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.
Food wise, we were pretty thrifty and ate a lot of Ramen. We didn’t had any expensive indulgences (unlike my Osaka trip where I splurged $60-70/meal on Kobe/Matsusak Beef and Sushi) and didn’t even eat the famous Hokkaido hairy crab >_< My most expensive meal was a umi-ikura don (Sea Urchin/Salmon Eggs Rice Bowl) at Nijo Market, Sapporo for 3,000Y.
Hokkaido holds the record of being my first ever road trip with friends. The last road trip I can ever remember was to Malacca. Despite having a driving license for close to 6 years, I am no where near the level of driving confidently, let least overseas. Well, this trip has been a stepping stone for me in planning self-drive trips. Unlike the usual Free&Easy on public transport, self-drive has a lot of flexibility (which also means more choices and options) and complications (toll expressways, expressway closures, speed cameras).
We rented a MPV – Nissan X-trail (approx $244/pax). Including parking, petrol and toll charges, it was an additional $85/pax. Using an app on my phone, the distance we drove in total was 1,635.8km.
Singapore to Tokyo – JAL @ $699 return
Took the night flight for both legs of the journey as I wasn’t encouraged to take too many days of leave in my job. It was a 5-day annual leave trip whereby I departed on Friday night and returned on Monday at 6am, crawling to work like a stoned zombie at 9am. (Ignore me; always complaining about my holidays being tiring yet repeating the same decisions time and again =p)
JAL is not the cheapest option but I wanted to land and depart from the more convenient Haneda airport.
Tokyo to Hokkaido – ANA @ $242 return
TIP: If you book both flights on JAL in on single booking, you can save about $60-80 but I couldn’t do it because we took forever to decide on how many days we needed in Hokkaido and I was scared that the JAL ticket price will increase and I was not willing to fly in/out from Narita or take Scoot/China Eastern.
Day One – Stayed at a very convenient (but rather dated) airbnb apartment (Osaki JR, 1 station from Shinagawa) which is owned by a PRC couple with 2 young kids. Had the entire room for myself.
Day Two – The Strings by Intercontinental Tokyo at Shingawa. Very beautiful hotel with the hotel lobby on the 26F. The room is small by 5-star hotel standards but I guess it’s the norm in capital cities. Nice view of Tokyo City and the staff said we could see Mt Fuji from our hotel room if the sky was clear.
Day Three – Hotel AreaOne Obihiro. I love the high ceiling lobby and breakfast was delicious! We had a very big family room with a rather old school toilet. There’s a super big tub inside the toilet which I assume Japanese families bathe together in.
Day Four – Hotel Kifu Club Shiretoko. This is a beautiful ryokan (Japanese inn) with only 15 rooms. Had a tatami-styled bedroom with delicious DIY-tempura Dinner and Breakfast. It comes with a 1 hour usage of outdoor private hot spring. Very convenient in visiting Shiretoko National Park the next morning.
Day Five & Six – Asahidake Manseikaku Hotel Deer Valley. This is the only hotel which we were least satisfied with as the staff barely spoke or understood English. We were late in checking-in and we wanted to call to inform them and enquiry about dinner plans but the only reply we had was “No English.” Ironically, this was the hotel that we stayed for 2 nights.
Day Seven – Cross Hotel Sapporo. Hipster hotel situated in the heart of Sapporo = sky high prices despite being the smallest room. Paid $500/night for a “family” room which was basically a normal twin room + sofa bed. Furthermore, breakfast was not included. The convenience we paid for – 2 mins walk from Sapporo Clock Tower, 10 mins walk to Susukino.
Day Eight – The Lake View Toya Nonokaze Resort. Saving the best for the last – the most expensive hotel at Lake Toya which provides the best experience and fantastic buffet spread for dinner and breakfast.
Itinerary in Tokyo
- Shibuya Parco Pop-up Cafe (Little Twin Stars, My Melody 20th Anniversary)
- Yoyogi Park/Meiji Shrine/Harajuku
- Omelette Souffle Restaurant ふんわり卵 http://www.funwari-tamago.com/
- Yoyogi Park (beautiful park bustling with activities on a Saturday afternoon)
- Meiji Shrine (chanced upon a wedding procession)
- Harajuku – Calbee+ & Kiddy Land & Flying Tiger
- Tempura dinner at Shinagawa 天ぷら つな八 http://www.tunahachi.co.jp/
- Mori Art Museum – The Sun Cafe & Simple Forms exhibit (crowded like crazy as there was star wars and naruto special exhibition happening on the same day)
- Ippudo Ramen Shinjuku 新宿一風堂拉麵
- Golden Gai – highest concentration of bars in one area in old-Tokyo setting; very interesting and worthy of an adventure
- Yodobashi Akiba – buy your electronics at this place and don’t forget the floor which sells nothing but toys
- Aoyama Flower Market – florist + nicely scented flower cafe with flower-infusion dishes and tea
- Spiral – interesting (possibly overpriced) lifestyle shop. good for window shopping.
- Ichiran Ramen Roppongi – Strong competitor against ippudo but my vote goes to Ippudo
Itinerary in Hokkaido
New Chitose Airport (Sapporo) – Hotel AreaOne Obihiro – dinner
(Day 4 was supposed to start off with a 3:30am drive to see Unkai Terrace at Hoshino Resort Tomaru but we met with an expressway closure (only open at 6am) and if we took the alternative route, we would be late for Unkai. Moreover, the probability of sighting was only 30%. We ended up driving back to our hotel after a loop)
Shiretoko Five Lakes Tour (guided tour reservations required during summer) – Sounkyo – Hotel Asahidake Deer Valley
Patchwork Road – Blue Pond – Farms Chiyoda (Beef Stew) – Rollercoaster/Panorama Road – Farm Tomita – Yuiga-Dokuson (Omu Curry) – Cross Hotel Sapporo – Susukino (Pachinko + Ramen Street)
New Chitose Airport – flight to Tokyo
Be patient as I’ll blog about the more exciting things about my trip and insert the links above 😀
Tips for planning a self-drive road trip (Hokkaido Case Study)