Renting a car in Hokkaido

The rental car business is a very competitive one in Hokkaido, because the majority of visitors to Hokkaido will rent a car. This means plenty of choices and relatively low prices. I booked a rental car for JPY 32120 (S$405) for 7 days, which is only S$58 per day. This is inclusive of a one way fee of JPY 1500 (S$19) for returning the car at a different location (pick up at Airport but return in Sapporo), but excluding CDW, which would have cost an additional S$100.

Here are some findings that may be of interest to you. I basically tried getting a quotation from all the rental companies that are listed that may offer the Hokkaido Expressway Pass. Not all of them worked. Some of them are aggregator sites for which i have no interest. Some of them don’t allow one way rental. Here is a summary of the quotation for a compact car: Continue reading Renting a car in Hokkaido

Hokkaido 9 days itinerary

It took 3 days to work out this itinerary and book all the hotels, so you could say a trip to Hokkaido is actually not difficult to plan for. I do still need to work out details like where to go for meals, finding exact view points to see, as well as to book a rental car (that will be another blog post), but once the accomodation reservations are done, the rest are less worrying.

All my itineraries are planned with the same basic assumption – that i will never visit there again. This itinerary covers all attractions that are significant in Hokkaido, including places that seem less attractive, like Hakodate. I guess everyone has different preferences and pacing when it comes to how they do a trip, and few people will do it like i do. Nevertheless, i believe i have tips to share that may be useful for reference and consideration.

My trip happens in mid June, and unfortunately, the timeframe is in between the Pink Moss and the Lavendar bloom. Some people might be going to Hokkaido specifically for these. If so, to catch the Pink Moss, you need to be there mid to late May, and for Lavendar, mid to late July. Continue reading Hokkaido 9 days itinerary

Now is the time to book your 2017 vacation flights

Thai Airways flights to Sapporo
Thai Airways flight to Sapporo

My brother-in-law alerted me to the availability of cheap flights on Thai Airways, which his friends found out through Skyscanner. Well, without hesitation, we went ahead and booked flights to Sapporo on the official Thai Airways website for next June, since it was a very good deal. S$1485 for 2 adults and 2 children. Sometimes it cost this much for 2 adults alone.

Well, i thought it was a good deal. I received a mailer from Cheaptickets which mentioned a S$30 discount on flights to Japan with the discount code “JAPAN2016 ” (valid until 11:59 PM on 31 October 2016), so i did a price check for the same flights to Sapporo just out of curiosity. Well, turns out that they’re even cheaper, by about $50 per adult. I don’t know why, but their child fares are always more expensive than the adults’. Even then, the overall price for the flights is about S$100 cheaper.

Cheaptickets Sapporo flights
Cheaptickets Sapporo flights before the discount code is applied

Standard disclaimer, i am not affiliated to Cheaptickets in any way. I am just a third time user of their website, and it looks like i will be using them more often.

Japan destinations – Fukuoka

Naka river
Naka river

Of all the Japanese cities we have visited, Fukuoka ranks among the top of our favourites, because it strikes a balance of being urban without being congested.

We arrived at Fukuoka from Yakushima around noon, and it took us a while to sort out our luggage storage. Since we would be flying from Fukuoka airport again, we left two pieces of luggage in a coin operated locker. The widespread availability of lockers and luggage forwarding service in Japan makes life a lot easier for travellers.

By the time we got to Chikae for lunch, it was past 2pm, and the restaurant was virtually empty. The waitresses kept emphasizing to us that the set lunch was no longer available. I suppose that’s the main draw during lunch time, a good value at 1300 Yen. We opted for the course meal, which starts at 4500 Yen, so as to get to sample more dishes. We might have done so anyway even if we got there in time for the set lunch. This would be my second Kaiseki meal (the course meal at Yunotakean in Yufuin being the first ever). Continue reading Japan destinations – Fukuoka

Japan destinations – Yufuin, Kurokawa Onsen and earthquake

The title was meant to be Yufuin, Kurokawa Onsen and Aso. Obviously, the Aso part didn’t happen. Read on to find out more.

There are practically only two attractions in Yufuin – Kinrin-ko lake (pictured above) and Yunotsubo Kaido, the food/shopping street. OK, my son kept begging for me to let him take a horse cart ride, which he saw on a tourist map, so that might count as a third plausible attraction. Continue reading Japan destinations – Yufuin, Kurokawa Onsen and earthquake

Japan destinations – Nagasaki

Nagasaki is small enough to be explored on foot, but taking the tram would help a lot. We arrived on an evening and did walking for the rest of the day. Fujiwara Ryokan, where we put up in, was a mere 10 minutes from Nagasaki station, though there was a bit of slope to negotiate. This was one of the best Ryokans i’ve stayed in.

Fujiwara Ryokan
The room with ensuite bathroom was super cozy. Hot green tea, fridge, Yukata, coin operated washing machine/dryer and super friendly owner. All check.

I love the minimalist Japanese style rooms. The room is so comfortably spacious, yet also functional. It makes me wonder about the rationale behind our choice, in our part of the world, to clutter our rooms with all kinds of furniture.

Meganebashi (spectacles bridge)
Meganebashi (spectacles bridge)

Meganebashi was along the way to our dinner place (i planned it so), and the Nakashima river over which it arches, reminds me of Cheongyecheon in Seoul. The river, like most rivers in Japan (check out Kamo river in Kyoto), is clean and organized. They are not treated as dumping ground, which is the fate of many rivers across Asia. The rivers need zero investment for beautification (the investment, if any, would have been made decades or centuries ago), unlike Cheongyecheon. I think the Japanese have a lot of wisdom in this – respect for the environment. Unfortunately, i don’t have more photos to show you because i accidentally deleted them! Continue reading Japan destinations – Nagasaki

Travel bucket list: Yakushima

Yakushima ranks among the highest rated attractions in all of Japan. It is a small island south of Kyushu with UNESCO World Heritage status, no less. Having seen the photos and generally raving reviews, I needed little convincing to decide to come here as part of my whirlwind tour of Kyushu. Continue reading Travel bucket list: Yakushima

Kyushu 8.5 days itinerary

Shiratani Unsuikyo (www.japan-guide.com)

This is the second leg of my 3 weeks holiday happening in May. Fukuoka is a mere 50 minutes’ flight from Busan, which is why I am combining a trip to Korea with a tour of Kyushu, southern Japan. Actually, the more important reason is that the open jaw flight (Singapore – Seoul, Fukuoka – Singapore) was being offered at the same promotional price by Vietnam Airlines (S$450) as booking a return flight. The downside to travelling on Vietnam Airlines is having to transit in Vietnam, which stretches 5 hours on my way to Seoul, but for the return flight, i specifically chose the longest transit time available – 21 hours, so i’ll have the chance to check out Hanoi. I’ll definitely do the overnight transit in Vietnam again if i fly with Vietnam Airlines in the future, for the food.

8.5 days probably sounds like a very short time to most people for going around Kyushu, and within this time frame, i’m actually going to cover Yakushima as well (pictured above), an island south of Kyushu (35 minutes flight time or almost 3 hours by ferry from Kagoshima). It is one among the most highly rated attractions in all of Japan (a UNESCO World Heritage Site, no less), so i’m making it a point to get there despite the trouble. Kyushu is relatively small compared to Korea and Honshu, so the distances are more manageable. I’m choosing to fly from Yakushima directly to Fukuoka, which saves me more than half a day if i travelled on land instead, and i think it is worthwhile despite the slightly higher cost. By the way, only Japan Airlines operates flights to/from Yakushima, and there is hardly any discount on the fare for such an exclusive destination, but you should do advanced reservations/purchase of the tickets anyway (more than 75 days ahead) to secure the lowest possible fare. Continue reading Kyushu 8.5 days itinerary

Renting a car in Japan

Car rental is usually a pretty standard affair if you’re renting with a large international chain agency. The websites have more or less the same form submission flow. In Japan, things work differently. First off, the largest car rental companies are actually the car manufacturers, whereby Toyota and Nissan have the largest presence. Then there are the agencies – Times car rental, Nippon rent a car, Orix rent a car, Budget rent a car and J-net rent a car (this is not an exhaustive list). There are also local car rental companies serving only a specific region such as Hokkaido or Okinawa. Finally, there are aggregator websites such as ToCoo! and Tabirai. Continue reading Renting a car in Japan

What to do after landing in Narita

Ok, i was about to say something lame like “get off the plane”, but i’ll go straight to the point: the one thing you must do is decide on how you want to get out of Narita Airport. The second thing you might want to consider doing is getting an internet connection subscription.

There is an elaborate description of the options available for getting out of (and back to) Narita Airport here, so i don’t want to duplicate the effort. I will just recount how what i did made sense in my case. I actually landed in Narita Airport twice on my trip. The first time i landed, i headed straight to Kyoto and travelled around the region for six days. The second time, i stayed in Tokyo for three nights.

To travel around Japan, especially for Honshu between Tokyo and Osaka, the best deal is to use the JR Pass. In some cases, it may be cheaper to use budget flights. Like everyone would advise or warn you, if you plan to stay in Tokyo for the first few days after landing in Narita, it is wise not to activate your JR Pass right away. I think the better advise is to NOT PLAN your itinerary that way. Leave Tokyo to the last few days of your itinerary. Take advantage of your JR Pass by using it to get on the Narita Express to get out of Narita Airport, then go on further. Yes, you may have had a long flight, but since it will already take you about an hour to get from Narita Airport to Tokyo, it wouldn’t hurt much if you add on another hour or two of travel. In my case, i went straight to Kyoto, which is a 2 hours and 40 minutes journey, long enough for catching a nap.

On my second flight into Narita, i got the 5100 yen combo deal of the Keisei Skyliner return trip plus two days Tokyo Metro pass. As advertised, this saves me 1840 yen per adult. You can look at it this way – as it is, the 1000 yen one day metro pass is actually quite inexpensive and worthwhile. This special combo deal has the effect of reducing the cost of a single trip on the Keisei Skyliner from 2480 yen to 1550 yen. It’s a good deal, because the Keisei Skyliner is truly fast, and the 15 to 20 minutes savings in travel time as compared to the Narita Express did make a difference (although to be fair, the Narita Express departs from Tokyo station which is slightly further away). Believe me, the travelling between Tokyo and Narita Airport is boring, and you want to keep it as short as possible. Since i was using the Keisei Skyliner, i made Ueno (the terminal station of the Keisei Skyliner) my base for Tokyo (to avoid moving luggage on and off subway trains) and it was a good choice.

wpid-wp-1435763366762.jpg

A note on exchanging the JR Pass exchange order: unless your flight arrives way before 815 (like mine did), you will have to do the exchange at the Travel Service Centre (as stated on the notice board in the photo). I was fortunate to have been able to do the exchange and also make reservations for all the train trips i was going to take at the ticket office. Doing all the reservations at one go gave me peace of mind and also saved me time, from not having to visit the JR ticket office at all during the rest of the trip. Unless your trip is totally ad-hoc, i think it is advisable to just reserve your seats upfront.

Now, regarding getting an internet connection subscription, the most popularly advocated option is to rent a Mobile WiFi. My advise is, DON’T! UNLESS, you have no confidence in doing any technical configuration of your phone (setting the APN). I was quite surprised to find out from the Narita Airport webpage that there are 19 companies offering phone and WiFi rental in the Airport. It must be a very lucrative business! The cheaper option is to get a prepaid SIM. So-net is probably the deal to go for, with low rates, long validity period (minimum 30 days) and no daily limit on data usage. The normal retail price is ¥3,000 for 1GB¥4,000 for 2.2GB, and ¥5,000 for 3GB. I tried getting the SIM card at the Mobile Center shop at Narita Airport and was told it was out of stock, and at the same time it was ¥4,500. A rip-off! Definitely no go. You’re better off getting the SIM card at a Yodobashi Camera store (they’re everywhere), or if you can manage it, buy it from Amazon.jp and have it shipped to the hotel you are going to stay at in Japan.

In the end, we settled for having no internet on the go. There are free WiFi hotspots throughout Japan which I managed to use a few times. Installing some of the suggested WiFi connection apps (i used Japan Wi-Fi) and doing prior registration do help you get connected, so make sure you do that beforehand.

Update

For Singapore Telco Singtel and m1 subcribers, the data roaming services offer even better deals and convenience.