in between a short rest to wash rooms or a stopover for a lunch / dinner. This 6 day Hokkaido Autumn tour itinerary is ideally suited for children as well as senior citizen like me !

The total distance travelled to complete the 5 solid day tour program in Hokkaido based on a Google search is approx 895km. But as some tourist attractions are located away from the main trunk roads or in mountainous regions, additional time and distance have to be taken into consideration in order to arrive at the designated tourist sites.

Day 1 Chitose > Lake Akan - 261 km (3hr 34 mins)

Day 2 Lake Akan > Abashiri - 87 km (1hr 31 mins); Abashiri > Monbetsu - 108 km (1hr 54mins)

Day 3 Monbetsu > Taisetsuzan - 115 km (2hr 4mins)

Day 4 Taisetsuzan > Otaru -  235 km (2hr 48mins)

Otaru > Sapporo - 49 km (49 mins)

Day 5 Sapporo > Chitose - 40 km (48 mins)

Comparing to my free & easy May 2015 visit from Xian, China to Xinjiang / Kazakhstan / Kyrgyzstan & return, I travelled a total of 7,040 km over a period of 24 days ! Life after retirement is always full of challenges & at times rewarding !
"People's safety comes first. It is better to be safe than sorry"

D-2 (25 Oct 2015) - Ikeda Wine Castle / Akan National Park / Ainu Kotan

Map of Mt Akan

Day 1 - Apple's Travel Itinerary in Hokkaido

To kick start of our first day visit, let me make a bid to all of our Apple's tour group members a very warm Yokoso (welcome) to Hokkaido ! Do enjoy every moments of your time (besides seeing, shopping, eating & sleeping) while in Hokkaido ! The best of Hokkaido is yet to come but Apple Holiday will take you there from now on ........

Accommodation: New Akan Shangrila Hotel (3 1/2 star) - next to Akan Lake, roof top hot spring bath, 200 mins from Akandake Jinja Temple, 10 mins walk to Ainu Traditional Dance Theatre & Ainu Kota Village. Online booking in early Nov is Rm646 (US$152) per room (twin) + Y250 city tax per pax per night inclusive of free breakfast .

A magnificent 7 storey hotel
How about a rooftop hot spring bath ?
Located opposite Lake Akan
Big dining room
 A 4 star rating for this hotel in Lake Akan ?
Tatami room , tatami mats, & oriental furniture
Japanese style tatami bed
Careful, not to fall flat into the bathtub !
Hope everybody sleep well tonight ! Keep dreaming about Hokkaido !

Breakfast : Air Asia Meal On Board (Chicken Sandwich or Nasi Lemak)
Lunch : Japanese set lunch at a country side local restaurant cum souvenir/gift/food shop - our first Japanese meal in Hokkaido - taste great & a great start !

Dinner : Hotel Buffet - plenty to eat & dine ! Our first Japanese hotel buffet dinner - eating in comfort as though we were all celebrating a birthday treat for someone dear in Hokkaido !

Travel Highlights:

Late Autumn & early winter scenery from airport to Ikeda Wine Castle - beautiful scenery as taken from a moving bus, leaves of maple & ginkgo trees turned red & yellow - nature at her very best ! Due to the climatic change, winter has arrived early in late Oct in the mountainous regions of Hokkaido.

1) Ikeda Wine Castle - our first visit in day one as soon as we landed in Chitose airport, very educational - the vineyard, the wine cellar, wine tasting, wine showroom display etc. After this, our bus had to wind it's way towards the Lake Akan area ........

free wine tasting 

2) Ainu Kota (Ainu Cultural Heritage & Handicraft Village) - a small Ainu village in Akankohan, a street dominated by souvenir shops selling Ainu handicrafts. It was getting dark at around 4.30pm when we visited this village, at times windy and bitterly cold ......

3) Lake Akan - a beautiful crater lake overseeing the New Akan Shangri-La hotel, located in eastern Hokkaido along with Daisetsuzan National Park. The Akan National Park is well known for its 3 beautiful lakes ie Lake Akan, Lake Machu & Lake Kussharo - thanks to Apple, we saw them all in this trip !

After an overnight flight from Kuala Lumpur to Hokkaido and a long day tour, I had my first natural Onsen bath at the New Akan Shangrila hotel in the evening after a heavy buffet meal. Wow ! After the first endeavor, I got addicted and had two more subsequent Onsen baths at Mombetsu Prince & Sounkyo Taisetsu hotels ! Very refreshing indeed after the hot bath and for first timers, this could be their first "adventure" appearing naked in a public Onsen pool ! A first trial experience for both my wife & sister in law - both too enjoyed very much soaking their bare & tired bodies in the Onsen pool even though it was just for 15-20 mins !

At the Ikeda Wine Castle visit, our group had a free wine tasting and also bought a cone of soft served ice cream with milk or grape flavour (Y300) - yummy & delicious !