We will start our new Japan edition. In this edition, we will discover Hokkaido overall with Nikko and Kamakura. For my holiday this time, it’s a specially prepared as I visited Japan during the Golden week where it’s a holiday week in Japan hence many of Japanese will go around or go back to home town for vacation. Golden week means you have to prepare for your trip and book ahead your accommodation and transportation ahead. Some accommodation might charge you more expensive especially if you book near the golden week.
For this trip, I fly to Tokyo Haneda via KL using Airasia X same as before considering the price offered and location of Haneda which is closer to city compared to Narita airport. Afterward, I will fly on the next early morning from Haneda to New Chitose airport using JAL (Japan airlines). As I arrive at night at Haneda and will fly early morning to New Chitose airport, I decided not to go to city for convenience purpose. There is good accommodation at domestic terminal 1 of Haneda airport equipped with common bath facility and Wifi, First cabin hotel. This hotel has also hour charge during the day time, but not at night time. However when I reach there, the hotel is fully booked already.
There is free shuttle bus between international terminal, Domestic terminal 1 where JAL operate and also domestic terminal 2 where ANA operated. The location of the free shuttle bus is on first floor of the building. The transportation between the terminal operate from 5 AM up to 12 midnight. Please note, only international terminal operate 24 hours, whereby for domestic terminal, it closes at midnight. No passengers are allowed to stay in domestic terminal during the time. Should you want to stay overnight at Haneda, you can go to international terminal first floor where other travellers also do.
After resting at international airport, I wake up in the morning to the domestic terminal to check in at JAL counter. The domestic terminal of Haneda is quite pleasant as all the travellers need are available, from chargers for mobile, fountain drink, cafe, shops and restaurants however in early morning, they are still closed.
For the flight to Sapporo, I take the JAL express meanwhile when back to Haneda later, I fly with JAL. It’s a nice experience to try JAL, however as foreigners who know little Japanese, a bit confuse as most of announcement is made in Japanese without English translation. The flight from Haneda to Sapporo New Chitose airport takes about 1 and half hour. Initially I thought there is meal served for the flight as it’s a full service airline, unfortunately only selection of drink is available.
After arrival, the first thing I did is looking for JR office at New Chitose airport to purchase 5 days Hokkaido pass. Unlike Japan rail pass in which you need to book ahead before you arrive at Japan, you can purchase Hokkaido pass when you arrive if you are foreigner. It has several type of the pass, from 3 days, 4 flexible days, 5 days and also 7 days pass for both ordinary train and green train. Before you purchase the pass, it would be better for you to calculate whether it’s worthed for your journey. One of the good resource for planning your train schedule and check the price is Hyperdia which is available online.
The first destination for my Hokkaido trip is Lake Toya. Lake Toya itself is caldera lake which is formed due to eruption of volcano in the past time and later on water stay inside. It’s a small town which is famous as one of destination for Japanese people for vacation due to its nature’s beauty and onsen. As there are many volcanoes around Hokkaido, there are onsen available in many places in Hokkaido. It’s a nice experience and my day in Hokkaido never complete without having onsen especially with its cold weather. Lake Toya reminds me Hakone, a city nearby Tokyo which it’s famous as tourist spot and also onsen as well. However for Lake Toya, I think need to learn much from Hakone in term of easiness for foreigners to roam around the city. The public transportation here is bus, however the frequency is less, mostly about one to two hour every time, hence you need to really note the bus schedule. Should you want to visit Lake Toya, consider to stay around Lake Toya spa area as it’s the central of the city and easier to find public transportation.
At Lake Toya, the bus schedule all is in Japanese, hence it might be difficult for people who can not speak or read Japanese. My first day in Lake Toya is also not smooth starting to get the public bus to go to my youth hostel. Initially I ask the JR staff on the location to get Donan bus going to the Sobetsu onsen way as per the information from the youth hostel in which bus stop is located in front of the JR station. Just reach the bus stop, there was bus approaching the bus stop. After asking the people there, then I take the bus. Later on, I find out this bus did not stop in my hostel as I need to change my bus at the interchange. As the bus driver can not speak English same as I did not speak Japanese, the problem become worse. From the conversation, I understand I will need to stop later on to change the bus. In short, later on, the bus stop in front of one hotel at Lake Toya spa street and I have to go by taxi with the assistance from the friendly hotel staff later on.
I arrive at the hostel around 11 AM, and would like to have early check in, which later on I find out that the guest house and youth hostel in Japan is very strict in term of check in time, which mostly at 3 PM. No guest is allowed to have early check in even there is vacant room before. The good thing of this hostel as the price is much cheaper compared to surrounding hotels and it’s has dorm room which mean I can save for my accommodation. It has also a small onsen on the first floor hence should you want to have experience the onsen without need to have extra payment, then it’s really worth. The room I stayed can accommodate up to 6 people, but during the time, only me and one Japanese traveler inside the room.
After put my bag in lobby, I went to look for lunch nearby the hostel. There are two restaurants nearby, one serving Japanese food, with other serving western food. I went to the Japanese one which just opposite my hostel. The good thing is they have menu in English which helps for ordering the food. I choose set menu which include Japanese prickles, soba/ udon and also Tempura rice. It’s a nice meal especially the tempura which really taste good. The price is also reasonable especially now as Japanese Yen exchange rate getting lower. Overall price cost me 1000 Yen.
It’s time to start my sight seeing journey. The first destination is the ropeway of Lake Toya, which have great view of Lake Toya from above and Show Shinzan. For Showa Shinzan, actually can already be viewed from my hostel at the foot, but when you get closer to it, you will realize there is steam coming out from it, which mean it’s an active volcano. Showa Shinzan itself is formed due to great eruption which was happened at the past time.
Unfortunately at my time visit the ropeway, the ropeway is being stopped for operating at that time due to strong wind. After spending some time to look around the shops in the area, I went back to my hostel on foot. Going back journey is much easier, as when I went back, it means going down the slopes of the mountain which is easier. I just realize the view from the top when I went back have many wonderful view of Lake Toya which I did not realize when I went up the hilly road before.
After waiting for some times, I managed to check in at 3 PM. With the cold weather of Lake Toya, the nice thing to do first was Onsen. This is the most enjoyable facility I loved so much from this youth hostel. When you use onsen, remember to clean yourself before entering into the bath. If you visit public onsen, you might need to prepare your own shower gel and or shampoo as well towels, a small towel for cleansing the body, and big one for wipe your body when finish.
After having nice bath and rest for a while, it’s time to go around. As transportation is not easy, I decide to rent the bicycle from the hostel with quite affordable price, 1000 Yen for one day and 500 Yen for half day rental.
After riding the bicycle, I just realized it’s a tough journey using the bicycle due to hilly road in Lake Toya. However the desire for looking around for sight seeing do not stop my journey. The stupid thing I forget to bring with me at that time is my hand gloves, it’s freezing cold wind along the journey which cause me stop for several times for rest.
My initial plan during that day is for having the night cruise of Lake Toya. Starting end of April and summer time, there is firework when you cruise the along lake Toya in addition to the day cruise trip. However as the weather is freezing cold, I decide to cancel it.
The view along my journey around is quite pleasant even the weather is cold. After spending sometime going around, I ride back to my hostel. On my way to my hostel, I decide to stop over the local restaurant for my dinner. The local restaurant I visited do not have menu in English, however the owner know a bit of English. Later I choose wagyu beef with rice. The beef served is raw, which you need to BBQ it your own. I find out the price there is affordable, one serving of wagyu beef with Japanese rice only cost me 980 Yen.
Finishing my dinner, I went back to the hostel for rest as I will need to take morning train to Hakodate on the next day.