8D6N Hokkaido Itinerary with SA Tours
Japan lovers can rejoice at the fact that since 7th Sept 2021, you no longer have to take a guided tour. Also, the pre-departure PCR has now been scrapped! However, you still need to book your unguided tour with a travel agency, and obtain a travel visa through them.
What exactly does an unguided tour entail? I reached out to SA Tours to find out, and this is what they've said:
What to expect on an unguided tour?
"When we help a traveller book their unguided tour, they would need to book their flights and accommodation with us as a starting point. It would be preferred if attractions are also booked through us, though it is no longer necessary.
However, a detailed itinerary would need to be submitted via us to our Japanese operators, who would then apply for the ERFS (visa) for the travellers. Travellers do have a lot more freedom in planning their own itinerary, but it would be most efficient to work hand in hand with a local travel agency."
- Eva Wu, General Manager, SA Tours
Also, you need to to be contactable by your travel agency at all times during your trip.
SA Tours is also working on a 5D4N unguided Japan package that would cover flights, accommodation and a MRT pass with JPY1000 credit. This satisfies the entry requirements and is also more flexible compared to traditional packages.
You can contact them here for more information.
Should you still consider a guided tour?
Of course, there are merits to a guided tour as well, read my article here for how much I enjoyed my group trip to Japan, clearing up the misconceptions.
Whether you choose to go guided or unguided, you're likely still have lots of fun (it is Japan after all).
I've finally done up a full travelogue of my Hokkaido package tour with SA, where the itinerary was fully planned by the tour agency. Hopefully, this inspires you to either join a guided tour, or gives you options for attractions to visit if you choose to go unguided.
Japan awaits, my fellow travellers!
Map of the places I visited in Japan
Here’s a map of all the places I visited in Japan so that you can plan your itinerary according to location, or get a sense of where the tour takes you.
Day 1: Singapore to Hokkaido
The day started with my overnight flight by ANA (All Nippon Airways). In all honesty, I found the airline serviceable but not spectacular.
Entertainment options were limited, and the screen looked very dated compared to the one on SIA.
As for food, supper was a bag of chips, a croissant and water. Breakfast had two options, I chose a beef yakiniku which was rather underwhelming.
Day 2: Exploring Hakodate
After transiting through Tokyo, we landed at Hakodate airport.
The first stop was Goryokaku Tower, an observatory tower with stunning 360 degree views of the city of Hakodate and Goryokaku Park, a famous star-shaped fort that was the main fortress of the short-lived Republic of Ezo.
Next up, we visited Goryokaku Park itself. This beautifully landscaped park is perfect for a casual stroll, with a small museum and a man-made moat you can canoe around.
After that, we were taken to Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse, a commercial shopping area that was also the first commercial warehouse in Hakodate. Here, you can wander inside the warehouses which sell retail goods & accessories, or stroll along the quiet harbour.
If you're in the mood for burgers, try the famous Lucky Pierrot, a chain of burger restaurants exclusively in and around Hakodate. I didn't eat any mains, but I hear the Chinese Chicken Burger is pretty yummy. They serve a decent Hokkaido milk soft serve too.
In the evening, we ascended Mount Hakodate , which boasts a spectacular night view of the city. The viewing platform at the top is a popular spot for Japanese to chill out and watch as the sun sets over the city. We then descended the mountain via ropeway to reach its base.
Our hotel for the night was Hakodate Kokusai Hotel. This popular hotel boasts spacious rooms, is near the main tourist area and has a lovely onsen with stunning city views.
Day 3: Hakodate , Lake Toya, Bear Ranch and UPOP0Y
This morning was spent at Hakodate Morning Market, which sells various types of fresh seafood like crabs and sea urchin. Also on sale was the delicious Hokkaido melon from the region of Yubari.
We then travelled on to Silo Observatory, located at the tip of Lake Toya. Here is where you'll find beautiful views of Lake Toya, which is framed by Mount Showa.
We then stopped for lunch near Showa Shinzan Bear Ranch, and visited the ranch to view adorable brown bears. The enclosures held both baby and full-grown brown bears, and one can also buy biscuits to feed the bears. They are always game for food and will stand on their hind legs when biscuits are waived at them.
Our visit to the bears was followed up by a cultural excursion to UPOPOY (National Ainu Museum and Park). This cultural venue was built to preserve and educate people on the indigenous Ainu culture, which is on the verge of extinction.
Here, we attended a cultural performance by the Ainu people, and also visited the museum with cultural artifacts on display. The park also has a section where you can view traditional Ainu homes.
After a long and tiring day, we checked in at Noboribetsu Manseikaku, a Ryokan-style hotel with a sizeable and impressive indoor &outdoor onsen and a delicious dinner buffet.
Day 4: Jigokudani, Mitsui Outlet Fashion Park and Asahikawa
We were up bright and early to visit the nearby Jigokudani, also known as Hell Valley. This valley is home to boiling ponds and steaming pools emitting sulphur, with picturesque walking trails. It's also the main source of Noboribetsu's hot spring waters.
After that, we were off for some retail therapy at Mitsui Outlet Fashion Park, an outlet mall with a wide range of domestic and international brands. I managed to snag good buys at both Nike and Kate Spade. Don't forget to show your passport to enjoy tax-free purchases.
As it was cherry season, we stopped by Ohashi Cherry Farm for cherry picking. Rule of thumb: The more bright-red the cherries are, the sweeter they'll be. The Hokkaido milk soft serve ice cream at the farm is pretty legit too, so don't forget to buy some if you're there.
After an early dinner at bbq buffet restaurant Five Star, we checked in to Art Hotel Asahikawa. We then explored the streets of Asahikawa, and shopped at Aeon Mall (yes, the one with branches in JB too).
Day 5: Furano, Biei and Soundkyo
This day begin with a visit to the beautiful Shirogane Blue Pond in Biei. It's a rather small site and not too accessible (I'd advise driving or a tour bus), but is worth visiting for its gorgeous shade of blue and tree stumps sticking out of the waters.
It was time for some flowers viewing next at Shikisai No Oka. Also located in the region of Biei, this 7 hectare flower garden becomes blanketed with all kinds of colourful flowers during summer.
I saw everything from petunias to snapdragons, sunflowers and marigolds, all in different colours. It was a truly beautiful and unforgettable sight!
We stopped for lunch at Herb Garden Furano, where we also got to make our very own lavender-scented pillow.
Next up was a visit to Farm Tomita, famed for their delicious lavender ice cream and lavender flower fields. The surrounding mountains also make it a particularly scenic place for photos.
We then had a tea stop at Woody Life, a B&B with adorable cottages and even more pretty flowers.
The final stop for the day was Sounkyo Gorge, where we stopped for photos at the “Shooting Star” & Milky Way” waterfalls.
Our accommodation for the night was Sounkyo Kanko Hotel, with a lovely outdoor onsen and particularly yummy traditional Japanese dinner.
Day 6: Otaru, Shiroikoibito Park and Sapporo
Our morning was spent travelling all the way down to Otaru, near Sapporo. The tranquil port city is known for glassworks, music boxes , sake distilleries and buildings with a European influence.
Don't miss visiting Otaru Canal, a popular photo spot for visitors who enjoy strolling along its scenic banks. We also stopped by the fascinating Otaru Music Box Museum, where some music boxes were even worth thousands of dollars.
The rest of our time here was spent strolling the streets, which had plenty of restaurants & confectionary shops.
Our next time was Shiroikoibito Park, a chocolate-themed entertainment park that's bound to be a hit with families. In the park is Ishiya Chocolate factory, where the famous Shiroi Kobito chocolate biscuits are made.
The park also has a beautiful flower garden and a glockenspiel. Similar to the one in Munich, it opens up at certain timings with music and moving figurines.
After another eventful day, we spent the night at Tenza Hotel & Sky Spa Sapporo. This hotel has a chic, modern vibe and a clean onsen.
We also roamed the street of Sapporo in the evening, checking out a pachinko parlour and a 24/7 Don Don Donki. Everything here is significantly cheaper than the branch in Singapore!
Day 7: Sapporo
Our final day in Japan was spent exploring Sapporo . We stopped for photos at Odori Park (which features some very gorgeous floral arrangements) and Sapporo TV Tower, then had free time to wander Tanukikoji, the longest and busiest shopping street in Hokkaido.
Our lunch stop is worth a mention, the yummy Ichiran Ramen. I really enjoyed the individual booth concept, and the ramen blew me away with its tender cha su.
In the afternoon, we visited Sapporo Beer Museum, for a glimpse into the beer making process. It was fascinating to see all the past beer ads, and we got to try some beer at the German-style beer hall as well.
As we had an early morning flight the next day, we checked in at Air Terminal Hotel Chitose, which is literally located within the grounds of the airport, and a 10 minutes walk to JAL and ANA check-in counters.
Day 8: Return to Singapore
After a fulfilling time in Hokkaido, it was time to say goodbye to the Land of the Rising Sun.
Any questions about my Hokkaido trip, or anything else you would like to know about visiting Japan now? Sound out in the comments below!