Looking through the photos of my Hokkaido trip in February makes me really happy. It has been so long since I traveled in winter (since Scandinavia in 2012). Can’t wait to share more with you – it was such a joy to see snow daily (almost) for 10 days!
My Hokkaido highlights were the snow festivals, skiing in Niseko and day trips to Asahikawa and Otaru. The snow festivals were my main reasons for visiting Hokkaido when it is super crowded, super cold and super peak. I was shocked to find most hotels fully booked in early December!
Took a 1.5 hr train ride to Asahikawa on the first day of its snow festival as I wanted to catch the opening ceremony. I heard there will be fireworks 🙂 When I goggled about this city, its ramen and zoo were highly recommended. So that summed up my itinerary.
I decided to get discount tickets (a combo of train as well as bus and entry to the zoo tickets) at the JR office in the Sapporo Train Station – more value for money. Had to stand for almost half the train ride as I could not get a reserved seating ticket – so either get one to get a seat or queue at the platform earlier (not recommended in winter though!).
Asahikawa train station is definitely more modern than I imagined. I like its quiet vibes.
The train station is connected to the bus interchange, a hotel (JR Inn) and a shopping mall (AEON).
There’s even a park besides it. Stepped out of the train station to check out Asahikawa Park. Winter air is fresh – cold and crisp.
The first thing I checked out upon reaching a city is usually the tourist information centre – very useful if you have not done your homework about the destination. The folks at the Asahikawa Tourist Information Centre at the train station shared some great tips – a map of ramen shops near the station (and even recommended a few to try), directions to the snow festival and programme line-up (including the fireworks at 7 pm).
Entered Ramen-Santouka – the first ramen shop I chanced upon as I walked down the street as directed by the tourist information centre. The ramen was so good (the noodles are chewy and the soup full of flavors) that I wished I had planned a 2-day trip that will give me more time to try more Asahikawa ramen!
Ramen-Santouka food porn. Looks yummy, doesn’t it?
After one of the best shoyu ramen I have ever eaten, I headed back to the train station to catch the bus to the Asahiyama Zoo. Like the train ride, I couldn’t beat the long queue and had to stand throughout the 30-minute ride. Meh.
But the destination, Asahiyama Zoo is one of the prettiest zoo I have ever been to! Saw many Hokkaido animals and they were so active in winter!
Entry to Asahiyama Zoo – my first time to a zoo in winter!
Meet the bears.
The red pandas.
The Japanese cranes.
View of Asahiyama Zoo. It doesn’t look like a zoo right?
Another queue had started to form at the Asahiyama Zoo as people tried to get a good spot for the Penguin Walk – a winter highlight at the zoo.
They like to move it, move it!
Strutting their stuff.
Close-up! The last time I came so close to these divas was at the Penguin Island in Melbourne in sunny summer though… And no photos allowed then!
So I was at Asahiyama Zoo on 7 Feb 2018. See those colorful ice blocks? They will hold candles to light up the zoo at night during the snow festival. Too bad I could not stay for the night.
Next up was the Asahikawa Snow festival with two main sites – Asahibashi Bridge with the giant snow sculpture and the Heiwa Dori pedestrian street with the ice sculpture competition. Took the bus from the train station (had to stand the entire ride again) to the former where I saw my first fireworks show in winter! Watch the video here.
The giant snow sculpture at the 2018 Asahikawa Snow Festival was of the Hokkaido animals. Can you spot them?
Besides the ice block, there were many little snowmen along the festival trail to guide visitors. So cute!
After the festivities at Asahibashi Bridge, I saw the artists hard at work at Heiwa Dori on my way back to the train station. A pity that I could not see the finished sculptures . If you want to see them, it might be a good idea to visit Asahikawa on the last day of the snow festival.
This summed up my day at Asahikawa. Shall press about Otaru next and I hope it will not take too long. Till then!