Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Catch the aurora AGAIN - Day 9 & Day 10 in World Heritage City Bergen

Click here to read day 1day 2day 3day 4day 6day 7, day 9 & 10 trip report

Day 9

I took Norwegian Air from Evenes airport to Bergen, via Oslo. Bergen was not in my plan initially as I planned to visit Zurich instead after Lofoten. My good friend stays in Bergen and I think I should pay her a visit since I'm going to Norway.

So I didn't plan anything for Bergen, I supposed she would do the planning. So I won't be sharing a lot of information about Bergen in this post.

She picked me up from Bergen airport and brought me to this church upon leaving Bergen airport, Fantoft Stave Church.



Day 10

This the airbnb we spent 2 nights in Bergen. It's located in central but a quiet neighbourhood.



Our breakfast. Canned mushroom soup, prawn mayo spread and croissant.


We walked to Fisketorget after breakfast. My friend told me this place is a tourist trap.


Fresh seafood


Some giant long leg crab


Really big


Seafood restaurant


We ordered 2 kinds of crab, snow crab and hmmm ... I don't remember but they were fresh and sweet.


Bryggen, the old wharf of Bergen




Floibanen, the funicular runs up to Mount Floyen. We didn't take it, we walked up to the hill instead.


Wild blueberry on the way up to the hill


It's edible


Wild raspberry



After an hour walk



We had dinner in this restaurant after hiking, Zupperia. It's somewhere in the Bryggen area. It serves Asian food (Thai & Vietnamese) and local Norwegian cuisine.

I ordered Zupperias Tapastallerken (kr 269) which comes with soup, sesame fried scampi, spring rolls, chicken skewers and Zupperia salad.


This is Havets Frukter (kr 229), local seafood selection in white wine, chili and garlic sauce.


Urtebakt Breiflabb (kr 269), local monk fish baked in oven, in white wine and mussel sauce. Recommended by the waitress.





Here is our Norway trip video.



Interested to visit Norway? Check out my itinerary and click here to read day 1day 2day 3day 4day 6day 7, day 9 & 10 trip report





Thursday, June 23, 2016

Catch the aurora AGAIN - Comfort Hotel Xpress Central Station

Most hotels in Oslo city center are quite expensive but I happened to find this hotel at an affordable rate. 

Location

Perfect place in the middle of city, conveniently located right opposite Oslo central train station. Karl Johans gate, shopping malls and restaurants are just a few steps away.

I paid NOK749 (SGD133) for a standard twin room (17m2) 1 night. I booked it from booking.com website. Here is the hotel website.


View from my room. Oslo train station is just a stone's throw away. 


Facility

Check in and check out is all self service but it was easy. Breakfast  is not included in the room rate nor is provided as an option. Don't worry, cafe and convenience stores can be found at the Oslo station. Breakfast bag, sandwich, fruit juice and beverage are also available for sale in front of reception desk. Reception is open 24 hours. 

Wifi connection is stable and good. 

Check in and check out self service kiosk. 


Lobby


Room

For the amount I paid, room size 17m2 is considered pretty good. The room furnishing is modern, spacious and comfortable. It's quiet though it's sitting right beside the station. No safe, no mini bar, no fridge, no mug, no kettle, no wardrobe but there is a place to hang your jacket, and a few hangers are provided. There is a sofa beside the bed. 

TV has some English channels, not bad and I did enjoy watching some English reality show.  


Heated floor in the bathroom is my favorite, so it won't be that cold after showering. Towel and bed liners are provided. Room is not cleaned everyday. 

Overall

The location is unbeatable and the room rate price is pretty affordable too. Highly recommended for those who are looking for budget hotel in Oslo city center. Opt for twin room instead of double room, twin room (17m2) is bigger than double room (11m2). 



Here is our Norway trip video.



Interested to visit Norway? Check out my itinerary and click here to read day 1day 2day 3day 4day 6day 7, day 9 & 10 trip report



Wednesday, June 22, 2016

New Zealand South Island autumn holiday - 10 days self drive itinerary

I have been spending holiday in Europe (Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland) for the past few years, it's time to start exploring other places. Early this year I just delivered a young baby and my mum is helping me to take care of my little one. Parenting is definitely not easy and I'm still struggling to adapt it. Despite the new challenge in life, I did not give up travelling. I love travelling and I want to bring my baby along. New Zealand then came into the picture, why not I plan one family friendly self drive holiday to New Zealand? Sounds great isn't it? 

To kick start the planning, I googled to find out New Zealand 2017 school holiday date and 2017 public holiday date. I ruled out the date to travel during summer (December - February) and winter (June - August), I don't like summer and winter weather might not be comfortable for baby. Autumn (March - May) in NZ seems to be very beautiful and weather is also not too harsh (day time 16 degC - 18 degC, night time 6 degC - 8 degC).   


To explore south island, minimum 14 days is needed in my opinion. However I do not have the luxury to spend so many days in NZ. 

Since I can only have 10 days and I'm travelling with young baby and old mother, west coast (Franz Josef glacier, Punakaiki, Greymouth and etc) is excluded from my itinerary. I do not want to rush, so only 4 cities are included in my itinerary. It's still doable to visit west coast in 10 days, I have friends who were travelling with toddlers visited Christchurch, Lake Tekapo, Oamaru, Queenstown, Wanaka, Fox Glacier, Franz Josef, Greymouth and Punakaiki in 10 days. It sounds very rush and basically you just pack and unpack your luggage everyday. I don't want to do that. 

Christchurch - Dunedin - Queenstown (Arrowtown) - Lake Tekapo - Christchurch

Highlights
  • Farm tour and farm house stay experience
  • Visit to scenic Lake Tekapo
  • Sky diving adventure
  • Hot air balloon or shotover jet adventure
  • Beautiful fall foliage in Arrowtown and Queenstown
  • Dine in Skyline restaurant and enjoy stunning Queenstown night view
  • Milford Sound tour by plane
  • Visit to farmers' market

Day 1
Depart from Singapore Changi airport

Day 2
Arrive Christchurch in the morning
Visit Christchurch Farmers' Market 9am-1pm, explore CHC city centre eg Re:Start Mall (container outdoor mall) and Cashel street / CHC Cathedral and temporarily cathedral 9am-5pm / Quake City (earthquake museum) 10am-5pm NZ$20 / MargretMahy Playground (kid) FOC / Christchurch casino
Stay overnight at Southwark Apartment 2-bedroom apartment NZ$259

Day 3
Check out and proceed to Dunedin. Black Betty café breakfast 8am-4pm
Visit The Octagon (eateries & Dunedin city centre), Dunedin railway station, 1st church of Otago, Cadbury Worldfactory NZ$20 9am-315pm, dinner at The Speight’s Ale House (brewery restaurant)
Stay overnight at airbnb 5BR pent house NZ$585

Day 4 
Drive out from Dunedin city centre to Otago Peninsula via Highcliff Road or Portobello Road very scenic (Taiaroa Head, Royal Albatross Centre 10:15am opening tour available, Blue Penguin Pukekura blue penguin night tour NZ$30 adult, Allans Beach Rd – Hoopers Inlet, Larnach Castle NZ30 9am-5pm, Sandfly Bay see seal and penguin if lucky via Seal Point Rd)
Stay overnight at airbnb 5BR pent house NZ$585

Day 5
Check out and proceed to Queenstown
Sky dive Wanaka 12,000 ft NZ$329, OR Walter Peak Farm tour (kid) NZ$57 adult, FOC child under 5, OR Puzzling World (kid) (trick eye museum) NZ20 adult FOC child under 5
Stay overnight at 5BR airbnb NZ$672

Day 6
MilfordSound tour (kid) (Fly/Cruise/Fly) NZ499 adult NZ315 Child aged 4 and above, infant FOC
Stay overnight at 5BR airbnb NZ$672

Day 7
Hot air balloon NZ$545 OR Shotover Jet NZ$135
Side trip to Arrowtown, visit Buckingham street, visit Chinese gold miners village 
Gondola ride and dinner reservation at Stratosfare Queenstown Restaurant NZ$85
Stay overnight at 5BR airbnb NZ$672

Day 8
Check out and proceed to Lake Tekapo
Visit Mount Cook, short hiking (Hooker valley track)
Visit Church of Good Shepherd, dog statue
May consider star gazing Cowan’sobservatory tour NZ$90 adult only, MtJohn observatory tour NZ$145 adult only
Stay overnight at Lake Tekapo Village Motel 2 bedroom apartment NZ$240

Day 9
Check out and proceed to farm house 
Farm tour, sheep shearing
Stay overnight at Pete’s Farm stay, dinner & breakfast, 4 bedroom house NZ$730

Day 10
Check out and proceed to CHC
Visit CHC largest market Riccarton Market 9am-2pm, International Antarctic Centre (kid) 9am-530pm (just beside CHC airport)
Stay overnight at Southwark Apartment 2-bedroom apartment NZ$259

Day 11
Morning flight back to Singapore


Budget/pax (in SGD)
SQ air ticket 1450
Accommodation** 800
Car rental 300
Petrol 250
Meals 300
Tours and activities 1100
Misc 300
Total SGD4500 


** I'm travelling with another family of 4 so there are total 8 pax in our group. 8 of us are staying together in 5-bedroom pent house in Dunedin and 5-bedroom house in Queenstown. 


Sunday, February 14, 2016

Review Hokkaido tour package by Singapore tour agencies

Hokkaido, it is a popular destination among Singaporeans spending their Christmas holiday. I plan to spend my coming Christmas (which is 10 more months to go) in Hokkaido and I've decided to do it free and easy.

Here is a comparison between packaged tour among different agencies and my free & easy itinerary.



Dynasty Travel
8D6N Southern & Central Hokkaido JSCH8, $3123 (inclusive of $185 airport taxes) twin sharing (Japan Airlines), covers Sapporo, Hakodate, Lake Toya, Otaru, Noboribetsu, Tomamu

EU Holidays
8D6N Winter Hokkaido Ski Resort, no price information, twin sharing, covers Sapporo, Hakodate, Lake Toya, Otaru, Noboribetsu, Sounkyo, Asahikawa

ASA Holiday
7D5N Hokkaido Winter Tour JHKD7N, no price information, twin sharing, covers Sapporo, Lake Toya, Otaru, Noboribetsu, Chitose

CTC Travel
7D5N Hokkaido Winter Wonderland JP7WW, $2488 (inclusive of $200 airport taxes) twin sharing (Japan Airlines), covers Sapporo, Otaru, Noboribetsu (or Lake Toya), Rusutsu/ Niseko, Chitose

My itinerary
9D8N, $3500-$4000 (inclusive of all expenses) twin sharing (All Nippon Airways), covers Sapporo, Hakodate, Lake Toya, Otaru, Noboribetsu, Niseko

Package prices shown above exclude ... 
  • Snow activity and ski lesson expenses, lift ticket, rental of ski gear 
  • Shopping expenses
  • No hot spring experience in famous onsen town Noboribetsu, except Dynasty Travel (onsen at Lake Toya) and EU Holidays (Sounkyo onsen resort)
  • Not staying in traditional Japanese inn  

Similarities among these packages 
  • All fly from Singapore to Hokkaido largest airport, Chitose CTS and airline is usually Japan Airlines which requires a transit at Tokyo, some may need to stay a night in Tokyo. All tours leaving Hokkaido via Sapporo Chitose airport. 
  • Visit to different museums, different factories and premium outlet

Meal plan
  • Dynasty Travel 8D6N: 6 breakfasts, 5 lunch, 5 dinners (remaining 5 meals on your own)
  • EU Holidays 8D6N: 6 breakfasts, 4 lunch, 5 dinners (remaining 6 meals on your own)
  • ASA Holidays 7D5N: 5 breakfasts, 3 lunch, 3 dinners (remaining 7 meals on your own)
  • CTC Travel 7D5N: 6 breakfasts, 2 lunch, 3 dinners (remaining 7 meals on your own)


Special treats
  • Dynasty Travel 8D6N: Hoshino ski resort, visit to chocolate factory, konbu/ whisky/ music box museums
  • EU Holidays 8D6N: snowmobile adventure, Sounkyo waterfall, ski tour (unknown place), visit to sake museum, premium outlet
  • ASAHolidays 7D5N: Marine Park at Noboribetsu, Doraemon Waku Waku sky park, Asari ski resort, visit to white lover cookies chocolate factory, crystal museum, premium outlet
  • CTC Travel 7D5N: Rusutsu/ Niseko ski resort, visit to white lover cookies chocolate/ beer factory, shiraoi ainu/ music box museum, premium outlet
Shiroi Koibito Park (white lover cookies factory) - http://www.shiroikoibitopark.jp/english/ 9am - 6pm
Otaru music box museum - http://www.otaru-orgel.co.jp/ 9am - 6pm
Ainu museum - http://www.ainu-museum.or.jp/en/ 8:45am - 5pm
Chitose premium outlet - http://www.outlet-rera.com.e.qm.hp.transer.com/ 10am - 7pm

My own free & easy tour
  • Budget SGD3500 - 4000/pax (inclusive of airport tax)
  • 9D8N (including travel time), direct flight (via Tokyo) by JAL, no overnight stay in Tokyo
  • 1 night stay in luxury ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) with private open air onsen (hot spring) bath, ryokan room size (85m2) is as big as a smaller unit of 4 room HDB flat! 
  • 1 night stay in traditional Japanese onsen hotel with private open air onsen  
  • 2 nights of kaiseki dinner (Japanese multi course cuisine with appetizer, sashimi, grilled dish, meat dish, tempura, dessert and etc)
  • 2 mornings of Japanese breakfast with rice, miso, grilled fish, veggie and etc
  • 2 days skiing in Japan's most famous powder snow ski resort, Grand Hirafu
  • No visit to factories and museums and premium outlets. I'm not into all these but I will still visit 1 or 2 like that, maybe the Sapporo beer museum
  • NTUC travel insurance





Actually I wanted to book air ticket now but my baby is coming to see this world in April so I think I should hold the plan and proceed with the planning in June instead.


Read here to find out more about my itinerary.






Tuesday, January 19, 2016

2016 Winter Holiday - 9D8N Hokkaido free and easy itinerary

It's time to plan holiday for 2016. Where are you going this year? 

This year, I'm going to visit Japan's most famous skiing hub & hometown of Shiroi Koibito 白い恋人 aka White Lover cookies ...... drum roll ...... HOKKAIDO!!!



Yellow markers are those popular places among tourists, red markers are those places that I'm going to visit.



Updated 6th June 2016

* I cut one night from Sapporo and added Lake Toya in my itinerary.

Singapore - Sapporo - Otaru - Niseko - Lake Toya - Noboribetsu - Hakodate

Highlights
  • 2 nights stay in luxury ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) with private open air onsen (hot spring) bath, one of the ryokan room (85m2) is as big as a smaller unit of 4 room HDB flat!
  • 2 nights of kaiseki dinner (traditional Japanese multi course cuisine with appetizer, sashimi, grilled dish, meat dish, tempura, dessert and etc)
  • 2 mornings of traditional Japanese breakfast with rice, miso, grilled fish, veggie and etc
  • 2 days skiing in Japan's most famous powder snow ski resort 
  • 1 night stay lake view room in Lake Toya
  • Delicious sushi, ramen, Hokkaido crab, yakiniku, BBQ

Day 1
Midnight flight depart from Singapore to Sapporo CTS airport via Tokyo, arrive CTS at 1pm.
Visit Nijo market,Tanuki koji shopping arcade, Susukino
Stay overnight at Mercure Hotel Sapporo 11,400 yen = SGD140/room

Day 2 
Visit Sapporo Central Wholesale market, Sapporo TV tower, Odori Park, Sapporo Clock Tower, Sapporo Factory, Sapporo Beer museum,  Ramen street
Stay overnight at Mercure Hotel Sapporo 11,400 yen = SGD140/room

Day 3
Depart from Sapporo to Otaru, less than an hour train journey
Visit sushi street, Otaru music box, marchen square, Otaru canal (light up after 5pm in winter), Otaru station
Stay overnight at Otaru Kourakuen ryokan, in room private onsen, half board 58,664 yen = SGD796/room

Day 4
Depart from Otaru to Niseko
Snowshoe hiking
Stay overnight at M Lodge 16,800 yen = SGD222/room

Day 5
6 hours beginner ski lesson 
Stay overnight at M Lodge 16,800 yen = SGD222/room

Day 6
Depart from Niseko (Kutchan JR station) to Lake Toya (Toya JR-Muroran) via Oshamambe
JR Hakodate line for Oshamambe (Kutchan - Oshamambe) then limited express Hokuto (Oshamambe - Toya JR Muroran)
Stroll around Lake Toya
Stay overnight at Lake View Toya Nonokaze Resort 32,400 yen = SGD420/room
Donan bus from Toya Muroran station. 

Day 7
Depart from Lake Toya (Toya JR-Muroran) to Noboribetsu, limited express Hokuto, 40 mins direct train. 
Visit Jigokudani Hell Valley (geyser lake, hot spring foot bath)
Stay overnight at Takinoya 滝乃家 onsen ryokan, in room private onsen, half board 79,920 yen = SGD1055/room. 
15 minutes bus journey from JR Noboribetsu JR bound for Noboribetsu Onsen and get off at Noboribetsu Onsen bus terminal, 4 minutes walk to Takinoya. 10 minutes by taxi from Noboribetsu JR station. 

Day 8
Depart from Noboribetsu to Hakodate
Visit Fort Goryokaku, mount Hakodate
Stay overnight at Loisir Hotel Hakodate = SGD142/room

Day 9
Visit Hakodate morning market, Kanemori red brick warehouse
Depart from Hakodate airport to SG in late afternoon

Budget/ pax (in SGD)
JAL flight 1321.40
Accommodation 1560
Transport 260
1 day skiing lesson 250 (including ski gear and lift ticket)
4 hours private snowshoe hiking photography tour 270
Shopping 300 *
Meal 300**
Total SGD4200

* I'm not a shopaholic so I guess this amount is more than enough
** I will usually settle my breakfast at café or convenience store which can save quite a bit, some hotels or ryokans listed here their room rate include breakfast and dinner

This budget may sound a little expensive, you top up a bit more can go Europe liao. But you see, this budget includes 2 nights stay in luxury traditional Japanese inn ($1000/night and $800/night) with private in room onsen, 1 night lake view room ($400/night) at Lake Toya, 1 day (6 hours) ski lesson with ski gear and 4 hours private snowshoe hiking. You remove all these options and book air ticket earlier (or take Scoot to Tokyo via Taipei then take domestic flight to Sapporo), $3000 is more than enough. You pay what you get.  




Original plan on 19th Jan 2016

Singapore - Sapporo - Otaru - Niseko - Noboribetsu - Hakodate

Day 1
Midnight flight depart from Singapore to Sapporo CTS airport via Tokyo, arrive CTS at 12pm.
Visit Nijo market, Sapporo TV tower, Sapporo Clock Tower, Susukino
Stay overnight at Mercure Hotel Sapporo

Day 2 
Visit Sapporo Central Wholesale market, Sapporo Factory, Sapporo Beer museum, Odori Park, Ramen street
Stay overnight at Mercure Hotel Sapporo

Day 3
Visit Sapporo town OR day trip to Asahikawa OR day trip to Biei
Stay overnight at Mercure Hotel Sapporo

Day 4
Depart from Sapporo to Otaru, less than an hour train journey
Visit Otaru station, sushi street, marchen square, Otaru canal (light up after 5pm in winter)
Stay overnight at Otaru Kourakuen onsen ryokan

Day 5
Depart from Otaru to Niseko, reach by 12pm
Sign up snowshoe hiking
Stay overnight at M Hotel or M Lodge

Day 6
6 hours skiing lesson at Hirafu
Stay overnight at M Hotel or M Lodge

Day 7
Depart from Niseko to Noboribetsu, reach by 1pm
Visit Jigokudani Hell Valley (geyser lake, hot spring foot bath)
Stay overnight at Takinoya 滝乃家 onsen ryokan or Daiichi Takimotokan

Day 8
Depart from Noboribetsu to Hakodate
Visit Fort Goryokaku, mount Hakodate
Stay overnight at Comfort Hotel Hakodate or Loisir Hotel Hakodate

Day 9
Visit Hakodate morning market, Kanemori red brick warehouse
Depart from Hakodate airport to SG in late afternoon

Budget/ pax
Flight SGD1200
Accommodation SGD1300
Transport SGD250
Skiing lesson SGD250 (including ski gear and lift ticket)
Snowshoe hiking SGD60
Shopping SGD200 *
Meal SGD300** 
Total SGD3500

* I'm not a shopaholic so I guess this amount is more than enough
** I will usually settle my breakfast at café or convenience store which can save quite a bit, some hotels or ryokans listed here their room rate include breakfast and dinner

I did some train fare calculation, I don't think I need Hokkaido rail pass. Since I won't be travelling back to Sapporo after Hakodate, Hokkaido rail pass will not pay off the trip. 

I will be spending 4D3N in Sapporo, sound a bit too much in Sapporo, I'm thinking if I should do a day trip to visit Blue Pond in Biei. But I think Blue Pond would be probably frozen by the time I go there, if that's the case then no point to go see Blue Pond covered under thick snow. Hmm .... maybe I can cut down 1 day from Sapporo and spend that 1 day at Lake Toya instead? 

What do you think?

Hokkaido is segregated into 4 areas.
Central Hokkaido including Sapporo, Otaru, Niseko, Noboribetsu
Northern Hokkaido including Asahikawa, Furano, Wakkanai
Eastern Hokkaido including Abashiri, Kushiro
Southern Hokkaido including Hakodate

My itinerary focus on central and southern Hokkaido which most of the tour groups depart from Singapore also do the same in winter time. Northern Hokkaido is another popular region to visit during spring/ summer time when you will see a lot of flowers.Central area is very popular among tourists and definitely a must-not-miss-destination in anyone's Hokkaido itinerary in all seasons. 


Sapporo is the largest city in Hokkaido, it is also one of the major transport hub in Japan.

Beautiful town Otaru is worth to visit, many people will choose to visit Otaru as day trip from Sapporo. I want to take it easy, enjoy Hokkaido in slower pace so I plan a night stay in Otaru instead.

Niseko is the largest ski resort in Japan, its famous powder snow attracts many skiers all over the world every winter. I'm not quite into skiing, but I have never tried skiing before, so I was thinking why don't include skiing in this trip? Rusutsu is another popular ski resort, especially among tour groups from Singapore. Both Niseko and Rusutsu are close to each other, Rusutsu is very self contained, main hotel is at the mountain foot with restaurants, shops and etc. There's nothing much outside of hotel. Niseko (Hirafu village) is an English friendly town where you have different accommodation choices from luxury to budget lodge. There are also shops, bars, cafe and restaurants in town. 

Noboribetsu is Hokaido most famous hot spring town, it is surrounded by beautiful hills, the onsen town hot spring water is coming the famous Jikokudani Hell Valley.

Hakodate is located at Hokkaido southern tip. One must not miss delicious and fresh seafood in Hakodate.

Sight seeing is just part of it, my itinerary is mostly about experiencing different activities in Hokkaido, such as hot spring, skiing, Japanese cuisine and staying in traditional Japanese inn. In order to save time, I choose flying into Hokkaido Chitose airport in Sapporo and leaving Hokkaido from Hakodate airport. Else I will have to fly in and out via Chitose airport, if that's the case, I may not consider Hakodate into my itinerary. There is no price difference between these 2 options. I may even need to consider getting 5 day Hokkaido rail pass (22,000 yen) which cost SGD270 if I choose to travel round trip between Sapporo and Hakodate, not only waste time but paying more $ as well. I only need to pay SGD180 (14,800 yen) for the 1st option, save time save money.

You may wonder why didn't I consider driving in Hokkaido, I did not do any calculation so I'm not sure exactly how much I can save if I take up self drive option. However based on research I had done, driving time is about the same as train travelling time (you may need to double up your driving time during winter), expressway toll fee is as much as train ticket fare (1 pax), parking fee is expensive in Sapporo city. Maybe I can save a few thousands Yen from this option, but I have no experience driving in winter time and this can be very dangerous in the heavy snow fall Hokkaido. I may not able to see road marking which covered under snow, I may end up hitting the kerb because I can't see the road marking, I may not able to stop in time at stop line or pedestrian crossing, I may encounter many unexpected scenarios during the trip, even minor accident can ruin the whole trip. Well, the good thing about driving in Hokkaido is, I can get to access a lot of places which public transport access is not available. 


This is just preliminary planning, all suggestions are welcomed!



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