From 25 Dec 2016 to 1 Jan 2017, my family decided to go tour northern China under a package by ASA. This proposal began as a graduation trip between my sister and her friend. Then, my parents decided to join and lastly, me! At first I really regretted joining because of a few reasons. Firstly, I felt like I’ve been to too many places this year and another trip seems extravagant. I also kept my trip privy to a close circle of friends to avoid people from thinking that I’m too rich. Additionally, this trip isn’t cheap and I always had second thoughts about my travel company (i.e. My family) because my mom especially was overly excited and prepares excessively for the trip which put me off. There are also other minor reasons like spending more time to rest/study in sg etc.
I’m writing this on the 5/8th day of the trip and so far everything actually has been quite enjoyable. So far I already experienced a few firsts, like first white Christmas and first time seeing snow fall from the sky!
Actually the trip wasn’t all smooth from the start. Even before the trip, my parents and I had ‘debates’ over decisions like how to get to the airport and what to buy for the trip. It was quite stressful for me because all these added to my regret for joining. At the airport, my dad and I also had a quarrel but thankfully it ended there and we didn’t bring the bad blood to China.
We took a scoot flight at 3am and reached around 7h later. There’s nothing significant about this I guess, except that we took a bus to reach our aircraft and I didn’t know that some flights had such arrangements. The flight also included a meal but besides these, the flight (even the views) were unremarkable.
Upon reaching the arrival hall of Shen Yang airport, my first impression is that the car park look extremely nice because it’s covered in snow! And I’ve seen such a scenery before but after 5 days I think I was just extremely awestruck at that point in time haha. Over the next few days, I saw a lot of things covered in snow – vegetation, rooftops, cars, roads etc. And everything looks really nice especially if the snow is white and clean. It seems to cover all the dullness of man made structures, instantly turning them into something magical.
The first thing that we did that day was to have lunch. I was so excited because we were brought to a restaurant (and similarly for all subsequent meals:)) to taste the local cuisine of the area, which typically includes pork stewed in sour vegetables, steamed fish, mixed vegetables (which definitely will include Jew ear), sweet and sour pork, and last but not the least, 2 bottles of local beer and 1 bottle of soft drink (even though technically speaking, these beverages aren’t local).
After lunch we headed to the first attraction of the day, which was the Palace. Contrary to its counterpart in Beijing, this one is 11x smaller in size and less impressive both internally and externally. Due to destruction during the Japanese colonial rule, most structures were also the reconstruction efforts of the Chinese people. The entire tour was very fast and naturally my family lagged behind because we wanted to take photos and appreciate everything properly. Although our guide was explaining the origin of this place to us, the story was too complicated to and I didn’t understand anything… Too many names and relationship between the people involved. Generally, my impression is that the fixes inside the palace weren’t impressive or complicated. The people who lived inside sat on simple chairs and slept on simple beds. The nice part is perhaps the place is big and has many sub-houses for different purposes.
The second attraction was the Zhang Mansion, which honest I had no idea why we even went there… I certainly don’t know about the person that this mansion is famous for. And couldn’t appreciate the building and description. Oh Wells… I guess these are attractions typical of a city and they aren’t too interesting.
Last attraction of the day was The Frontier Bank, which is a museum of the bank owned by the aforementioned person. This was slightly more interesting because the ground floor is the replica of a bank and it has many wax figures which depicted the hustle and bustle at this bank. They were well made and lifelike and although there’s not much point viewing them or much time seeing the descriptive exhibits on other floors, we had fun taking photos with the wax figures.
We had delicious roast duck for dinner and went to Maritim hotel, which is in the outskirts. It is extremely huge and has a European exterior. Inside, it is a mini versailles as there are many wall paintings on its high arc ceilings. Generally, the entire place was empty and spacious. At night, we took a walk around the hotel and took some photos around the beautiful hotel.
On the second day, we spent the morning travelling to 长春, which is a producer of cars and is plagued by traffic jams. Interesting thing happened on the way there – the highway was closed to our tour bus due to snowfall from the previous day and everyone went to take the high speed railway which brought us to the location. We wanted to catch an earlier train but missed it 😦 and so spent around 1h walking around the station and taking photos. Not sure if our ride is a bullet train but it was certainly smooth. Along the way, the scenery was beautiful as we could see snow covered farms for the entire 1.5h of the journey (which i slept for more than half of the time). We reached around noon and first thing of the agenda is to eat. (this tour has a large focus on meals and everyday, there’s a special cuisine featured. Not sure if they’re tryna to appeal to Singaporeans or maybe there’s nothing better to do around here). Lunch was at a local eatery. Although everything was simple, the cuisine is Chinese food and more attuned to our palate. Everyone on my table agreed that this has been one of the better meals. Outside the eatery, there was a few snowmen!!! So cute!
Later, we went to a skiing attraction but instead of skiing, sat on a dog-led sleigh, go-kart on ice and a horse-led sleigh. The dog sleigh was a particularly heart breaking because the dogs were so freaking small and could barely move me and my sister along. They all barked when we arrived, as if warning one another for more torture that was about to come. Sighs poor things. The horse ride was better although it had to pull 4 people instead of 2. Also got to ride the horse to take a photo heh #khaleesi
By then, my fingers and toes were in pain due to inadequate dressing for the weather. So had to sit out the go kart and cycling-on-ice to warm up at a small hut. 🙂 The views were spectacular as it’s our first time seeing large, uninterrupted snow covered plains. Nearby, there were people skiing. Overall it was still kinda underwhelming because the guide described it to be so much fun but in fact, it is very small scale and run by enterprising individuals who pulled some resources to make this happen. Their work is extremely tedious as the cold temperatures are no joke and I think it’s equally if not more difficult for the animals too…
That night, we were staying in the city so the folks and I decided to take a walk around our area. We stopped by a fruit stall to buy some nuts, apples and black berries and later walked to a nearby park to take photos! The temperate trees, warm street lights and cold weather make the park very romantic and of course a scenic photo spot.
On day 3, we journeyed to Harbin for half day (as usual), in anticipation for the evening highlights, which are also the main attractions for the entire trip – snow and ice sculpture festival. It’s the largest in the world and I’ve seen it on TV a few times; everything looks spectacular and magical. Imagine ice cubes that melt in summer and that big ice blocks so sturdy in the cold weather that it can form structures for humans to walk on! AMAZING. The organisers here also have a way with lighting up these ice sculptures in a way that make them even more appealing and dazzling especially at night.
First, we went to ‘Sun Island’ which hosted a snow sculpture festival with a few ice sculptures also available for viewing. It’s so fascinating to imagine the snow sculptors standing on solid blocks on snow at least 10m while working their magic. I think this shows, very importantly, exactly how COLD it is and what a great opportunity to enjoy this before global warming melts everything before know it, right? To reach Sun Island, we crossed a bridge that stretched over a frozen 松花江, which runs across a lot of places which we’ve been. There were workers digging up pure, huge ice blocks from the frozen lake for later uses in making ice sculptures. Then we boarded a small trailer that led us to the biggest attraction of the festival, a snow sculpture called 恋歌. Mom previously saw this on the newspaper and to be able to view it in real life is indeed a great blessing. 🙂 However the time provided was extremely short and we rushed to cover ground instead of appreciating what there were.