Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Japan Winter Holiday 2017 Part 1 - Chitose and Niseko


Today, I want to tell you a story.... about a trip that was meant to be. 

Back in early 2017, there was a travel fair going on and I went to search for tickets to New Zealand. It was in one of our wish list but we wanted to wait for good airfare prices to go there. Meanwhile, a friend of mine asked me to check ticket prices to Japan for her. We looked at several date options and didn't find any good deals for NZ, but the price to go to Tokyo was quite good. Then over WhatsApp, the said friend asked to check the ticket price not only to Tokyo, but from Tokyo to fly out to Sapporo in Hokkaido. It turned out that for an extra $40 or so, one could get to Hokkaido (at least for this promo)! For one reason or another, the friend decided not to buy those tickets, but I thought that it was such a good deal that it would be a pity to pass up. I checked with DH and he okayed it.

And that... is the story of how we chose our holiday destination!

We took an overnight flight from Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta Airport to Tokyo Haneda. It was our first time flying with All Nippon Airways (ANA) and they didn't disappoint! We were on a Dreamliner B787 that was supposedly designed with passenger comfort in mind. Comfortable foot rest, motorised window shutters with touch controls, better looking toilets, and water tap with sensors.

We arrived in Tokyo Haneda at 7 in the morning and we had 2 hours and a half before our next flight. It was more than enough time for us to go through immigration, pick up our pre-ordered pocket Wi-fi, and took the train to the domestic terminal. Somewhere along the way, Miss Kiki spotted Maple flavoured Tokyo Banana. Since then, she kept looking for this particular flavour throughout our trip but didn't see it again until minutes before our flight home. Now I can see that it was a Tokyo Haneda Airport special! :D

Our plane to New Chitose Airport was older but we had a smooth ride.

Our first destination was Niseko, a ski village about 3 and a half hours from the airport by bus. It's a good idea to pre-book your bus because if you just go there and it's full then you're just out of luck. Our arrival date was a few days before their full schedule started, so unfortunately we only had one option: to take the only bus that goes to Niseko on that day at 1:30 pm. This is a bit tricky to plan in advance because their Ski Bus schedule is only released in late November every year.

On a brighter side, we had a few hours to spare for lunch and for roaming around the airport because the New Chitose Airport was a large airport filled with entertainments for kids and adults alike. I've read about this airport before from when I did my travel planning. I found that this blog was very helpful in planning trips to Japan.

First and foremost, lunch time! There were many souvenir shops and convenience stores selling bento boxes with public seating area on the 2nd floor, but we chose to go to the 3rd floor and ventured out in the restaurant area. There was a buta-don place that I wanted to go to but Miss Kiki refused. In the end we settled with a ramen shop.

After lunch, we walked around the 3rd floor. They had Royce Chocolate Factory Museum, Hello Kitty Playland and cafe, and Doraemon Sky Park there. The first one was free. One park was a small museum displaying history of chocolate, an the other part was a factory. You could see the making of the famous Royce Chocolate behind the glass walls. In Jakarta, a box of Royce chocolate sells at three times the price there! I heard that Royce is already in North America as well... I don't know how the prices are on that side of the world...

The Hello Kitty playland and the Doraemon Sky Park were not free. We didn't have too much time so we didn't go in either of them.

In the 2nd floor atrium, several stores and displays...

It was time to catch our bus! We waited at the bus stop at around -6 degree C and it was shocking cold! It's hard to believe I used to live in Winnipeg and endured their -40 degree C winters for 12 years! :D

For Miss Kiki who hasn't seen real snow since she was 1 year old, this snow in Hokkaido was like her first time! She was so happy she forgot about the cold instantly.

Our bus arrived with more than 50 cm layer of snow on the roof. We got on, and off we went! As scheduled, the bus ride was about 3 hours and a half long. It started with clear sky, then it got darker, then it was light snow, and it turned to blowing snow. Beautiful sceneries on the way. It brought back memories of driving out of town in the winter.

We got off at Hilton Niseko Village where we would be staying for 2 nights. It was located at the foot of Mt. Niseko right at the Niseko Village. It had 24-hour indoor and outdoor onsen for both men and women (separate, of course). 

From what I read, the food in Niseko Village was overpriced and not even good, so we didn't bother trying it. For dinner that evening, we took the free Hilton shuttle bus and went to Grand Hirafu for dinner. We had asked the hotel concierge for dinner recommendations and he told us Niseko Pizza. We were puzzled at first.... Pizza? Come on....

When we got off at Hirafu Crossing bus stop, however, we didn't find anything that appealing so we ended up at Niseko Pizza afterall. The restaurant was busy, and we were surprised to see that a lot of the servers were foreigners. The food was good, the atmosphere was nice. All and all, we would recommend it to other people too.

When we finished eating and got out, it was snowing. Miss Kiki was very happy to see it. She tried gathering the snow to make snowballs and to my surprise, it worked! I was so used to very dry snow that you can't form into balls right after they fall.

We walked around the corner to visit cafe If... a small cafe with rave reviews. When we arrived, they were already closed but because there were still customers inside and there were only three of us, the granny who runs the cafe let us in. I had wanted their fresh cream with berries on their menu but they sold out. In the end I opted for the baked apple. DH was not too excited about this place so he decided to play with Miss Kiki outside in the snow. The baked apple was yummy, it had cinnamon and sugar and raisins, and served with cream.

Baked apple
After I finished my warm dessert, we went and took the bus back to the hotel. I was a bit impressed that the hotel provided a pair of small room slippers for kids as well as a kids toothbrush. They even provided a child-size yukata!

That evening we went to the onsen. It was busy even late at night. I guess it was one down side of staying in a big and busy hotel. In my opinion, my previous onsen experience in Kaneyamaen Hotel was better.

Up next: Part 2