Sunday, March 26, 2006

June's taken a fancy to visiting Hokkaido in the summer. Apparently, there are vast fields of lavender and sunflowers to admire, and the seafood couldn't get any fresher. So it was off to the NATAS fair for us to see what packages were on offer.

We started out looking at group tour packages. Groups are about 20-30 strong, and being sociable with so many fellow holiday-makers for the entire trip didn't appeal to us at all. It wasn't that our Korean tour of '03 was such a terrible experience; it was just inflexible and we couldn't be independent of the group at all. It was only when we extended our tour for another 2-3 days in Seoul that we felt like we'd escaped the herd and we were free to waste our time and money on whatever we ourselves wanted, rather than on stuff the tour organization decided we should.

From our initial research today, we got bolder and started asking around for free-and-easy tours instead. But the tour operators showed us how expensive such expeditions could be, simply because we couldn't get bulk discounts.

There was a section of the travel fair that caught our attention. 2 huge video walls screening sights from Hokkaido. The organization doing the screening ran a fly & drive tour, i.e., fly there, pick up a rental Toyota, drive yourself around Hokkaido aiming to arrive at the designated hotel for the day by nightfall.

There are recommended stops between hotels but because it's a self-drive tour, we can pick and choose which locations to dally at, which to skip or even run off on our own if we knew of some other place that would capture our interest more. Howzzat for flexibility? Well, apart from having to make it to the right hotel to sleep in at night, that is.

One of the rental cars on offer is the Toyota Prius, 1.5l hybrid, running at 35.5km/l, with on-board GPS nav system. Sweet! And accommodation is entirely 5-star including meals and most have a hot spa facility free for guest usage. Wow.

The cost at Twin rates: $2888 for EACH of us, which is steep. But if we went Dutch, though still a pinch, is barely affordable. Then we discussed the package some more with one of the guides for this tour who clarified that there are other expenses such as gas, parking, tolls, entrance fees, lunch, etc., that aren't covered in the packaged rate. A more realistic cost figure would be closer to $4-5K each. And we're like, "oh...!"

Pity. Maybe if we saved on going anywhere this year, we might consider this package again next year. Meantime, I know June's still searching for better options...

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