A Travellerspoint blog

Ice Ice Baby

Ice and Snow Festivals - Russian

snow -23 °C

It freezing outside its roughly -15 atm. The high for today was -8 but at least it was sort of sunny, well more glary actually.

Flight to Harbin took roughly 3 hours from Beijing. We decided to take a bus but it was harder then we thought. We really didn't know which bus to take so trying to communicate with anybody was a mess. Even after showing the chinese written address of the hotel, the 4-5 people trying to help us still weren't sure which one would take us there. Eventually one of them pointed to one bus and we got on and off we went. it took around 45 mins to get to the city, we got off only because the driver kept calling out our hotel name. It seemed that the driver asked someone who spoke English to let us know we had to take a taxi. We got dropped off in a street corner and hailed for the taxi.

Harbin has some 39 million people, 4 million in the city. Its one of the smaller provinces but was much busier then Beijing.
Alot of people go home to their families during the spring festival as they get one week off the celebrate the new year.

You can really feel the bite in the air, but it was sunny so it didn't feel so bad. We thought we'd go venture around the pedestrian street Zhongyang Dajie where some buildings looked european and it is said to be one of the longest pedestrians street in Asia. It is lined with cobblestone so it was a bit hard walking on when there was snow everywhere.

We then went to St Sophia church which looks Russian. Though I could not see any Russians in sight.
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The first few hours of adjusting to the cold is the hardest so we looked for somewhere to escape the freeze and landed in a All you can eat buffet on the top floor of some building. The meal wasn't cheap but the variety was bigger then anything I'd seen. There was eight buffet stalls each serving with about 20 different varieties of food. Some of them we were too scared to touch. I loved the Taro Puff Pie and the Green Tea Cake. Unfortunately they didn't take Mastercard, so some waiter escorted me to the nearest ATM while he told the girls what had happened, they all giggled like they'd been told a dirty secret.
Satisfied we walked down the street and was surprised that Zhaolin Park was so close. Even though we were tired and frozen we thought we would still check it out. Its like a miniture version of the Ice and Snow festival but with ice sculptures around the world. I really like Thailand's ice carvings. They were very defined. My dad said they were good at wood carving so that probably explains it, since I don't think its ever snowed in Thailand. Though I don't know if it was worth the entry fee. Cost us 200RMB ($30AUD).

We then went home to thaw before the next day began.

Today we went to Sun Island Snow Festival. Instead of ice, its snow. Hundrerds of different snow scupltures around the park. Massive ones that went up to 500meters in length. The snow in Harbin is so soft and squeaky and powdery. It doesn't turn to ice when you step on it. So we had a bit of a snow fight to lighten up my mood. Coming back was annoying, we couldn't find a taxi driver to use the meter and kept giving us a set price. We eventually agreed to pay for an amount double what we paid coming there, but I guess it would of been the same if we told a taxi to wait for us.
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I was really feeling my sickness creep in and slept the rest of the day, too tired we had room service before we headed off to the Ice Festival.
When you're out with temperatures this low and windy, your nose starts to run your face starts to burn, wearing a balaclava isn't such a bad idea. I had about 6 layers of clothing on and 3 pairs of socks, my pants that I had especially bought for this day made me look like I had a doonah around each thigh.

The place was busy when we drove in, the guy gave me a card written in English asking if he wanted us to wait for him for a certain price. We decided that this would be the best because I did not want to get stranded there and pay double the price. Tickets to the festival were expensive! 350RMB or $60AUD. Though it was well worth it. The place looked like disney land on ice, the ice sculptures were built like palaces. You can slide down some and can get a bit of speed. There was a dancing stage where people would dance to Western songs. It seems like hugging the ice was something they liked to do in their photos. There was also a snow slope at the back of the fesitval, a little ice maze too and rides. The place was brightly lit with all the lighting in the ice as it changed colour every few seconds. We could also see from a distance some kids playing on a tractor that shovels up snow. it was kinda funny watching them.

We'd seen all the ice and snow, so now we're ready to go to Chengdu. Where it will be a lot warmer and hopefully get to see some pandas.
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Posted by Luke_n_Bim 22.02.2011 16:00 Archived in China Tagged snow ice harbin Comments (0)

Year of the Rabbit

Summer Palace - Ditan Temple Fair

overcast 11 °C

We've had a real blast in Beijing, we hope that theres more great times ahead.
Heading off to Harbin tomorrow which is located further north and alot more freezing then here.

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Yesterday we went to the Summer Palace.
For some reason we couldn't find any information on how to get there besides getting a cab or a bus, but you can get off at Xiyuan station and walk 10 mins west. I assumed that this place would've looked better during Summer or Spring than in the bitter winter. The sun dissapeared behind the clouds, the skies turned grey as we ventured around Kunming Lake. We didn't get too far until we discovered an area where we could jump down to walk on the icy lake. I don't know wether this was a good thing or not, It probably took us longer to slip and slide our way across then to actually stop and visit the sites. Nevertheless we still continued to head to the other side.
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You could probably spend a whole day there, the kind of day you would bring snags to have a bbq... but in china you would bring tea and noodles.
After crossing the lake we realised we missed most of the sites so we took another route and found more temples. You can go in to some of the halls and see their ancient costumes, jewellery and other intricate work, so it shows a fair bit of history than the other places we went to. We also managed to see the, 'Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha' haha.The iconic Octagonal tower watches over the rest of the palace and stands over 41 meters high.

On the way home we decided to visit the Hutongs, most of them were destroyed to make rooms for the new beijing but a few are still scattered around the city. Hutongs are long narrow small roads where Beijingers use to live. The place is like a maze and got kind lost until we saw train station signs again.

As it was Lunar Eve, we could already hear the firecrackers and smell the sulphur in the air. Even though we'd been hearing fireworks since we got here. We decided to head back and relax before the partying began.

It was nearing 10pm so we thought we would head out and celebrate the welcoming of the year of the rabbit.
Looking out from the Hotel we could see fireworks from all over the city.
We'd been asking around and eventually decided on Sanlitun St. Apparently this was where all the nightlife was at...and where all the foreigners went.
We thought we would buy some fireworks since it was the season to do so. We didn't have a place in mind but ended up in a place where there was drunk chinese girls dancing. We stayed because Luke bought 6 beers for 60RMB or $10AUD. I drank a couple more cocktails and soon it was go go gadget. Met a couple of expats and ended up hangout with them for the rest of the night. We had to go back to the Hotel to get more money and seemed it had just turned midnight as the whole city felt like a psychedelic warzone. Which ever direction you looked there was fireworks going nuts.
It was probably the best taxi ride of my life! Going down the streets and seeing all different types of fireworks lighting up the sky. Sometimes people would just put them near the road so it would go off infront of cars. It was awesome.

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Headed back to Sanlitun to continue down the street. I couldn't remember the name. Gentle, the Nigrian guy who we had met took us to a club where they were serving free drinks till 5am. You can imagine how packed the bar was while the two bartenders casually poured the drinks to the random chosen.Trying to get a drink almost turned out to be a big fail until some guy had helped me get my long island ice tea. I thought it would be watery like their beer, but it did not disappoint.

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Now I don't want to sound racist or anything, but as I was absorbing the atmosphere I noticed that over half the people were black. It was not because they were black, it was because we were in a black club in beijing celebrating chinese new year that it hit me, I am wasted!
Needing some air, we took a break and went outside. It was probably below 0 but couldn't feel a thing. Right out the front door they were exploding dozen of fire crackers, we found everything hilarious at that stage. Maybe someone spiked our drink, who knows... all we knew was that we were having the time of our life.

It was getting late, 6am to be exact. We still had plenty of things to do the next day, so we decided to head off. We thought a taxi would be hard to come by, but good ol Beijing is plentiful with them. As we were getting in, three black guys start running towards us liked a crazed maniacs calling out "taxi taxi". The driver spoke his chinese words which we interpreted, "hurry the hell up and close the door". So we slammed the door and watch the three men disappear into the early morning.

We woke up 1pm today. Dammit! Missed out on the Temple of Heaven.
We decided to go to Ditan Park Temple Fair while it was still light. These fairs are always held during the spring festival, and are pretty much what you would expect any fair to look like. They must been really keen on that Angry Birds app as there was stuffed toys of them everywhere. One place offered a scarf beanie for 80RMB and didn't want to bargain, but when I went to another person, she was selling them for 35RMB for the same scarf. pffft
Damn you two currency system!!!

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We were hungry and decided to eat somewhere nice. There was restaurant near our Hotel called Da Dong which serves Peking Duck so it sounded like the best option. The chefs in the middle were surrounded by roasting ovens on each corner and a koi pond around them made a nice setting. They carved up the duck infront of us and we wrapped it in our little pancakes. During this time, a lot of restaurants give you small little red envelops which are gifts. I think mainly they are for money, but we got fresh fruit and fairy floss. It was a lovely.
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After dinner we remembered we still had our fireworks from the night before. We went into the street near our hotel and lit them up. It was a fitting way to end our stay in Beijing.

Posted by Luke_n_Bim 03.02.2011 03:39 Archived in China Comments (0)

The Great Wall - Mutianyu Section

sunny 11 °C

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Just got back from a tour the Hotel organised for us to see the "Great Wall'. The bus left at 8am and along the way we stopped to pick up a Swedish doctor and also some pommy backpackers. The first place we stopped was the Ming Tombs where 13 Ming Dynasty Emperors were buried. It was a nice stroll down a road called 'the spirit way' which was lined with statues of guardian animals as the tour guide explained the history. It would've been kinda boring without the guide really. Our next stop was a bit unexpected as we found ourselves in a jade museum. One we wanted to really avoid as all they are is a scam to buy jade. The entrance was a museum, the rest was a shop and we were soon being followed around by sales people. Its understandable to try and get tourists to spend money but this place was a bit out of our league. China is supposed to be cheap. We also had lunch planned as part of the tour package and lo and behold behind a curtain there was a restaurant. So it became obvious this was a place just to bring tourists to. Our next stop was even more bizarre as we arrived at a 'Chinese medicine clinic' LOL. Does China want to promote Chinese medicine to westerners? Why wasn't any of this on the brochure? So we all had a checkup where the 'doctor' could tell if we were healthy by checking our pulse and then of course tried to prescribe us some 'medicine'. So by now it was after midday and we were getting annoyed at all these unexpected stops and wasted time. But finally we eventually arrived at the 'Great Wall' where we proceeded to take in the scenery and enjoy the views...
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The Great Wall is also considered The Longest Cemetary in the World, if you want to be morbid. Apparently they would put the dead into the walls and build over them. Though there are so many different types of sections of the wall, each has a story of its own.
We arrived the at the Mutianya section. There was very little crowd which felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. We caught a chairlift to tower 14 and admiring the view we headed towards tower 21. We dressed for -10 °C but it was closer to 10 °C so we could feel the heat soon after. The walk wasn't as pleasent as I had imagined. The path was uneven and marjority of the walk was steep, after walkiing for over an hour we finally reached the last point, a 450 step staircase to lead us to the highest tower. You are literally crawling up the staircase to reach the top but the view was worth it and we were immediately offered to buy snickers from one of the vendors. The Swedish docotor was funny, and drank a can of beer for a boost. The Journey back to the bus was quicker and by sundown we arrived back at the hotel.
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Posted by Luke_n_Bim 01.02.2011 01:52 Archived in China Comments (0)

Burnt in Beijing

sunny 0 °C

Our flight to Beijing was at 830am so we awoke around 5am and checked out and got the hotel to arrange a taxi for us. The concierge explained that as it was before 6am there would be an extra 50% surcharge on the taxi ride. This sounded both ludicrous and highly suspicious and one can't help think that the hotels like to get a slice of the taxi pie. So as it was the taxi cost 240rm to the airport, thrice the amount we paid when we arrived. Talk about getting ripped. Maybe this was a suitable lasting impression of Malaysia though.

It was 4 °C when we arrived at Tianjin Airport around 330pm and it felt like the air was refrigerated. We met a Chinese guy called Titan on the plane who helped us a lot about what and what not to do in China as well as telling us some interesting history. After making our way through customs Titan helped us getting a taxi but unknowingly led us to a tout who charged us 100rmb to get to the train station, 20 mins away. Even though this is only $16AUD it was more than double of what we were should've paid. We vowed not to get ripped off again by taxi drivers again. At least he offered us lollies which Luke was happy to take. We then caught the bullet train travelling in excess of 300kmph from Tianjin to Beijing which took about 30mins. The first thing we noticed about Beijing was how there weren't really any skyscrapers. Instead the buildings are really wide and it takes a long time to drive through the city. We arrived in Wangfujing where our hotel is around 6pm. After checking in we walked around the streets and grabbed a bite to eat, while some homeless guy couldn't stop gawking at Luke. We decided to call it a day.

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First day in Beijing. The weather was beautiful. The sun was out and the chill in the air felt good to visit Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.
We got approached to view Art Galleries and Tea Ceremonies a dozen times before we reached the Forbidden City Gate. It was amazing to walk around, 4 times bigger then Chadstone. We couldn't enter most of the buildings though, not sure if they were being renovated or just closed.
Luke was approached by a guy wanting to take a Photo with him, I thought it was a bit funny so I took photos of the guy and his family.
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I thought I would be cool and hire an audio guide too:-

The walls are 32 feet high. The main part of the city was constructed over 14 years using 200,000 laborers. Building materials were shipped over thousands of miles from all parts of China using the network of canals constructed in the 6th and 7th centuries

They would wait till Winter when the water would freeze over to transport the large boulders. Nothing but the best materials were used to create this wonder. At the end of the 18th century approximately 9000 people lived within the Forbidden City. Thus creating, the center of Beijing.
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After spending a few hours at the Forbidden City we thought we would go to Xidan, and judging by the map it didn't look too far. But everything is far in China because they build everything so god damn huge. Half an hour later of walking and it started to get crowded again and eventually we found Xidan. Had some lunch there, all it was was another shopping mecca both mixture of dept stores and markets. The Apple Store was there, not as crowded as you would see back home but still made us shake our heads. I had my first experience of using a public toilet, one that I have been trying to avoid until this day. I survived, but barely... I really dont like how you can't flush toilet paper in ground toilets. *shudders* lets not even go there.

We then ventured off to Silk Market. If you are into bargaining fakes, this is the place. And we are not. If you don't know what you're doing, you'll probably get f-ed over. You walk down through narrow rows of tiny little stalls while girls stand out the front asking if you want Loui Vuitton - it seems they favour to duplicate the most. Even if you glance momentarily at any of the stalls they will begin ask if you want 5 ralph shirts. So the best method is to move quickly and already have something in mind of what you want to get.

I have to admit, those girls are good. We added them to the 'we vow to never get ripped off again' list. It was kinda exhilarating until we started to realise we probably paid for someones monthly living. Oh well, I guess they deserve it.

Burnt from the ripping off (I blame Lukes hair) and the long day we walked back to the hotel.

Posted by Luke_n_Bim 31.01.2011 03:12 Archived in China Comments (0)

Shopped Till We Dropped

overcast 26 °C

Today we had buffet breakfast at the hotel. There was what looked like bacon but on closer inspection it was actually beef made to look like bacon. Was this to trick the tourists or was it to let the muslim community indulge and fantasize about pretending to eat bacon. Either way it seemed strange. All in all though the buffet was satisfactory and filled us up for the shopping centre expedition that lay ahead.

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From our hotel it was about a 1km walk to the Pavillion, one of the more upmarket shopping centres. We managed to arrive there early as the shops don't open till 10am so we walked around and did some window shopping. We noticed there was an excessive amount of security people standing around really for no other reason than to escape the heat outside. Most shops though seemed to be overstaffed which was a bit of an oddity. After the Pavillion we walked to Lot 10 shopping centre which was pretty old and outdated. We didn't spend much time there and continued on to Sungei Wang Plaza (more of a market style) and then onto Berjaya Times Square (the one with an indoor theme park). Times Square is kinda huge with 10 floors of shopping but it's also quite empty. The theme park inside the mall was more of a novelty as there wasn't really anyone on the rides.
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After realising there wasn't much there we caught the monorail back to the Pavillion where we had lunch at the American burger chain 'Carls Jr'. The following day we caught a taxi out to another huge shopping centre called 1Utama. It seems they just build these places so people have a place to go to escape the heat. We finished off that day back at KLCC Suria and ate at a steakhouse which made us realise the standard of meat in Malaysia isn't quite the same as in Australia.
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We finished the trip at the Skybar on the 33rd floor of the hotel which has an amazing view of the city and the Petronas towers.
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Posted by Luke_n_Bim 29.01.2011 02:57 Archived in Malaysia Tagged kuala square shopping times lumpur pavillion berjaya Comments (0)

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