Ahhh again, when weeks passed by after a trip, my brain starts to take out some of the details which is very unfortunate as a blogger. So I will just try my very best to look back on this day to still make a comprehensive blog even with the delays!
Furano and Biei is a city and town in Hokkaido that traveller friends highly highly recommend. If you have time, budget, and energy to hop from one Hokkaido city to another, then you have to include Furano--and stay there for a night or two. I would have done so if not for time constraints and our huge maletas.
Furano / Biei are known for their lavender fields (Farm Tomita) with a wonderful view of the Mount Tokachi, the Blue Pond, and for their ski resorts. If you are into nature and the great outdoors, then make sure to visit Furano / Biei when you're on this side of Japan.
Cea and I woke up early for the day's tour. Although recommended to stay longer in Furano / Biei, we had limited time for this Japan trip and so we settled for a day-trip (which is possible and more sulit when you join a tour). Again, I found the tour via Klook so I don't have to research how to commute and where to go.
The Tour: Asahiyama Zoo and Shirogane Blue Pond Day Tour from Sapporo
Price per Head: Php 3348
The 12-hour group tour will take you to the nature side of Hokkaido, starting with the Asahiyama Zoo, followed by sight-seeing in the famous Shirogane Blue Pond and Shirahige Falls. We were also supposed to go to Ninguru Terrace but it was under construction when we arrived at the venue.
- Bus transportation from Sapporo TV tower, to the sights in Furano / Biei, and then back to Sapporo.
- Tour guide in the bus for some fun facts (although they usually speak in Japanese or Chinese, a headset is provided for English speakers).
- Ticket to the Asahiyama Zoo
- Buffet lunch in Kamifurano Herb Hill
- Tipping is not required
Cea and I had our quick breakfast in a neighbor kombini, then just walked to the Sapporo TV Tower which is barely 5 minutes away from our hotel. Again, I highly recommend Unizo Inn Sapporo for their great location (blogpost here).
We easily spotted the Sapporo TV Tower Information Center, which is the only opened office so early in the morning, located at the foot of the TV Tower. We stayed there with the others checking out other flyers featuring Hokkaido cities and activities, till the tour staff called us out for our bus. We left the meet up point 7:30am sharp.
We hopped in the bus and it was again another big group of travellers--mostly Japanese and Chinese. Bus is spacious and comfortable. Travel time is about 3 hours, so Cea and I just slept through the ride. I think we had one stop-over for toilet break.
We arrived at the Asahiyama Zoo so early that it was still closed! Some waited inside the bus with the heater like Cea, while I decided to go out to get some fresh air. There were about 3 tour buses that arrived and parked after us.
Nakakaaliw, after awhile I saw groups already hiking a nearby trail! Grabe talaga they love this kind of stuff noh!!
The parking + the rectangular structure is the zoo's entrance:
A few minutes later, all the tour groups were gathered in front of the entrance. Each group had an assigned cute animal signage, although I forgot if we were under team polar bear. They gave last minute reminders including meet up time, and then they just let all of us in to explore the zoo on our own (yey!).
A notable part of the zoo is that some of the signages per cage are artworks:
Cea was in charge of navigating the whole Asahiyama Zoo. Pag wala nang Google Maps, tulala na ako! Haha! It was very huge, so we just set our priorities namely to see the polar bears and penguins. Bonus nalang if we see more which we did! I think the allotted time in the zoo was just enough to go around. Just make sure to note and remember the gate you entered, at medyo we got confused 10 minutes before the meet up time and went to the far opposite entrance of the zoo akkkk! Sobrang laki pala nya!
Ang daming interesting animals in Asahiyama Zoo, and I think they all look healthy and alaga naman.
The Thing About Zoos....
A zoo is still a dilemma for me as I know the hidden implications of going in one: these animals do not belong anywhere but their natural habitat, and visiting a zoo is like supporting these animal prison cells. But recent articles also show why animals will live longer in a zoo: they have regular meals here compared to hunting in their environment, and temperature is more controlled (we see viral vids of dying polar bears out in the wild because of global warming). Also, they say that kids get to see real animals and learn a lot because of these zoos.
Again, it's a difficult issue but if I have a choice I wouldn't want to support zoos na talaga. It's a bit shady when I see fox and polar bears pose and walk the same route over and over again. Were they trained to do that? Were they harmed to follow instructions so precisely? Hoping hindi naman. Anyway, we were there because it was part of the Furano tour, and over-all naman the Asahiyama Zoo is very clean and well-maintained, and doesn't look kawawa.
I also read somewhere that Asahiyama Zoo created each animals' environment close to their natural habitats, and even the animals living in the same habitat are in the same space or close proximity to each other to maintain a symbiotic exhibit.
I learned from an IG story commenter that the hippos are the scariest. Statistics show that they have killed more humans than whales! Medj natakot ako while I look at them from their pool:
Asahiyama Zoo is also well-known for the different angles that you can see the animals:
Asahiyama penguins have performances daily, although di namin naabutan na sayang! They look so cute!
The longest line belong to the majestic polar bears:
This grizzly bear got mad at the ate, that he knocked the glass! Nagulat ako buti nalang matibay! Haha!
We were halfway the tour already after our time in the zoo, which means it's already lunch! The bus took us to the Furano Herb Garden for a Japanese buffet. Sayang, if it's summertime we would have had a nice view of the lavender fields!!!
I don't have a photo of the buffet set-up but I really appreciate the variety of food they serve. So far, a vegetarian like me never felt deprived in theses Klook group tours. Like the buffet we had the other day, we also had trays and filled it with different veggies, viands, rice, and noodles. They also have soups and desserts.
Just outside the food area is a lavender themed store! They have skincare, oils, pillows, and whatnots-- all with lavender as main ingredient, straight from their farm. Remember when Lush's Sleepy became a big deal??? The lavender stored caused the same commotion from our tour group!
The travellers, including Cea and I, spent a lot of time there checking out the assorted lavender products that they have. They also serve lavender ice cream but sa sobrang busy mag shopping di ko na natry huhu!
I bought an eye mask filled with dried lavender grains (for good night sleep), more packs of dried lavender grains, lavender body wash and scrubs, lavender lip balm, and a pack of lavender soap for pasalubong! I think my faves are the soap and body wash since I use them daily and they really smell good!
Cea after seeing everyone going crazy in the lavender store: Ang daming insomniacs sa mundo noh!? 😂😂😂
After lunch, we hopped in the bus for another 30-minute ride for the Shirogane Blue Pond. When we arrived in the area, parang sobrang isolated nya that Cea and I thought na mahirap sya icommute.
We had to climb these steel stairs na medyo panira ng mood, haha! Although I guess these were made so that heading for the blue pond will be more convenient at any age, and with zero skill requirement.
Thoughts and Facts about the Shirogane Blue Pond
1. This turquoise blue pond only received tourists' attention recently, but other than the scenery, there is not much to see and do when you go here. I guess the best talaga is to visit it with a tour so you just spend a few minutes there, then move on to the next activity (kesa pinag hirapan mo sya puntahan). Bus seems hard to catch in the area, so commuting is one less thing to worry about when you are part of a tour group.
2. What's attractive with the pond is its turquoise blue color that made it look more like a swimming pool than the usual brown murky ponds that I see. The color is not only because of the reflection of the sky, but also because of the natural minerals dissolved in the water that whitened the stones, making it appear bluer.
3. The pond's shades of blue also differ every season! It is even more turquoise during summer, so something to consider when your Hokkaido trip falls during this season.
4. Another remarkable thing about this pond are the skeletons of birch trees that once grew here, adding to its surreal vibe.
People took turns taking photos with the pond as background. The place seems to be peaceful and maybe even scary if not for the tourists going back and forth the vicinity.
Just a short bus ride away from the Blue Pond is the Shirahige Falls, which we viewed from up a high bridge. They say that the water from this falls flows to the Blue Pond, thus they have the same turquoise shade.
Like the pond, if you're looking for something more, then you might get disappointed. But as for me and Cea, we just strolled around, and took as much photos as we can, before returning to the bus. It also started to rain by this time, so it added to the mystic vibe of the location.
The nice sight kind of reminds me of photos from Iceland. I also received comments on my Instagram post that the Blue Pond looks very pang NatGeo! Haha! Now I really dream of seeing Iceland soont!
We headed for the final stop which is at the New Furano Prince Hotel to explore Ninguru Terrace, but when we arrived sarado sya for renovations. What a bummer. So the group just went back to the bus for our ride back to Sapporo. Medyo okay lang din since I had no expectations and we were already tired. Again, had plenty of sleep while on our comfy bus.
It was already dark when we reached the main city, about 7:15pm--the perfect time to look for a dinner place. Since it was also our last night in Hokkaido, Cea and I agreed to splurge a little. Air outside felt nice, like Christmas, after getting stuck in the bus for about 2+ hours. I asked Cea what she thinks of the day's tour, and since we both just wanted to see the Blue Pond irl, sulit naman ang day at binayad. Favorite part daw ni Cea yung lavender showcase, hahaha!
We chanced upon this very "hipster" alley while walking toward Susukino, and decided to check out the stores and restaurants. May isang second hand streetwear store selling Supreme, Bape, etc, but medyo intimidating so I just looked at it from outside, haha!
TBH, wala akong research except for ramen places in Sapporo, but umay na si Cea so we searched for other cuisines which we found in this corner.
Then we saw this signage: Mero Sapporo Cheese House. Can't say no to wine and cheese!!!
We waited a bit before they found us a table. The place looks very intimate, and even expensive LOL. They had no English menu, so medyo legit. The waiters are very pleasant looking and very accommodating, trying to interpret what they offer.
Cea and I ended up splitting a plate of pasta and an order of pizza. I also ordered one of their cheese selections since Hokkaido is said to be popular for their cheese and dairies, and ang liit ng serving size but masarap! Of course I ordered a glass of their "cheapest" wine, although hindi din sya cheap ha! Haha. Needless to say, it was our most expensive meal for this trip! But with the tiring day, a homey warm vibe to stay on this cold autumn night in Hokkaido, plus the delicious pairings served... everything's perfect. ❤