Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A little on Chiang Mai and accommodation

Weeee... I can fly!
The initial plan was to go to Beijing but we had to scrap it as suddenly the cost just went high rocket. It doesn't make sense to this little head of mine to spend more than RM 2,000 for a lesser than a week's trip to Beijing. After Beijing went down the drain, there wasn't really another one in the pipeline as I was quite keen to make my first step in the big Asia city. There were talks about Macau (which I have been but sis hasn't), Sri Lanka, Laos (sis not too keen) and Chiang Mai. Long story short, or rather shorter since I have gone pretty long winded by now, due to time constrain, sis decided to also give up on Chiang Mai. Me? I was stubborn, I decided to press on, by myself.

I took an afternoon flight on a Saturday to Chiang Mai and back on the following Wednesday morning, giving me about 4.5 days in Chiang Mai. Not a great deal of time but suffice to placate the stubborn brain. I initially wanted to do a cooking course but didnt really feel like joining one by myself. No ziplining either on the same reason, I don't want I fancy to die when I was in Chiang Mai alone. As for the other popular activity involving elephants, after much contemplation and researching, it just doesn't attract me. It feels like there were a lot of waiting time and time spent to watch some video on elephants. Not exactly my cup of tea.

The main gate, which is locked at night but keys are given for entry
As it was rather a last minute trip, the return ticket ate up a big chunk of the expenses pie. In order to reduce the overall cost and adhere to my small budget, I booked myself a room in a hostel - Gong Kaew Huen Kum. As I travelled in September, it was considered as low peak due to rainy season, I paid 180 THB a night for a bed in a 8 person female dorm.

Entrance to the female dorm
Also, thanks to the low peak season, there was only one other fellow dorm mate in the 4 bunk bed room. ^_^

Once I placed my booking, the owner of the hostel sent me an email asking if I want them to arrange for an airport pick up at a cost of 100 THB. After checking that taking a taxi by myself cost more or less similar, I replied asking for the airport transfer. The person in charge was holding a piece of A4 paper with my name printed, waiting for me at the airport. Haha.

Reception area
Common area
This hostel comes with complimentary free coffee, tea and toasts throughout the day, as well as free wi-fi. :)

Between the reception area to the rooms lies a big piece of garden. I find the hostel cosy and clean. Definitely value for money. :)

I was given a free map upon checked in and the reception person circled the location of the hostel on the map, also told me location of bigger temples to check out. I was also given a name card of the hostel, to show taxi/songthaew driver in case I got lost.

Chiang Mai is located in Northern Thailand, 700km north of Bangkok. It is the second largest city in Thailand.

Chiang Mai was build in 1296 as a walled city surrounded by a moat. This old city was roughly 1.5km square. Chiang means city in northern Thai dialect and mai is new, therefore Chiang Mai is also known as New City.

I think the moat area is the main area of Chiang Mai but modern day Chiang Mai has expanded in all directions, in particular towards the Ping River where one can find the famous Night Bazaar. In fact, there were a couple of big hotels are on the way if you walk towards the Night Bazaar from the moat area. I know, I walked.

And by the way, Gong Kaew Huen Kum is located inside the moat area.

Side note: I should stop imagining that one day I will like Greek yoghurt if I buy it often enough...

Friday, November 23, 2012

Asakusa 浅草 and Ginza 銀座

Ha. Back in Tokyo, indicating those series of Hokkaido posts are coming to an end. We flew out of Hokkaido via Asahikawa Airport. We took a bus to the airport, 570 yen per person from bus stop number 5, opposite of the train station.

We took a noon-ish flight back to Tokyo but our flight from Tokyo to KL was late at night, which translated to we have some time to spare in Tokyo. We need to take a shuttle from plane to terminal. Saw this cute little boy in his little shirt and an iPhone lookalike toy, telling his mom, "飛行機、格好いい! (loosely translate as, "Aeroplane, cool!" Haha.

We touched down at Haneda Domestic Airport, and took the free shuttle to its International Terminal. We left our bags in the coin locker before heading out. I love those coin locker, KLCC should so have a coin locker or even a left baggage place. Anyway...

I took mom to Asakusa and it means that I found myself in Asakusa every single trip I made to this land of the rising sun. The Skytree is new though, it wasn't there the last 2 times :)

But not enough time to go to the Skytree... that is also getting into my ever growing list of places to go. Someone once said, its okay to always go back to the same place but make sure to include a new place you haven't been. It's easy with Tokyo, I still have heaps of places I haven't been.

Mom bought some souvenirs back, and I bought food. I was hungry but mom wasn't... so I guess I can't say I got the glutton-ness from mom... umm.. it has to be from someone in the family :P

Deep fried manju coated with black sesame
Mom prayed and drawn an omikuji... unfortunately it wasn't great so I told her to tie and leave it at the temple.

I was still hungry after a couple of deep fried manju... of course I didn't stop at just one. We had dinner at a nearby shop.

I had a kakiage soba... can do with one now.. slurpp..
So.. back to the new place in Tokyo this time...

Ginza. Haha.. it wasn't some off the beaten path place but somehow I have not been to Ginza previously.

I read that Ginza is one of the most expensive real estate in Japan. Yup... I brought mom to a shitamachi.. and then to an upmarket place. We were just walking around, no purchase made. In fact, we walked from Ginza to Shimbashi station. :P

So.. that was my long-winded version of a week's holidays to Hokkaido. :P Maybe I'll stretch it further with some post on food.. maybe :)

Side note: We'll see how long my eat healthy snacks thingy last...

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Asahidake 旭岳: The tallest mountain in Hokkaido

Asahidake snack
Asahidake is part of the Daisetsuzan Volcanic Group of the Ishikari Mountain. It is located in the northern part of the Daisetsuzan National Park. When we initially plan this Hokkaido trip, sis asked is there anywhere I specifically want to include in the itinerary. My reply was "Asahidake." :)

Asahidake is one of the bases for exploring Daisetsuzan National Park. The other popular base for would be Sounkyo Onsen, to Mount Kurodake. If you are avid and experience hiker, one can do the 1-2 day tour from Asahidake to Kurodake and descend to Sounkyo Onsen, also vice versa. Asahidake is the first place in Japan to see autumn colours and snow.

Early signs of kouyou
Of course, day trip is also possible. Thanks to the introduction of ropeway. I was initially undecided between the two - Asahidake or Sounkyo as it is rather not possible to do both in a day. I believe most of the group tour travel to Sounkyo and include stopover at the two waterfalls - "Ryuusei no Taki" (shooting star falls) and "Ginga no Taki" (silver river falls). Anyhow I decided on Asahidake, as it was the first that attracted my attention. Maybe Sounkyo the next time :)

There's only 3 scheduled bus each way, don't miss the last bus oh. We took the first bus which departs from bus stand number 4, at 9.25 am. I didn't have the exact change, and thought that 5,000 yen to pay for 2 person wasn't over the top but Mr Bus Driver did not have any change. In fact, I don't think they carry any change with them. The machine next to him was only to break 1,000 yen to coins but not able to break 5,000 yen. He told me that I could try to break 5,000 yen at the shop. I ran down and managed to get smaller notes for the 5,000 yen from the souvenir shop. I then ran back up and paid for our bus fare. Would've got into heaps of trouble elsewhere :/

There isn't much shops there, unlike Lake Toya. There's only a small shop selling snacks and a souvenir shop. We didn't linger but went straight to the ropeway.

2,800 yen per person round trip
So you can see, it is definitely not cheap to get to Asahidake. Just for transportation - bus return trip and ropeway return trip cost 5,440 yen per person. That is approximately RM 210 @_@.

But it is such a beautiful serene place :)

Once we reached the other end of the ropeway station, there was some introduction to the place, in Japanese. We didn't realise and thought it was part of a tour group, hence we just linger outside and clicking away. One of the staff came to usher us in, and realised we were foreigners. She went back in and came back to give me this map. :)

We did the Sugatami Trekking Course which is estimated to be 1.5 hours. The trail is not well paved, rather there were stones and pebbles. However rest assured, many elderly did the same trek as us. There was also a father bringing his son to for a little trek as well. They had a bell each hanging off their backpacks, I reckon it was to act as a bear bell as precaution to scare off bears.

See how beautiful is this place... and we haven't even started the trek!
From the first observatory
Quite a few people brought along some snacks or even just bread, sat down enjoyed their food at this beautiful place. I wished I brought along something to eat too!

Suribachi Pond 摺鉢池 and Kagami Pond 鏡池 are called "Meoto" a married couple 夫婦池. The bigger one is Kagami Pond. I don't know which is "husband" and which is the "wife" though.
Suribachi Pond 摺鉢池
Kagami Pond 鏡池
Walking near us was this elderly couple, the Ojiisan お爺さん would walk in front and assist the Obaasan お婆さん and gave her encouragement. At one time, I could hear him telling her, "もう少し、頑張れ!(Just a little bit more, don't give up!). So sweet :)

On off they would stop and Ojiisan would take photo for Obaasan and vice versa. So, when I was walking behind them, I offered to take a picture for them together. :)

See the fumaroles? Yup, Asahidake is one of the peaks under Daisetsuzan Volcanic Group.

Sugatami Pond 姿見の池
It is said that Sugatami Pond 姿見の池 reflects the image of Asahidake... umm.. didn't seem to though :/

The bell tower near Sugatami Pond
Completing the "circle"... walking back to the Ropeway Sugatami Station.

Back at starting point.

By that time, we were famish. So please do bring some food with you. :)

The timing was just right for us to catch the 2.10 pm bus back to Asahikawa. While we were waiting for the bus, Ojiisan same and gave mom and I some candies... maybe as a token of appreciation for taking a photo for them :)

Side note: It's definitely summer now...

Monday, November 19, 2012

Nakafurano 中富良野町: Lavender Park & Farm Tomita ファーム富田

Speaking of Hokkaido's flower farms, the most well known of the lot must've been this Farm Tomita. The 'rainbow field' image of the farm was photographed and made famous in Japan Rail calendar.
We were there in September and the Lavender Batake station was no longer in operation as it was passed summer. Therefore, the nearest train station in operation to Farm Tomita is Nakafurano station. Nakafurano station is a small station, and it was manned by a nice uncle. I think this poor uncle must've repeat himself many times a day telling tourists how to walk to Farm Tomita. :P
See the dash-line in grey? That's the direction to walk to Farm Tomita. Uncle said it takes 25 minutes to walk there, one could get there in probably 20 minutes if brisk walk.
Once you walked out of the station, turn right and you will see a staircase leading to a bridge. Take the staircase and cross the bridge, after getting off the bridge, walk straight on and you will find the train station on your right (on a parallel road). If you walked to the end of the road, there is a hospital on your left, turn left and walked to the end of the T junction. At T junction, turn right and just walk along the road till you reach Farm Tomita. :)
Along the way to Farm Tomita, there is another farm - Lavender Farm.
This is a poor picture, but I just want to show that there's a viewing platform if you cross the bridge. 
Farm Tomita, despite need a little hard work to get to, my friend told me not to miss it. And I'm glad I didn't.
It was originally a simple lavender farm, today the farm has expanded to include a number of large fields of various flowers. There is also a Tomita Melon House before you set your foot in the flower farm. We didn't drop by due time factor, the sun was on its way to set.
I like how the trees are at the end of the fields..
Lavender carpet
Inside the green house
We retraced our steps back to Nakafurano station after the sun set, it was a little dark to see the flower fields then :P
We made it in time to catch the 7.17 pm train from Nakafurano back to Asahikawa. If we missed it, the next and last train was scheduled at 8.51 pm. When we reached back at the Nakafurano station, there were only 4 other passengers waiting for the train. The Uncle was nowhere to be seen, most likely already off work. We were a little blur, as every time we took a train, we had to show our tickets and there was a station manager at work. We later found out that we had to walk out ourselves and board the train. Also, the trains servicing these areas are local trains and fares were collected on train. We didn't have to pay separate fare as we had our round tour ticket.
Side note: Yawn...

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Biei 美瑛町: JR Twinkle Bus Biei Takushinkan Course

There are a few options offered by JR Twinkle Bus to tour some hot spots in Biei and Furano area. However, the tours stopped running daily after 31st August. See, there's the summer thingy again. Anyway, our stop around Furano Biei area was initially coincide with weekends anyway, so lucky for us there. :)

We opted for the Takushinkan Course, 500 yen per ride per adult but only one tour departure in September, at 1.15 pm. Main reason for picking this option was the stopover at The Hill of Seasonal Colours, which is also famously known as Shikisai no Oka. Shikisai no Oka is one of the few places where there were still flowers in the fields in September.

JR Twinkle Bus pick up place was just outside of Biei Train Station.

Shin ei Hill Observatory Park (Shin ei no Oka 新栄の丘)

This observatory park is located on Shinei Hill along Panoramic Road, it is between the nearby town and Takushinkan photo art gallery.

This was, however, viewed from bus, and as fate has it, it was at the opposite window from where I sat. Hence - the blur crappy shot, zoomed all across where I sat. :(

Takushinkan Photo Gallery 拓真館

Shinzo Maeda (前田真三, 1922–1998) was a famous landscape photographer especially with his work in Biei. He moved to Biei and spent his the later part of his life taking marvelous photo of the hills. Takushinkan museum exhibits 80 pieces of his work.

Admission is free and one is required to remove their shoes at the entrance. The photos on exhibit were superb! Photography is prohibited in the gallery though ;)

empty fields :(
Next to the photo gallery, was a nice, great piece of field, there were no flowers though. I suspect if we were a month earlier, it was probably full with lavenders :)

The Hill of Seasonal Colours (Shikisai no Oka 四季彩の丘)

Shikisai no Oka is a huge flower garden, stretching across seven hectars of land on Oka no machi Biei. The leaflet said the stopover time was about 15 minutes but we were allowed a much longer stopover time, at least of 35 minutes.

This is why so many people flocked to Hokkaido every summer! Such a beautiful sight! If you think it's too huge to walk, you could rent a buggy or cart to move about.

A bite of the "heart"? LOL. I thought it looks cute
Bibaushi Elementary School 美馬牛小学校

It is said that Bibaushi Elementary School is famous for its triangular shape of roof with bell inside. Aside from that, I read that it is a magnificent place for sunset photography.

We only viewed it from the bus, it was out of sight before I could snap a picture. :(

Side note: Thinking of sushi...

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