Thursday, June 11, 2009

Day 6: Awesome Asahikawa

It was our final morning in Biei and Potato No Oka.  We were leaving for Asahikawa and Asahidake Onsen in the Daisetsuzan National Park.  It was raining quite heavily, as we waited for Mr Marushima to give us a ride to Biei central.  It had been a lovely stay but all good things must come to an end.

little homey touches

We asked Mr Marushima if everyone was alright.  Apparently, an ambulance had been called because one of the guests, a little girl from a Singaporean family, had been running a high fever.  The hostel staff had deemed it prudent to send her to the nearby hospital for a check-up.  She was fine now, according to him.

Outside Biei station, we waved goodbye to Mr Marushima and went to catch our train.

a wet day indeed

The reason why we had left so early was that we had decided to squeeze in a visit to the Asahiyama Zoo in Asahikawa.  That hadn't been on our original itinerary.  We like animals but we are selective when it comes to zoos.  There aren't many that surpass Singapore's Mandai Zoo.  Asahiyama Zoo hadn't been on our radar but since we arrived in Sapporo, we had come across lots of publicity for the zoo and it didn't look half bad.  A chance to see temperate climate animals and an opportunity to do something other than gaze at fields,  so why not, we thought.

We left our luggage in lockers at the Asahikawa train station and headed out to the bus stop.  It was cold out, 12 degrees before wind chill, but we weren't the only ones queuing for the No. 47 bus.  We stood there, munching on our bread, our breakfast that morning.

wow, so many people even on a rainy day

The ride to the zoo took more than half an hour.  When we got there, it was still wet and even more cold.  The first thing we did was to buy a piping hot can of coffee to warm ourselves up with!

welcome to Asahiyama Zoo

And then off we went to see the animals.  One of the first enclosures was an aviary.

amazing, tropical flamingos!

mute swan

tufted duck


common pochard

Next up were the penguins.

entrance to the viewing gallery - cute!

silhouette of penguin in the water

a timely reminder

the four types of penguins on display

Then we went out to the open-air viewing area.

"wow, people are so strange!"

"alright, let's all air our armpits!"

"Ok, ok, so I'm moulting... Big deal..."

we were lucky to catch the feeding session

"Oooff... Gotta lose some weight..."

"And now, introducing our latest penguin star!"

"What... What... What..."

"Do I look better from the left or from the right?"

there was an intruder

this poor raptor - a white-tailed sea eagle, I believe - was bound to a stand

The other big star of the zoo was the polar bear.

all squashed in the viewing gallery for a glimpse of the feeding session

the poor man holding up a "please do not use a flash" sign

scarfing down his lunch

it was really crowded in there, so we were quite pleased indeed to see this

after-lunch stupor

I have to say it was nice to see polar bears with white fur, not like the slightly green ones we get at home, no thanks to fungal growth.

Other than the penguins and the polar bears, we focused on the animals of Hokkaido and the northern hemisphere, and gave the tropical animals like the lions and elephants a miss.

a lesser panda

a wolf

ezo deer

a snowy owl

Japanese macaques

Japanese macaques

Japanese macaques

At some point, we needed a snack to keep our internal furnaces burning in the cold...

more Hokkaido milk and a hot dog

... and a toilet break of course.

hehe only for boy bears

only for girl bunnies

Then we couldn't resist dropping by the petting zoo.

domestic ducks

domestic ducks

kiddy introducing herself to domestic ducks


guinea pigs

hey doesn't that look like Hutch from Curse of the Were-rabbit?

no, probably not part of the petting zoo per se

a goat

a sheep

not an exhibit either but really hello kitty boxer shorts are kinda hard to ignore


By this time, we were in need of a hot meal and so we decided to leave.  It was a good thing we did.  Back at the train station, we dropped by the Tourist Information Centre to ask for a good lunch recommendation.  The English-speaking officer on duty, no doubt excited at having someone to practise his spoken English on, insisted on helping us with our travel arrangements, even though we did not in fact ask for any help with that!  He went to great lengths to explain which bus to take (bus no. 66 from outside the station - we already knew that) and dug around for a bus schedule.  To our shock, the timings for the bus were a whole hour earlier than what we had been told at the Biei Tourist Information Centre. Imagine if we hadn't returned from the zoo early.  We might have missed the last bus for the day and not made it to Asahidake Onsen for the night, not without incurring a massive taxi fare anyway.  Phew, that was a close call.

Abandoning all thought of a good place for lunch, we just popped into an eatery at the train station itself and had ourselves a set with...

a gyu don (beef bowl) and

and a bowl of Asahikawa shoyu ramen.

It was a bit of a rush but we caught the bus without further incident.  The ride cost 1320¥ (SGD$21.12) per person.

When we arrived at Asahidake Onsen, it was raining.  What was it with onsens and the rain?!  We had to stop and ask a friendly obaasan for directions but we made it through the rain.  Finally, we were out of the wet and cold and in a nice hotel.

The Asahidake Bearmonte looked every bit as posh as we had been told.  Once again, it wasn't a traditional ryokan.  It was a large ryokan hotel, like the Shirogane Kankou, but certainly more upmarket, newer and more classy.

When checking in, we asked to see Mr Watanabe.  When he emerged from the office, HM giggled - Mr Watanabe had Koizumi hair.  We conveyed Mr Matsuda's regards as requested.

Our room was very pleasing to the eye.

clean lines

standard toilet cubicle

standard bathroom cubicle

the in-room tea set

our view

We couldn't believe our eyes - was that snow in June?!  It was still light out so we had to go out and have a look.

the lift lobby

a quick look down our corridor

uh huh it was indeed the last of the snow!

We noticed the Asahidake Visitors' Centre across the road and dropped in to find out more about the trails.  We were left in no doubt that this was snow country.

snow plough?

skis and snow shoes

We found out that the Asahidake Ropeway was closed that day, as a result of strong winds.  We hoped that weather conditions would be better the next day and that we would have the chance to take the ropeway to the Sugatami Trail.

Back at the hotel, we were a tad disappointed to find that, once again, dinner would not be served ensuite, but we could see why.  The guests seemed to be either savvy cosmopolitan travellers - been there, done that - or local tourists on those coach tours for whom the opportunity to tuck into an international buffet must be a rare luxury.

After dinner, we ventured forth to the baths.

the ladies' bath

Unlike the one at Shirogane Kankou, this one was noisier and busier, filled with the aforementioned coach tourists. It wasn't so crowded that we didn't have space to ourselves, but we did miss the peace and quiet we had experienced previously.

Still, scrubbed and soaked, we retired early.


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