Friday, August 9, 2019

My Travel Itinerary to Hokkaido (北海道), Japan (日本).

Hokkaido (Japan) has always been my favorite place to visit in Japan (read my previous entry here)- there is a perfect balance of the Japanese country side scene as well as the bustling city view. Ever since my previous trip there, I've always wanted to revisit Hokkaido and I've finally found the right timing do so (I flew Air Asia, directly from KLIA2 to Sapporo's Chitose Airport). Having been to Hokkaido, I've learnt that the best way to travel across the prefecture is to drive. 

We rented ours via Times Car Rental- the prices seemed to cheaper as compared to bigger brands. We were skeptical at first but glad that it turned out well. The service rendered was amazing- the processes were well-explained and everything went very smooth. The car condition could not be better. We highly recommend this car rental company. 

Why did we pick Summer to visit Hokkaido? There are so many things to do in Hokkaido during Summer- lovely weather (average temperature of 15 to 24 degree Celsius) with longer day time with colorful scenery. There are plenty of outdoor activities to partake as well. When it comes to driving, we need not worry about the icy, slippery condition. Check out our 8 Day 7 Nights trip below starting from Sapporo > Noboribetsu > Sobetsu > Hakodate > Niseko (unrecorded) > Otaru > Furano > Sapporo.

1. Noboribetsu 登別:

A. Aji No Daio Ramen
Address: 29-9, Noboribetsu-onsencho, Noboribetsu, Hokkaido, 052-0101 Japan.
Business Hours: 11 am to 8:30 pm. Closed on Tuesdays.

Jigoku Ramen (850 Yen)

Miso Ramen (800 Yen)

Gyoza (500 Yen)

It's pretty straight-forward here at Noboribetsu, there's only one shopping street- Gokuraku Dori Shopping Street in the neighborhood. One of the more popular options at the Shopping Street would be this seemingly curios little Ramen shop. It gets really busy for lunch and dinner; there are limited seating inside so be prepared to queue for a while. The Aji No Daio Ramen has some really special Ramen dishes native to Noboribetsu's Jigokudani Valley. The flavors are amazing and the noodles are expertly cooked. Worth a visit here (except that finding a place to park is extremely challenging).

B. Jigokudani Valley 地獄谷
Entrance Fee: Free (500 Yen for Parking)
Address: Noboribetsu-onsencho, Noboribetsu, Hokkaido, 059-0551 Japan.
Business Hours: 8:30 am to 5 pm. Opens Daily (depending on season).

The Jigokudani Valley is a short 15 min walk away from the Gokuraku Dori Shopping Street... the busiest commercial district in the neighborhood. You can basically get everything from that street- souvenirs, fresh food, restaurants, cafes or convenient stores. If you have some energy to spare after having a heavy meal from the Shopping Street, make your way to the Jigokudani Valley... otherwise known as the Hell Valley. The place got the name due to its rather scary nature- naturally formed crater with thermal baths and steaming smoke. Like most geothermal spots, the place is filled with the smell of sulfur. The Jigokudani Valley is quite huge and would take a little time to fully explore the place. There is also a hot spring spot for tourists to soak their legs but to get there, you'll need to walk for at least 20 minutes from the main entrance. Interesting place with beautiful nature scene but do expect to do some mild trekking here. Better if you can dressed appropriately with suitable walking shoes.

2. Sobetsu:

A. Takashina Fruit Farm
Entrance Fee: 1,080 Yen per adult (1 hour)
Address: 468, Takinomachi, Sobetsu-cho, Usu-gun, Hokkaido, 052-0101 Japan.
Business Hours: Depending on Season

You will arrive at Sobetsu after a short half an hour drive from Noboribetsu, the serene greenery is a pleasing sight to watch but if you would like to try some of the freshly plucked fruits, you can always stop by for the in-season fruits. On our visit, it was the perfect time to Cherries. The Takashina Farm is one of the many farms that offer fruit-picking- by paying a fee and within a specific duration, visitors are allowed to pluck the fruits in a designated area. It's basically all you can eat but only limited to 1 or 2 types of fruits as spelled out by the farmers. Definitely a good experience for the whole family to partake in, you can also take a leisure stroll around the farm (though you can only eat the fruits that are ready to be eaten). 

3. Hakodate 函館:

A. Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse
Entrance Fee: Free
Address: 14-12, Suehirocho, Hakodate, Hokkaido, 040-0053 Japan.
Business Hours: 9:30 am to 7 pm. Opens Daily. 

Built in 1909, the Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse is one of the historical building overlooking the Hakodate Port. Being an international trading city a century ago, the port has witnessed the booming of economic activities in the city. Today, the Warehouse is refurbished and turned into a commercial complex. It consists of 4 facilities with many tenants in it, offering visitors and tourists some of the best products of Hakodate. One can find restaurants, souvenir shops, cafes or boutiques in the Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse. Not only the inside is interesting but the exterior of the Warehouse is makes a picturesque spot for photos. A tips for those who are driving, there's an outdoor parking space right next to the Warehouse. Spend at least 1,000 Yen in any shops inside the Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse and you will get free parking for 2 hours. 

Hakodate Shio Ramen (740 Yen)

Golden Pumpkin Soft Serve (350 Yen)

B. Mount Hakodate
Cable Car: 1,280 Yen per adult (return)
Address: 19-7, Motomochi, Hakodate, Hokkaido, 040-0000 Japan.
Business Hours: 10 am to 10 pm. Opens Daily. (operating hours may be different depending on season)

Known to be one of top three best night views in Japan, Mount Hakodate is indeed a famous tourist spot. The cable car station gets really busy and crowded in the evenings, before the sunset as everyone would rush in hope to make it on time for the sunset view. True enough, the best time to visit would be around 6 pm so you get the best of both worlds- the day view and the night view. Try not to visit the place at the very last second though, the queues at the bottom of the cable car station will take you a while before you actually hit the peak. Mount Hakodate is pretty much a place for sight-seeing and photography, nothing much too exciting over here. 

C. Kantaro Sushi Hakodate 函太郎
Address: 14-4, Ugauracho, Hakodate, Hokkaido, 040-0023 Japan.
Business Hours: 11 am to 10 pm. Opens Daily.

Salmon Sashimi (180 Yen)

Roe Set (360 Yen)

Salmon Roll (120 Yen)

Salmon Roe (220 Yen)

Flounder Sashimi (220 Yen)

Unagi Sushi (300 Yen)

Tempura (540 Yen)

Popular Sushi Set (300 Yen)

Grilled Salmon Sushi (300 Yen)

Kantaro Sushi is a popular Sushi chain in Japan, it has quite a number of branches across the country. It specializes in offering Sushi on Kaiser Belt so it's basically the pick your own Sushi kind of concept. There are quite a lot to choose from but nothing out of the ordinary. The Sushi we had were fresh but they did not quite hit us. We were expecting more from them though. Ordering however, is convenient and flawless as they do offer English menu.

D. Hakodate Ekini Market
Entrance Fee: Free
Address: 9-19, Wakamatsucho, Hakodate, Hokkaido, 040-0063 Japan.
Business Hours: 6 am to 2 pm. Opens Daily. (opening hours can be different in different season)

Kaisendon/ Sashimi Rice Bowl (1,500 Yen)

Yubari Melon (700 Yen)

Squid Fishing (700 Yen)

The Hakodate Ekini Market is probably the best Seafood Market in Hokkaido, there are so many Seafood on offer- be it live or dried goods. It will take quite some to fully explore the area- plenty of stalls surrounding the market and even more after getting in the building. The dried Seafood here are cheaper than Sapporo and Otaru so if you are thinking of getting some souvenirs, you should look for them here. Like most Seafood Market in Japan, you can choose, buy and have your orders cooked on the spot.... there are so many to choose from, as long as you can name it, they can be found here.

The Squid Fishing is yet another popular activity to partake. There is a pool of live, swimming Squid. By paying a fee, you will be handed a fishing rod with a hook... you will then hook the Squid up (and be squirted a little). Not quite a challenge but it is certainly an experience; good photo opportunity too. The Squid hooked up will be turned into Sashimi, you can then enjoy them at the tables prepared. If you are game for a bowl of fresh, inexpensive Kaisen Don, there are a plethora of them right outside the market.

4. Otaru 小樽:

A. Minshuku Aotsuka Shokudo 民宿 青塚食堂
Address: 3-Chome- 210 Shukutsu, Otaru, Hokkaido, 047-0047 Japan.
Business Hours: 10 am to 7 pm. Opens Daily.

Nishin Teishoku/ Grilled Herring Set (2,096 Yen)

Hotate Teishoku/ Scallop Set (1,390 Yen)

Grilled Squid (990 Yen)

Approximately 10-min drive from the popular Otaru Canal, Minshuku Aotsuka Shokudo is definitely one hidden gem in Otaru. The place is often packed to the brim during lunch hours and is most visited by locals. It is known to serve some of the best grilled Herrings in Hokkaido. It can be found at a seafront; as you enter the restaurant, there are some beautifully grilled Herrings waiting to grace your presence. Aside from Herrings, there's a bountiful supply fresh Seafood (like Clams, Oysters, Prawns, Scallops etc).

The best seller is of course the Grilled Herring Set which comes with gigantic serving of beautifully Grilled Herring with minimal seasoning, fresh-raw Hotate, seafood Miso Soup and various sides. Definitely the best grilled Herring I've ever had and this is definitely one of the best places to savor quality yet inexpensive Hokkaido seafood.

B. Otaru Beer Warehouse No. 1
Entrance Fee: Free (Surcharge of 380 Yen if you wish to bring the food out and dine by the Otaru Canal)
Address: 5-4 Minatomachi, Otaru-shi, Hokkaido, 047-0007 Japan.
Business Hours: 11 am to 11 pm. Opens Daily.

Malt Soft Serve (380 Yen)

Seasonal Special Beer (702 Yen/ Medium) and 0% Alcohol Beer (410 Yen)

While it is considered a must to take some nice pictures along the Otaru Canal but would not it be nice to chill along the Canal too? The Otaru Beer Warehouse right next to the Canal offers such opportunity, visitors may take the seats overlooking the Canal by just paying some extra fee. It is also a place to savor the Otaru Craft Beer. There is a corner in the Warehouse dedicated to selling the Otaru Beer merchandises but if the Beer excites you more, go straight to the bar counter to place your order. There are both Craft Beer and 0% Alcohol Beer for those who are driving; otherwise, there are also some food, light snacks to munch on. We also had the Malt Soft Serve... not very tasty if you must know. The usual Beer works better for us.

5. Furano 富良野:

A. Choei Lavender Farm
Entrance Fee: Free (Chair Lift costs 400 Yen for return trip)
Address: 1-41, Miyamachi, Naka-Furano, Sorachi District, Hokkaido, 076-0048 Japan.
Business Hours: 9 am to 5 pm. Opens Daily during Summer (June to August)

Lavender Soft Serve (350 Yen)

No trip to Furano is complete without visiting a Lavender Farm; there are a few big and famous ones but we picked Choei's due to its peculiar yet seemingly fun Chair Lift system. The Farm does not always open, depending on the blooming season, the place is open to the public. You can either choose to hike up or to take the Chair Lift at the cost of 400 Yen per person. The flowers were at the full-bloom stage so we did not manage to take good photos but it was definitely fun to take the Chair Lift up. In case you are curious, the Chair Lift does not come with any safety feature (no safety belts or locks), you just hop on and hop off, though the height is not really that high and there are friendly staff whom will assist you. Can be a little frightening if you are afraid of heights. Don't forget to try the Lavender Soft Serve before leaving the place.

B. Kodamaya Soba 小玉家支店
Address: 5-1, Saiwaicho, Furano, Hokkaido, 076-0048 Japan.
Business Hours: 11 am to 8:30 pm. Closed on Tuesdays.

 Kamo Nan Ban (900 Yen)

Ten Zaru Soba (1,200 Yen)

Kama Age Tenpura Soba (1,200 Yen)

Wariko Soba (1,030 Yen)

For the best Soba experience, make your way to Kodamaya, one of the oldest Soba specialists in Furano (also some branches across Japan) since 1976. The place is known to the locals as one of the best places for hand-made Soba and true enough, the place churns out a great variety of Soba dishes that are uncommon to Malaysian diners. English menu is available though the servers speak little English. Huge serving portion with reasonable price tags. Their chewy-al dente Soba would change your perception towards the Japanese Buckwheat noodles.

C. Furano Cheese Factory
Entrance Fee: Free (Free Parking too)
Address: Naka-5-kaku, Furano, Hokkaido, 076-0048 Japan.
Business Hours: 9 am to 5 pm. Opens Daily.

Gelato- Yubari Melon and Cheese Flavor (400 Yen)

The Furano Cheese Factory and Ice Cream Factory are both next to each other; they are merely a short drive from the Wine Factory. At the Cheese Factory, visitors get to witness on the Cheese-making processes as well as sampling the products. The Hokkaido Milk is known to be the best in the country so the dairy products are of top quality as well. There isn't much to explore so we just grabbed ourselves 2 scoops of the Gelato at the Ice Cream Factory. Both flavors were equally great but the Cheese Gelato was not as sweet as the seasonal Yubari Melon.

Free Cheese Tasting

D. Furano Wine Factory
Entrance Fee: Free (Free Parking too)
Address: 1161, Shimizuyama, Furano, Hokkaido, 076-0048 Japan.
Business Hours: 9 am to 5 pm. Opens Daily.

Free Wine Tasting for Visitors

The Furano Wine Factory is yet, another popular tourist place in Furano. It can be found on a hilltop with plenty of parking lots. Not only it is free to enter the Wine factory but visitors can treat themselves complimentary Wine tasting at the visitor's zone as well. There is no guided tour however, but there are some basic information about the place, which can be found in the gallery. At the end of the gallery, there is a space dedicated to selling their home-made goods like Wine-infused Jam, Chocolates and of course, Furano Wines. Nothing much to explore if you are a teetotaler but if do love some good Wines, this place is worth the visit.

Have Fun Exploring Hokkaido!

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