Hokkaido Highlights : Otaru

Otaru brings back good memories. It was charming right from the moment the train left Sapporo.

I enjoyed the 45-minute train ride along the sea en-route to the fishing port, liked the old-town feel train station and enjoyed the freshest seafood bowl at Otaru Sushi Street.

It was fun (but cold) snapping away at the Otaru Canal which looked great day and night and exploring the shopping street filled with accessories/souvenirs/food.

Its snow festival, simple compared to the ones in Sapporo and Asahikawa (read ‘Hokkaido Highlights: Asahikawa‘), was rich in spirit. I could almost feel everyone in the town putting it together – there were very few frills but lots of human touches. Take a look at the city which came alive with its Otaru Snow Path Light.

I imagine that Otaru will look very different as the season changes and the snow melts away. Would definitely want to return another day in another season for another long vacation.

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Hokkaido Highlights : Asahikawa

Looking through the photos of my Hokkaido trip in February makes me really happy. It has been so long since I traveled in winter (since Scandinavia in 2012). Can’t wait to share more with you – it was such a joy to see snow daily (almost) for 10 days!

My Hokkaido highlights were the snow festivals, skiing in Niseko and day trips to  Asahikawa and Otaru.  The snow festivals were my main reasons for visiting Hokkaido when it is super crowded, super cold and super peak. I was shocked to find most hotels fully booked in early December!

Took a 1.5 hr train ride to Asahikawa on the first day of its snow festival as I wanted to catch the opening ceremony. I heard there will be fireworks 🙂 When I goggled about this city, its ramen and zoo were highly recommended. So that summed up my itinerary.

I decided to get discount tickets (a combo of train as well as bus and entry to the zoo tickets) at the JR office in the Sapporo Train Station – more value for money. Had to stand for almost half the train ride as I could not get a reserved seating ticket – so either get one to get a seat or queue at the platform earlier (not recommended in winter though!).

Asahikawa train station is definitely more modern than I imagined. I like its quiet vibes.

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The train station is connected to the bus interchange, a hotel (JR Inn) and a shopping mall (AEON).

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There’s even a park besides it. Stepped out of the train station to check out Asahikawa Park. Winter air is fresh – cold and crisp.

The first thing I checked out upon reaching a city is usually the tourist information centre – very useful if you have not done your homework about the destination. The folks at the Asahikawa Tourist Information Centre at the train station shared some great tips – a map of ramen shops near the station (and even recommended a few to try), directions to the snow festival and programme line-up (including the fireworks at 7 pm).

Entered Ramen-Santouka – the first ramen shop I chanced upon as I walked down the street as directed by the tourist information centre.  The ramen was so good (the noodles are chewy and the soup full of flavors) that I wished I had planned a 2-day trip that will give me more time to try more Asahikawa ramen!

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Ramen-Santouka food porn. Looks yummy, doesn’t it?

After one of the best shoyu ramen I have ever eaten, I headed back to the train station to catch the bus to the Asahiyama Zoo.  Like the train ride, I couldn’t beat the long queue and had to stand throughout the 30-minute ride. Meh.

But the destination, Asahiyama Zoo is one of the prettiest zoo I have ever been to! Saw many Hokkaido animals and they were so active in winter!

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Entry to Asahiyama Zoo – my first time to a zoo in winter!

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Meet the bears.

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The red pandas.

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The Japanese cranes.

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The fox.

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View of Asahiyama Zoo. It doesn’t look like a zoo right?

Another queue had started to form at the Asahiyama Zoo as people tried to get a good spot for the Penguin Walk – a winter highlight at the zoo.

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They like to move it, move it!

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Strutting their stuff.

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Close-up! The last time I came so close to these divas was at the Penguin Island in Melbourne in sunny summer though… And no photos allowed then!

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So I was at Asahiyama Zoo on 7 Feb 2018. See those colorful ice blocks? They will hold candles to light up the zoo at night during the snow festival. Too bad I could not stay for the night.

Next up was the Asahikawa Snow festival with two main sites – Asahibashi Bridge with the giant snow sculpture and the Heiwa Dori pedestrian street with the ice sculpture competition. Took the bus from the train station (had to stand the entire ride again) to the former where I saw my first fireworks show in winter! Watch the video here.

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The giant snow sculpture at the 2018 Asahikawa Snow Festival was of the Hokkaido animals. Can you spot them?

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Besides the ice block, there were many little snowmen along the festival trail to guide visitors. So cute!

After the festivities at Asahibashi Bridge, I saw the artists hard at work at Heiwa Dori on my way back to the train station. A pity that I could not see the finished sculptures . If you want to see them, it might be a good idea to visit Asahikawa on the last day of the snow festival.

This summed up my day at Asahikawa. Shall press about Otaru next and I hope it will not take too long. Till then!

 

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#2017bestnine

 

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First posted early this morning on Instagram @ilovelongvacation

Wanted to post this earlier and was preoccupied. And what a difference this procrastination made – from yesterday to yesteryear. A timely reminder to procrastinate less in 2018. To follow our heart, to let nothing (or less things) hold you or others back, to be kinder/nicer in every interaction with others because you never know when it will be your last in years or in a lifetime. 

Have always been a believer that days are long and years are short. Its amazing how fast/faster time passes every year. 2017 was a crazy good/bad year. My best nine in IG says all the good and the bad are best forgotten…. 2017 – First time to Tokyo for my first Sakura party! First white strawberry (almost no bad Japanese food from where it originates). First snow encounter after 5 years – totally unexpected. First trip to Maldives at the start of 2017 was beauti-full of sun, sea, sand – also marks my first close up with dolphins and turtles and my first snorkeling trip without life jacket! First time to After You in BKK and First time to JB via train after it stopped running from Tanjong Pagar railway station. 

Life’s good in our very own backyard too – something we often take for granted be it time spent with our family and friends or the food/places at home. Finally tried the Michelin Star Tsuta ramen – happy that there was no Long queue and to see the order machine (come to think of it, Japan has started on its digital journey quite a while!) Our sunny island has become home to so many big food names that we no longer need to fly to eat good food. And for my only trip to our national gallery in 2017, it was to see the work of Yayoi Kusama – another example of how we need not fly to see world class art. But we still want to fly to do all these. Well, it’s always good to have more wants than needs! And back to the topic of art, the painting in this picture depicts the saying 比上不足,比下有余 – which literally means there will always be someone or something better than us and vice versa. A reminder to compare less in 2018 – to be (or try to be) thankful for something at the end of Everyday.

Enough of rambling. Happy New Year Everyone. Cheers to a better year and a better us!

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The last of the Sakura lust 

I promised this will be the last of the Sakura lust.

Shinjuku Gyoen on my second last day in Tokyo. Had initially planned to make it my first stop in Tokyo. Wanted to explore the area near the hotel and to take it slow after a red-eye flight. Changed my mind after the Tourist Office advised me to visit a few days later when the blooms are fuller.

Checked out the different types of gardens of Japanese landscape, French and English. Checked out the Sakura in its full bloom (almost). Checked out people sitting on picnic mats quietly admiring the cherry blossoms. Checked out many adoring fans snapping away excitedly around and under the Sakura. Checked out of one part of my career journey and ready to check in to the next.

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It’s been a long time since I managed to press about a trip in its entirety. I don’t know how I managed to do it amidst the demands of the new work. It took 5 months but I am glad I did it. It’s time to close this chapter and look forward to the next. The lust of travelling always last. And the Sakura lust will beckon again in 6 months’ time.

#ilovelongvacationjp #travel #shinjukugyoen #japan #tokyo

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Hakone Reminisce #2 – Togendai to Moto-Hakone

Starting Saturday with a press feels great! No better time to continue from where I have left off on my Hakone Reminisce since July (Hakone Reminisce #1 – Gora to Souzan to Owakudani). From Togendai to Moto-Hakone, from Lake Ashi to Hakone Shrine.

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Splendid view of nature from Hakone Ropeway from Owakudani to Togendai. Is that melted snow or rain on the glass pane?

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A shot of the Hakone Sightseeing Boat from the Hakone Ropeway station. These pirate-like-ships that took me to Moto-Hakone are a bit too cute but I thought they add an old-town charm to Lake Ashi. 

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Togendai looks like a quaint town that I would enjoy exploring. Alas,  not enough time.

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Lake Ashi and mountains as my selfie backdrop in Togendai! One of the few times I used the self-timer mode on my camera on this trip.

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Last shot of Togendai before I board the pirate ship to Moto-Hakone. Feeling blissed to be surrounded by Lake Ashi and wooded mountains.

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View from the boat. Apparently, you may get a good view of Mount Fuij on a good visibility day.

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The view of Moto-Hakone from the boat. Spot the Tori gate?

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Cold day. Heart and hands warmed by hot tea from the vending machine! Wish Singapore has these vending machines that dispense warmth too.

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Another selfie. This time with Hakone Mountain as the background taken en-route Hakone Shrine.

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Looks like a nice spot to soak in Lake Ashi. Wondering what these ladies are looking at?

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The Tori gates that welcome us to Hakone Shrine.

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Walking through the dense forest to Hakone Shrine. Soaking in the beauty of mist and sunset – that golden hour of the day.

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Make a wish.

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Hakone Shrine.

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A close-up with the famous Tori gate. Wondering if it is the most photographed Tori gates in Japan. What do you think?

Wondering what I have been doing in my one-month absence from wordpress? Well, July was such a crazy month at work in Singapore. But I did managed to steal time for a 4-day trip to Bangkok 😛 Photos are on Instagram @ilovelongvacation, so check them out!

#ilovelongvacationjp #travel #togendai #motohakone #lakeashi #hakoneshrine #japan #tokyo

 

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Hakone Reminisce #1 – Gora to Souzan to Owakudani

This gallery contains 15 photos.

Hakone was great  – one of the best in this trip in fact. Got the Hakone 2-day pass from Shinjuku station and enjoyed unlimited use of Odakyu-affiliated transport and discounted admission to some tourist attractions in the Hakone area. Worth … Continue reading

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From Tokyo Imperial Palace to Yasukuni Shrine

On 30 March when I was still in Tokyo and when memories of Day 5 was fresher, this was what I posted when I shared pictures on Instagram @ilovelongvacation : Wet, cold day. Did not managed to get a ticket to visit the Tokyo Imperial Palace so can only visit the garden – Very big with many Sakura trees of course. Walked the Chidorigafuchi – no boats spotted – en route to the Yasukuni shrine.

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Although it can be a hassle to carry an umbrella around on a rainy day, it can add an interesting touch to a picture.
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Another side of the cherry blossoms with the raindrops. IMG_9195

Saw white cherry blossoms when I walked to Chidorigafuchi. A walk that was longer than I thought it would be. But glad I walked as I saw many Sakura trees along the way.IMG_9198  IMG_9203IMG_9205

Chidorigafuchi was quite deserted. Guess I would not have been able to capture this serene scene if it was not a wet day. 
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Yasukuni Shrine was less serene though.IMG_9221IMG_9222  IMG_9226

The tree that helps the Meteorological Agency to declare the start of the cherry blossom season. I only just learnt about this interesting fact!IMG_9228

So this sums up Day 5 in Tokyo. A wet day. Not a good one for walking. But walk I did.

#ilovelongvacationjp #travel #tokyoimperialpalace #chidorigafuchi #yasukunishrine #japan #tokyo

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