Category Archives: Hotels

Epson and SO Sofitel Singapore collaborate on AR experience

The world of travel, tourism and hospitality has benefitted and also changed from the technology boom over the past few decades. As we move into the future, new technology such as augmented reality (AR) has a role to play in a customer’s overall experience. How does AR plays a part in business operation in the hospitality industry such as a hotel?

AR today and in the near future, they can play a part in enhancing a guest experience beyond the luxuries, amenities, accommodation and hospitality in the hotel. How can they go about doing this?

In Singapore, Epson, a global leader in projection technology and visual communications, partners SO Sofitel Singapore for Southeast Asia first augmented reality (AR) smart glass experience within a hotel, using Epson’s latest Moverio BT-300 smart glasses. At the media event held recently, I had the opportunity to witness the launch and experience AR technology implementation in a hospitality organisation.

This was also my first time putting on the Moverio BT-300 and trying it out in a hospitality context. The Moverio BT-300 was lightweight and beautifully designed, the experience was pretty good with the visuals through the smart glasses and accompanying audio.

Guests can look forward to a true see-through immersive experience with the Moverio BT-300’s HD high-contrast display, which uses Epson’s cutting edge silicon-based OLED (organic light emitting diode) digital display technology. Powered by software from EON Reality, a world leader in Virtual and Augmented Reality-based knowledge transfer, the curated experience transports viewers into a part-real part-virtual world where informative content and videos blend seamlessly with real design elements found within the hotel lobby and suite.

 Pictures courtesy of Epson Singapore and SO Sofitel Singapore 

“It is our pleasure to partner leaders in Luxury Hospitality, Design and Augmented Reality to curate this experience that is a first in the region. With Moverio, Epson believes that the potential of Augmented Reality is limitless for commercial and enterprise usage – to create exceptional experiences using one of the most lightweight and comfortable smart eyewear on the market. By bringing the flavours and secrets within the heritage building to life through our technology, we look forward to deliver new and exciting multi-sensory experiences and showcase the familiar in a brand new way,” said Mr Siew Jin Kiat, Regional General Manager (Southeast Asia), Printers and Visual Products Division, Epson Singapore.

“We are So delighted to partner with Epson Singapore to be the first to launch the augmented reality smart glasses experience in Southeast Asia. When you step into SO Sofitel Singapore, you will be naturally captivated by the different elements of French design blending with local touches. With this AR smart glasses experience, guests will be able to discover and be intrigued by the surprising design elements,” said Mr Piotr Kupiec, General Manager for SO Sofitel Singapore.

On the pilot project, EON Reality Singapore’s Managing Director Mr Sridhar Sunkhad added, “Collaborating with Epson to augment the SO Sofitel unique guest experience will be an exciting journey that will teach us how Augmented Reality will become a part of our everyday lifestyle.”

Source: Epson and SO Sofitel Singapore press release

Starting my AR experiential tour journey from the SO Sofitel Hotel lobby, our first stop was the “The Lion Seal” emblem, designed for the hotel by the legendary Karl Langerfield. Once the AR experience started, I was greeted virtually by Isabelle Miaja, the interior designer of SO Sofitel Singapore.

Walking along the SO Sofitel Hotel lobby, I learned about the inspiration of SO Sofitel Singapore’s beautiful design, French elegance blending with the building’s unique history and modern Singapore, through the Moverio BT-300 smart glasses.

Continuing the journey inside the hotel, we entered into a special suite, the SO Sofitel Lofy suite. Through the Moverio BT-300 smart glasses, Isabelle returned on a composite screen, sharing her thoughts on the hotel design and special touches within the suite. I saw gorgeous art pieces that gave Isabelle the inspiration to combine French indulgence and the local culture of Singapore.

If you are staying at the gorgeous SO Sofitel, do try out the AR experience tour and if you happen to stay in the SO Lofy suite, you can also experience the SO Augmented room tour as well! For members of the public, if you wish to enjoy the SO Augmented hotel lobby tour, you can enquire with the guest relations officer, with sets subject to availability.

The world of augmented reality is now entering into our life, our work, the adoption and implementation is taking place among different organisations and industries. This AR collaboration project between Epson and SO Sofitel Singapore is the first in Southeast Asia within a hotel, I believe there will be more hotels entering and implementing AR technology to enhance their guests experiences.

I would like to thank Epson Singapore and SO Sofitel Singapore for the invitation to experience the new AR experience at SO Sofitel Singapore.

Hokkaido 2016 Photography Adventure Day 5

25th October 2016 – Day 5 Furano and Biei -> Lake Toya

On day 5, we decided to start a bit early and head towards Torinuma Park, hoping to catch the morning mist across the lake. The weather was really cold for the autumn season, we departed from the hotel at 6am and Kato san drove down towards Torinuma Park.

Nakafurano

Along the way at Nakafurano, we caught the sunrise shining through from the mountain range. Even though it was pretty cloudy, we can spot the gorgeous morning sun rays punching through the horizon and skyline. Kato san stopped his car at the side of the road, ensuring that his car was not obstructing any traffic. We quickly took our camera gears out and started shooting away!

We didn’t spend too much taking photographs of the sunrise on that particular morning, once the sunrise moved up further into the sky, it was immediately engulfed by the thick clouds over the horizon during that morning. Nevertheless, we did enjoy and managed to a few photographs of the sunrise, she was spectacular at certain time!

Furano

Torinuma Park

From the spot where we took the sunrise photographs at Nakafurano, it was about 10 – 15 mins drive to reach Torinuma Park. When we alighted from the car and walked towards the lake, there wasn’t any morning mist across the lake that we had hoped for. We were not disappointed because we knew that such scenes were never guaranteed, a bit of luck is needed too! Therefore we stayed back for a short time, taking photographs of Torinuma Park again.

We drove and returned back to our hotel at Nakafurano, went into the onsen to warm ourselves up from the cold early morning drive out, packed our bags and continued with Day 5 of my Hokkaido photography adventure.

Kamifurano

Miyama Toge (near to Woodylife)

After checking out from the hotel, Kato san drove up north towards Kamifurano and Biei. In just a short drive away, the autumn season turned into winter season. This is one of the amazing natural beauty of Hokkaido, getting autumn and winter seasons together in just a short distance away.

At this particular location in Kamifurano, it’s pretty well known as a lookout point since this is a toge, a mountain pass and overlooking the farms, the Furano railway tracks and the mountain range of Daisetsuzan National Park. The weather was covered with thick clouds close to the mountain range area, the farms were visible and not were not covered by the clouds or mist.

There was a golden moment when the sun light rays punched through the clouds onto the fields of Kamifurano and Biei. During my two trips to Hokkaido, I am always on the lookout for all these golden moment, when the sun light rays shined through the clouds. By describing the golden moment sun light rays shining scenes as awesome, breathe taking, unbelievable, I just simply ran out of adjectives to describe them. I would just snap as many photographs as possible before the sun light rays disappeared.

Biei

The next phase of my photography adventure is an early Christmas present from Hokkaido, experiencing winter season in the autumn season of Hokkaido! Biei was covered with beautiful white snow and the weather turned out perfect after a cloudy start in the morning.

The list of destinations that I would be sharing on my trip around the Biei region were some of the most popular landmarks and icons of Biei and also Hokkaido, they are very pooular with photographers and tourists visiting Biei. Having visited them, I was very excited and very happy, to photograph the various landmarks and icons in such a great weather.

A Gentle Reminder to ALL photographers, travelers and tourists

Before I start writing away on all those gorgeous landscapes, trees and landscape sceneries, I would like to give all photographers, travelers and tourists a very gentle reminder that we MUST/HAVE TO respect the local farmers in Biei, their farmland areas whereby their hard work are displayed on their farms, the different types of crops and vegetables. That farms surround all those locations that you see in my write up below, let’s protect the farmers hard work, we are also protecting all those beautiful landscapes that would allow other photographers, travelers and tourists to visit, enjoy and take many photographs for beautiful memories.

Please take your photographs from the viewing spot behind the rope/line! Do NOT cross the rope/line!

Christmas Tree

A lone tree, another of those one tree hill scenes added to my collection, this was also my Christmas gift from Hokkaido because this was the Christmas Tree of Biei, covered with snow!

Mild Seven Hill

Does the word Mild Seven strikes a bell in you? The name Mild Seven is tobacco brand and this beautiful hill that you see here was used in a famous advertisement for Mild Seven tobacco.

From my viewing point, I finally understand why this location was chosen for the advertisement. After taking a few photographs, I stood there and soaked in this pretty landscape scenery of snow powder on the farm land, the Japanese larch trees accompanied by the clear blue sky behind.

My Hokkaido 2016 autumn trip had been nothing short of phenomenal, spectacular and unique. Although the first few days were cold, wet and windy weather, there were a number of omens that made my trip very special and unique. While we were taking photographs of the Mild Seven Hill, Kato san and myself heard a distinct call from our backs, above in the sky. We quickly turned our backs and started observing, to our absolute delight, there was a flight of swans flying towards us and across the Mild Seven Hill! I finally managed to capture birds in flight while in Hokkaido!

This flight of swans was very unique, to put in a shameless plug for myself, the swans flew above Biei, welcoming me to Hokkaido! However, according to my Hokkaido Photo Guide, Kato san, it’s rare for swans to fly above Biei at this time and this was the first time he had seen them flying above Biei! Those pretty white swans gave me another priceless moment to remember from my Hokkaido 2016 autumn adventure!

Hill top observation point

This location is very special, it gives you the top of the world feeling, a bird’s eye view that show how vast, wide and far the Hokkaido landscape can be. There is no landmark to indicate this hill top observation point and during the winter season, it is not accessible by car.

This is a very amazing location, it’s an ideal location to experience and view how special it would be during the four different seasons. Kato san also mentioned that this spot is great for taking sunset scenes and I would love to come back again to this spot because I love taking sunset sceneries!

I am able to visit and take photographs from this hill top observation point because of my very experienced Hokkaido Photo Guide, Kato san. He knows the area, the locations, that we photographers would like to go and take photographs.

Parent and Child Trees

The parents will always love and look after their own children, just like the small oak tree that is standing in between two larger oak trees. From where I stood, watching them across the vast farmland filled with snow, this was filled with warmth, love and sunshine in a cold Hokkaido autumn season.

Farm House with row of trees

Continuing our journey in the area, Kato san stopped along the side of the road and showed me another scenic spot that photographers like to visit and take photographs, a farm house with a row of trees. While there wasn’t an official tourism marker build for this beautiful sight, visitors and photographers can observe it from the side of the road without stepping into the farmers land.

Blue Pond

The Blue Pond is probably one of the icons of Biei and Hokkaido, it’s a destination packed with tourists, travelers and photographers. I heard about this destination previously and wanted to visit this place since I am in the area. Therefore, I requested Kato san to plan in this location during my photography schedule for Biei.

A beautiful destination, no doubt about that, it’s just packed with tourist buses and cars though. Kato san highlighted that it gets even more packed and busy during the summer season! It might be a bit difficult to capture the photographs that you wanted when you are visiting the Blue Pond in Biei.

I enjoyed my short visit to the Blue Pond, captured down on my photographs before we left for our next destination. 

Shirahige Waterfall

Kato san drove into this area occupied by a few stylish hotels, some commanding a pretty awesome view, fitted with stylish furnishings and designs, with their own private onsen in some of the hotels. The room rate is therefore pretty expensive too! If I have the budget, I would love to stay in one of those stylish Shirogane Onsen Resorts near the Shirahige Waterfall.

My initial thoughts were, another waterfall, ok, let’s see what it’s going to be like! When I crossed the bridge and looked up and down the ravine, the Blue River, Shirahige Waterfall and the range of mountain peaks covered with snow, I just stood there, blown away and mesmerised by the natural beauty and surroundings.

Photographers will love this destination, imagine all the different types of sceneries, colours and landscapes during the four different seasons of Hokkaido, I would love to return again to this spot in my future trips to Hokkaido. Bring your lover/partner along when you visit Shirogane Waterfall, it’s a romantic destination and walk for both of you to enjoy the time, moment and gorgeous sceneries.

Mt Tokachi Observation Deck

I had a few key highlights from my Hokkaido autumn trip in October 2016 that I remembered deeply inside my heart and soul. The next location after Shirogane Waterfall was one of them and this might be the best of my best travel highlights during my Hokkaido autumn trip.

A drive up to the mountains, luckily for me, the road had not been closed yet. Kato san mentioned that this road up to the mountain would not be open during the winter season. From the drive up, I can totally understand why, Hokkaido winter is going to fill up this mountain road, making it very difficult to clear the snow filled road, moreover, driving in icy winter road conditions can be very dangerous too.

Upon reaching Mt. Tokachi Observation Deck, I stood there, outside Kato san’s car, did a 360 degrees observation of this destination. This was why I wanted to return back to Hokkaido after my first trip in November 2014.

It was a trip to the top of the world feeling, surrounded by a clear blue sky without too much clouds covering the mountain range peaks, powder snow fields and I was welcomed by a natural phenomena known as 22 degrees halo and possibly a rare 46 degrees halo too! The halo was like a gateway to a whole new world out there, it’s a Stargate!

You will know the feelings and emotions when you just have no words to describe and to even say it out. I stood there, completely blown away after taking a number of photographs of Mt Tokachi Observation Deck.

Before we made our descend to the observation hut and back to the car, I sincerely thank my Hokkaido Photo Guide Kato san, for bringing me to this destination. When I was at the Mt Tokachi Observation Deck, this was the magical moment whereby all my troubles, stress and pressure seem so far far away from me.

KamiFurano

Hinode Park

On the way down towards our lunch location suggested by Kato san, I had the opportunity to witness 2 seasons (winter and autumn) together, a beauty of Hokkaido that I enjoyed a lot from my 2 trips to Hokkaido (2014 and 2016). At Hinode Park, we made a short pit stop, the evergreen on the fields in the foreground, with the white snow covered mountain range in the background. An amazing and unforgettable view of 2 distinctive seasons coming together in 1 scene, a view that I will never forget.

Lunch – Kamifurano

When you have a very experienced local photo / travel guide like Kato san, he knows where are the best and most delicious local Japanese food. Kato san brought me to this charcoal grilled food house, a small family run food business. This would be one of my best authentic local Japanese food experiences that I had! There wasn’t any english menu and I really had to thank Kato san for selecting and ordering all the delicious food on my behalf!

Charcoal grilled pork, dipped with their own family secret sauce, it’s really unforgettable, very delicious. The charcoal fumes and cooked pork meat aroma would stay on your clothes, a smell that I would gladly accept!

Lookout point

After our delicious charcoal grilled lunch, we started a long road trip from Kamifurano towards Lake Toya. Kato san made a quick pit stop at one of the lookout points on the route down and I snapped a few photographs before the long road trip down.

Long car ride to Lake Toya

The distance between Kamifurano and Lake Toya was approximately 300km (based on the route that Kato san drove). It was quite a long drive and we reached Lake Toya at night, had a quick rest and onsen to relax from a whole exciting day of exploring, walking and driving.

End of my Day 5 travel photography adventure in Hokkaido, now to get ready for Day 6!

Hokkaido Autumn 2016 Day 5


Created with flickr slideshow.

 

Hokkaido Autumn 2016


Created with flickr slideshow.

Hokkaido 2016 Photography Adventure Day 4

24th October 2016 – Day 4 Otaru -> Mikasa -> Ashibetsu -> Furano -> Biei

Day 4 marks the start of another new photography adventure in Hokkaido! I am on a photography tour planned for the next 4 days by my friend, Tsuyoshi Kato, who is also a Hokkaido Photo Guide. I first knew Kato san in November 2014 during my first visit to Hokkaido as part of the Central/Eastern Hokkaido familiarisation trip. Kato san is very knowledgable and experienced in planning for photographers who want to visit locations around Hokkaido for an unforgettable photography experience. I decided to engage Kato-san’s professional photography tour services for the next four days as I would love to explore different locations around Hokkaido whereby photographers love to visit.

Departing from my hotel Dormy Premium Inn Otaru, Kato-san’s plan for today was to visit the Furano and Biei region and we started the drive from Otaru towards Furano and Biei, making stops along Mikasa and Ashibetsu for some pretty interesting sceneries and landscapes!

Mikasa

On the car journey from Otaru to Biei, we passed by Mikasa City, this used to be a thriving and prosperous area with the coal mining industry pushing the local economy. Today, the coal mining industry is no longer in operation and this area had been quiet since then.

The Old Pombetsu Coal Mine

Kato-san made a quick stop to show me the Old Pombetsu Coal Mine. The former coal mining buildings and structures are still standing there and it is now closed to the public. There is a informative signboard that had maps, old photos and a short write up of the history on the Old Pombetsu Coal Mine.

Lake Katsurazawa

We continued our journey towards Furano, driving through roads that showcased distinct weather and climate of Hokkaido. In some areas, that would be snow falling on the forest/trees and they really made a very beautiful scenery with the autumn leaves on the branches that had not fallen yet. Another 20-30 minutes drive down the road, the sceneries and landscape might change into autumn only, no snow at all. This is a beauty of Hokkaido that I will always remember, the season can change in just some distance away.

Kato-san stopped at Lake Katsurazawa, it’s a beautiful location surrounded by forests, quiet and tranquil. The colourful autumn leaves can be seen in full foliage around the lake, making it a good spot for photographing the autumn season in Hokkaido. However, the water is brownish and unlike some of the other beautiful clear blue lakes in Hokkaido. The water is not free flowing because it is a large artificial lake created by the Katsurazawa Dam. Even though the water may not look as beautiful like some of her other counterparts in other areas of Hokkaido, the beautiful forests surrounding it would make it a place to visit during the other seasons.

Ashibetsu

Sandandaki Waterfall /三段滝(Google Map location: https://goo.gl/maps/CByHFsf3Jnz)

Leaving Mikasa, entered into Ashibetsu first before reaching Furano. That was a location in Ashibetsu that Kato-san brought me to. It’s a waterfall with 3 sections thus the name Sandandaki Waterfall /三段滝.

A gorgeous location, while the weather was a bit overcast, we were able to spot the colourful trees surrounding both sides of the river, the 3 sections of the waterfall and the downstream after that. The path to the lookout point/hut that can get you close to the waterfall and the downward stream was a bit wet and slippery due to the wet weather.

When we finished photographing and about to leave, snow fell from the sky with a bit of gusty cold wind blowing. The weather in Hokkaido can change pretty quickly in the blink of an eye sometimes.

Furano

Continuing our journey, we drove into Furano. My first impression was a flat and wide valley ground, surrounded by 2 mountain ranges on the sides, Mt Yubari, Mt Ashibetsu and Mt Furano-Nishi on one side and Mt Furano, Mt Tokachi, Mt Tomuraushi, Mt Chubetsu, Mt Hiragatake (Daisetuzan National Park side).

Living at the bottom of a valley can get really really cold during winter, from my experiences when I went skiiing in New South Wales, Australia, many years ago. Mt Kosciuszko (Perisher Blue) wasn’t too cold at the top when I was skiing yet when I reached Canberra, I was kind of freezing (in the night).

Furano had many farms growing different kind of crops. This area is a very popular destination during spring and summer, I can understand why. The entire area in summer season would be packed with crops ready for harvesting. For those growing flowers, the colourful and beautiful flowers would brighten up the whole place. I would love to visit Furano during the summer season and hope to do it some day in the future!

Torinuma Park  

Our first destination in Furano is Torinuma Park. Upon arrival, I was greeted by good weather, I saw clear blue sky, sunshine with cloud cover! This good weather made me very excited, I had overcast sky, snow, rain and chilly winds for my first four days in Hokkaido. The beautiful sunlight cast the colourful autumn leaves on the leaves into something magical, green, yellow, red and orange colour leaves against the beautiful clear blue sky. I was ecstatic and blown away, this was the autumn that I had been seeking when I arrived in Hokkaido.

We explored the forest surrounding the lake at Torinuma Park. There were some great places to take photographs from different spots with different perspectives, when the strong winds blew across, the leaves dropped and fell onto the lake, providing the lake with a pretty layer of colourful leaves on its water.

Lunch – Shinasoba ramen by Shinatora

One of my favourite Japanese food is Ramen and during that afternoon, I was brought to this local ramen shop in Furano, the name of the ramen shop is Shinatora, their shop speciality is a soup base mix of pork and fish! When I had my first taste of the Shinasoba ramen, I was in heaven!! This special and unique ramen is really oishii!! Ramen is an absolute delight during the cold autumn/winter seasons, hot and heartwarming.

Rokugo Viewing Platform / Kyohsai Farm (Furano Jam Garden)

With such a delicious and hot ramen lunch inside us, Kato-san brought me to the area near the foot of the Mt Tokachi / Mt Furano mountain range where the famous Kyohsai Farm / Furano Jam Garden was located, they had some many different types of jam for sale, along with a nice café to have coffee while resting at the same time. Although I didn’t buy any jam, I would love to come back during summer and visit this place again! Kato-san said this place is very popular during summer season!

Behind Furano Jam Garden, there was a small dirt road leading up towards a small hill, suitable for cars to drive up the small dirt road. On the road upwards, there was a famous lone tree that stood out from the row of forests beside the road. From the ground up perspective, the lone tree looked like it’s “floating”!

On top of the hill, there were farm lands, we visitors must be careful and considerate, not to trespass and trample onto the farm lands because we might destroy the crops and hurt the farmers livelihood and hard work.

There was an open area with a nice hut on the top of the hill, known as Rokugo Viewing Platform. The view up there was breathtaking, a great panoramic view of Furano. The cold autumn winds were blowing hard at us and I was freezing again when the cold winds hitted me! However, I was greeted by another iconic scene of Hokkaido, the light rays shining through the clouds onto the land.

There was another monologue tree nearby the Rokugo Viewing Platform, used by television company for some of their drama productions! It’s a very famous and iconic tree!

Mizusawa, Biei

The sky was turning dark as Kato-san drove up towards in the direction of Biei. A tale of two seasons in Hokkaido, separated by maybe 30km, from autumn into winter season. It was close to sunset timing when we arrived at this spot in Biei, snow was falling and it was cold around -1° (it’s not the coldest yet for Biei, Hokkaido).

There was a small farm house up on the hill, standing alone in the midst of the snow covered fields. While the small house stands alone in the open, it’s not alone at all, the role and significance cannot be underestimated. Somehow, I am always able to relate to lone/single objects e.g. lone tree, lone house etc etc … We might be monologue / single at times, however we are not alone because we attract the things around us to come to us.

Driving down a short distance from the small farm house, Kato san made a stop beside an open field between two forests. There were two trees that stood out in between the two forests. I stood there, enjoying the sceneries, peace, quiet and tranquility. It was really cold for me because I wasn’t really suited for winter season. After taking a few photographs, I stood there and enjoyed the moment while I am freezing myself out there (due to the chilly wind and rain).

The sun had set for the day, we also made our way to our hotel in Nakafurano, had our dinner, enjoyed the onsen and had a good night sleep.

Hokkaido Autumn 2016 Day 4 


Created with flickr slideshow.

Hokkaido Autumn 2016


Created with flickr slideshow.

Hokkaido 2016 Photography Adventure Day 3

23rd October 2016 – Day 3

It’s Sunday in Hokkaido, another cold and chilly autumn morning with the cold wind blowing. My plan for the morning was to make a pilgrimage to a whiskey that I really like a lot, Nikka whiskey. The birth place of Nikka whiskey is in this place called Yoichi, just three JR stations away from Otaru. I checked the local JR train timetable heading towards Yoichi the night before, planned the time to wake up, head towards onsen, buy my breakfast from the JR Otaru station convenience store before boarding the local JR train to Yoichi.

The local JR train ride was fun and I always love my traveling experiences there. Although it was only three stations away, the distance between them were quite far apart. I loved the views from my short JR train ride, I saw the colourful trees, the sea, coast line, hills and houses. My train ride was quite busy, not too packed, there were a number of people on the same train ride too. I spotted some elderly Japanese folks drinking beer in the morning while traveling on the train!

Nikka Distillery

Upon arriving at JR Yoichi station, there were a lot of people that were riding together on the train also alighted along with me. It dawned upon me pretty quickly that we were all heading towards a common destination, the Nikka distillery! A short walk away from JR Yoichi station, I arrived at the entrance to Nikka distillery, I am awed and excited because I made a pilgrimage to my favourite whiskey!

Visiting and walking inside Nikka distillery wasn’t too difficult, you can choose to join a guided tour (in Japanese though) or you can choose to walk around and explore on your own. I chose to walk around and explore myself. There were many information at various locations on the history, significance and things related to Nikka whiskey. The most interesting segments for me were the whiskey museum and Nikka Kaikan (guest hall, tasting room). My most eagerly anticipated segment of visiting Nikka distillery was the free whiskey tastings! There were 3 types of whiskey available for tasting inside the Nikka Kaikan, there were some rules to follow for visitors, no drinking for those visitors driving and each visitor is only allowed to taste 1 glass of whiskey from each type of whiskey available for tasting.

Whiskey is supposed to be enjoyed slowly, shaking and stirring the aroma up from the whiskey, slowly sipping, enjoying the after taste before continuing to slowly sip up the rest of the whiskey. In the midst of my excitement and over enthusiasm, I drank two of the three whiskey in kind of double quick time. Although I really loved the taste and feeling, my head started to spin because I drank too fast and furious! I had to quickly grab some ice water to drink and settle myself down!

There was a place known as Distillery Shop “Northland”, a gift shop to buy gifts and Nikka whiskey. Initially, I thought of buying Nikka whiskey back home to Singapore, however, they were not able to do the duty free procedure therefore I decided not to buy it back. Instead, I bought an ice ball maker and a box of Nikka Distillery chocolates.

I checked the return trip JR train time table when I first entered into the JR Yoichi station, therefore, I had a bit of time to walk around Yoichi and have a quick look before making my way to JR Yoichi station. Japanese trains were very efficient, reliable and punctual. The station masters opened up the doors for the passengers to walk out to the platform about 10 mins before the scheduled arrival time of the JR train. The visitors queued up in rows, waiting in line for the train to arrive. The JR train arrived exactly at the scheduled time as printed on the boards inside the train station.

Reaching JR Otaru station, there was a short time transition for passengers to switch and hop on to the another JR train heading towards Sapporo. This was how great, detailed and thoughtful the Japanese placed in service delivery standards.

When I reached Sapporo, I wanted to look for the Travelers notebook by the Traveler’s Company. However, I wasn’t able to find my way around the shopping centre and I didn’t manage to buy it during my trip to Hokkaido. I went back to the same lunch place yesterday, ordered a curry beef rice, enjoyed my lunch and took the next available train back to Otaru, for my late afternoon to night view of Otaru from Mt Tenguyama.

Mt Tenguyama, Otaru

Mt. Tenguyama, is a famous and well known tourism destination in Otaru, as well as in Hokkaido. On top of Mt Tenguyama, it has one of the best views of Hokkaido, highly rated and recommended by both locals and international visitors. I took a bus from Otaru bus terminal in front of JR Otaru station towards the foot of Mt Tenguyama where the ropeway station was located. I took the ropeway up and it was a great view of Otaru, the port and the sea!

Mt Tenguyama indeed had some gorgeous views up at the top, there were a few observation points that allowed visitors to take photographs of Otaru and her surroundings from different observation points. The weather was a bit overcast and pretty cloudy when I was up on top of Mt Tenguyama. I explored around the top of Mt Tenguyama, it’s really peaceful and beautiful. There were gusty chilly winds blowing on that evening, making it very challenging for me to stay long outside in the open to take photographs (I was kind of freezing up there on Mt Tenguyama).

Waiting for the sun to set and night to arrive, I finally caught a good glimpse of the night landscape scenery of Otaru. I didn’t bring my tripod up to Mt Tenguyama therefore I made the best out of everything in a very cold autumn night with gusty winds blowing at the top of Mt Tenguyama.

Taking the ropeway ride down, enjoying the nights sceneries of Otaru. I took the bus back to Otaru city centre, went to JR Otaru station and bought a half deep fried chicken for dinner back to my hotel room whereby I was able to keep myself warm from another cold chilly autumn night.

On my last night in Otaru at Dormy Inn Premium, I went down for my night singing noodles, the hot and heartwarming Yonaki Soba, my last time to enjoy this wonderful noodles, I am not too sure when I would have the chance again. Upon finishing the delicious Yonaki Soba, I went back to my room, packed my luggage while resting before coming down to relax and enjoy at the onsen before my sleep time.

Hokkaido Autumn 2016 Day 3


Created with flickr slideshow.

Hokkaido Autumn 2016


Created with flickr slideshow.

Hokkaido 2016 Photography Adventure Day 1

21st October 2016 – Day 1

A good night of sleep and rest, I woke up to a cold, wet and overcast Otaru weather. That didn’t deter my plans to explore Sapporo and Otaru today on my Day 1 in Hokkaido. First and foremost, I went down for my morning onsen, refresh myself before heading out for my photography adventure. The weather in Otaru was pretty cold for the autumn season and the winds were a little bit gusty when I stepped out of the hotel as I walked towards the JR Otaru train station.

I had to exchange for my JR Hokkaido pass at JR Sapporo station and I hopped onto the local JR Hokkaido train towards Sapporo. It’s been quite some time back since I last sat on the JR local train and I happened to choose the train that made a stop at every JR station along the route from Otaru to Sapporo (I had forgotten about the semi-rapid JR train service!). The journey was beautiful, part of it was along the coastline.

JR Sapporo station is a pretty huge place, not just the central train station, it’s also a huge hub for the offices and shopping malls, all linked and connected together. My first stop was to visit the JR office and exchanged my JR Hokkaido pass, the procedure wasn’t too difficult. I gave them the exchange voucher, filled in a form, showed my passport and the friendly staff there processed my JR Hokkaido pass on the spot and I am ready to go riding on the trains.

Now to start on my Hokkaido 2016 photography adventure! First stop was Hokkaido University / Gingko Avenue.

Hokkaido University / Gingko Avenue

A short walk away from JR Sapporo station, about 15-20mins walk (slow walk due to ice/snow on the ground). I entered into Hokkaido University campus ground, it’s a nice and quiet campus, they reminded me of my St Lucia campus of The University of Queensland. Once I stepped inside the campus ground, I spotted the colourful autumn colours on the trees with snow on the ground, a gorgeous mix of both autumn and winter together.

The sceneries were really beautiful, even though the sky was overcast and gloomy, I didn’t let the weather affected me in my photography. I slowly walked, taking photos along with both local and international tourists visiting Hokkaido University.

Gingko Avenue is a very well known road inside Hokkaido University, very popular with both local and international tourists. Once I reached there, I was able to fully understand why they loved it so much. Two rows of trees, lining up Gingko Avenue, in the midst of the vehicles, cyclists and people along Gingko Avenue, this road gave a sense of aura of nature, peace and tranquility. I really had a good time along Gingko Avenue, taking photographs from different perspectives and angles.

Former Hokkaido Government Office

The city area of Sapporo is pretty well planned out, it’s not too difficult to walk around. I walked back to JR Sapporo station before walking down towards Odori Park, making a stop at the former Hokkaido Government Office first.

This is a historical building of importance and significance to Hokkaido. You can’t miss it, it’s a distinct red brick colour building and are you able to spot the red star? Due to time constraint, I didn’t visit the interior and exhibits inside the former Hokkaido Government Office.

I strolled around the compound, enjoying the peace and tranquility at the pond with beautiful trees. This place would look great during the spring and summer season with the flowers and greenery.

Before reaching Odori Park, I stopped by a convenience store at a junction facing a segment of Odori Park. Visiting a convenience store in Japan is always very interesting for me, there are so many different types of food, drinks, tidbits, magazines, daily neccessities that you can find inside a Japanese convenience store! Lunch was a simple sushi set with a bottle of green tea, at the corner of the convenience store where they have bar stools and bar table.

Odori Park

Odori Park is a pretty long stretch of green open space lined up with trees in the middle of tall concrete buildings in Sapporo. This beautiful green space gives people living/working there a nice area to take walks, relax, have their lunch etc. It’s a great place to visit major events held in Sapporo every season e.g. Sapporo Snow Festival.

I walked from one end of Odori Park to the other end where the iconic Sapporo TV tower stood. There wasn’t too many people at Odori Park during my time there, I saw some young children playing with snow and trying to build a snowman! I hope that maybe in the future, I can return to Sapporo again during a time whereby a major event/festival is held there and I am able to enjoy Odori Park.

The bright, colourful and beautiful autumn colours lined up the sides of Odori Park. I felt the aura of the autumn colours even though it was a bit cold with the winds blowing. It was a quiet and tranquil time for me when I was walking down Odori Park, I can’t explain how soothing it was for me, for my mind.

Sapporo Clock Tower

I began to head back up to JR Sapporo station, planning to take the JR train back to Otaru and explore the area in the night. While walking back, I stopped at the Sapporo Clock Tower, another iconic and cultural landmark of Hokkaido, it was built in 1878. The bell rings every hour to announce the time to the city of Hokkaido.

I would love to visit and know more about Sapporo Clock Tower history and culture inside the building. However, I had a number of places that I wanted to cover, therefore I didn’t manage to go in and visit.

Walking back to JR Sapporo station, I checked the timetable and caught the rapid express train to Otaru for a evening/night walk. The weather was overcast and there wasn’t much of a sunset scene as I reached the port area of Otaru. I felt the cold wind blowing coupled with the cold autumn season. I decided to head back to my hotel and rest for a few hours before coming out later in the night for night walkabout of Otaru.

Otaru former Temiya railway line / The Bank of Japan Otaru Museum (Ministry of Finance)

I like to explore railway lines especially those that were no longer in operation and remained behind as tourist/historical landmarks/monuments. I saw photos of the former Temiya railway line and wanted to check them out. Using the Otaru city tourist map, I found my way to a junction along Nichigindori Street. The former Temiya railway tracks and landmarks are still around, the platform and train waiting area.

I would love to return back to Otaru again and explore the former Temiya railway line again, in the daytime instead of going there in the night. There are still a number of places in Otaru that I wanted to go but wasn’t able to complete it due to time constraints and trying to cover as many locations as possible.

Not too far away from the former Temiya railway line junction, I saw The Bank of Japan Otaru Museum building. It looked pretty grand at night with the lights shining on the building façade.

Otaru Canal

The Otaru Canal is an iconic and cultural area of Otaru. A beautiful area in the night to walk along the canal, enjoying the night lights of the nearby buildings and former warehouses along Otaru Canal. Walking down from Nichigindori Street, I reached Asakusa Bridge of Otaru Canal, a good spot for taking photos of Otaru Canal.

A quiet stroll along the canal, towards Chuo Bridge, another good spot for taking photos of Otaru Canal and surroundings. This is really nice for a romantic couple walk along the Otaru Canal in the night where it is quiet, peaceful and tranquil. It’s always great to view history being preserved, the warehouses along Otaru Canal played a central role as part of the city’s busy port in the early 20th century.

I would love to explore Otaru Canal again if possible during different seasons such as winter and summer.

Night Singing Noodles of Dormy Inn Premium Otaru

The Dormy Inn Premium Otaru was highly recommended by my friend/Hokkaido Photo Guide Kato san. Not only was the location awesome, they have onsen, room rates are reasonable for a comfortable hotel room. There was also something special, they provided delicious, hot and heart warming singing noodles to the guests of the hotel during the chilly season.

The night singing noodles is known as Yonaki Soba, it might look like a small simple bowl of soba noodles. However, it was cooked with so much passion and care for their hotel guests to keep warm with a hot bowl of Yonaki Soba in the night from 2130 hrs to 2300 hrs.

After a heart warming, delicious and hot bowl of Yonaki Soba, I went for my daily onsen, to relax my aching muscles from a whole day of walking around Sapporo and Otaru. While it was a cold and overcast Day 1 in Sapporo and Otaru, I am very happy to be out there exploring, enjoying myself away from Singapore and taking photographs.

Hokkaido Autumn 2016 Day 1


Created with flickr slideshow.



Hokkaido Autumn 2016


Created with flickr slideshow.

Hokkaido 2016 Photography Adventure Day 0

20th October 2016 – Day 0

My Hokkaido 2016 photography adventure began in the early morning of Thursday 20th October. I was taking Scoot TZ 216 to Sapporo (Hokkaido) New Chitose via Taipei, departure at 0615hrs. Scoot currently fly to Sapporo (Hokkaido) three times a week with their Dreamliner 787. This is an travel route worth considering for those who wish to fly to Hokkaido on a budget.

The Scoot flight schedule was as follows

TZ 216

0615hrs – 1045hrs Taipei (Taoyuan International Airport)

1155hrs – 1700hrs Sapporo, Hokkaido (New Chitose Airport)

During my flight from Singapore to Taipei, the flight encountered some gusty cross winds and a bit of heavy air traffic at Taoyuan, causing the plane to be slightly delayed in their arrival timing. The transit procedure wasn’t too difficult, just like any other transit procedure at international airports. After another round of hand carry baggage security check, I was back at the departure gate to board my next leg of flight from Taipei to Sapporo.

Overall, the flight from Singapore to Sapporo via Taipei was pretty smooth with the usual turbulence along the flight route. I did manage to capture the sunset at Hokkaido from my seat prior to the plane landing at New Chitose Airport.

Upon landing at New Chitose Airport, night time has arrived in Hokkaido. After clearing immigration, my friend, Kato san, who is also my Hokkaido Photo Guide for Days 4 to 7, picked me from the airport and gave me a lift to Otaru where I based myself for the next 4 nights

While driving along the highway from New Chitose Airport to Otaru, snow rain fell on the highway, winter season kind of arrived early for Hokkaido and my friend Kato san said, “The snow welcomes you back to Hokkaido!” This is really awesome but I am not prepared for early Hokkaido winter! The snow rain was pretty heavy at some stage and Kato san had to drive more slowly and carefully!

Upon reaching Otaru, we went for dinner together and I chose ramen for a cold chilly autumn night. My first Hokkaido meal, was simply amazing, authentic ramen in Japan! I had a good chat and catch up with Kato san, he also passed me some brochures and tourism information for the areas that I wanted to explore on my own during my first 3 days in Hokkaido.

My hotel was Dormy Inn Premium Otaru, right in front of JR Otaru station, very ideal location, they have onsen too! After checking in and settling down, I immediately head towards the onsen! I missed the onsen experience in Hokkaido, it was really amazing, soothing and relaxing, allowing me to have a good sleep on my first night in Hokkaido!

Hokkaido Autumn 2016 Day 0


Created with flickr slideshow.



Hokkaido Autumn 2016


Created with flickr slideshow.

Central/Eastern Hokkaido Day 4 – Kamikawa, Sounkyo

Day 4 of our program started off with a very early start, continuing from where we left on at the end of Day 3. We went to the nearby Tokachigaoka Park from Kangetsuen, for our hot air balloon adventure, operated by Tokachi Nature Centre! The hot air balloon ride is dependent on the weather conditions and for that morning, it was clear for our hot air balloon adventure! It was very interesting to see how they do the setup for the hot air balloon and we were busy clicking away on our cameras!

Hot Air Balloon Ride at Tokachi

Another first time for me, taking a hot air balloon ride! Once the hot air balloon ride was ready for boarding, we split into two groups to go up the hot air balloon ride. While one group was in the air, we took photographs of them from the ground up and vice versa, we helped each other to take photographs when we either up in the air or on the ground! When we were up in the air on the hot air balloon, the weather wasn’t that clear due to the misty autumn/winter weather conditions. Up in the air, while we had a bird’s eye view of the Tokachi area, the cold autumn/winter wind was upon our face and it was quite difficult to face the direction where the cold chilly winds was blowing from!

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If you are keen to go on the hot air balloon ride or other outdoor activities in the Tokachi region, here are the contact details of the company running the outdoor activities

Tokachi Nature Center

Minami 12-1-12, Tokachigawa onsen

Otofuke, Hokkaido 〒080-0263 Japan

Tel: 0155-32-6116

Fax: 0155-32-6117

Email: infotnc@nature-tokachi.co.jp

After our hot air balloon ride, we returned back to our hotel Kangetsuen for breakfast and checked out from the hotel. Our travel schedule on the fourth day was to go up the mountain range in Central Hokkaido. It was a bit of a long traveling journey on the road, however, we were blessed with many awesome and gorgeous clear deep blue skies and landscapes!

The Sounkyo area is a real gem in Hokkaido’s tourism and I love this place! If there are hidden gems in landscape photography around the world, they have to visit Sounkyo!

Mikuni Touge Pass (三国峠)

While traveling uphill from one area to another area, we were entering from autumn season into winter season! Such is the natural and wonderful beauty of Hokkaido four seasons! I was amazed and went into landscape photography heaven, so beautiful and words can’t do enough justice to the natural landscape beauty of Hokkaido.

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I really hope that my landscape photographs that I am sharing will tell the whole world about the hidden natural landscape beauty and gems of Hokkaido!

Stopping by Mikuni Touge Pass, there was a rest point and lookout point. We had a pit stop and we were blown away, our eyes and camera glued to the clear deep blue skyline and the mountain range. It’s so beautiful!

We continued our road trip, surrounded by snow and the mountain range, arriving at our hotel, Sounkyo Kankou Hotel (Sounkyo Onsen). Firstly, we dropped off our luggage and had lunch at Sounkyo Kankou Hotel. During our lunch, Mr. Nakajima-san of Sounkyo Tourist Association was there to visit us and host us for the afternoon! We were also very honoured and happy that a Master Landscape Photographer, Mr. Koetsu Ichinetsu Sensei will be hosting us and showing us around various locations in the Sounkyo area! Mr. Ichinetsu Sensei showed us his collection of landscape photography works and they were so amazing, so beautiful, a highly experienced Master Landscape Photographer, the Best of the Best Landscape Photographers.

Mt. Kuro-dake (黒岳)

The expectations were building up towards our next destination, Mt Kuro-dake, towering 1,984m in height, in the Sounkyo region. We were so amazed and blown away by the beauty of our surroundings and landscapes. After our wonderful lunch at Sounkyo Kankou Hotel, we eagerly traveled to the base of Mt. Kuro-dake, for our ropeway ride up to the middle of Mt. Kuro-dake, part of Daisetsuzan National Park. While waiting for turn to board, Mr. Ichinetsu Sensei brought us to a rest area at the base station and we were treated to some of his awesome and breathe-taking Hokkaido landscapes photographs printed and on display! Mr. Ichinetsu Sensei is truly a Master of Master Landscape Photographers!

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Soon, it was time to board for the ropeway journey up the mountain! The photographers soon glued themselves to the glass panel, eagerly waiting to see what the landscapes would be like and getting our cameras ready for action! As the journey up Mt. Kuro-dake began, I was blown away again by the charm, aura and beauty of the landscapes of Mt. Kuro-dake and her surroundings. It is so grand, beautiful and magnificent and I am running out of words to describe them!

I started to visualize how it would be like during Autumn season while taking the ropeway up to Mt. Kuro-dake and I make a promise that I MUST return to Hokkaido during the Autumn season to photograph the bright colours and beauty of Sounkyo.

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Upon reaching the mid way point station of Mt. Kuro-dake, we disembarked from the cabin and walked up to the rooftop of the station. We had a bird’s eye view from Mt. Kuro-dake of the landscapes and mountain range of Sounkyo. Our cameras went into crazy action mode, capturing as many different frames, angles and perspectives. It’s a dream come true for landscape/travel photographers to record and share the beauty and charm of Sounkyo.

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After taking many photographs at the rooftop, we went down and started trekking a short distance to watch people skiing and snowboarding at Mt. Kuro-dake. We had fun too, taking photographs and playing with snow! Due to time and schedule constraints, we could not explore uphill further.

Waterfall of Meteor (流星の滝)/ Waterfall of Ginga (銀河の滝)

We began our descent down Mt. Kuro-dake, enjoying our last few minutes’ view of the landscapes and surroundings. Next, we were heading to two famous waterfalls in the Kamikawa region, they are the Waterfall of Meteor (流星の滝)/ Waterfall of Ginga (銀河の滝). The Waterfall of Meteor is the female waterfall at 120m in height while the Waterfall of Ginga is the male waterfall at 80m in height. Both the waterfalls were close to fully frozen and it was a very interesting landscape sight. I am sure both waterfalls will be really beautiful during summer season!

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Mr. Ichinetsu Sensei was very kind and helpful, sharing his vast local knowledge experience, photography experience and expertise with us, the band of photographers. He was showing us where to stand and how to compose/capture various views and perspectives of the two waterfalls! It was a very humbling experience (especially for me) when Mr. Ichinetsu used our cameras to shoot in order for us to learn and have a better perspective on how to compose landscape photography in Hokkaido!

Mr. Ichinetsu Sensei style of mentoring/sharing his hands-on photography experience strikes a deep chord with me on how I should and can adopt to mentor/share my photography experiences with my photographer friends and my student/disciple under my care!

Daisetsu-Asahigaoka (大雪高原旭が丘

After our photography adventure at the two waterfalls, we returned to our limousine mini bus and traveled towards our last official photography destination of the Hokkaido Photographers Invitation Program. This magnificent destination, the Daisetsu-Asahigaoka, is where I got some of my most memorable (and probably my best) landscape photographs of the whole travel adventure. The vast land, covered with snow on the fields, the white clouds moving in the background and the sunset rays shining through the horizon. It was like in heaven and indeed it was due to the altitude of the area.

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I am now in a winter dreamland, a paradise on Earth. I always have a soft spot for traveling to Japan and Hokkaido really took my heart, mind and soul and planted it there. I really wanted to continue photographing many of the beautiful and magnificent landscapes in the Kamikawa and Sounkyo regions.

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While we were immersing ourselves into the Daisetsu-Asahigaoka gorgeous and magnificent landscape, Mr. Ichinetsu Sensei was just as enthusiastic and energetic as us! Mr. Ichinetsu Sensei was leading us to various spots around there and sharing with us tips, angles, perspectives, composing and framing the landscape photography shots! The Landscape Photography Master was walking pretty fast on the snow covered ground, leading us to various spots and we had a fun time chasing after him, rather awkwardly because we were not used to running on snow covered grounds! We ran and we left our footprints, our hearts, mind and soul at the Daisetsu-Asahigaoka(大雪高原旭が丘).

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As the Hokkaido sun sets over the Daisetsu-Asahigaoka horizon, we packed our gears and waved goodbye. This was the last official photography destination on the Hokkaido Photographers Invitation Program and we left with heavy hearts for she stole our photography hearts! It was an omen that Daisetsu-Asahigaoka was sending out to us, the band of photographers that we had to return one day, we must return one day!

Ice Pavilion(アイスパビリオン)

On our way back to our hotel, we had a stop at the Ice Pavilion and had some fun inside there! We were treated to a temperature of -41 degrees Celsius, the lowest temperature ever recorded in Hokkaido! We also had a chance to play on the ice/snow playground that they created! There was so much fun sliding down the ice slope/slide!

Do check out their website for more information and details!

Sounkyo Kankou Hotel (Sounkyo Onsen)

Returning back to our hotel, we rested and changed to the yukata, getting ready for our dinner. The hotel owner, Mr. Morita Shigenori, General Manager, Mdm. Chida Tamami and Chief of Reserved Seat Mr. Yasuhito Toda, hosted us to a grand and sumptuous Japanese Kaiseki Dinner. We were touched by the warm Japanese hospitality and we learned so much more about Japanese traditions and cuisines!

One of Hokkaido’s most iconic dishes is their snow crab. This was my maiden experience eating a Hokkaido snow crab in my lifetime till date and I confessed that I don’t know how to cut open and eat it properly. I was struggling and a bit lost, Dennis helped me out by telling me how to cut it and dip in the sauce. I must be a slow learner in eating crabs and Mdm. Chida Tamami saw that I was lost in the world of Hokkaido crabs. Mdm. Chida Tamami decided to take good care of me and showed me how to cut open the snow crab and how to eat it properly, with translation help from Moe-san, sat beside me. Mdm. Chida Tamami was such a great host with heartwarming Japanese hospitality!

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It was a lively and fun dinner, accompanied by the sumptuous Japanese cuisines. Mr. Ichinetsu Sensei was sharing with us his photography equipment and experiences; we were amazed by his vintage Linhoff film camera. Being a photography buff and film SLR user many years ago, I could not resist asking Mr. Ichinetsu for permission to touch and feel his Linhoff film camera! It was a priceless nostalgic photography experience! Mr. Ichinetsu Sensei was also sharing with us about his thoughts when he was the group during the afternoon; we were very humbled and honoured by his warmth, hospitality, and enthusiasm. That was something about Mr. Ichinetsu Sensei that got me even more in awe of this Master Landscape Photographer; he is 75 years old and still going strong!

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During the dinner, Mr. Morita Shigenori shared with us that Sounkyo Kankou Hotel is expanding their outdoor onsen and it is scheduled to open in Fall 2015, around end of August 2015! I am excited and hope to be able to enjoy at their outdoor onsen when it opens in Fall 2015!

It kind of fits nicely to my plan (hopefully it can come true!) to visit Hokkaido during autumn in mid October 2015 and Sounkyo/Kamikawa (and visit the new outdoor Sounkyo Onsen) are inside my travel schedule agenda!

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All good things must come to an end; Mr. Ichinetsu Sensei had to leave early from the dinner because he had to prepare for another visit the following morning. Mr. Ichinetsu Sensei shook hands and hug with each of us before making his leave. A true master photographer that commands so much respect among the community and his humility, priceless and a great example to learn and follow. I had a light-hearted moment with Mr. Ichinetsu Sensei when he touched my belly in a friendly way (yes, I had too much good food in Hokkaido). I promised myself to slim down my tummy before I return to Hokkaido in the near future!

Our Last Photo Shoot Outing

After our dinner ended, we the band of photographers decided to head out and check out Sounkyo night sky and go for night photography/star trail photography. We walked to the ropeway base station of Mt. Kuro-dake and spent some time there photographing the night landscapes and star trails. While our works couldn’t match up to the ones we managed to capture at Lake Akan on our second night in Hokkaido, all of us had a fun time to bond and take photographs together for one final night together in Hokkaido.

Upon returning back to Sounkyo Kankou Hotel, we sat together and rested with hot beverages from the drinks vending machine in the hotel lobby. The hot beverages warmed us up from the cold chilly Hokkaido winter night. We, this particular band of photographers, were able to bond very well, having pretty good chemistry and teamwork during the whole Hokkaido Photographers Invitation Program. I am very happy to be traveling and photographing with them for this whole program.

After a while, we went back to our rooms and headed to the onsen, to enjoy and relax from an exciting Day 4 of the Hokkaido Photographer Invitation Program. As I sat and relax inside the onsen, reflecting back on my Hokkaido trip, it was very amazing and it wasn’t a dream, I am in Hokkaido and I managed to photograph and share some of Hokkaido’s finest beauty in the Central and Eastern regions. Personally, I felt that I got my best landscape shot of my Hokkaido Photographer Invitation Program on Day 4 here in Kamikawa/Sounkyo region.

An amazing day and a great finale to mark the end of Day 4 in Hokkaido! Now I will let my photographs do the talking instead.


Created with flickr slideshow.

Central/Eastern Hokkaido Day 3 – Akan, Ashoro, Tokachi

Day 3 of our Hokkaido Photographer Invitation Program began with us checking out from our hotel in Akankousou. We had an awesome and really fun Day 2! Our breakfast at Akankousou was very interesting and it’s also my first time having such a huge Japanese breakfast!

Lake Akan (阿寒湖)

Before leaving the Akan region, we stopped by at Lake Akan and enjoyed the beauty of Lake Akan. It was tranquil, quiet and gorgeous, while walking around the edge of the lake, the morning sunshine slowly enters and gives warmth to the Lake Akan and surroundings. It was interesting to hear how Lake Akan can transform into a winter playground during winter even when the lake is frozen! Hokkaido indeed is a place for all four seasons, there’s something to see and do every season! Along the edge of Lake Akan, I discovered beautiful ice sculptures on the plants and leaves of Lake Akan. This is the power and beauty of Mother Nature in Hokkaido, the autumn and winter season coming together.

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Lake Onneto (オンネトー)

Leaving the Akan region and driving to the Ashoro region, we arrived at a very beautiful lake, known as Lake Onneto. “Onneto” means Old Lake in Ainu language and while she is an Old Lake, she is still very beautiful and charming, attracting everybody there to be mesmerized by her aura.

With the grand mountain range behind her and the Hokkaido sun shining upon her clear turquoise waters on the lake, while half her of water on the lake was frozen, we can still see the other half of the lake. We spent some there, admiring her stunning beauty, photographing and collecting memories of Lake Onneto. I am sure Lake Oneeto will attract landscape and travel photographers.

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Abbey Road Crossing in Hokkaido

While on the way to our lunch at Tonta, Mr. Kato-san stopped by a country road off the main road and it was lined up by a row of tall trees on each side of the road. This wasn’t an official destination on our travel schedule; it was the vast experience and local knowledge by Mr. Kato-san that he showed us this location.

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Photo Courtesy of Jensen Chua Photography

Lunch at Tonta

We were informed that our lunch on Day3 would be very special because Tonta is a very famous Butadon Restaurant and you have to queue for quite a long time before getting a seat in the restaurant! Mr. Higasa-san managed to make special arrangements just for our group! We didn’t have to wait too long to have our lunch at Tonta!

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Here are the details for Tonta – Butadon Restaurant

〒080-0806 16-3 Higashi-6-jo, Obihiro-shi Hokkaido, JAPAN / Tel: (+81)(0)155-24-4358 / 11:00-18:00(Mon-Sat)

During our lunch at Tonta, we had a visitor from Obihiro City Tourism Board, Mr. Furui Kentaro who dropped by and we formally exchanged name cards and greetings! Thereafter, we were served one of the best Japanese cuisines that I ever tasted! Our lunch at Tonta was like going into Food Heaven!! It was so awesome and delicious, beyond my words of adjectives and descriptions!! Simply superb and our priceless expressions and emotions upon eating at Tonta were the best testimonial we can give to our Butadon lunch at Tonta!

Tokachigaoka Observatory (十勝が丘展望台)/ Tokachigaoka Park (Clock Flower) (十勝が丘公園)

After our lunch, we dropped our luggage at Kangetsuen, the hotel that we were staying for night and drove up to Tokachigaoka Observatory for a bird’s eye view of the Tokachi area. At Kangetsuen, we met with Japanese Photographer, Mr. Takamitsu Akiguchi, who showed us around the Tokachi area.

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We were able to view the ocean from the observatory deck and it was a good location to capture landscape scenes of Tokachi area and the ocean! How clear the landscape view can be would be dependent on the weather conditions, when we were up there at the Tokachigaoka Observatory Deck, it was a bit misty!

We then drove down to the Tokachigaoka Park for a short walk around, looking at the area that we would be coming on Day 4 early morning for our hot air balloon ride!

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Tokachi River (十勝川)

For the Tokachi region, this was one of the highlights that I am looking forward to for this Hokkaido Photographer Invitation Program. This was where we would be visiting the Tokachi River and discovers the different species of birds that can be found staying along Tokachi River.

We walked down along the Tokachi River bed, spotted quite a number of different bird species. The EF 400mm f5.6 lens came out into action again on my Canon EOS 7D Mark II. It was a great test/shootout for the high speed AF action of the Canon EOS 7D Mark II! The Canon EOS 7D Mark II is a really good fast action DSLR and when paired with a Canon L lens, it would help in your bird photography adventure!

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Walking along the Tokachi River bed, we spotted the White Tailed Eagle, swans, seagulls and salmon that swam up to the gravel shore bed to spawn and after spawning, they salmon die. This was just like a wildlife/nature lesson happening right in front of our eyes while we were walking along the Tokachi River bed. The White Tailed Eagle was very challenging to photograph, when we started walking close to them, they sensed our intentions and flew off to another location further away.

Watching the sunset along the Tokachi River bed, it was a beautiful sight, with the river in the foreground. This was also the signal for us to return back to our hotel, Kangetsuen that is very nearby the segment of the Tokachi River bed that we visited.

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Rokkakutei (六花亭)

While we had some spare time on our travel schedule, we visited Hokkaido’s most famous sweets shop, Rokkakutei in Tokachi. There were many different type of sweets and it was shopping time for us, to buy gifts and sweets back home for family, relatives, friends and colleagues.

Here is the address for Rokkakutei

9-6 Nishi-2-jou Minami, Obihiro-shi, Hokkaido, JAPAN

Tel: (+81)(0)155-24-6666

Kangetsuen (観月苑)

A traditional and beautiful hotel, my room had a nice view of the Tokachi River! This was also where I had my maiden experience sleeping on a futon mattress! The staff of Kangetsuen was there to help me set it up during the evening, if not, I might be setting it up wrongly!

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Here are the details for Kangetsuen

〒080-0263 14-2 Tokachigawa-Onsen Minami Otofuke-cho, Kato-Gun, Hokkaido, JAPAN / Tel: (+81) (0)155-462001

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We enjoyed our food, drinks and company together over the past three days before going to enjoy the onsen in Kangetsuen! We went for an early night rest because we would be going for a hot air balloon ride early in the morning the next day!


Created with flickr slideshow.

Central/Eastern Hokkaido Day 1 – Utoro

This marked the start of my awesome travel photography experience of a lifetime with newfound photography friends for Central/Eastern Hokkaido Familiarisation Trip (Photographers Invitation Program). Meeting at Changi Airport Terminal 1, I got to meet this special band of photographers that were going together on this big adventure.

Moe Anan – our beautiful and kawaii tour coordinator, translator

Dennis Seow of Superadrianme.com

Jensen Chua of Jensen Chua Photography

Yip Weng Seng of YipWengSeng Photography

Manami Iwatani, the pretty and bubbly Ran-san of Ninja Girls

Departing on Japan Airlines JL36 to Haneda Airport, Tokyo at 2200hrs Singapore time, we arrived at Haneda Airport at around 0530hrs Japan time. It was a pretty smooth flight to Tokyo and we cleared immigration and customs, proceed to domestic flights section for a bus ride to the domestic terminal at Haneda Airport for Japan Airlines JL1183 to Memambetsu Airport in Hokkaido at 0700hrs Japan time. The domestic flight from Tokyo to Hokkaido was smooth, arriving at around 0830hrs Japan time. During our descent to Memambetsu Airport, we had our first glimpse of the beautiful Hokkaido from the air! Walking out of the plane onto the aerobridge, we can feel the chilly cold autumn transiting into winter weather. The warmth inside Memambetsu Airport was most welcome for us!

At the arrival hall, our local Japanese hosts met us for our Central/Eastern Hokkaido Familiarisation Trip –

Mr. Higasa Kazuma – General Manager, International Travel Division of Nippon Travel Agency Hokkaido Co Ltd.

Mr. Tsuyoshi Kato – Hokkaido Photo Guide, Travel Planner, Photographer, Translator and Driver.

We went to the washroom and change to warm winter attire first before we formally exchanged greetings, formalities and name cards with Mr Higasa Kazuma and Mr Tsuyoshi Kato. After the introduction and briefing, we loaded our luggage into the mini bus for our start to Central/Eastern Hokkaido photography exploration! Our first destination was the Utoro area in the Northeastern part of Hokkaido, the journey from Memambetsu Aiport was around two hours and this was our first taste of long travel between destinations that we were visiting in Hokkaido. During our drive to Utoro, we were introduced to Mt. Shari-dake, with the peak at 1,545m!

Lunch was a quick pit stop at a local 7-11 convenience store in a small town along the route to Utoro. We had to rush over to Utoro since we had a professional Japanese Photographer, Mr Junichi Yamamoto, waiting for us at Utoro to bring us around Shiretoko National Park!

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Furepe Waterfall (フレペの滝)/ Mt Rausu-dake (羅臼岳)

Our first stop was Furepe Waterfall; it was a short trek inside to the edge of the cliff/plateau, through the forest. During this short trek, we were able to view the beautiful and grand Mt Rausu-dake, standing at a height of 1,661m, with the peaks and ridgelines covered with snow! The landscape was amazing and very beautiful, snow white peaks, blue sky, amazing cloud formations and the foreground of trees, and grassland in autumn weather conditions.

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When we reached to the edge of the cliff, there was a lookout point/hut that visitors can go up to catch a better view of the Furepe Waterfall. Initially, I couldn’t see any river flowing down the cliff forming the waterfall. Where is Furepe Waterfall, I ask myself? Soon, it dawned upon me with words from photographer friend of Yamamoto Sensei, who explained to us that the waterfall was from the underneath the rocks formation! Zooming in close with my telephoto lens (Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM), I saw for myself Furepe Waterfall!

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Mr Yamamoto Sensei brought us to the next destination, not too far away from Furepe Waterfall. While trekking through the forested area, we managed to spot wildlife, the deer! Being in the wild, the animals were very sensitive to human beings and once they sensed us moving close towards them, they would start to move away to somewhere else. It was a very fun experience to be that close to the deer grazing and my Canon EOS 7D Mark II with 70-200mm f/4 L USM is perfect for photographing wildlife while on the move!

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Yunohana Waterfall (湯の華の滝)

We continued with our photography and travel exploration to Yunohana Waterfall, not too far down the road from Furepe Waterfall. Trekking to Yunohana Waterfall was very interesting whereby we spotted more wildlife in the forested area. Yunohana Waterfall is very similar to Furepe Waterfall, the waterfall is from the underneath the rocks formation! Mr Yamamoto Sensei was really very nice and showed us good photography spots to take photographs of the Yunohana Waterfall, besides that, Mr Yamamoto Sensei was sharing with us his local knowledge of the wildlife and vegetation, it was very useful learning and very interesting!

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Oshinkoshin Waterfall (オシンコシンの滝)

This is a very beautiful waterfall, along the costal road of Utoro. When we reached there, it was getting close to sunset and the sunrays that shined brightly on the slopes of the waterfall, giving it a golden brown landscape and waterfall. At Oshinkoshin Waterfall, we started to experience the cold winter weather coming in and we can feel the coldness! From the steps leading up to Oshinkoshin Waterfall, we were able to have a nice view of the sea and the upcoming Hokkaido sunset. Oshinkoshin Waterfall is really beautiful and we spent a bit more time there!

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Hokkaido Sunset (Route 334 between ‘Oronko Rock’ and ‘Base of the Setting Sun’)

I am a photographer that loves taking photographs of sunsets especially when visiting different countries. When I saw the incoming Hokkaido Sunset at Oshinkoshin Waterfall, we knew we were going to get a beautiful Hokkaido Sunset and we were all looking forward to it! There was a bit of rush to this location along Route 334 between ‘Oronko Rock’ and ‘Base of the Setting Sun’. Once we disembarked, the band of photographers started firing away with their cameras. I was very happy to capture a beautiful Hokkaido Sunset and the Hokkaido Sunset memories still stays inside me today!

Landscape photography tips: I shot the Hokkaido Sunset at Utoro using 2 Canon DSLR bodies setup, namely Canon EOS 5D Mark III with EF 16-35mm f4 L IS USM and Canon EOS 7D Mark II with EF 70-200mm f4 L USM. The Canon EOS 5D Mark III combination caters for a really wide angle landscape view while the Canon EOS 7D Mark II caters for a tighter crop landscape photograph especially when the landscape scene is very big!

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We said Sayonara to Mr Yamamoto Sensei for spending precious time with us that evening, each of us got nice Hokkaido photography postcards from Mr Yamamoto Sensei for memories! We took a group photograph with Mr Yamamoto Sensei before going to our hotel Shiretoko Daiichi Hotel.

Before we could setup our group photo shot, a Hokkaido wildlife animal came pretty close to us, watching and observing the whole group of us in action, the fox was curious at us human beings and observed us for a while with cute mesmerizing eyes. With the fox that near to us and we all photographers could not resist concentrating our cameras on the fox!

I wonder what did the Hokkaido Fox say?

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Shiretoko Daiichi Hotel (知床第一ホテル)

The Shiretoko Daiichi Hotel is a beautiful hotel, nice and comfortable! Love the view from my hotel room! The Shiretoko Daiichi Hotel was also where I experienced Onsen for the first time in my life and wearing a Yukata to dinner and Onsen! The buffet dinner was delicious and there was a widespread of local and international cuisines! I am grateful to Mr Kato-san for sharing with me how to wear a Yukata properly for the very first time!

My first ever Onsen, at Shiretoko Daiichi Hotel, was simply magical, the experience was unforgettable, therapeutic and relaxing! With the conclusion of my first ever Onsen experience, it also marked the end of Day 1 of our Hokkaido Photographer Invitation Program.


Created with flickr slideshow.

10 of the Best Places to get Sand between Your Toes

Traveling around the world, the experiences go beyond the horizon, opening up eyes to the beauty of the world around us. “We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharal Nehru, discovered in Gary Arndt’s “The Ultimate List of Inspirational Travel Quotes”. I love to travel, from climbing the mountains, trekking the rain forests, visiting countries to learn more about the people and their culture.

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My Dream Destination!!

There is one form of travel that I really love to do a lot and currently did not get the chance to do a lot, that is to relax and enjoy myself by the beautiful blue ocean and fine sandy beach, on an island resort or beach front dream resort. I will arm myself with my camera to capture the gorgeous sunrise and sunsets around the world. Today, I am sharing with you 10 of the Best Places to  get Sand between Your Toes, with the help of  InterContinental Hotels and Resorts that can make your dream resort getaway a reality.

** Please Note That The Following Destinations Are Not Ranked In Any Particular Order! **

1.       Son Tra Peninsula, Danang

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With its long, white sandy beaches and natural forests, the Son Tra Peninsula, also known as the Mythical Monkey Mountain, boasts such beauty that in the past it used to be revered by the locals as a landing place for fairies.The Son Tra Peninsula spans 4,000 hectares and is home to an array of beaches. Nestled in a privatebay within the Peninsula is InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort. With its magnificent views, emerald blue water, gentle sea breezes and an endless untouched beach, the resort is truly deserving of its title of Vietnam’s Leading Resort in the recent World Travel Awards 2013. Guests can dine at the casual yet classy Barefoot Café and enjoy the fine tastes of a Mediterranean meal as they sink their toes into the soft, fine sand and take in the stunning views of the East Sea.

2.       West Bay Lagoon, Qatar

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West Bay Lagoon, also known as Al Qutaifiya, is a neighbourhood in Doha, Qatar. The area houses a variety of accommodations and lifestyle options, includingInterContinental Doha which is home to Doha’s longest private beach. The resort is a waterfront oasis where guests can take in sweeping views of the Arabic Gulf simply by taking a relaxing stroll down the sandy white coastline.

For a unique seafood experience, visit the Fish Market where you can select your own catch of the day, and indulge in the freshest seafood specialties tailored to your taste buds.

3.       Natadola Bay, Fiji 

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Natadola Bay is one of the South Pacific’s best-kept secrets and home to Fiji’s finest mainland resort, InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort and Spa. With its natural white sand and lush greenery, it is no wonder the beach was voted as one of the Top 10 in the world by Forbes Magazine.

Enjoy a luxurious massage in a seaside cabana, tackle the inviting waves or dive among its colourful reefs when you stay at the resort. Guests who are more adventurous can opt to explore the deserted beaches on the far side of Navo Island.

4.         Hua Hin, Thailand 

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Hua Hin has its roots as the official resort destination of the Thai royal family. Just a three-hour drive from Bangkok, the five kilometre long beach is now a popular getaway for Thai locals and travellers alike. A resort of prestigious Thai royal heritage, InterContinental Hua Hin Resort rests in the shadow of Khao Takiab, known locally as Chopstick Hill. The peace and tranquillity of the resort draws travellers who appreciate the chance to take a step back from everyday life and restore themselves – mind and body. Guests can regain their equilibrium through yoga sessions at the resort’s beachfront with the pristine white sand between their toes.

Come evening, guests can indulge in a bountiful seaside barbeque where they can prepare their own fresh seafood dinner, or seek the assistance of the resort’s renowned seafood chefs.

5.       Maesato Beach, Okinawa

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 The Maesato Beach is famed for its rich cultural traditions, abundant coral reefs, distinctive regional foods and the natural warmth of its people.

Situated astride the Maesato Beach, ANA InterContinental Ishigaki Resort Hotel is Japan’s southern-most resort that is prefect for an idyllic beach getaway. It offers a wide range of activities such as scuba diving, fishing and snorkelling. Guests can also choose to take a swim or relax along the clear waters of the Pacific Ocean at Maesato Beach. For an unforgettable ocean experience, participate in the Sea Walk to feel the sand under water as you’re surrounded by captivating marine life. Travellers will fall in love with the natural warmth of Okinawa’s people and the beauty of the island. With myriad fun-filled activities, this island getaway will make for a truly memorable family vacation.

6.       Sanctuary Cove, Gold Coast

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Sanctuary Cove is renowned as Australia’s resort-style masterplanned community. Located in the northern Gold Coast region, Sanctuary Cove combines quality residential options with world class leisure facilities.

Just minutes away from Australia’s favourite theme parks in the Gold Coast, InterContinental Sanctuary Cove Resort is equipped with a beautiful one-acre beach lagoon perfect for a relaxing holiday to escape from the bustling city. Spend your day in the resort with an indulgent massage at Champions Day Spa and spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing around the spectacular lagoon pool. Need a bite? Enjoy a delicious afternoon High Tea in Cove Cafe, before heading back to your pool lounge.

7.       Al Jubail, Saudi Arabia

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Al Jubail is a city in the eastern province on the Persian Gulf coast of Saudi Arabia and the largest industrial city in the Middle East. In the middle of a bustling city life, there is an oasis that is InterContinental Al Jubail. Set on a private beach, the hotel overlooks the beautiful Arabian Gulf. It has its own scuba diving centre and is the ideal base to start your sail along the stunning Arabian coastline.

Upon reaching either of two pristine islands, Juraid and Jana, guests can swim and snorkel in the calm blue waters with barracudas, hamour and needlefish while taking in the vibrant shades of the coral reefs. Back at the resort, guests can unwind over dinner at the Laguna Pearl Café while they take in the majestic sunset.

8.       Jimbaran Bay, Bali

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Bali is a stunning island famed for its scenic views and warm hospitality. Its beaches are amongst the most famous in the world and Jimbaran Bay at InterContinentalBali Resort is often considered the island’s crown jewel.

Guests can choose to explore the local culture through village tours or simply sip on a delicious cocktail on the golden sands of Bali. Nature lovers can also opt to be a part of the resort’s turtle conservation efforts during their stay there. In the evening, guests can revel in a performance of Balinese dancing while dining at Taman Gita Terrace. Besides being the perfect way to end a day in Bali, it is also a great way to immerse deeper in Bali’s rich tradition and culture. 

9.       Manzamo Cape , Okinawa

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The Manzamo Cape is one of the most visited tourist spots in Okinawa. Facing the East China Sea, the Cape is famous for its elephant-trunk shaped rock formation.

Situated on the Manzamo cape, each guestroom at the ANA InterContinental Manza Beach Resort Hotel provides guest with captivating views of clear blue waters and white sandy beaches. Guests can kick start their day with a visit to the nearby Cape Manza. Its commanding views of gorgeous coral reefs and aqua blue waves crashing against rugged cliffs will take your breath away.

Next, a visit to the Churaumi Aquarium is a must do. Literally meaning the Beautiful Sea Aquarium, it is inhabited by over 16,000 sea creatures, including several whale sharks, and is the largest in Asia. End the day by setting sail on the resort’s catamaran yacht and bask in the changing colours of the sky and sea while you reminisce on a day well spent.   

10.   Balaclava, Mauritius 

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Mauritius is a resort-haven situated in the Indian Ocean. Sitting on an island offering stunning views which overlook the Bay of Balaclava, the breath-takingInterContinental Resort Mauritius is the perfect base to set off for a snorkelling or diving expedition at the beautiful Turtle Bay – or Baie aux Tortues to the locals. The resort features an outdoor infinity pool alongside the pristine white beach where children can build sandcastles with mini buckets and spades provided by the hotel while the adults take a leisurely stroll.

To end the day’s activities, guests can savour the freshest seafood from the region at Segala, one of the hotel’s 5-star restaurants, while they take in the spectacular view of the Indian Ocean.

For more information on InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, visit http://www.ihg.com/intercontinental/hotels/gb/en/reservation.

After looking through the beautiful and gorgeous destinations, don’t you feel like packing your bags and flying there for a dream getaway vocation? I really really do and I wish I can visit all ten of them listed here! For a start, I better start planning to visit the nearby resorts near home first – Hua Hin, Thailand, Son Tra Peninsula, Danang, Vietnam and Jimbaran Bay, Bali, Indonesia! Of course, I also want to visit Mauritius and Fiji too!

Which of the ten beautiful destinations here do you wish to get sand between your toes ? Share your destinations with us and share this 10 destinations with your family, loved ones and friends too!

* Information and Photographs Courtesy of InterContinental Hotels and Resorts and Ogilvy Public Relations *

About IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group): IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group) [LON:IHG, NYSE:IHG (ADRs)] is a global organisation with a broad portfolio of nine hotel brands, including InterContinental® Hotels & Resorts, Hotel Indigo® Hotels, Crowne Plaza® Hotels & Resorts, Holiday Inn® Hotels and Resorts, Holiday Inn Express® Hotels, Staybridge Suites® Hotels, Candlewood Suites® Hotels, EVEN™ Hotels and HUALUXE™ Hotels & Resorts. IHG manages IHG® Rewards Club, the world’s first and largest hotel loyalty programme with over 74 million members worldwide. The programme was relaunched in July 2013, offering enhanced benefits for members including free internet for Elites across all hotels, globally. IHG franchises, leases, manages or owns over 4,600 hotels and 678,000 guest rooms in nearly 100 countries and territories. With more than 1,000 hotels in its development pipeline, IHG expects to recruit around 90,000 people into additional roles across its estate over the next few years. InterContinental Hotels Group PLC is the Group’s holding company and is incorporated in Great Britain and registered in England and Wales. Visit www.ihg.com for hotel information and reservations and www.ihgrewardsclub.com for more on IHG Rewards Club. For our latest news, visit:www.ihg.com/media, www.twitter.com/ihg, www.facebook.com/ihg or www.youtube.com/ihgplc.

This year, IHG turns 10. Visit http://story.ihg.com/ for a visual showcase of the milestones, achievements and innovations for IHG and its portfolio of hotel brands in the past decade.