Half board, Yukata, and Japanese baths at Noboribetsu Grand Hotel – Review
If you read my last post for my one day itinerary of Noboribetsu, you will remember that I mentioned staying at Noboribetsu Grand Hotel. This is my review of my stay and also my experience with the different facilities in the hotel. I hope you find this helpful in deciding where to stay while in Noboribetsu Onsen.
Booking Noboribetsu Grand Hotel
I did my reservation on Expedia. For those joining us for the first time, I have always been an advocate of Expedia more than that of Agoda. The reason here being that I tend to get the best rates from Expedia thanks to their highly generous price guarantee programme. Unlike Agoda, Expedia appears to normally not only match the lower price but refund you the difference. So for example you booked a room for USD125 on Expedia and discover a similar room going for USD100. Expedia will refund you USD50 (USD25 to match and another USD25). If you would like to know more, you can read about it here. That said, Agoda sometimes offer pretty good rates especially through their secret deal programme. I covered some Agoda travel hacks in my other post where I teach you how to “cheat” when using their secret deal feature.
Interestingly, the hotel offers something called “half board”. Noboribetsu Grand Hotel offers a dinner package on top of the usual morning breakfast. This I believe is for the benefit of the hotel’s guests as Noboribetsu Onsen is really out of the way and there are not many restaurants able to cater to the large number of tourists visiting the area. When I booked, I had no idea what this “half board” will be like. Fortunately for you, I documented by dinner (with loads of photos) and will be sharing them with you below.
Good Location for Noboribetsu Grand Hotel
The hotel is ideally located being about 200m from the bus stop where you will be dropped off when coming in from Noboribetsu Station. The hotel is prominently located and is easy to spot once you get off the bus. There is therefore no need to worry of getting out your maps/phone to find your way and/or the hassle of dragging your luggage around the small town.
While walking over to the hotel, try to see if you can make out the slight smell of sulphur in the air!
Checking-in at Noboribetsu Grand Hotel
Check-in time is 3pm. The hotel staff at Noboribestu Grand Hotel appears to be very particular with this. Unlike other hotels that will process your check-in and then inform you to return at a later time to collect your keys, staff here appear to not entertain any such check-ins. Instead, they will politely inform you of the check-in time and ask if you would like to deposit your luggage with them. We just dropped our luggage with them before heading out for our lunch and visiting Hell Valley, Oyunuma Pond and also the Oyunuma River Foot Bath.
By the time we were done with our foot baths at Oyunuma River Foot Bath and having walked back to the hotel, it was already 4.20pm. We proceeded to the reception for our check-in. The staff spoke good English and it check-in was quick. We were asked to select our dining slot. Apparently, this hotel splits its dinner timing into two blocks: 5.30pm to 7pm and 7.30pm to 9pm. This may be to help facilitate with crowd control and ensure that the restaurant isn’t too pack.
We decided to go for the earlier slot as this would free up the rest of the evening for us to enjoy the Japanese Baths provided at the hotel.
Rooms at Noboribetsu Grand Hotel
Wow! This room was much larger than the one we had stayed at while in Hakodate. Although a bit dated, the room was spacious. We did not get the feeling that we had to squeeze past each other and/or get around our luggage to move about the room. The sheets were clean and the beds soft. The room also had the expected writing desk, beverage area and an in-room safe.
One interesting observation I had would be how the toilets/bathroom are done up in the rooms. Having travelled quite a bit, I have not seen a prefabricated toilet/bathroom installed in a hotel room. However, it appears to be the norm at least in all the hotels I stayed while in Japan. You will notice that the bathrooms look out of place and often not flushed against the floor of the room being slightly elevated. While not a major point, it still marks something unique.
Speaking of uniqueness, for those travelling to Japan expect to be amazed by their butt washing technology. Most of their modern toilets are equipped with special toilet seats that come with washlets. Washlets have heated toilet seats and also water spray technology that helps wash sensitive parts. I assure you that water results in a much cleaner surface than plain old toilet paper. The heated seats felt great especially in the morning. No more cold shocks!
Other than the usual green tea bags, the hotel doesn’t offer any other beverages. There are, however, vending machines out along the corridor and also at the ground floor where the gaming machines are located. Yes, there are slot machines in the hotel. For a sure-win machine, be sure to try out the drinks and ice cream vending machine. These “slots” offer a 100% win rate!
Before I forget, the rooms have each a stack of yukatas of varying sizes. There is a sheet explaining how to wear and also the corresponding sizes for different height ranges. Girlfriend insisted we wear that for dinner ><. The instructions are self-explanatory. However, the only things left unsaid was what do you wear beneath your yukata and also how to tie the belt. For me, I went with a pair of shorts (for some sense of decency) and I decided to recall from memory the knot I used to tie for my judo gis. I thought the knot would be appropriate (well… they are all Japanese belts and knots right?).
Dinner Service / Half Board at Noboribetsu Grand Hotel
We were down at the Grand Hall at 5.30pm sharp and there was a queue already. I soon found out why.
Dinner service is actually a buffet service. So it made sense to go early to maximise your allocated 1.5 hours. The spread is wide so take your time to go scout for the good stuff. Once you are done, join the queue and collect your plates, chopsticks and utensils before eating your money’s worth. Some of the better items would be the sushi, the crabs, tempura (did you know tempura is a portuguese dish?), the roast beef section and also the desserts. I shall let my photos do the talking:
All in all, the food was pretty good. Don’t expect anything outstanding though.
While there are service stands pouring out beers on tap, do not be tricked into believing it is part of the dinner. Alcoholic beverages are additional items. Poor me was “forced” to buy two drinks as I felt too embarrassed to cancel my orders for fear of appearing to be a cheapo.The drinks, in any event, per affordable.
Japanese Baths at Noboribetsu Grand Hotel
This was one of the more authentic baths I have experienced so far. Authentic here refers to the type of baths on offer. If you read my post on my half day Bangkok Itinerary, you will have read about me soaking in a “Japanese” onsen while in Bangkok. I had also tried out Korean baths while in Seoul and Busan last year.
The actual bath experience is about the same. You can’t really bathe differently can you?
But what sets these baths apart is the type of baths offered. The baths in Bangkok and Korea either used ordinary water or water artificially enhanced with minerals. The onsen at Noboribetsu taps into the natural sulphur rich waters in the region and is evident from the cloudy greyish brown colour of the water. The onsen also offers the more typical salt baths and also iron baths (pools filled with water rich in iron). Each type of bath has own benefits but since we are in Noboribetsu, I decided to soak longer in the sulphur baths.
One awesome feature at Noboribetsu Grand Hotel’s onsen is its outdoor baths. The hotel offers both indoor baths and outdoor baths. I encourage everyone to try the outdoor baths. Brave the cold, run out nude before dipping into that soul comforting hot pool. The experience is truly enjoyable and beyond words. Just imagine the temperature being close to 0 and you just laze about in the warm pool with snow falling all about you. Perfect.
I will explain in another post how such baths work for those interested. It is really an eye opening experience especially for visitors not used to nude bathing!
Breakfast at Noboribetsu Grand Hotel
Breakfast was again at the Grand Hall. However, unlike dinner service, there are no specified time slots for breakfast (i.e. No split service). Instead, breakfast is from 7-9am. The spread is wide with the usual (bread, yogurt, sausages for a more Western oriented breakfast and porridge, miso, rice for a more Oriental breakfast). Okay, that was an understatement. The spread is quite varied as is evident from the photos below. Nothing too spectacular but do keep an eye out for the Natto beans.
I think this is one unique item on the buffet spread. Natto beans are fermented soybeans. The way you prepare Natto beans is to pour soy sauce (yes, let it soak in its own essence) over it and give it a good mix. It will become all slimy and sticky. Pop that goo over a hot bowl of rice and it’s ready to eat. Taste wise, it tastes better than it looks. Just make sure you have a napkin to wipe away that goo on your lips!
Checking out and heading back to Noboribetsu Station
Checking out was easy. The staff had no difficulty in locating my bill from the previous night. I was in and out within 3 minutes. Heading over to the bus station took another 3 minutes.
And we were stuck.
We had forgotten to check the bus schedule and had to wait. So, please either check the timing the day before when you arrived or pop by to the station after your hike. Beats waiting at the station with your luggage.
For those headed to Sapporo, there is a bus service from Noboribetsu. 1.5 hours if I’m not wrong. You can consider this if you don’t already have a rail pass activated.
For us, it was back to the railway station and on the next Sapporo bound train.
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