From Mountains to Beaches – The Prologue

What started out as a plan for a ski trip with friends grew larger after I decided to take advantage of a certain airline mileage promotion to obtain Suites class for a fraction of the price. Starting out as maybe a 2 week holiday getaway to Niseko turned into a multi-journey itinerary covering some of the most dynamic economies in Asia. The reason for this was because there was a promotion where I could purchase miles and I knew there was a First Suite class availability for an Asiana Transpacific flight. But they only had one date availability to allow me to meet up with my friends in time at Niseko. This meant that I have to depart earlier than I would have liked to and resulted in an extra 2 weeks of venturing South Korea and Japan. I’ve been to both countries in the past, and I decided to visit Jeju in South Korea since it was a highly rated tourism destination and there is a Hyatt Regency resort there. In Seoul I decided to split my stays between Sheraton Seoul D-Cube City which is cheaper and closer to Incheon and Gimpo, and of course a stay at the Park Hyatt Seoul, one property that I have seen reviews on and have put on my list of places to stay in. For a Park Hyatt, the rates in Seoul was acceptable since it coincided with a weekend stay.

After scheduling a week for South Korea, and I still had a week of exploring to do in Japan on my own before my sister joins me. I decided to hotel-hop in Tokyo staying at the Sheraton Miyako which is cheap for a hotel in Tokyo, and Westin Tokyo which is much better and a night I got at a cheap rate through Starpicks, a promotional prepaid rate for a stay in the next 6 weeks that Starwood has for selected properties throughout the world. I had originally planned for a countdown in Tokyo but changed plans halfway, though I would be returning for another stay in Tokyo before leaving Japan. Hotels in Tokyo can be quite expensive so I moved to Yokohama next, which has hotels for half the price of Tokyo and the fact that the Sheraton Yokohama Bay is right opposite Yokohama station, it made perfect sense to stay overnight there. Yokohama is also famous for having the largest Chinatown in Japan.

My destination towards Osaka allows me to route through Nagoya, a city famous for its castle and the biggest city closest to Toyota’s Global HQ and Factories. I booked a Toyota Kaikan tour which is free and this was one of the places I yearned to visit in Japan anyway. With this itinerary I was also able to visit my first automobile factory. The stay in Nagoya was at the Westin Nagoya Castle, a hotel just opposite Nagoya Castle which is a replica of the original castle destroyed in WW2. The hotel has a shuttle service from the JR Nagoya station which is pretty good as well and I know that my SPG Platinum status will provide me with a room facing the castle even at the lowest room rate which is still cheaper than a night in Tokyo.

From Nagoya, the journey brings me to Osaka, and since I envision arriving late night on Osaka, I chose a cheap hotel to stay overnight in the Sheraton Miyako Osaka, which is above the Uehonmachi subway station, and easy to access from either Osaka or Shin-Osaka station. The next 2 nights in Osaka was spent in the St. Regis Osaka which is one of the cheapest St. Regis worldwide and a good value with Starpicks availability as well. Having knew a friend working studying in Osaka, I had wanted to meet up with her, and I planned to do a day trip to Nara. The next destination was to explore Kyoto and I scheduled 2 nights in Kyoto at the Hyatt Regency Kyoto, a hotel that deserves a higher status in the Hyatt chain, though I am glad it remains a Regency as that means lower rates than a Grand or a Park. After Kyoto, it was the longest Shinkansen ride to Hakone, a town famous for its onsens or hot springs and close by to Mount Fuji. My choice was also a Hyatt Regency Hakone Resort. Having gotten Hyatt to match my SPG Platinum status, I would be getting complimentary breakfasts in these hotels and managed to upgrade some of the stays to suites with the free suite upgrade vouchers. That was one motivation to choose Hyatt as my preferred hotel chain actually.

From Hakone, I made another one night stopover in Tokyo to collect my snowboard, and this would mean a stay at Sheraton Miyako Tokyo again which was good value for the money in Tokyo. The numerous one-night stays in SPG properties also allowed me to re-qualify as SPG Platinum for the next year which gives me breakfast and club access as well as complimentary internet and standard suite upgrades on availability upon check-in. I had booked a flight from Tokyo Haneda to Sapporo New Chitose with one of the leg being designated to be flown on a 787, all in economy as there was no point in paying more for a slightly better seat in a 80 minute plane ride.

In Hokkaido, I had booked a reservation with my friend, staying at two different places in Niseko for a total of 7 nights with 4 nights at Kimamaya by Odin and 3 nights at M Lodge. The main activity in winter for the whole of 6 days was obviously snowboarding, and that meant sore muscles at the end. This led to a Ryokan stay with breakfast and dinner included at Jyozankei Dai-ichi Hotel Suizantei. From Jyozankei, I would proceed to Sapporo where I had 2 nights booked at the Hotel Gracery Sapporo just opposite the JR Sapporo Station. Due to the late booking of the Sapporo hotel, I had to pay more for a double room used in single occupancy. I figured the extra space is worthwhile since I am travelling with my snowboard gear. But my redemption of miles only brought me to Japan, and I had to book another itinerary to bring me to Indonesia.

This was where I was lucky once again since the same airline company brought back the ‘puchase of miles’ promotion. I purchased more miles and got myself a ride back to Singapore on Air China via Beijing. The redemption for a North Asia to South Asia routing also had the same rules – one stopover allowed in addition to your final destination. My intended destination was Jakarta, but instead it became my ‘stopover’ to maximize the redemption value. South Asia included most of South East Asia as well as India, Pakistan, and the Maldives. India and Pakistan necessitated the application of more Visas, otherwise Delhi would sound like a good destination. Thus I managed a routing that includes a visit to visa-free Maldives. I have no idea what I am gonna do there myself but for the ticket to a new destination at no additional cost to me, I figured to just book it first and think later. So Male became my destination even though I would be spending just a few days there and Jakarta where I spent nearly 2 months became my ‘stopover’. But this flight left on the 3rd of January and this means I had to stay 2 more nights in Tokyo, where I chose another Hyatt – the Grand Hyatt Tokyo in Roppongi.

I have yet to plan for what is going to happen in the return trip but my remaining flights are all on Singapore Airline Business Class on routings from Jakarta-Singapore-Male-Singapore-Tokyo. I have another stopover night in Tokyo before the ride on ANA First to Los Angeles, a 2 night stopover in Los Angeles before a regional jet flight to Vancouver in the end of February. So there goes for this Prologue of an epic trip!

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