Day 2, Sat 3 Dec 16 – Sounkyo

Woke up to a glorious sunrise over Furano20161202_220312054_iosand scenes of tranquility from my room window.20161202_214221762_ios20161202_214241745_iosOur hotel booking didn’t come with breakfast and the only place that sold food at 7am was convenience stores. After confirming with the hotel staff that the nearest store was Lawsons at Furano Hospital, we headed out. 20161231_083820325_iosWe walked past the tourism association and the train station, and crossed the sheltered wooden Poppo Bridge. It had a lift. Good for the seniors in my group.The Lawsons was well stocked and we took away a hearty breakfast. Food turn cold fast in winter so we ate inside the JR Station instead of going back to our rooms. It was a small station with a noodle shop, vending machines and benches.

It was a pity we had to leave right after breakfast. There were other sights to explore like the Glass Forest and Jam Garden, and food to try like the curry at Yuiga Doxon and the milk pudding and double fromage cake at Furano Delice. Not forgetting the places we missed -Cheese Factory and Marche.  Well , I’ll have to keep all these for another time.furano-to-sounkyoThe plan for the day was to visit Asahiyama Zoo, have lunch at Asahikawa Ramen Village if we have the time, experience what minus 20 degrees celsius felt like at Hokkaido Ice Pavilion and end with dinner and a night at Sounkyo Onsen Choyo Resort Hotel. It was a pretty packed schedule so we drove straight to the zoo, bypassing the scenic road that cut through Biei and the famous patchwork road.20161203_020244072_iosWe chose to enter via the main entrance of Asahiyama Zoo. Not only was parking free, admission was also free for those 14 years and under. 20161203_020728435_ios20161203_021532619_iosThe zoo wasn’t big but it had interesting animal exhibits and signages all over.

Camera friendly penguin
Getting up close with swimming seals
Sticking our heads out to see the polar bear
Wise and majestic looking snow owl
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Red panda crossing a bridge right over our heads
Endangered snow leopard

20161203_050022302_ios20161203_023559473_iosI thought we could cover the place within 2 hours. But there were so many animals to see plus we had to walk carefully with all the snow and ice that we stayed for almost 4 hours. So lunch plan was changed from ramen village to the restaurant outside the seal museum. The menu consisted of the usual fare and ordering was by ticket machine.20161203_024855627_ios20161203_035448339_ios

Fried chicken, potato croquette with beef, Ezo deer cutlet
Asahiyama soy flavoured ramen

Beside the restaurant was a gift shop. There were the typical stuff toys and key chains and various stationery. Bought a limited edition bag cum snack box for my baby niece. 20161204_110504271_iosAround the zoo were capsule machines. I missed getting the one from Haneda Airport and was looking forward to getting a capsule item from Asahiyama Zoo. Too bad the latest edition were magnets which I couldn’t display since my fridge is not magnetic, and the past collections weren’t nice, so I didn’t get any.20161203_050112183_iosI did however tried my luck with Hello Kitty dressing up as Hokkaido wildlife. My younger daughter randomly picked a box and I got…HK 1                    20161204_111102955_iosIt was rather cute but also quite creepy looking.

The highlight of our visit was the surprise penguin parade right when we were making our purchases at the gift shop. My husband was on his way to get something from the car when he saw crowds of people lining the walking path. He enquired at the information counter and found out that the weather was cold enough for the parade. We hurriedly left the shop when we received his message and managed to catch the last part of the walk.img_1841Notice the little penguin on the right? It was super cute! Especially when it strayed from the group and tried to hop back onto the ramp leading to the enclosure.img_1844img_1848

Travel Tips:

  1. Always check the schedule of events when you arrive at every attraction. Even though the penguin parade at Arashiyama Zoo was one of my must see, I didn’t bother to check the parade times after I found out it usually took place in late December. So I was really glad we caught it.

Next up was the Hokkaido Ice Pavilion. Our cars were the only ones in the parking area and after going down to find out more about the place, we decided to give it a miss. It just didn’t seem worthwhile to pay 1,000 yen to experience what we were already experiencing, extreme cold. Thankfully, right beside the ice pavilion was Kita No Mori Garden, a tax free shop that sold all kinds of Hokkaido food products and souvenirs.20161203_064443832_iosUpon entering the building, we were given samples of piping hot pumpkin and corn soup, just what we needed in the freezing cold. My dad was so taken by it that he bought 5 packets. 20170105_123120847_iosWe spent quite a bit of time browsing through the shop and between the 10 of us, we managed to accumulate purchases worth more than 5,400 yen, so we got to enjoy tax free prices. By the time we left, the sun was almost setting. Good thing the hotel was only a short drive away and we arrived before it turned dark.

Sounkyo Onsen Choyo Resort Hotel was conveniently located right across a rather large stand-alone 7-11 store. Parking was in front of the hotel and was free. This was the only hotel I booked through Japanican as it wasn’t listed on Although the place looked rather rundown, the rooms seemed newly refurbished and were really pretty.

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Modern Twin Room

Because there were 10 of us, plus 2 buses of China tourists, the hotel arranged for our dinner to be at 6pm so that we could sit together. It was buffet but to my disappointment the spread wasn’t impressive. After 1 round of tasting, my favourite was kelp salad and puree pumpkin.  20161203_091654526_ios Our dinner came with 1 free drink per person. We were given the drinks menu but none of us could read Japanese. I tried asking a waiter but he couldn’t understand English. Finally a Chinese waitress explained that we could order hot/cold sake, and Asahi and Sapporo beer.20161203_083438761_ios

Travel Tips:

  1. When in need of assistance, check if there are Chinese speaking staff. Quite a number of hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions and shops employ people from China and Taiwan.

Although the usual practice is to visit the onsen before dinner, we didn’t have time earlier so we went after our meal. The hotel had 2 main onsen areas at B1. At any given time, one would be for female and the other for male. The one my girls and I went to was 大自然の湯「川の囁き」大自然の湯「川の囁き」It was at night so we couldn’t enjoy the outdoor view while soaking inside the indoor onsen. We tried going to the outdoor onsen but the water temperature was way too hot for us.大自然の湯「川の囁き」After a very thorough bath at the public shower area, we wore our unconventional onsen attire back to the room for a good night’s rest.20161203_214631395_ios

Travel Tips:

  1. Most onsen hotel rooms have very small bathrooms. Once you’re used to it, it’s actually nicer to bathe in the onsen shower area. Everything you need is there. But if you’re particular about your soap, shampoo and facial products, you can bring your own and leave them at one of the shower cubicles. After bathing, there are dressing tables where you can blow dry your hair and complete your facial regime.
  2. Remember to drink at least a cup of water after your onsen session to hydrate yourself. There’s usually a water cooler at the changing area.
  3. Some onsen hotels provide clips with your room number tag attached to it. These are for clipping your onsen slippers together when you leave them on the racks before entering the changing area. This helps to ensure your slippers won’t be worn out by others.

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