Thursday, 25 January 2018

White Hokkaido Love Story + Ski Fun, 9 to 15 January, 2018

Our first overseas trip for 2018 and first winter holiday. And what better place to experience actual snow than Hokkaido,  the northernmost of Japan's main islands.

Flying into Chitose International Airport

Hokkaido's powder snow is frequently praised by skiers from around the world as being the ' best quality snow'.  This is due to the cold air from Siberia that cross over the Sea of Japan to Hokkaido. I have to admit, fresh falling snow indeed feels soft to touch and powdery. Indeed a new experience for the two of us from hot tropical Msia.

The 7 days 5 nights tour was organised by Apple Vacations and there were 33 of us with a Tour Leader and a Manager. We opted for the direct flight to Chitose International Airport albeit by AirAsia but with comfort kit and meals onboard.

Day 1 KL to Chitose International Airport, Hokkaido.
Departure 2330hrs. Arrival 0805+1.

Day 2 Lake Toya, Mt Usuzan, Hakodate
Lake Toya is Japan's 3rd largest volcanic caldera lake. This ice-free lake never freezes even in winter.

We took a cable car (Ropeway) up to Mt Usuzan for a scenic view of the surrounding area below us. The line climbs Mount Usually, an active volcano in Shikotsu-Toya National Park. This was our very first encounter with real snow. We had to make a short hike to a vantage point though slow and slippery from melting snow for panoramic views. At the same location, we visited a Bear Ranch or rather more like a Bear Enclosure where lay brown bears ( Jap largest animal) sunbathing waiting for food from tourists!

Our very first experience with real fresh snow!

View from the top of the ropeway
Lake Toya

Next stop, Hakodate, Hokkaido's 3rd largest city located at the island's southernmost tip. As one of the first three ports in Japan opened to foreign trade in 1859, Hakodate experienced contact with various foreign cultures. In the evening, we were taken up in another Ropeway to Mt Hakodate. It is voted as one of the world's most magnificent night views. We were blessed with a clear sky on that night and rewarded with awesome views.

Night scene from Mt Hakodate. Voted one of the world's best views

First night. A futon is a Japanese traditional bedding. The bedding set is pliable enough to be stored away in an oshiire closet.

Accommodation - Hakodate Takuboku Tei

Day 3 Hakodate Morning Market, Old Port Store Street, Jigokudani, Noboribetsu Onsen

Japan is famous for their fresh seafood so the day started with a visit to Hakodate Morning Market which is a seafood wholesale market.

Next was the Old Port Store Street, also known as Red Brick Warehouse. These are old warehouses of yore now refurbished and converted to booths for shopping.

I caught this!

Ice ball. What it needs now is rose and brown syrup.

19th century Russian Orthodox Church

After a sumptuous lunch, we visited a corner of the city where many churches of different denominations were located.

Then it was the next town, Noboribetsu, to visit Jigokudani (Hell Valley) to view thermal springs resembling hell.

Jikokudani or 'Hell Valley' in the town of Noboribetsu

All around town, there are references to hell valley, hence devil caricatures

Accomodation - Noboribetsu Sekisuitei Hotel

Day 4 Snow Mobile & Mount Racey Ski Resort

Today we took a break from sightseeing and it is all fun fun in the snow!

We had the experience of riding a snow mobile through a set course to familiarise with the controls before we taken on snow covered trail through the woods.
Cost: 15,000 yen with missus riding at the back.

Cool and confident rider

I even have to ride at the back!

Getting chummy with our course guides too. She's in her element.

That serves as an appetizer to the ski experience we were about to embark. Surprisingly, Tricia shared the same enthusiasm to try skiing! Yubari Mount Racey Ski Resort is located 60km from Sapporo or 55km from  Shin Chitose Airport. Located within  is Hotel Mount Racey. How convenient! There is an onsen hot spring to soothe the old and tired muscles after a day of skiing.

For first time skiers. You need ski boots, the skis, ski poles, gloves, hoodie, ski mask ( not necessary in my opinion), ski jacket and pants. Putting on all the required stuff is a challenge itself especially the ski boots. The boots are heavy and stiff thus making walking award and difficult. The skis itself is quite heavy. We build up a sweat just putting it all on. Lol.
Cost: 8,000 yen per pax with ski gear.

All geared up and ready for the ski slopes

Jacket, pants, hoodie, googles, gloves, boots and ski equipment. The works.

We can easily represent the country in the slalom race

Accommodation - Yubari Mt Racey Resort

Day 5 Otaru, Sapporo and Tanukikoji

From the ski resort, we proceeded to the west coastal harbour city of Otaru in Ishikari Bay. Here, we were given free time to walk the tourist shops in Sakaimachi Street or Otaru Handicraft Street, renowned for its glass handicrafts, music box museum, art gallery, ice cream, cafes and dessert shops and also take souvenir photos with the famous picturesque century old warehouses along the canal.

Music Box Museum

Everything in the shop are music boxes

Museum of Venetian Art

Must try! Hokkaido famous cheese tarts

Obligatory  photo along the famous Otaru canal

From Otaru, it is about 2 hrs drive to Sapporo, the fifth largest city in Japan. It is famous for its annual snow festival held every February.

After a BBQ dinner, we visited the Tanukikoji Shopping Arcade. It has over 150 shops ranging from souvenirs, clothing, supermarkets, cafes, snacks, etc. Along the way to our hotel, we caught a glimpse of Sapporo red light district, Susukino.

Accomodation - Ibis Styles Sapporo


Day 6 Former Government Building, Okurayama, Olympic Ski Jump site, Hokkaido Shrine and Mitsui Premium Factory Outlet.

We visited two places of interest in the city i.e. the old government building the Sapporo Clock Tower.

Later we went to the Okurayama Olympic Ski Jump which was used in the 1972 Winter Olympic Games. We went to the top of the Ski Jump by chair lift to have a bird's eye view of the city.

Top of the ski jump overlooking Sapporo city

Then we visited the Hokkaido Shrine built in 1869. It is popular with the locals and there was a festival going on when we visited.

For lunch, we had about the best meal throughout the whole trip, gala seafood lunch presented and prepared by the chef of Hokkaido Kita Gourmet Kitchen at the wet market.
The meal included steamed King Crab, King Crab soup, scallop porridge, scallop, salmon belly and abalone. The meal was fresh and satisfying and the crab meat sweet.

With our appetite satiated, it was shopping galore for the ladies at Mitsui Premium Factory Outlet. Obviously, Tricia did not go back empty handed!

 Accomodation - Kita Hiroshima Classe Hotel

Day 7 Hokkaido to KL
Left the hotel at 6 am with meal boxes to catch the flight home at 9.20 am.

To view video goto

Tour: Apple Vacation
Price per pax: RM6,000

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Nha Trang, Vietnam 23rd to 26rh November 2017

AirAsia recently started direct flights to this sea-side city. So, taking advantage of the promotion then, I organized a 4 days 3 nights stay for my sisters and my family. There were 6 of us adults making it convenient and economical to travel to and fro the airport and around the city by  van or large SUV.

For hotel accommodation, I managed to book the 5 star Sheraton hotel which is located at the strategic and popular Trang Phu street fronting the long stretch of sandy beach. The hotel is located almost at the end of one side of the hustle and bustle of the main tourist area. That is fine with us as it is merely a 15 mins casual walk from the hotel.

View from our hotel room balcony. Intercontinental hotel is opposite
View from 28th floor, Altitude Bar

The hotel was great. We booked the deluxe room. All rooms comes with a balcony with a side sea view. Very clean, relatively well maintained, bed nice and comfy with a spacious bathroom. Most importantly for me, a well equipped gym, jacuzzi and sauna for the ladies and to complete our seal of approval, buffet spread was good! And at the 28th floor is the Altitude bar. It offers great view of both the beach and the city especially at night. Vinpearl land amusement park on a nearby island linked by cable car can be seen from afar brightly lit up at night.
Pho Hoa noodle soup

Assortment of sauces and chillies

In terms of places of interest, in my opinion Nha Trang has more to offer than Danang. There is Vinpearl mentioned above which is great for families with kids or teens, soothing mud baths ( don't miss it), Dam Market, Long Son pagoda, Nha Trang Cathedral, Po Nagar Cham Towers, Con See Tre Tourist Village, etc.
Our hired van for the day

Thap Ba hot spring

Guaranteed better skin tone after mud
Day Two

Then comes the shower to wash away the mud
The invigorating jacuzzi pool

Long Son Pagoda

The hill and the statue of Buddha can be seen in the background 

Po Nagar Cham Towers

Strangely, the temples have a narrow entrance to the dim chambers inside

Hong Chong, it has a small cultural village and access to the rock formation

Tourists come here to see some unique rock formation jutting out to the sea. Come drop by for quick look.

Group photo of the entourage
Day Three

Dam Market. You can cover it in almost 45 mins to an hour. Typical market selling tourists items.

Nha Tho Nui or Nha Trang Cathedral

We stumble onto their local market when we exploring the city. Ad odd fruit indeed.

Shell fish

Local food

There is plenty restaurants for fresh seafood. You can either ask the hotel front desk or the cab driver for suggestions. The locals are generally very friendly. For value for money although not fine dining sea food, try Mr Ba for steamboat and charcoal grill combo buffet.

1st night. Yummy BBQ buffett. That is the actual name of the joint located on the street just behind Sheraton.
Seafood dinner on 2nd night.
Lol. Can't have enough seafood. On 3rd night, we had charcoal barbeque and steamboat. Try Mr Ba, worth the price of the meal per pax. They have a few restaurant all over town.

The whole group agreed it was a fun, gastronomical and relaxing getaway. Don't mind coming back again. Doesn't burn a hole in the pocket and it is only 2 hrs flight time. Fun getaway. Less motorcycle traffic than Hanoi and Ho Cinh Minh cities.

AirAsia Go. Flight + 3 nights hotel stay = RM1,053.00 per pax.