I've recently traveled to Hokkaido for a 10 day break from work with my wife, my mother in law and my brother in law. The journey was absolutely amazing and my wife did a lot of work in planning and budgeting the trip. We only used a budget of slightly over 1,000 USD per person.
I think it would be quite beneficial if I can just type out the things we did here on my website for the benefit of everyone who may have plans to travel to Hokkaido. This article will start with my first location, Hakodate.
Before I start, here are 2 questions that I need everyone to know before making any decisions in your travel. These were also questions that have bothered us for a long time when we were planning this.
Be it Winter, or any other season. Driving is the best option to get around in Hokkaido especially if you're traveling in groups of more than 2 people. If you're solo, then you may use public transportation.
Hokkaido is huge, there are many places with picturesque beyond our imagination sceneries that are only accessible via driving. You may be very out of luck if you're not driving in Hokkaido. Given a choice, I will be driving even if I'm traveling solo.
By the way, foreigners (Tourists). Please apply for the Hokkaido Expressway Pass (Unlimited Toll Entries) when you're applying for the ETC Card for your card. ETC is basically like Touch and Go, or Smart Card to be used on Tolls. If you have not applied for the Hokkaido Expressway Pass you'll cry paying toll money.
Drawback here is, if you're using the Hokkaido Expressway Pass, you have to return your car to the exact same place you got your car. No return to other location policy. Remember that.
What about driving in snow?
When we were about to book our transportation. A lot of people, especially Malaysians, many of whom have never driven in snow before, told us that it's gonna be dangerous and slippery to drive in snow and how people have died driving in snow. It actually got us scared for no reason. But something in my mind told me that I shouldn't listen to people who hasn't even experienced it, but giving me their opinions solely based on hearsay.
Bollocks! It's like having a lion telling me banana taste good.
Driving in snow is the best experience ever! It's safe! Get your international license ready.
I was a little shocked when it comes to language in Japan. I thought people should be able to speak more English since we have a much larger inflow of tourists with AirAsia flying so frequently to Japan nowadays. Nope, I was wrong. But I was lucky that I've finished my Japanese courses when I was in high school. Therefore, I was able to have basic conversation to get by.
In many cases, we were able to get discounts, accommodation owners were offering us help and giving free stuffs, basically the whole trip became much more accommodative as soon as I started conversing in Japanese. I rented my car from a very nice car rental company called Nico Nico. Though the person on the email could type in English, the staffs at the car rental office couldn't, at all.
Bring along your phone and keep your Google Translate active just in case!
Since, their staffs could hardly speak English, I spoke Japanese. I'm also quite happy as they happen to have extra cars that day and ran out of compact cars, so they offered us a free upgrade to a bigger car. The best ever for us because a compact car wouldn't have fit our luggage.
Also, forget about the built-in GPS in which ever car you're renting. They are usually not updated and most of the time have issues with language. I've used both Waze and Google Maps. In certain parts of Hokkaido, Waze performs better and vice versa. Google Map is good for cities while Waze is best for country side.
Chitose to Hakodate is a 3 hour drive. It was snowing. The drive was great!! There are plenty of stops for rest with cafes and shops, and array of vending machines with food too. Vending machine food is just ok.
For accommodation in Hakodate, we booked Toyoko Inn. Best decision ever! I wouldn't jump into any conclusion to compare it with any other hotels yet but, for the cost, this hotel was very cheap. Room was decent size, toilet was clean, parking was 800 yen, and most importantly, they serve an amazing FREE breakfast buffet. This was the biggest thing to me because I would have never expected such nice breakfast for such room price. Food quality is pristine! Food was so good I kept going back for more.
(Note, there are 2 Toyoko Inns in Hakodate, which is located just nearby each other. Initially we went to the one with open air car park. The staffs weren't that friendly there. They we were told by them that the Toyoko Inn that we booked is the other one near the station (Ekimae). Thank God! the one we booked, the staffs were excellent!)
Things To Do in Hakodate, Hokkaido
That evening, we went up to Mount Hakodate via the Hakodate Yama Ropeway. Here you'll get the see the some lights of Hakodate City. Nothing much to see here actually aside from a huge number of loud Chinese Tourists. Wasn't my favorite place at all. Japanese are very conservative with power usage, most lights are out very early and most are never turned on. Can't see much from the mountain at night honestly.
However, there's an ice cream store there at Mount Hakodate. Worth it!
For seafood. Hakodate is it!
No where else. Seafood will get expensive away from Hakodate. We bought our Snow Crab here and it was so super fresh. Price was reasonable too!!!
We went to the Hakodate Morning Market. Just Google search it.
We had our crab BBQ, Boiled and Sashimi. Usually they just comes BBQ or Boiled. But please do ask for sashimi (raw crab)! It's an experience!