Hakone in a Day

If you are in the Tokyo area already. Hakone is a place worth visiting. It's just 3.5 hours away from Tokyo and the town of Hakone is warm (figuratively) and idyllic, with lots of interesting places to see.

We bought a Y5,000 2 day Hakone FreePass from the Shinjuku station in Tokyo. It includes a 2 hour train ride from Shinjuku to Odawara, and another almost 1.5 hour bus ride from Odawara to Hotel area (yes, traffic can also be bad in Japan). It also includes unlimited bus rides within Hakone, cable car, Hakone ropeway and a 2 way cruise ride on board a full size Pirate Ship! It's really a good deal and it takes away the hassle of counting your yen for every ride. To purchase the Hakone Free Pass, go to the g/f concourse, West Exit of Odakyu Shijnuku Staion.

For our hotel , we opted for the traditional ryokan (see my blog on Fuji-Hakone Guest House). It's not your typical hotel instead it uses tatami matted rooms, communal baths and usually comes with an an onsen (hot spring). Japan is a volcanically active country so onsens are scattered all over, particularly here in the Hakone area.

From Togendai, you will board this Pirate Ship which will cruise Lake Ashi. You will also return back to Togendai to catch your Hakone Ropeway from here. The cruise is only 30 minutes so stay out and enjoy the cool wind:)

Lake Ashi is a crater lake that lies along the caldera of Mount Hakone. The really lucky ones can see a glimpse of Mt. Fuji - we were part of the unlucky ones.

Your cruise starts at Togendai and docks at Hakone-Machi. The houses are traditional Japanese style. You start your walk from here. We walked along the highway going to the Palace and coming back we used the lake route to see 2 scenes.

A reconstruction of the Hakone Checkpoint from the feudal Edo Period. Just a 5 minute walk from cruise drop off at Hakone-Machi station.

Pass the exit of Hakone Checkpoint and walk along the path of the Lake. You will get to a parking lot which has a walk way up to the Hakone Detached Palace.

A good view of Lake Ashi and, if it's a clear day, Mt. Fuji can be seen from here. It used to serve as a summer palace for the Imperial Family. Now, you can take tea from here and enjoy the view of Lake Ashi.

The trail to and going down the Palace.

Once, down you may want to carefully cross the highway to see the Ancient Cedar Avenue. It is a 2km cedar stretch that dates back from Edo Shongunate period of 1618.

After the trip back to Togendai, head for the Hakone Ropeway (20 minutes) which will bring you to the volcanic valley of Owakudani.

Owakudani is an active volcanic zone of Mount Hakone. The white fumes on the picture are sulfrous fumes. I think it's amazing to see that a volcano that erupted 3000 years ago is still showing this much activity.

Black eggs that are said to prolong one's life by 7 years are a must buy. The egg's shell is blackened by the sulfur from the natural hot water it was boiled in. It has a little bit stronger taste than the normal egg. We bought 5 eggs for Y500 in the souvenir shop. If you just one to try one, the first entrance to Owakudani also sells the eggs at Y100 for 1 piece. 35 years to your life is just too much;)

After Owakudani take the Hakone Tozan Cablecar which will bring you back to Gora. Along the 10 minute ride are jump off museum points. We didn't have time for this. When you reach Gora, there will be buses to take you to your hotel.

You can break this down to 2 days if you have time. We did it in one day because the first day was pouring so we just went back to our ryokan for our Japanese beer and tried the onsen (see my horrifying and hilarious onsen experience).

Hearton Hotel, Osaka, Japan

Pronounced as Heart-ton not hear-ton, the hotel is as what the reviews state it to be. Good location and good value for money. Well situated 5 minutes away from the Shinsaibashi Train Station and 3 minutes from the Shinsaibashi 1km shopping strip. It is a haven for shoppers as the strip is lined with stores like Takashimaya, Zara, Loft, Uniqlo and the much sought after second hand / pre-owned luxury bag stores like Daikokuya. I counted around at least 7 second hand stores in that strip.

Hearton is very cheap at $100 per night for 2 persons already. The room is a bit cramped and not for lounging around in. But it is clean and has the standard amenities for budget travelers like hot water boiler, mini ref, free Wi-fi access and Shisheido bathroom essentials. All TV channels are in Japanese though. We stayed at a semi double room, the bed is a bit small for 2 so I suggest you get at least a twin room. Hearton allows you to leave your luggage at the front desk in case check-in/check-out waiting time is long. Do request for a non-smoking floor upon check-in – we didn’t get one which was a bummer for a non-smoker like me.

To get there, use exit 5 north in Shinsaibashi station, cross the big street so Loft and Zara should be at your back. Walk a little bit inside Shinsaibashi strip and turn right on the first corner (less than a minute walk) – it is a side street with Key Coffee on the left. Walk straight ahead – you should pass a huge bowling pin statue on your left, an AM-PM convenience store on your left. Hearton Hotel is the corner hotel on your right – sign is a bit small but you will see their logo. Staff can speak a little bit of English, enough to complete check-in and check-out transaction smoothly.

I booked the hotel through Agoda.com. At first it was fully booked but we waited a few days and some rooms opened up so was able to get a room. I would highly recommend it for shoestring travelers.

Hotel Name: Hearton Hotel Minami Senba
Address: 2-12-22 Minumisenba Chuo-ku,
Osaka, Japan

Splash Island: Cool off at Splash Island

It's 34 degrees outside and it's time to head out once again to Splash Island. It has been 3 summers now and Splash Island has almost become a ritual for me and the kids. Big wide open space + water = FUN, FUN! Now it is very critical that you go at the right time unless you want to swim with the entire Philippine population.

We always go on a weekday and usually just right after school ends. It is our right of passage to summer v-v-vacation!

The kids try all the water rides the height requirement permits (hehe takes after me). My boy welcomes wave after big wave at the wave pool. I never ever let him out of my sight at this point.  Horror stories of wave pools are for real - drowning and hitting head on the pool wall. So take caution.

Then the favorite raft ride.  It permits a group of 4 to ride a big rubber raft which will be dropped from a high winding slide -- Wohoo!   Age catches up on me as my heart thumps like a voodoo drum beat. I heard that they will even add heart stopping rides just for this summer.

So far, the times we have been there has been pretty slow, that is, I see water and not heads. We have had that in Malaysia, but that's another story. First I make sure we go on a weekday. Do take that leave - it's a must for your enjoyment. Secondly, I call to find out if there are truck loads of people coming in. Sometimes, there is a big corporate event - red light, stop, postpone.

To my dismay, they have relaxed their swimwear rules, accepting shorts and shirts on the pool.  But then at least, you don't have to buy Yaya a swimsuit. Do follow the safety rules to avoid injury and keep your eye on the kids - always. Kids and water are not exactly soul mates though kids would like to think so.

So there, go, frolick in the sun and soak in the cool, cool water ...

Operating Hours: Friday - Sunday 8am - 8pm P 500 adult / P 400 child
Monday - Thursday 9am - 5pm P 400 adult / P 350 child
*Summer Schedule only.
Address: Splash Island Spa & Resort
Southwoods Ecocentrum Binan, Laguna Philippines
Contact Numbers: 0918-912-9177 / 986-5058

Website:  www.splashisland.net