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Friday, December 27, 2013

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Sounkyo Kankou Hotel 層雲峡観光ホテル

Stayed 07.02.2013 (1 day)
Booked through Japanican.


- Booked western style twin rooms, inclusive of both breakfast and dinner, at 12,600 yen/room (~ 90 SGD/pax). Found the price relatively cheap for a hot spring hotel. Hotel is divided into two annexes - the more luxurious Japanese style rooms are found in Shiki (四季) while the other guest rooms are housed in Saika (花彩), the main building. Rooms that were assigned to us were unusually spacious (even after we opened up two luggage fully), especially for the price we were paying for.

- Location of hotel is about 3 - 5 minutes walk from Sounkyo Onsen bus terminal, tourist centre and main onsen town (whereby you can find Seicomart convenience store, several eateries and ropeway to Mt Kurodake). Did not have time to visit the main onsen town and nearby attractions (Waterfall of Ginga and Meteor, Oobako and Kobako gorges) as we arrived at the hotel in the late evening and left for Asahikawa early next day. The venue for the annual Sounkyo Ice Fall Festival is also about 5 mins walk from the hotel.

- There are two separate communal bathhouses for men and women. Bathouses are closed at midmight, for thirty minutes, to prepare for opposite gender usage. Do note that for one of their bathhouses, its indoor and outdoor sections are not connected i.e. one will need to dress up to shuffle between the indoor and outdoor hot spring facilities.


- Both breakfast and dinner were buffet style, offering quite a decent spread of Western and Japanese cuisine. Seafood items such as the ever popular crab legs and scallops, miso hot pot (packed with ingredients that you are free to pick/choose), steak and tempura were available during dinner. Had soup curry (one of the signature dishes from Sapporo) for the very first time too during breakfast.
Side note: Restaurant was very packed (and noisy) during our day of visit as the hotel was hosting a huge overseas tour group. Unfortunately, the crowd did make the overall dinning experience seemed more hectic.

Top: spotted a Sika deer outside our window; Bottom: 1 hour bus ride to Asahikawa Washington Hotel
- Utilised the free shuttle bus service provided by hotel to transfer to Asahikawa.
From Asahikawa Washington Hotel > Sounkyo Kankou Hotel: 1400 hrs
From Sounkyo Kankou Hotel > Asahikawa Washington Hotel: 1000 hrs
Do note that phone/email reservation is required at least 1 day before your stay. Did reconfirm my reservation with the front desk on the night of my stay.

Conclusion: Will definitely come back to Sounkyo on a different season to visit Mt Kurodake and other beautiful natural landscapes of waterfalls and gorges. Affordable room rates for this hotel will definitely attract many budget travellers. Hot spring facility is definitely not the best I've been to but reasonably good for the price. Personally, I will want to try out other accommodation options (hopefully a quieter/less crowded one) on my next visit to Sounkyo.

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Sounkyo Kankou Hotel 層雲峡観光ホテル
078-1701 北海道上川郡上川町字層雲峡
http://www.sounkyo-kankou.co.jp/en/

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Ryuhyo Express Okhotsk no kaze 流氷特急オホーツクの風

Travelled 07.02.2013


Abashiri JR Station (1417 hrs) > Kamikawa JR Station (1710 hrs)
Fee = 3,880 yen + 2,810 yen for reserved seats = 6,690 yen

Train is only in operation during the winter season (in conjunction with drift ice sightseeing from February to early March). This North Rainbow Express train makes one round trip per day along Sekihoku main line, commuting between Sapporo and Abashiri JR Stations.

Took the connecting Twinkle Bus Sounkyo-go from Kamikawa JR Station to Sounkyo Onsen
Fee = 500 yen
Twinkle Bus Sounkyo-go (2014 edition): http://www2.jrhokkaido.co.jp/global/pdf/e/ml201311.pdf

Highlights:


- There are a total of five carriages in this train. What is unique about this train is that third/middle carriage is divided into two tiers - the top deck comprises of passenger seats, while the bottom deck has a cafe and lounge for passengers to hang around over a cup of coffee and snacks or do some itinerary planning with the travel guide books provided. An autograph book is also placed in the lounge for passengers to pen down their thoughts on board the train. Original souvenirs such as quartz watches, stickers, files, pins and postcards are all designed for and only sold on board this seasonal train. Some of which come with a new design every year, thus elevating its exclusivity!

- Bottom left: beautiful postmark for Ryuhyo Express Okhotsk no kaze; Bottom right: autograph book -
- Passengers are issued with boarding certificates (in the form of postcards) by the train conductor after tickets are verified. Write a message at the back of the card, purchase postage stamp (70 yen to send back to Singapore) from the cafe counter and drop your postcard into this exclusive wooden post box found in the lounge! All mails sent from this train will be stamped with a postmark that is specially designed and dedicated to this train.

- Transformed from last to first train carriage in Engaru JR Station -
- When the train pulled into Engaru JR Station (遠軽駅), was puzzled to see all passengers automatically stood up and rotated their seats 180 degree to face the opposite direction. Of course, we had to follow suit (follow what the Romans do when in Rome) and eventually realised that train would move in the reverse direction after this train station. Searched for its location on online maps and discovered that in Engaru JR Station, all trains continuing the journey would have to travel in the opposite direction and divert to the adjacent track. Due to this switchback mode, the train carriage which we were seated in was "upgraded" from the last to the utmost front compartment! Got the chance to be in the driver's seat for a moment to admire the snowy scenery ahead of us. An unexpected surprise indeed.


Location of Engaru JR Station:

View Larger Map

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Commemorative stamps: 


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Discover the New Northern Continent! Attaka Abashiri 北の新大陸発見!あったか網走

Visited 07.02.2013
Year 2013: 23.01.2013 - 03.03.2014
Year 2014: 25.01.2014 - 02.03.2014


Under the sub zero temperatures in winter, a large portion of Lake Abashiri becomes frozen and this additional area is transformed to a "playground" suitable for all ages. Apart from drift ice sightseeing in Okhotsk Sea, "Discover the New Northern Continent! Attaka Abashiri" held on Lake Abashiri is the next largest scale winter event held in Abashiri.


Do you know? A "Drift Ice Festival (流氷まつり)" is held in Abashiri Port over a period of 3 - 4 days (typically over a weekend). This festival showcases numerous snow and ice sculptures created by volunteers. Another important activity carried out during this festival is the parade to worship the drift ice shrine. Did not get to participate in this festival as it fell on the same period as Sapporo Snow Festival.

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Highlights:

Don't underestimate this long ice slide!
- Mid-sized snow sculptures featuring adorable anime/cartoon characters are popular photo taking spots in the event venue. The ice slides were more thrilling (and fun) than I thought. The gradient at the beginning is actually quite steep and the almost frictionless surface can generate decent speed down the slide. Pick up a board which you will sit on before climbing up the stairs to the top of ice slide. In comparison, the adjacent snow tube slide is milder and less exciting. Enjoyed several trips down the slides as there were no queues in the morning.


Horse sleighs available in the event venue (600 yen for adult, 300 yen for child) 
- Many snow activities can be tried out here. Every activity appeared to be interesting to me, especially this being my first winter/snow experience. Choose the activity you want to participate in and purchase a ticket from the booth. Sat on a sled which was pulled by a snowmobile and went one round on the frozen lake (300 yen/pax); ride was slower than expected. Other activities include banana boat ride (pulled by snowmobile as well), riding on snowmobiles or 4-wheels buggies, sitting on horse sleighs, etc.

Left: Soy sauce soup base ramen; Right: Abashiri Milk
- Had our lunch in the cafeteria that was set up in a tentage. Stall sold simple dishes such as ramen and curry rice. A good place to warm your bodies and fill up the hungry stomachs.

Smelt fishing on frozen Lake Abashiri
- One can also experience smelt fishing on the frozen Lake Abashiri (need to walk further downwards, closer to Hotel Abashirikoso). After paying for the fishing fees and equipment rental (fishing rod and bait), select a spot and the staff will assist to drill a hole through the ice. Extend your fishing line into the hole and wait for the smelts to feed on the bait. The smelts can be savored immediately by deep frying them in oil fryers which are made available in the event venue.

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Discover the New Northern Continent! Attaka Abashiri 北の新大陸発見!あったか網走
Opening hours: 0900 - 1630 hrs; 1900 - 2100 hrs
Event venue: Lake Abashiri
http://abashiri.jp/tabinavi/17attaka/index.html

View Discover the New Northern Continent! Attaka Abashiri in a larger map

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How to get there?

(1) Taxi: approx 1,500 yen from Abashiri JR Station.

(2) Bus:
From Abashiri JR Station Bus Stop 2, take either
- Memanbetsu Airport Bus, or
- Bihoro line Bus (美幌行),
Alight at Abashiri Kankou Hotel.
Bus timetable: http://www.abashiribus.com/noriba.html

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Videos:

Winter related activities in Abashiri was featured in Taiwanese travel programme 《爱玩客》.
(1) Fast forward to 02:45 for highlights from "Discover the New Northern Continent! Attaka Abashiri" event.


(2) Fast forward to 18:00 for smelt fishing on Lake Abashiri.

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Day 5 Itinerary: Abashiri 網走, Sounkyo 層雲峡

Day 5 - 07.02.2013

Breakfast: Hotel Route Inn Abashiri

Abashiri JR Station > Lake Abashiri
via taxi. Fee = ~1,500 yen

Visited "Discover the New Northern Continent! Attaka Abashiri" - Lake Abashiri Winter Festival

Lunch: Cafeteria in event venue.

Lake Abashiri > Abashiri JR Station
via taxi.

Abashiri JR Station (1417 hrs) > Kamikawa JR Station (1710 hrs)
via Ryuhyo Express Okhotsk no kaze. Day #2 usage of 4 day flexible Hokkaido Rail Pass.

Kamikawa JR Station (1715 hrs) > Sounkyo Kanko Hotel (1800 hrs)
via Twinkle Bus Sounkyo-go. Fee = 500 yen

Check in: Sounkyo Kankou Hotel

Dinner: Sounkyo Kankou Hotel

Visited 38th Sounkyo Hyoubaku Matsuri (Sounkyo Ice Fall Festival).

- End of Day 5 -

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Sukiya すき家 (39号網走新町店)

Visited 06.02.2013



Sukiya, is a fast food restaurant chain in Japan, well-known for their gyu-don (beef rice bowl). It is currently the largest gyu-don restaurant in Japan, with more than 1800 outlets. Have eaten gyu-don from Matsuya (松屋) and Yoshinoya (which Singaporeans are more familiar with) on previous occasions - relatively low cost, yet delicious and satisfying quick meal one can get in Japan!

In fact, there are not many eateries/restaurants located within close proximity to the train station and Sukiya happens to be one of the few around. Decided to patronise Sukiya as we did not intend to travel too far away from our hotel, especially in this cold weather. 

Even though the restaurant did not provide any English/Mandarin menu, the clear pictures made ordering easier than expected. 
- Select from a variety of toppings/sauces for your beef rice bowl: mixed vegetables, onions, yam, cheese, kimchi, ponzu, etc. 
- Choose the size of rice bowl: mini, small, medium, large, extra large and mega size. 
- Complete your meal with miso soup, pickles, salad, egg, beancurd, chicken karaage (fried chicken) etc. 

Ordered a small beef bowl topped up with huge serving of crunchy onions and a raw egg. The beef rice bowl did not disappoint me once again and whetted my appetite totally. Sad to say, the version we get in Singapore (such as Yoshinoya) is not as good as what I have eaten in Japan...  

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Sukiya すき家 - 39号網走新町店
北海道網走市新町2丁目3-5
http://as.chizumaru.com/sukiya/detailMap?account=sukiya&accmd=0&adr=01&bid=ID0101173&pgret=2

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Other food options?

(1) Yakiniku Abashiri Beer Hall - about 7 minutes walk from Abashiri JR Station. This BBQ restaurant is owned by Abashiri Brewery, which is well-known for their colourful draft beer creations.
Restaurant website: http://www.takahasi.co.jp/beer/yakiniku/

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Friday, December 20, 2013

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Abashiri JR Station 网走駅, Posta Collect 郵便局のポスタルグッズ


Abashiri JR Station (A69), on Senmo main line and Sekihoku main line.
Limited Express Okhotsk serves between Sapporo and Abashiri.
In winter (February to early March), the following sightseeing trains can be boarded from Abashiri JR Station:
(1) Ryuhyo Norokko Train, commutes between Abashiri and Shiretoko-shari.
(2) Ryuhyo Express Okhotsk-no-kaze, commutes between Sapporo and Abashiri.

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What's nearby?

(1) Bus stops
Map depicting bus stops located outside train station: http://www.abashiribus.com/noriba.html#noriba2
Tourist Facilities Bus (Mount Tento Line, 天都山):
- Bus Stop 1: to Michinoeki Drift Ice Breaker Terminal.
- Bus Stop 2: to Abashiri Prison Museum, Drift Ice Museum and Hokkaido Museum of Northern People.
Memanbetsu Airport Bus: Memanbetsu Airport (女満別空港) is about 30 minutes bus ride away from Abashiri JR Station.
- Board the bus at Bus Stop 2.
Airport bus schedule: http://www.abashiribus.com/en_Memanbetsu_Airport_Line_Timetable.html

(2) Hotels
Two popular business hotel chains, Toyoko Inn and Hotel Route Inn, are located just in front of the train station.

- Left: Caramel candies; Right: Postcards exclusive to Hokkaido! -
(3) Lawson convenience store, located on the right when you exit from the train station.
A good place to grab your travel essentials and late night snacks. Do keep a look out for snacks such as caramel candies (with Abashiri Prison and sea angel printed on their packaging) produced by and sold only in Abashiri.

(4) Post office, located on the left when you exit from the train station.

Do you know? Posta Collect introduced a set of regional collectible postcards, each representing one of the 47 prefectures in Japan. Each postcard highlights the unique landmark/attraction and famous food/produce from respective prefecture. Collecting these beautifully designed postcards is not so simple after all, since the postcard can only be purchased in the region that its representing, thereby elevating its exclusivity! A total of five sets are available since its introduction in 2009 (1 full set per year). Each postcard is priced at 180 yen.

Hokkaido is considered a prefecture as a whole, therefore these postcards can be found in any of its post offices. Visited the post office in Kushiro's MOO Fisherman's Wharf previously, but could only find 2 out of the 4 designs (only 4 were introduced during my time of visit). Tried my luck again in this branch located outside Abashiri JR Station and was fortunate enough to find all 4 of them! Looks like there are more souvenirs/collectibles to bring back on future Japan trips!
All Hokkaido postcards from Posta Collect: http://www.postacollect.com/gotochi/area01.html
All prefectures postcards from Posta Collect: http://www.postacollect.com/gotochi/

- Sapporo iconic Clock Tower: the first postcard introduced by Posta Collect in 2009 -
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Commemorative stamp: 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Abashiri Prison Museum 博物館 網走監獄

Visited 07.02.2013

Mirror Bridge led to the entrance of the museum
Apart from the phenomenal drift ice viewing activities that occur during winter months, the most prominent attraction in Abashiri that is opened to visitors all year round has got to be this museum. The mention of "prison" will likely shun most people away, and almost impossible to associate this as an attraction. Apparently this is not case in Abashiri where you can find many souvenirs and merchandises (from milk candies to T-shirts) with images of prison imprinted on them.

History: 1890 marks the birth of Abashiri Prison, when 1200 prisoners and 173 jailers were sent to the small town of Abashiri, for the daunting task of building a central highway through Hokkaido. Japanese government had to expedite the development of Hokkaido in light of potential advancement of Russia to the South. Prisoners went through extreme hardship and merciless treatment to complete the building of central highway within a remarkably short period of time. Lives were lost due to long working hours, malnutrition, dangerous working conditions and harsh winter conditions. Important rail roads, fishing ports and farms in Abashiri were also the fruits of labour from these prisoners. Abashiri Prison undoubtedly marks an important chapter in the development of Hokkaido.

In 1984, the original site was reconstructed and a portion of the heritage buildings were shifted to Mount Tento and this eventually transformed into the current Abashiri Prison Museum, for future generations to understand the conditions of Abashiri Prison in the past and highlights the contributions made by prisoners towards the development of Hokkaido in the early days.

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Highlights: 

Red brick gate of Abashiri Prison
 - A reproduction of the "Mirror Bridge" (as the prison was located on the other bank of Abashiri River) that leads to the entrance of the prison. There is significance behind the name of this bridge: prisoners would look at their reflections in the clear waters and see the things they wanted to change about themselves. Main gate is constructed out of red bricks, which took five years and 1.5 million bricks to complete.

Reproduced the life of prisoners in temporary quarters
Right: Communal bathhouse; Left: Prisoners at work
- There are many things to explore within this 17 hectares size museum. Reproduction of staff housing, temporary quarters, agricultural warehouse and communal bathhouses provided an insight on the life of staffs and prisoners in the past. Life size wax figures were also displayed within these facilities, enhancing the realistic factor of the museum. Display boards for outdoor exhibits are written in four languages - Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean, allowing foreigners to better relate to these exhibits.

Five winged prison - a unique arrangement of prison cells
How interior was kept warm during cold weathers
- The restored five winged prison was my favourite exhibit in this museum. A unique architecture, the name came about as the five wings of prisoner cells radiate outwards with a central guard station in the middle. This building was modeled after Belgium's Leuven Prison. In the winter months, a fireplace with a long exhaust extending along the length of each wing is used to keep the interior warm.

Details of prisoners' contributions to development of Hokkaido found in Penological Museum
- Exhibits providing historical background on the construction of highway between Abashiri and Asahikawa can be found in Penological Museum. Display boards were all in Japanese for this particular section, and explanations in English/Chinese/Korean were provided on separate sheets of papers (which you can bring home) placed on stands found in various corners of the exhibition hall.

Modern prison reproduced in Penological Museum
- The present Abashiri Prison is also reproduced in Penological Museum. As compared to wooden buildings in the past, prisoners are now housed in concrete structures which have improved lighting and sanitary conditions. The nutritional value of food were also taken into consideration during meal preparation to meet the health needs of prisoners.

- Cafeteria located in Futamigaoka Farm (which is closed in winter) reproduces the prison menu, for visitors to experience the meals prisoners ate in their cells. Another cafeteria which offers the same menu (all year round) is located at the entrance of the museum. In photos, the food do look like typical Japanese meal sets! Did not get to try it personally.

- Overall, it was time well spent in the museum, immersing ourselves with historical information on Hokkaido. Do allocate at least 1 - 2 hours to explore this well constructed museum fully.  

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Abashiri Prison Museum 博物館 網走監獄
〒099-2421 網走市字呼人1-1
Opening hours:
0800 - 1800 hrs (Apr - Oct)
0900 - 1700 hrs (Nov - Mar)
*You can get into the museum till one hour before closing time.
Admission fee = 940 yen (90 yen off with discount voucher)
Discount voucher can be retrieved online (http://www.kangoku.jp/waribiki.html) or from hotels located in Abashiri.
http://www.kangoku.jp/world/


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How to get there? 

(1) By Tourist Facilities Bus 観光施設めぐり (Mount Tento line, 天都山).
Board the bus at Bus Stop 2 at Abashiri JR Station. Fee = 230 yen.
Timetable (In Japanese): http://www.abashiribus.com/rosenjikoku.html

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Grand Glacier Restaurant Daihyogen

Visited 06.02.2013

Grand Glacier Restaurant Daihyogen is located on the ground floor of Abashiri Central Hotel. Hotel is approximately 10 - 15 minutes walk from Abashiri JR Station and a stone throw away from Abashiri Bus Terminal. Did contemplate to stay in this hotel for the sake of patronising this restaurant. Gave up the idea after some research as the rooms were more pricey despite not located near the train station.

Reached our destination after 10 minutes walk from Michinoeki (Aurora Ice Breaker Cruise Terminal). Was taken aback when my eyes set upon the classy interior of the restaurant. Sat down and browsed through the menu and heaved a sigh of relief when I found out that food was not too expensive here. No English menu was available and I had to pick my food based on the pictures featured in the book.

Ordered:

- Okhotsk drift ice white curry rice set -
(1) Okhotsk drift ice white curry rice set (1,313 yen): Drift ice being the most popular activity/event in Abashiri, has given rise to many creative dishes, all named after (and looked like) this phenomenon which is only encountered during the winter season. In this signature dish created exclusively by the restaurant, white curry is used to depict drift ice floating on the sea of Okhotsk. Rice is accompanied with fresh surf clam, crab and well-sealed scallops and topped with raisins. Curry was savoury, enhancing the sweetness locked within the seafood. This set meal comes with a dessert which fits the theme as well - a delectable scoop of vanilla ice cream "floating" in a cup of light blue coloured syrup. Having this set meal did make my drift ice expedition felt much more completed!


(2) Shio Ramen (850 yen): Topped up with dried scallops from Okhotsk sea, this bowl of ramen tingled our tastebuds! Soup was light and clear, less oily than the usual pork bone based. All felt that the taste of the soup was closer to what we would get at home. It was so yummy that we managed to gulp down the entire bowl of soup! Nothing beats having a warming bowl of ramen in this chilly weather.

(3) Tempura set (900 yen): A mixture of prawn and vegetables tempura, served together with rice and udon.

Overall, the dining experience in Daihyogen was memorable. One thing I noticed was that this restaurant do allow diners to smoke in their premises, therefore do sound off your concern (if any) to the waiters/waitresses before seated.

Recognition: Abashiri Central Hotel was awarded two stars in Hokkaido Michelin 2012 Guide.

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Grand Glacier Restaurant Daihyogen
Abashiri Central Hotel 網走セントラルホテル
093-0012北海道網走市南2条西3丁目
http://www.abashirich.com/

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Hotel Route Inn Abashiri Ekimae ホ テルルートイン網走駅前

Stayed 06.02.2013 (1 day)
Booked through Agoda.sg.


- There are two hotels located conveniently in front of Abashiri JR Station - Toyoko Inn and Hotel Route Inn. Both business hotels are well-known for their inexpensive charges, suitable for budget travellers. Have no particular preference or staying experience in both hotel chains - decided on Hotel Route Inn eventually .

- Booked a twin room (inclusive of breakfast) for approximately 87 SGD after discount (redemption of points awarded from past hotel bookings with Agoda). Left our luggage with the front desk (located on the second floor) as we arrived before the check-in timing (1500 hrs). Brochures and discount vouchers for nearby attractions (such as Abashiri Prison and Okhotsk Ryohyo Museum) can be found on stands placed in the hotel lobby. Free drinks from coffee machine is available in the lobby (1500 - 2200 hrs) as well.

- Room has more walking space than expected for such business hotel and is equipped with basic necessities. Complimentary breakfast is served in its restaurant located on the second floor (just beside the front desk). Variety of food was limited and predictable, nevertheless still good enough to start off the day.

- There are two man-made hot spring public baths, separated by gender, available to hotel guests. A soak in the hot spring felt exceptionally good after a tiring day of walking in the town!

- Left: view from room; Right: Abashiri River just behind hotel -
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Hotel Route Inn Abashiri Ekimae ホテルルートイン網走駅前
093-0046 北海道網走市新町1丁目2番13号
http://www.route-inn.co.jp/search/hotel/index_hotel_id_502
Twin Room charges:
Oct - Jan, Mar - May = 9,500 yen (~ 120 - 130 SGD)
Feb, Jun - Sep = 10,500 yen (~ 130 - 140 SGD)

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Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Kitahama JR Station 北浜駅


Kitahama JR Station (B76), on Senmo main line.
Ryuhyo Norokko Train (流氷ノロッコ号) makes a 10 minutes stop at this train station during its operation in winter.

Highlights:




- This is the train station closest to Okhotsk Sea - approximately 20 to 25 metres from the coastline. An observatory deck erected beside the train station provides a panoramic and magnificent view of Okhotsk Sea. The view is breathtaking especially between January to March when huge masses of ice floes are carried southwards from Amur River in Russia to coastal regions of Hokkaido.


- This relatively small train station is not manned by any operator. However, an interesting sight awaits in the waiting area. Various forms of writing materials (postcards, business cards, papers, tickets, receipts etc) with messages scribbled on them were pinned onto the walls and ceiling, and all these small pieces of "art" were contributed by visitors from all around the world! A cafe (停车场) is also housed within the same train station. Read from travel guides that the commemorative stamp for this train station can be found in the cafe.


View Larger Map

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Do you know? Kitahama JR Station appeared in the movie "If You Are The One (非诚勿扰)" released in 2008, starring Ge You and Shu Qi. Part of this movie was shot in East Hokkaido. Fast forward all the way to 1:08:46 for the scene captured at the train station.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Ryuhyo Norokko Train 流氷ノロッコ号

Travelled 06.02.2013


Shiretoko-shari JR Station (0855 hrs) > Abashiri JR Station (1000 hrs)
Fee = 810 yen + 300 yen for reserved seats = 1,100 yen

Another seasonal sightseeing train available only during winter. There are a total of two trains in operation per direction daily. It travels along the section of Senmo line between Shiretoko-shari and Abashiri JR Stations.

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Highlights: 


This section of Senmo line moves along the circumference of Hokkaido overlooking Okhotsk Sea, which is covered by huge masses of floating drift ice in winter. Similar to other series of "Norokko" trains in Hokkaido, this train moves at a much slower speed of 85 km/h, enabling passengers to get a better view of the vast Okhotsk sea during the journey. In reserved seats carriages, some of the wooden benches are oriented to face the window directly, allowing one to admire the scenery without straining his/her neck. Same train carriages are also seen in Kushiro Shitsugen Norokko Train, which is in operation between April to September.


- A small stand selling snacks and souvenirs is found in one of the train carriages. One of the most popular food on this train is milk pudding (made by Cafe&Cake 風花, a confectionary shop in Abashiri). Do grab one as soon as possible since only limited number is available on board (only 20 was for sale on the day of my travel). Similar to Fuyu-no-Shitsugen, coal stoves are also available in every train carriage. Decided to give it a try to grill a piece of dried squid over the stove, but the outcome was not to our expectation - found the meat too hard and chewy for our liking.

- Train makes a 10 minutes stop at Kitahama JR Station, the train station closest to Okhotsk Sea. An observatory is erected beside this train station, which offers a panoramic view of the majestic Okhotsk Sea.

- Not forgetting to collect a commemorative stamp before you alight the train!

- Related train information: http://www2.jrhokkaido.co.jp/global/english/train/tr026_01.html

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Commemorative stamps:



Thursday, October 17, 2013

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Shiretoko-shari JR Station 知床斜里駅


Shiretoko-shari JR Station (B72), on Senmo main line.
Ryuhyo Norokko Train commutes between Abashiri and Shiretoko-shari train stations during winter season.

Note: There are no lifts and escalators in this train station.
This train station was last renovated in 2007 which explains its modern looking features.

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What's nearby?

(1) Shari Bus Terminal: local buses (Shiretoko line, 知床线) bound for Shiretoko National Park, Utoro Onsen and Rausu, and airport bus bound for Memenbetsu Airport.
Shiretoko line bus schedule: http://www.sharibus.co.jp/r_siretoko.html
Airport bus schedule: http://www.sharibus.co.jp/r_memanbetu.html

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Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Day 4 Itinerary: Abashiri 網走

Day 4 - 06.02.2013

Breakfast: Shiretoko Grand Hotel Kitakobushi

Shiretoko Grand Hotel Kitakobushi (0745 hrs) > Shiretoko-shari JR Station (0835 hrs)
via Twinkle Bus Utoro-Shiretoko-shari line.
Fee = 1,000 yen

Shiretoko-shari JR Station (0855 hrs) > Abashiri JR Station (1000 hrs)
by Ryuhyo Norokko Train.
Fee = 1,110 yen (reserved seats)
- Train stopped for 10 mins at Kitahama JR Station.

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Check in: Hotel Route Inn Abashiri Ekimae

Abashiri JR Station > Michinoeki Drift Icebreaker Terminal
via Abashiri Tourist Activity Bus. Fee = 130 yen

Boarded Aurora Drift Icebreaker Cruise at 1100 hrs.
Fee = 3,300 yen

Lunch: Restaurant Daihyogen in Abashiri Central Hotel

Abashiri Bus Terminal > Abashiri Prison Museum
via Abashiri Tourist Activity Bus. Fee = 280 yen

Abashiri Prison Museum > Abashiri JR Station
via Abashiri Tourist Activity Bus. Fee = 230 yen

Dinner: Sukiya Restaurant, for beef rice bowl.

- End of Day 4 -

Hokkaido Winter 2013 北海道冬季之旅 - Shiretoko Aurora Fantasia 知床ファンタジア

Visited 05.02.2013
Year 2013: 05.02.2013 - 12.03.2013


Background: This laser light performance is held in Utoro Onsen annually - a major highlight in Hokkaido during the winter season. The aim of this event was to recreate the magical and beautiful Aurora Borealis, which was once spotted over the night skies of Shiretoko Peninsula back in 1958.

Straws were burnt to generate a "smoke-screen" and beams of colourful laser lights were shone into the smokey skyline. Accompanied by music, the dynamic transformations of laser lights created an amazing and stunning display of Aurora in the dark cold night - did intrigue me to see the real Aurora Borealis in future!




Duration of entire performance was about 20 mins. Tickets can be purchased from hotel front desk. As the event venue was less than 5 mins walk from the hotel we stayed in (Shiretoko Grand Hotel Kitakobushi), this event came as a great entertainment after a hearty dinner. Do remember to bring your heat packs and don on extra layers of clothing as weather gets extremely chilly in the night.  

- Ended with sea angel bading farewell -
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Shiretoko Aurora Fantasia 知床ファンタジア
斜里町 ウトロ温泉流氷自然公園
Admission Fee = 500 yen
Laser light show starts at 2000 hrs.

より大きな地図で オロンコ岩 を表示

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Video: Showcasing a segment of Aurora Fantasia. Credits to Shari Tourism Association.