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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Kyushu Spring 2014 九州春季之旅 - Sasebo JR Station 佐世保駅


Sasebo station, the terminus station on Sasebo line.
Though this is named JR's westernmost station in Japan, geographically this is not true. Nishi Kyushu line, which is operated by Matsuura Tetsudo, extends further from Sasebo to Imari and Arita.

The following trains serve this station:

(1) Seaside Liner, a local train which commutes between Sasebo and Nagasaki.
Time taken to travel between Sasebo and Nagasaki is ~ 90 mins.

(2) Ltd Express Midori train, commutes between Sasebo and Hakata.

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What's nearby:

(1) Bus center, located in front of train station.

- Bus stop #1 (not located in the bus center, just turn left after exiting from train station): for rapid service bus to Pearl Sea Resort (パールシーリゾート). 6 buses per day and bus timings have been arranged to allow seamless transfer from/to Ltd Express Midori train. Fee = 240 yen.
Bus timings: http://www.pearlsea.jp/english/access.html

- Bus stop #6 (in bus center): for local bus to Pearl Sea Resort (パールシーリゾート). Fee = 240 yen.
Bus timings: http://www.pearlsea.jp/access/shieibusjikokuhyou.pdf

- Bus stop #7 (in bus center): for local bus to Kujukushima Zoological and Botanic Garden.
Alight at Kujukushima Zoological and Botanic Garden, walk for another 10 mins to Funakoshi Observatory (船越展望所).

Sasebo City Transportation Bureau (in Japanese): http://city-sasebo-koutuu.jp/index.html

(2) Tourist Information Center
Collect useful maps and brochures, such as Sasebo Burgur map. Managed to chat with an English speaking staff who advised us which observatory to visit to get a better view of Kujukushima (as it was pretty cloudy on our day of visit). You can also purchase Sasebo's mascot "Burger Boy" merchandises, such as collar pins and cellphone straps, here.

Bought a "Burger Boy" collar pin from Tourist Information Center.
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Commemorative stamp:

Kyushu Spring 2014 九州春季之旅 - Day 5 Itinerary: Nagasaki 長崎, Sasebo 佐世保

Day 5: 19.03.2014
* Day 3 of 5 Days JR Kyushu Rail Pass (Northern Area)

Kujukushima, viewed from Funakoshi Observatory
Breakfast: Hotel Okura JR Huis Ten Bosch ホテルオークラJRハウステンボス

Huis Ten Bosch JR Station ハウステンボス駅 (0852 hrs) > Sasebo JR Station 佐世保駅 (0919 hrs)
by local train.

Sasebo JR Station 佐世保駅  > Saikai National Park, Kujukushima Zoological & Botanical Garden
by taxi. Fee = 1,850 yen (*missed bus heading same destination).

Walked to Funakoshi Observatory 船越展望所.

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Walked to Kujukushima Pearl Sea Resort 九十九島パールシー リゾート.
Boarded Kaiou, Kujukushima Sightseeing Ship @ 1130 hrs.

Lunch: Lucky's Burger ラッキーズ鹿子前店, at Kujukushima Pearl Sea Resort.

Kujukushima Pearl Sea Resort > Sasebo JR Station
by local bus. Fee = 230 yen.

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Sasebo JR Station 佐世保駅 (1427 hrs) > Nagasaki JR Station 長崎駅 (1558 hrs)
by JR Seaside Liner

Nagasaki JR Station 長崎駅 > Dormy Inn Nagasaki 出島の湯 ドーミーイン長崎
by taxi. Fee = ~900 yen.

Check in: Dormy Inn Nagasaki 出島の湯 ドーミーイン長崎

Tsukimachi > Oura Tenshudoshita
by streetcar, via line 5. Fee = 120 yen.

Dinner: Champon noodles @ Shikairou 四海楼

Oura Tenshudoshita > Tsukimachi
by streetcar, via line 5. Fee = 120 yen.


Walked thru' Shinchi Chinatown street.

Shinchimachi > Nagasaki Ropeway Front Bus Stop
by Bus 4. Fee = 150 yen.

Fuchi Shrine Station > Inasadake Station
by Ropeway. Fee = 1,200 yen (round trip)

Visited Inasayama Observatory 稲佐山山頂展望台.

Nagasaki Ropeway Front Bus Stop > Nagasaki Ekimae
by Bus 20. Fee = 150 yen.

Supper #1: Mister Donuts @ AMU Plaza

Nagasaki ekimae > Tsukimachi
by streetcar, via line 1. Fee = 120 yen.

Supper #2: Complimentary yakisoba in Dormy Inn Nagasaki.

- End of Day 5 -

Monday, March 23, 2015

Kyushu Spring 2014 九州春季之旅 - Hotel Okura JR Huis Ten Bosch ホテルオークラJRハウステンボス

Stayed 18.03.2014 (1 night)
Booked thru' Japanican.


Staying near Huis Ten Bosch was already part of the initial plan because I foresee we would be spending the entire day in the theme park. The lead option was to stay within the theme park, and there are three hotels to choose from - Hotel Amsterdam, Hotel Europe and Hotel ForestVilla. Gave up the idea almost immediately after knowing the room rates (~40,000 yen for a twin room in Hotel Amsterdam and ~50,000 yen for a twin room in Hotel Europe & Hotel ForestVilla). The cheaper options were Hotel Okura and Hotel Nikko, and both of them were located near the entrance of the theme park. Chose the former because it was the closest to the train station.

Highlights:

- Design of this building was inspired by Amsterdam Central Railway Station. The exterior looks very elegant and majestic, and felt like it was part of the theme park. Personally I haven't been to Amsterdam before, but it does bear high resemblances to the pictures found online.

View of Huis Ten Bosch from hotel room.
- Booked the twin room (facing train station, inclusive of breakfast) at 20,000 yen (~125 SGD). Not too sure whether it was due to low occupancy rate that day, our rooms were upgraded to the side facing the theme park. A good view of Huis Ten Bosch and European style cottages/houses can be seen from our room, which made this upgrade pretty worthwhile. Room was very spacious (>30 m2) and cosy, more than enough for a good night rest after spending the entire day & evening in the park.

Theme park beautifully lit up as the sky darkened.
- Hotel also has its own hot spring communal baths, and apparently this is the only one you can find around the area. Hot spring source contains sodium and calcium chlorides, and water is slightly brownish in colour due to the presence of iron and manganese. Public bath facilities are closed between 0000 to 0600 hrs, and tend to get crowded after the theme park is closed for the day (everyone flocking back to take a bath before bedtime). Visited the public bath early in the morning (~ 0615 hrs) and was surprised to see quite a decent group of people enjoying their first soak of the day. There is a Family Mart (but not operating around the clock, till 2300 hrs), souvenir shop (where you can grab Huis Ten Bosch's related merchandises, till 2200 hrs) and even a bakery (till 1900 hrs) are operated within the hotel.

Bottom: Breakfast facing the houses and dock in Camellia restaurant.
- Breakfast was held in Camellia (カメリア). Selected a seat near the tall glass windows overlooking beautiful European style houses and their own dock. Meal was buffet style with a good selection of both Western and Japanese cuisine. Was targeting the Western section for that morning. Excited to see a omelette station where you can choose your favourite fillings and have your food cooked on the spot by the chef. There were also various types of bread to choose from, however still not as impressive as what I have experienced before in Hokkaido (Kushiro Royal Inn).

- In short, Hotel Okura has a lot to offer: convenient location to the biggest theme park in Nagasaki, cosy rooms, hot spring facilities and various restaurants all housed within this majestic looking building.

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Hotel Okura JR Huis Ten Bosch ホテルオークラJRハウステンボス
 〒859-3296 長崎県佐世保市ハウステンボス町10番
http://www.jrhtb.hotelokura.co.jp/
< 5 mins walk from Huis Ten Bosch JR Station.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Kyushu Spring 2014 九州春季之旅 - Huis Ten Bosch JR Station ハウステンボス駅, Ltd Express Huis Ten Bosch Train


Huis Ten Bosch JR Station, along Omura line.
A European themed train station, has the same name and design as the adjacent theme park.

Ltd Express Huis Ten Bosch train
Following trains serve the station:

(1) Ltd Express Huis Ten Bosch (HTB) train commutes between Hakata and Huis Ten Bosch, and train journey takes approx 100 mins. This train makes a total of 10 round trips per day. 
* Do note that Ltd Exp HTB train carriages are connected to Ltd Exp Midori train. Therefore, don't be surprised if you see train carriages with different design being pulled together into the station. 
Though this is a special train, there is no particular outstanding feature when compared to other trains - except being more colourful.

(2) Seaside Liner (local train) commutes between Sasebo and Nagasaki, makes a stop at this station.


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What's nearby? 

(1) HTB, a European themed park. About 7 mins walk from the train station.

The majestic looking Okura Hotel in the background
(2) Hotels 
HTB is a huge theme park that require at least one day to cover completely. Moreover, Kingdom of Lights, the most anticipated highlight in their calendar of events, is held every night from Oct to Apr annually. Therefore, we decided to stay one night near the park to participate in the annual event.

Though there are several hotels, such as Hotel Amsterdam, Hotel Europe, Watermark Hotel, conveniently located within the theme park itself, most of them are quite pricey. There are slightly cheaper options which are located at the peripherals of the theme park - Hotel Okura JR HTB and Hotel Nikko, to choose from.

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Commemorative stamp:

Friday, March 20, 2015

Kyushu Spring 2014 九州春季之旅 - Day 4 Itinerary: Nagasaki 長崎, Huis Ten Bosch 豪斯登堡

Day 4: 18.03.2014
* Day 2 of 5 Days JR Kyushu Rail Pass (Northern Area)

View of Huis Ten Bosch from Domtoren
Morning stroll to Onsen Park, Siebold no Yu and Siebold's Footbath.

Breakfast: Warakuen 和楽園

Warakuen 和楽園 > Ureshino Onsen Bus Center 嬉野温泉バスセンター
by free hotel shuttle service.

Ureshino Onsen Bus Center 嬉野温泉バスセンター (0912 hrs) > Takeo Onsen JR Station 武雄温泉駅 (0945 hrs)
by JR Kyushu Bus Ureshino line. Fee = 640 yen

Lunch #1: Saga Beef Sukiyaki Bento, from Kairo-do cafe

Takeo Onsen JR Station 武雄温泉駅 (1041 hrs) > Huis Ten Bosch JR Station ハウステンボス駅(1119 hrs)
by Limited Express Huis Ten Bosch.

Check in: Hotel Okura JR Huis Ten Bosch ホテルオークラJRハウステンボス

Visited Huis Ten Bosch (HTB).
1 day Adult Passport: 5,900 yen

Lunch #2: One Piece Restaurant @ HTB.

Dinner: Pinoccio @ HTB

- End of Day 4 -

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Kyushu Spring 2014 九州春季之旅 - Warakuen 和楽園

Stayed 17.03.2014 (1 night)
Booked thru' Japanican.

Highlights: 

- Ureshino is well known for its skin enhancing hot spring waters and high quality green tea production. Warakuen, a traditional Japanese style hotel, combines these two traits together, offering guests a unque experience. Hotel offers complimentary pick up service to/fro Ureshino Bus Center. If you plan to use this service, you can give them a call in advance or get help from the staffs in Tourist Information Center (I did the latter).


- Booked a Japanese style twin room, with half board included (dinner and breakfast), at 27,000 yen (~170 SGD). Was given a room which overlooked the scenic Ureshino River and onsen town. A small cafe and souvenir shop are located on the ground floor; local products such like green tea and Arita's well known porcelain tableware can be found here.

- Soak yourself in a green tea onsen. There are two communal bathhouses, separated for men and women usage. Both bathhouses are closed from 0000 - 0600 hrs and swapped for the opposite gender usage after that. In the outdoor pool, there is a "tea pot" which adds hot spring water into the pool continuously. Bags containing Ureshino's tea leaves are actually stuffed inside the tea pot, which makes the water source light brown in colour. There are also tea bags placed on the sides for you to rub them on your body; extracting the goodness of green tea into your skin through this process. Spring water in Ureshino is rich in sodium bicarbonate and sodium chloride, whereas green tea contains catechin (antioxidant), Vitamin C, caffeine, bringing about anti-bacterial and skin whitening effects.

- Green tea in Japanese cuisine. Japanese style multi course meal was served during dinner. The sumptuous meal started off with a small glass of umeshu, followed by appetiser, fresh sashimi, mushrooms and vegetables boiled in asari clams soup, steamed wagyu beef, sakura glutinous rice dumpling, tempura (bamboo shoot and eggplant), rice with pickles and miso soup, and lastly green tea tofu pudding to cleanse the palette. Green tea was also provided in a bowl in which leaves can be grinded and sprinkled onto the food. Overall, dinner was exceptional.

Sumptuous Japanese style dinner
- Was excited to see Ureshino Onsen's famous yudofu served during breakfast - silky and smooth texture like what we had for lunch in Soan Yokocho the day before. Green tea porridge was also surprisingly delicious and aromatic. Overall dinning experience on both days have been pleasant and secluded since we were given a room to ourselves. Such moments to enjoy meals together as a family have become increasingly precious to me because dinner/breakfast time is always different for every family member (as we return home from work at different timings).

Yudofu and green tea porridge served for breakfast
Conclusion: Ureshino Onsen is still one of my favourite hot spring towns to date (despite writing this review one year later). The therapeutic ambience and smooth hot spring waters have left a deep impression in my mind. There are times when I think of visiting this area again on my next Japan trip. Its tranquility makes one feel at ease and relaxed, far from the hustle and bustle of city life - an element that will attract city dwellers to this place.

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Warakuen 和楽園
843-0302 佐賀県嬉野市嬉野町下野甲33
http://www.warakuen.co.jp/