Singapore Top Travel, Beauty, Food, Lifestyle Blog

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Hokkaido Aug'17: 12D11N Summer Road Trip Itinerary


Konichiwa, folks! 

As you might already know, Japan is one of my top favourite destinations in the world! To date, I've been to Japan eight times, and I am still not tired of the country, what with its crazy amazing food, unique culture and gorgeous countryside/nature. Japan just has so much to offer, and every trip is always a brand new experience.

I have always, always wanted to visit Hokkaido, and I'm really glad that I made it happen this summer! 

Although Hokkaido is famous for its winter and ski resorts, it's an absolutely splendid place to visit during summer time. Summers on the island of Hokkaido are mild and cool, with beautiful weather  as well as their famous fields of flowers and lavender in full bloom!

I'll be sharing my 12D11N self-drive itinerary in this post, and will be following up with more detailed posts on each area and what they have to offer - I am certain that you'd fall in love with Hokkaido in summer, just as I did.

Basically sums up my time in Hokkaido. Lots of pretty flowers, onsen & soft serve ice cream - What is there not to love?

Flights to Hokkaido

First things first, flights to Hokkaido! There are no direct flights from Singapore to New Chitose Airport, and your best option is to do a layover at either Narita or Haneda Airport, before another short domestic flight to New Chitose Airport, located near Sapporo. Both ANA and JAL offer flights to New Chitose Airport, but tickets usually cost at least SGD800 and above for a return trip.

The next best option in my opinion is to fly via Thai Airways, which consists of a ten-hour layover at Bangkok, but costs less than $600. If you book early and there's a good promo going on, flights could be even cheaper than $400!

This could be a good option for you if a 10-hour layover at Bangkok isn't a problem - You even get to squeeze in some Thai massage and mango sticky rice before/after your Hokkaido trip!

I use Skyscanner to check for the cheapest ticket prices in the vicinity of my travel dates. Basically, SkyScanner searches for the cheapest airfares across 1,200 airline and travel sites, and there's also a feature that tells you exactly which dates offer the cheapest flights in that month, which is great to know, especially if you have slightly flexible travel dates.


How Long To Spend In Hokkaido?

Of course, when you book your flight, you need to have an idea of how many days you're going to be spending in Hokkaido. In my opinion, anything less than 7 days is really too short, because Hokkaido is huge and there are so many different, interesting areas to explore! Getting around from destination to destination also takes time, with our longest drive being over 2.5 hours long.

I had initially planned for a 7-day stay in Hokkaido, but found myself wanting to stay on longer and revised my plans! It also depends on what kind of vacation you prefer, do you want to just touch-and-go throughout the different areas (perhaps stay in Sapporo and do day trips throughout) or really travel around, staying overnight and experiencing what each area has to offer?

I went for the latter, taking my time to experience and indulge in what Hokkaido had to offer. It was a rejuvenating and highly gratifying experience that fulfilled the wanderlust in me and fed my soul.

Car Rental/Self-Drive in Hokkaido

Why choose to self-drive in Hokkaido? Unlike Tokyo or other parts of Japan, Hokkaido is a wild island that is a lot more sparsely populated, and getting around from destination to destination is so much more convenient with your own car!

It's not difficult to drive around in Hokkaido as most of the roads are well-maintained and traffic is friendly. Gas stations are aplenty and at no point in time did we run into any trouble on the roads.

Apart from the picturesque scenery along the roads, if you're fortunate enough, you might even run into wild foxes on the road, as I did!

This beauty was right smack in the middle of the quiet road that we were driving on - Instead of running away, it even approached the car as we slowed down to take pictures and say hi!

We rented our car online from RentalCars.com. For roughly SGD100 a day, you'll get yourself a decent Japanese car - In our case a Honda Fit. We picked up the car from a counter at New Chitose Airport (after which you'll be brought via shuttle bus to the car rental company to pick up your car).

You can decide on a few different locations to pick up and return your car, and we decided on returning the car at Sapporo (our last destination) as it's more fuss-free to travel around Sapporo City via public transport/walking. This way, we could also take the train from Sapporo to New Chitose Airport, saving on a couple days of car rental expenses.

Do remember to apply for your IDP (International Driving Permit) beforehand in Singapore and bring both your driver's license and IDP along when you pick up your car! You might not be allowed to pick up your car without these necessary documents.

The staff at the counter briefed us on how to use the built-in GPS, instructions on fuelling up the tank and numbers to contact in case of any emergencies, but we didn't have any issues with the car at all. ;)

Accommodation in Hokkaido

Hokkaido has got a plethora of unique accommodation options to offer, from ryokans (traditional Japanese styled rooms), pensions (sort of like b&bs), resorts and hotels. Prices can differ drastically - from SGD800 for a room with private onsen in Noboribetsu to under SGD100 for a small hotel room in Sapporo City.

Some of the websites I booked my accommodation from include JapanICan.com, Bookings.com, Agoda.com and Hotels.com! Here's a list of the various accommodations I booked for Hokkaido below.

*Starred accommdations are the highly recommended ones! Do also note that I booked my hotels quite late so they got pretty expensive. If possible, try to book as early as you can for the best prices!

AreaAccommodationPrice Per Night (2 Pax/1 Room)
Noboribetsu Ryotei Hanayura (Private Onsen)*787.57
HakodateLa Vista Hakodate Bay Hotel*308.59
Furano/Bielpetit hotel MELON Furano273.5
Lake ToyaThe Lake View Toya Nonokaze Resort*371.77
JozankeiJozankei Hotel221.22
Sapporo/OtaruHotel LiVEMAX Sapporo Eki-mae86.99


WiFi Connectivity in Hokkaido

I stayed connected via my pocket wifi device from Changi Recommends!

This device can be booked online via Changi Recommends' website, then picked up and dropped off at Changi Airport on your day of departure and arrival. Extremely convenient and fuss-free! The network was very strong, save for some mountainous roads and areas where there was no reception. You can connect multiple devices to one pocket wifi too!

Hokkaido 12D11N Summer Road Trip Itinerary

The trickiest part about planning my self-drive road trip was determining the sequence and driving routes to make for the most time-efficient and sensible itinerary, as many of the places I wanted to visit were located all over the island of Hokkaido.

Some highlights of my itinerary include: the private onsen at Noboribetsu, fruit picking at Jozankei, traditional wagyu sukuyaki lunch at Hakodate, Furano's gorgeous flower farms and our day trip to beautiful Otaru!

There's really loads more to do in Hokkaido that I didn't get the opportunity to explore, from checking out the amazing coastal view at Shakotan/Cape Kamui to dolphine/whale watching at Shiretoko National Park.. Hokkaido is one of those places you really don't mind visiting again and again!

After studying the map for the longest time and lots of consideration and intensive brain work, I decided on the below itinerary:

Hokkaido 
12D11N Itinerary
1 August - 12 August 2017

Day 1 - Chitose to Noboribetsu

Arrive at New Chitose Airport
Pick up rental car
Lunch at Wagyu Bibi Log House
Drive to Noboribetsu (58min)
Accommodation at Ryotei Hanayura (Private Onsen)
Kaiseki Dinner at Ryotei Hanayura


Day 2 - Noboribetsu to Hakodate

Breakfast at Ryotei Hanayura
Explore Jigokudani (Hell Valley) at Noboribetsu
Drive to Hakodate - Lunch stop along the way (2h 34min)
Accomodation at La Vista Hakodate Bay
Dinner at Uni Murakami (sea urchin restaurant)

Day 3 - Hakodate

Explore Hakodate Morning Market
Lunch at Asari Honten (wagyu beef sukuyaki)
Explore Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse area
Go on Mount Hakodate Ropeway
Dinner at Lucky Pierrot

Day 4 - Hakodate to Lake Toya

Breakfast at La Vista Hakodate Bay
Drive to Lake Toya (2h 32min)
Accommodation at Lake Toya Nonokaze Resort
Buffet dinner at Lake Toya Nonokaze Resort
Watch summer fireworks by the lake

Day 5 - Lake Toya to Jozankei

Breakfast at Lake Toya Nonokaze Resort
Lunch at Sendoan (scallop & seafood)
Stop for ice cream at Lake Hill Farm
Drive to Jozankei (1h 6min)
Cherry picking at Jozankei Farm
Foot spa at Kokoro No Sato Morino Bettei 
Accommodation at Jozankei Hotel
Dinner at Jozankei Hotel

Day 6 - Jozankei to Yubari to Furano

Drive to Yubari (1h 51min)
Stop for yubari melons at Yubari
Drive to Furano (1h 42min)
Accommodation at petit hotel MELON Furano
Dinner near petit hotel MELON Furano

Day 7 - Furano/Biel

Visit Tomita Farm
- Eat Lavender Ice Cream
Visit Shikisai No Oka
- Alpaca Farm
Lunch at Fukuzushi (giant sushi)
Visit Blue Pond at Biel
Family Mart Combini Dinner

Day 8 - Furano to Sapporo

Jam making at Furano Jam Garden
Visit Rokutei Viewing Platform
Lunch at Campana Rokkatei 
Drive to Sapporo (1h 50min)
Accommodation at Hotel LiVEMAX Sapporo Eki-mae
Drop off rental car
Explore Sapporo City
Oysters & scallops at Gotsubo
Ramen at Aji No Karyu

Day 9 - Sapporo to Otaru

Train from Sapporo to Otaru (58min)
Take a bus to visit Otaru Aquarium
Lunch at Wakadori Jidai Naruto Honten
Explore Otaru Canal 
Explore Sakaimachi Street
Visit Otaru Music Box Museum
Train from Otaru to Sapporo (58min)
Dinner at 串鳥 Kushidori

Day 10 - Sapporo to Shiroi Koibito Park

Combini Breakfast
Train from Sapporo to Shiroi Koibito Park (32min)
Explore Shiroi Koibito Park
Eat Shiroi Koibito Soft Serve
Train from Shiroi Koibito Park to Sapporo (32min)
Dinner at Yoshinoya

Day 11 - Sapporo

Coffee at Streamer Coffee Company
Shopping at Sapporo Station
Lunch at Sutadonya
Explore Susukino area
Dinner at Onya-sai (shabu shabu sukiyaki buffet)

Day 12 - Sapporo to Chitose

Train from Sapporo to New Chitose Airport (49min)
Last minute shopping for snacks and omiyage
Flight back home

View downloadable itinerary here.

***

Hopefully, this will be a useful reference for your own Hokkaido road trip planning - I'd be glad to know that all the effort I put into planning my trip and writing these blog posts are of help to others!

I'll be going in-depth in the upcoming Hokkaido blog posts, so remember to hit subscribe on my blog feed if you'd like to be updated when new updates are up!

Until the next update, see you in a bit!

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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Open Water Diving with Gill Divers! (Part 1)

I've been wanting to learn diving for the longest longest time and I finally got down to it!

*Disclaimer - Not a sponsored post* 

SSI vs PADI

There are two different international diving organisations / dive companies that conducts dive courses - SSI and PADI. Apparently each one has their merits but there isn't a huge difference. You can dive no matter which company you choose to get certified with! There are companies in Singapore that offer either SSI or PADI - I picked Gill Divers (SSI) only because I have friends diving with Gill Divers previously haha. I didn't do that much research TBH.

Open Water Diver Course

This globally-recognized certification program is the best way to begin your life-long adventure as a certified scuba diver. Personalized training is combined with in-water practice sessions to ensure you have the skills and experience required to become truly comfortable underwater. You will earn the SSI Open Water Diver certification.



To get certified for Open Water Diving, you simply go through the following:
1. Online learning (six chapters)
2. Theory session with test at the end (3.5h)
3. Pool session (7h)
4. Weekend Trip (Bintan/Tioman - I chose Tioman!)

Price: $ 599

Includes: Theory Session, Pool Session, Weekend Trip - Transport, Accommodation, Meals, Equipment Rental
Does not include: Travel Insurance / Marine Park Fee (If applicable) / VISA on Arrival (If applicable)

Online Learning / Theory Session

Let's start with the Online Learning / Theory session!

You basically log into a website where there are some learning materials to go through - From the history of scuba diving to some physics and theory science behind diving (like water pressure, weight of water etc....)

There are quizzes at the end of every chapter which you have to complete and score at least 8/10. During the theory session, an instructor will run you through the material briefly, and then you do a test at the end.

The class was conducted in the evening at Gill Divers at Hong Kong Street - After work hours so no worries for those working office hours!

The passing mark is actually 45/50 - But even if you score slightly lesser, it's ok! The instructor personally will run through the questions you flunked and you're good to go.



Pool Session



Pool session was on a Sunday, reporting time at 9am! Way too early for a Sunday.

Received this reminder email in my inbox with information for pool sesh and obviously my eyes glazed over all the important parts cos the only things I picked out from from this email was "bring your own lunch and water" LOL.

Smart ass me happily appeared for pool session without my swimwear. What a bimbotic moment! I thought that perhaps we would slip into our wetsuits straight away and not have to wear swimwear maybe.

Thankfully I had a set of sportswear in the car so HAHAHA I ended up wearing my sports bra and exercise tights into the pool!

In order to pass the pool session, you have to be able to swim 200m / snorkel 300m and tread / float for 10 minutes!

It was a SUPER hot day goodness!

Please remember to spam on the sunblock like crazy!!! Waterproof sunblock alright. And take oral sunblock too (Like Heliocare) if you have it! I put on sunblock on my face, sprayed sunblock on my arms and even took my IDS Lyco-white pills.... But...

Those tan lines after an entire day in the pool SIGH. On the bright side, I didn't get sunburnt, just extremely tanned.

Lunch break!! Got my priorities so right. I woke up early in the morning just to prep lunch! Toasted hot dogs, prepared buns and even brought condiments along HAHAHAHAHAHA. What a picnic!

Shiok!!

During the course of the day, we were taught how to put on/take off our gear, how to control our buoyancy and other stuff like clearing our masks while underwater and how to do emergency ascends.

The gear was super heavy man. The oxygen tank weighs about 10kg and putting on the buoyancy control device with the tank was a huge weight on the shoulders and restricted my movement so much. It took a bit of practice to get used to breathing through my mouth, as well as get used to staying in the water for such an extended period.

I hated climbing out of the pool most because the gear was so heavy that my knees were nearly buckling under the weight as I struggled up the pool ladder!

So far so good, I've cleared the theory and pool session and what's remaining is the weekend trip to Tioman for the actual open water diving! I hope I won't panic in the water or accidentally do something wrong with my gear. The pool session also made me realise what a hassle diving is! The gear and all that are really no joke.

About the equipment


Basically, Gill Divers provides all the equipment you'll need on a rental basis, but the wetsuits, buoyancy vests and regulators aren't in new condition so some of the gear like the regulators (breathing apparatus) might have really worn out parts like mouth pieces that are grimy or a bit chewed off and stuff lol. Sounds quite gross but oh well it's rental equipment so be prepared!

I also had issues with water entering my mask and I'm considering if I should get my own personal mask!

I think I may also get a full body rash guard because the company only provides us with the short sleeved ones which I don't prefer cos... TAN LINES hahaha. Plus full body ones give more protection!

Generally though, I feel that $600 is a great price to learn a new life skill - Covering everything from theory to pool to the cost of the entire trip!

Even if I don't fall in love with diving and want to go on dive trips all the time, I'm sure I'll enjoy the fact that I CAN dive and will be able to if I happen to visit places with great diving sites such as Fiji or Philippines or even Maldives!!

Can't wait to get fully certified real soon, stay tuned for my Tioman update!
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