Thursday, 18 August 2016

#shuutravels 9 Beautiful Summer Landscapes Worth Seeing in Hokkaido


Hokkaido in Summer is hands down the most picturesque destination I've been to yet. Here, pristine lakes set against virgin forests and rolling hills lit aflame with summer flowers promise a breathtaking holiday unlike any other.

We spent 9 days travelling across Japan's northern-most island and were rewarded with so many picture perfect moments. If you're like me and love travelling in search of beautiful spaces, Hokkaido is surely the perfect destination for you. Here are my top 9 places to visit to capture that tumblr perfect backdrop or even the next Mac OS wallpaper:

1. MOERENUMA PARK, SAPPORO

 

Hokkaido is famously known as Japan's breathing space, and Sapporo, its capital is no exception. Little pockets of garden and green dot the city, providing ample hiking and strolling opportunity to the weary urbanite. Moerenuma Park, on the Northeast fringe of the city though, is worth a special visit. The sprawling park is designed by renowned sculptor and landscape artist Isamu Noguchi and features several themed zones, including Hokkaido's kind-of version of the Louvre. Walking through the park's clean lines and harmonious landscape, the park felt like a showroom of Japanese design.


2. THE BIEI COUNTRYSIDE


A bike is your best bet to exploring the picturesque countryside that is Biei. If you can just persevere through the steep inclines, the rush downhill through acres of blue-sky-meets-golden-farmland is the best reward ever.

This little town has the cutest monuments too - there is a specially curated cycling route bringing you to renowned trees around the countryside. E.g. the 2 poplar trees below have a name and a special inscribed plaque next to them - they have been christened the 'Ken and Mary Tree', after a famous car commercial that was filmed there. How cute hehe.

3. FURANO'S FAMOUS FLOWER FIELDS


Summer is Hokkaido's flower season! We visited in early July, which was just before the peak blooming season, but we were still treated to a magical purple carpet of lavender when we reached. Tip: while Nakafurano Lavender Farm is ticketed, it is much less crowded than the free to enter Farm Tomita - so crucial for your perfect Instagram Moment.

Don't fret if you miss the infrequent Norokko Train to the Lavender Farm station either, the walk from Nakafurano station is pleasant and you'll get to see some super cute countryside houses too.


4. OTARU CANAL


Otaru, a town less than an hour North of Sapporo, is kinda touristy and crowded but still worth a visit. With its quaint canals flanked by old industrial warehouses and cobbled sidewalks, it is indeed a very photogenic town.


5. LAKE KUSSHARO & LAKE MASHU


We drove into the centre of Hokkaido to an area called Akan National Park, where there is a famous cluster of 3 beautiful crater lakes. Lake Kussharo and Lake Mashu are nearer to each other though, and as we had a tight schedule to follow we gave the third lake, Lake Akan, a miss.

If you're driving, don't miss the Bihoro Pass, a stop by the highway that offers a seriously splendid vista of Lake Kussharo and its islands. As you head downhill towards the shore, many ryokans dotted along Lake Kussharo offer you the opportunity to stay overnight and enjoy the peace of a quiet onsen town.


Lake Mashu is somewhat different. Dubbed the 'clearest lake in the world', it is heavily protected and nobody is allowed near the lake except for research purposes. So the only way to admire its beauty is to go to 3 purpose built look out points around the lake. That kinda made it a less magical experience for us but the views are undoubtedly still breathtaking.


6. KAWAYU ONSEN


After the 2 hour drive into Akan National Park (yeah I'm a noob driver...), the outdoor onsens were a sheer delight to relax in. Plus, bonus points because these onsens are SO BEAUTIFUL. The Kotan Onsen, especially, is worth a special visit. This hot spring is nestled in a rock pool right by the shores of Lake Kussharo. A comforting 40 degree bath with a panoramic view of the lake and the surrounding mountains is literally bliss.

There are a few other onsens along Lake Kussharo as well, and a rest stop nearby allows you to drink some hot spring goodness (too much of a sulfur smell for me to stomach... but reportedly it may be good for you...)


7. SHIRETOKO NATIONAL PARK


More lakes! I've never seen more lakes, nor more beautiful lakes in my life. Lake District in the UK unfortunately does not even come close (blame British weather...) Shiretoko Five Lakes is a section of the national park open to the amateur hiker and it is so beautiful. It was nearing the peak of summer and all the trees were resplendent in their crowning glory, creating a very vibrant and lively landscape. I need to come back in autumn or winter one day, I can only imagine how different a landscape it will be.

PS > Tip: Cover up! The mozzies and flies are relentless in summer! Tip 2: Check out the Shiretoko Nature Centre - it is a brilliant museum that will give you some background info of the park and explain its ecological significance. #geoggeekalert


8. UTORO'S SUNSET


How better to end a trip than a spectacular sunset to remind you of nature's glory. Utoro, the town closest to the Shiretoko Peninsular, offers multiple viewpoints to admire a brilliant sunset over the Okhotsk Sea. We checked out both the Yuuhidai Point as well as the Utoro Pier.


9. SHH IT'S MY SECRET


Don't plan your whole holiday itinerary, make some wrong turns and take the longer routes. Hokkaido is such an effortlessly scenic place that there's beauty to be discovered in every corner.


And there you go! Top 9 scenery-on-fleek attractions in Hokkaido as recommended by yours truly. I really enjoyed my trip to Hokkaido this summer, I really hope that I'll get the chance to visit again in another season - it's such a beautiful island (lol officially over-used the word beautiful in this blogpost...)

Hope this little Hokkaido travel guide helped for any of you planning an upcoming trip up North. The food in Hokkaido was also really noteworthy so I'll probably write a food guide soon; keep a look out for that! :)

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

#shuutravels Cambodia in 9 days - a travel guide


"What is there to do? Isn't 9 days too long??" - the most common response I received after telling my friends I was gonna be travelling Cambodia for 9 days in March. Now that I'm back, I would (unfortunately!) conclude that 9 days is actually too short!

The Kingdom of Cambodia is much more than temples, tuk-tuks and cheap massages, so here are 5 unmissable experiences you should add to your itinerary the next time you visit this gem of a Southeast Asian country:


1. Get disconnected from the world on a stunning and untouched beach island


Just a 45min speedboat ride away from mainland Cambodia sits a quiet beach island where you may cast all worries aside and bask in the endless sunshine. Koh Rong Samloem is Cambodia's secret backpacker beach paradise. For about USD35, you can get yourself a cosy private villa and a couple of hammocks to enjoy the seabreeze from.

Don't expect luxury though - electricity is rationed and water is drawn from wells (frequently running out during dry season), and there is surely no phone signal or wifi for you to instagram that spectacular sunset either.



2. Take a dip in the Mekong River and look out for the Irrawaddy Dolphins

 

This excursion was hands down the most fun part of my trip :) We travelled northwards into Kratie, a tiny town that is home to the endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins. Together with Sorya Kayaking Adventures, we spent half a day paddling through the most picturesque and serene sections of the Mekong River - past sand islands, flooded forests and finally to a deep pool where we spotted a pod of river dolphins come up occassionally to the surface to breathe. We also managed to stop by a sand bank along the river for a quick dip. Truly a back to nature experience!



3. Visit a floating village on Southeast Asia's Largest freshwater lake

 

The Great Tonle Sap Lake is Cambodia's lifeline, providing sustenance for the 3 million Cambodians who live around (or on, as you will later see) the lake. We hopped onto a van to Kampong Khleang, one of Cambodia's largest floating villages to get an insight into this community. We visited in the dry season, so we got to see all the stilts bare and exposed as the river is only about knee deep at this moment. During the monsoon, all the houses along the river would be submerged and hence look like they were floating!

The community here leads a pretty interesting lifestyle - during the dry season most of them are farmers, and during the wet season when their land floods, they become fishermen instead. Some families also relocate their houses downstream towards the lake during the dry season (and vice versa), and there is even a community that is permanently located on the lake (we saw even a floating school). Definitely an interesting experience that is worth checking out - Kampong Khleang is a mere 1-2 hours drive away from Siem Reap!


4. Chill out at Siem Reap's themed cocktail bars


Every night is an interesting night in Cambodia, with alcohol being so good and so cheap. I had a whole list of interesting cocktail bars in Siem Reap to visit, and Asana Bar was my favourite to visit. Their drinks came in intersting conconctions featuring local herbs and flavours (give me that ginger mojito!) and the bar itself was the cutest wooden house on stilts complete with swings, hammocks and beds for you to enjoy your evening.


5. Explore the Largest Religious Monument in the World


As kitschy as it may be, no trip to Cambodia is complete without visiting this world renowned heritage site. The Angkor Wat complex is huge, and by huge I mean overwhelming. The whole complex is larger than 160 football pitches put together, and you'll need a couple of days to take it all in. Just half a day is sufficient for you to see the most famous temples though - Angkor Wat, Bayon and a couple more. Be prepared for a lot of walking, stair climbing and sweat (the temples are built many storeys high so the devotees had to work hard to reach the gods...)




So there you have it! My top 5 favourite attractions to visit in Cambodia. Hope you enjoyed the photos and the occasional commentary. If it helps, you may see a mapped itinerary of all the places of interest I visited here to help you plan for your trip too!
To more wanderlust adventures ahead! Write again next time xx