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Japan 2017 ~ Hokkaido (Pt1)

I spent a week self-driving South and Central Hokkaido hence I will break it up into 2 parts. First part I will cover Hakodate and Lake Toya and for Part 2 I will cover Otaru and Sapporo.

STAY:

Apr 6-8 Hakodate Kokusai Hotel

This hotel was booked through the agency and we had a standard twin-bedded room with breakfast included. The hotel is pretty big with a huge lobby but it is made up of two wings, East and West, East being the old wing while West is the extension of the original hotel itself. It is less than 30mins from Hakodate airport and is right smack in town where most of the action is.

Naturally when you booked through agency, you don’t expect to be put in the new wing. However despite requesting for a non-smoking room, my room still smells weird, and we had to ask the hotel staff to unlock the huge window so we can let the fresh(but cold) air from outside in. The room size is better than average at 28sqm. The room is old and dated since mine is in the old wing. They are still using the old chunky key and heavy and noisy metal door.

Parking is not free ( for most of hotels in city area anyway) but they charge you per day of your stay and you can freely move in and out whenever. Do note that there is no direct link from car park to hotel, so its a cold short walk out in the open(depends on where you park).

The hotel is also near the red brickwarehouses where the food is as well as near the Hakodate morning market if you are keen to go for some famous Hakodate crab/seafood/sashimi. None of which my family members were actually really keen in.

They have a good spread buffet for breakfast as well as a teppanyaki station and this was good! Breakfast hall is spacious and not crowded when we were there which we liked. As it is booked through the agent with the car rental included, I could only estimate the cost of the hotel at about S$240 per night, if booked on your own, it should be less than S$200 excluding breakfast. (but at usual it will always depend on the period you are booking)

Apr 8-9 Toya Sun Palace Resort & Spa

This is a huge resort facing Lake Toya. It was a stopover for us from Hakodate enroute to Otaru. It was very crowded when we were there, catering to lots of local groups and tours.

The lobby is expansive and has a fantastic view of Lake Toya as can be seen from pic above. Second pic is the exterior of the hotel facing the lake, it is like a little garden and is lighted up at night. There is a dock nearby for lake cruises I presume but is not operating at the time when we were there.

Third pic is the room which we had, it is a Western and Japenese style room combined. 2 Futons were laid out in the tatami area plus the 2 western beds made the room for 4. It is however disappointingly small, it was suppose to be around 34sqm but there was hardly any room for our luggages. The toilet is typical Japanese size which is also extra small. The only good thing about the room is it has a nice view of Lake Toya.

Because I’m only staying for a night and there were many advice that there is not much food available around, I’ve booked the room with half board ie breakfast and dinner included. The hotel banquet hall is huge to cater for an amazingly huge crowd, see pic below. Yes that is the amount of crowd we see for breakfast and dinner, the spread is just as huge with many LIVE stations available, in one word its just like a huge canteen! My dear son prefer to eat cup noodles in the room since the crowd gives him a headache. ^^;

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The hotel has loads of facilities- onsens, indoor waterpark(yes see pic below), arcade area, a small library corner and what I liked best, free washing machine and dryer to do my laundry. I didn’t try the onsen since I didn’t like it with too many people around. (but my hubby did, he wouldn’t miss it for anything)

It’s a great family resort really for families with kids especially but our preferences have changed since our kids have grown up and we prefer a place with less crowds if possible. I consider it expensive as I paid about S$200 per person for a night stay with half board even with the extensive facilities it has. The only thing I liked is the view it offers. Below a pic I took myself early in the morning of Lake Toya from the hotel lobby.

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PLAY:

HAKODATE

Goryokaku

This is just less than 10mins drive from where we are. It is a special star-shaped fort that has been designated as a historical site. The star-shaped can only be viewed from the Goryokaku observation tower, you can also walk on foot to the fort area. But the sun was blazing that day and the view wasn’t so nice so nobody wanted to venture forth on foot. The best views are when the sakura blossoms are in peak as well as when it is surrounded by snow. They are lighted up at night too.

Morning Market

This is just a stone’s throw away from where we stayed, about 5 minutes walk. They have an indoor as well as a outdoor market. Basically they sell seafood, their famous spider crabs, hairy crabs, squids as well as all kinds of shell fish. You buy fresh on the spot and they cooked for you right away. One man propose a hairy crab to us at about S$120…no one loves crab except me so we forgo that idea since I can’t finish one whole crab all by myself. All the stalls sell similar stuff, they also have restaurants here where their specialty are sashimi with rice. And there are 3 restaurants here which are included in our breakfast options from the hotel. So instead of eating buffet breakfast at the hotel you can opt to have your breakfast here at the morning market using the vouchers provided. Just that we are not lovers of sashimi either so yeah give me my buffet breakfast anytime.  The crowd level of the market depends on the timing you go, it was not overly crowded for us but it is definitely a tourist place.

Motomachi

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Motomachi is an area where the roads are sloping just like in the pic. It does reminds a bit of San Francisco. You can see organised walking tour groups in this place but its just a small area with a few streets, we just came here to take a pic.

Night View from Mount Hakodate

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The famous Hakodate night view is a must see despite the crowds. You have to take a cable car from Mt Hakodate Ropeway which is only a few minutes up to the peak. (I understand you can drive up too but it is not advisable to do so)

have to stressed again, it is really crowded, the cable car that brought us up was jam packed and going down is the same. Look at the row of people in front on the pic. I had to stand on the stair behind to take this shot with my phone camera. This was because we went to see the night view at the so called best view time which is about half an hour to an hour after sunset. Naturally all the tour groups also organised their visit during those times. So if you want to avoid the crowds maybe you might want to go a bit later when the crowd has thinned out a bit. But the view was awesome, even though our kids decide to sit this one out since they are not keen to jostle with the crowd.

Hakodate Tropical Botanical Garden

We are here for the onsen bathing monkeys really…its just a very small tropical botanical garden, we come from the tropical area so not a tropical garden does not really interest us. It is not in a natural environment however, the monkeys are kept within a fenced area and there are many of them, and I mean many! (hundreds probably) They just have a small area to roam around with play area built up for them. Then there is the onsen bath, they love to soak in it, some just soak in the sun, but it was enough to keep my kids occupied for a while since they have never come across anything like this. If you are afraid of monkeys in the wild (whose behaviour can be unpredictable) this is actually quite a safe place to view them basking in enjoyment of the onsen. It’s just 300yen per person.

Shikabekanketsusen Park

This was a enroute stop while travelling from Hakodate to Lake Toya which is our stopover for a night. It is a small local town and you will only find local tourists here. We came here for the geyser which faithfully erupts every 10minutes. Because there is no crowd, it was very enjoyable, they have a hot springs foot bath just facing the geyser so you could soak your feet in it while waiting or watching the geyser spouts! I did not take any pic of us soaking our feet so I got one from Tripadvisor(credit to them) to show it to you.

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It is really very hot, so just a few minutes will do, even then your leg/feet will come out all red. It was very very cold when we were there as they are near the sea. The first pic on top is a place where you can cook food using the hot air that rises from beneath. You have to buy the food from the store and make sure not to lift open the lid but to slide it towards you as the steam is very hot! You won’t want to cook your face. You are warned.

I would certainly recommend it as a stopover place especially if you drive.

Seasonal Finds:

We went in Spring so the seasonal special wherever you go got to be sakura flavoured ‘anything’! I had a sakura-flavoured soft serve ice cream at Goryokaku(pic below) Beautiful light pinkish coloured ice cream, sakura flavour is actually quite mild but it has a distinct taste of a flower, my kids didn’t like it so I finished the whole ice cream on my own hehehe.

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Special Mention:

Funkawan Panorama Park

 I chanced upon this rest stop while googling for a place to rest during our drive from Hakodate to Lake Toya. It is a huge rest area with a cafe, toilets as well as a huge indoor playground for kids. There are also restaurants which is just across the road from this place. Most important thing is it has a fantastic view!

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This is the view you get from the cafe where we had our lunch. ^_^ It was also not overly crowded even with the kids play area. That said, the drive from Hakodate to Lake Toya has many pleasant views since the road follows the coastline very much, if you take the train from Hakodate to Lake Toya the track is just beside the sea literally so you should gt a good view too even if you do not drive.

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