This was an 8D/7N tour package that we took with ChanBrothers.
Part I – Of snow sculptures and the journey to Snow town.
This morning we walked the town ourselves and then joined in a local family restaurant lunch. The Dream home is a nice collection of houses, which at this time is well covered with snow!
|After breakfast we walked out to the town area leaving the group. Dog and their owners are out early, beckoning you to take a ride on their sled. They don’t exclusively use only huskies here for the sleds, though there are quite a few. Many are other breeds of dogs and we even spotted a pair of Alsatians!|
|After viewing the town from the hillside last night, it was time to revisit the same spot, this time to view how the snow covered roofs of the homes look like in the day. Seems that many hang these corn cobs outside their homes.|
|We rejoined the group for a lunch at a locally run family restaurant, and proceeded to visit the “Dream home” in Snow town. It is an exhibit of a string of houses. The most iconic pictures are those of snow covered stools, when covered with snow would look like mushrooms…that would be the first thing to look for here!|
|There is also a vantage point, which you cannot access via the public walkway on the hillside. The panorama here is relatively unobstructed and affords a full view of all of the snow covered houses. Be wary of the cold, it gets close to -27°C or lower in December.
Free tubing, so long as you carry your own tube up the hill. No limit to the number of times, but you have to carry the tubes up the steep and slippery slope! We managed to try it twice though Mel had to carry the tube up for Suan! There is nobody here to dispatch you though and it’s all self catered! This bench and stools are well covered by snow!
|Too bad we had not the stomach to eat the street food even though they look so inviting. And every evening around 7pm, there is a song and dance performance that runs through the town. Be there to see folks in traditional dress!|
Our hotel is a collection of single standalone buildings with some rooms on 2nd floor. Ours was such and it had the sloping roof of an attic. The view from the room itself is quite scenic on its own, perhaps through fortune of being placed in this specific room.
We had ventured on our own in the morning hours, preferring not to join in the optional activity to Yangcao (羊草山) mountain, and did a little more exploring of Snow town instead. We heard that the guide tripped and fell though did not sustain any injury. Phew! In any case mountain-scapes are not novel to us. But frolicking with the ‘huskies’ were! You cannot imagine how many selfies were taken.
Snow town we concluded is a place for folks who seek to enjoy the feeling of a true winter, one in which the land is thoroughly covered in snow and ice. Not that those in the northern hemisphere would miss LOL!
Time to head towards some Russian influence at the Volga Manor where lots of replicas from Russian dominance can be explored. We had a nice “Russian” dinner too!
|This morning was a long drive back from the mountains of Snow Town back to Yabuli ski resort for a very early lunch. Then it was via country roads and the G10 highway back towards Harbin’s southeastern suburban area, to Volga Manor.|
|Having arrived around dusk, we were treated to a beautiful sun set. Volga Manor is a forested garden park with more than 30 replicas of Russian castles, palaces and other buildings, including that of restaurants. We are staying here for the night.|
|But not before we were herded off to paint Matryoshka dolls. This time we decided to keep one of them un-painted after our last experience in Russia. But have to say indeed that the ones they gave us here is definitely better, because it has been half made!|
|Evening dinner was ‘Russian’ style. We had herring! The dinner was fantastic for us because nobody ate the raw herring…so it was all for us. Washed down with Kvass and red wine, we then stumbled off into the dark on our way back to the hotel. As in anywhere in Harbin at this time of the year, blocks of ice had been formed into various structures resembling houses or archways. It’s no different here, and with the lights, it gives us a preview of how this would be like tomorrow evening! After such a long day, we were too tired to walk to see the other lighted up buildings. It will have to wait for tomorrow!|
Isn’t it amazing what can be done in China? The replication of an entire stock of Russian buildings both from the colonial past and ones deemed to be in Russia had been turned into a theme park. True it was explained to us that this project was born of the Russian-Chinese friendship, it is still a remarkable place. Not real in many ways but looks like we’re in Russia!
And the painting of the Matryoshka dolls was intriguing too! This time we determined to keep one of them in its original condition while focusing to paint just one. Heheh, the last time we had botched up jobs on both. At least we got a free souvenir!
After a morning walk in at Volga Manor, we drove back to Harbin for lunch followed by a visit to the polar museum. Ooooh the highlight is to visit Sun Island where the Ice and snow sculpture festival is held.
|There are said to be well over 30 buildings replicated from all over Russia in this forested park. So today it would just be a sampling as we walked with our guide. Starting near the hotel, we came up to what would be a small harbor for boating in the warmer months. The little lake is now frozen over with the trees making the scene look so picturesque. Suan had to cover her face because of the cold air.|
|In the children’s park, one can pose with all these little statues or play hide and seek in the small play house. Alternatively you can lord over the entire domain from your throne like Suan did! Because it is so cold, it is highly recommended to cover your face as much as possible. Suan poses here in the midst of the cold removing her mask just for the photo-op. The mini funicular to St Maria church wasn’t working today, so no visit!|
|But the highlight should be the free tubing from the top of five floors. Three to four persons would sit on their tubes and hold onto each other’s leg in front of them. Then the dispatcher will let you go! Because some did not want to, there were extra tickets. But we did not go for another tube experience, preferring to watch the others swoosh down. We walked next to the Pavlov’s castle, but it is apparently not opened. In any case we were running low on time and had to move on as the intent was to leave by 1030am for Harbin and the next stop in our adventure. Did not even know of a Pavlov Castle!|
|St Nicolas cathedral is a replica of the one destroyed in the 1960s. During the cultural revolution, many religious places were destroyed. Within the cathedral are old pictures and exhibits in a gallery that reminisces the real cathedral from well over a hundred years ago. In recent years there were a burst of activities to reinstate these lost cultural heritage, particularly that of the Russians that this region owes a lot of early development to. Leaving the manor, we are now headed towards the city. After a hearty lunch, we drove towards Sun Island where we will be visiting the Polar museum.|
|As in almost anywhere in China, it was a melee to get into the Polar Museum. The crush of humanity nearly suffocates you! But once in, we were able to take our time to enjoy the exhibits such as the arctic white fox that was unfortunately curled up in sleep. However the highlight of being here is, coming to watch the Beluga whale show. Normally they have shows every 2 hours but because of this long weekend there is one virtually every hour. The show itself only lasts 10 minutes but the queue for places in the small theaterette started 30 minutes before. We stood for that time and was duly rewarded.|
|And then it was the highlight of the entire journey – 2 hours of fun at the Ice sculpture festival! Crowd control is definitely not a plus point and it took quite some elbowing to finally get into the exhibition. We were hit with an instance of colors and awe when we first stepped into the park grounds, so a little pre-planning would had been useful.|
|Not knowing how and where to get around, we ascended the stairs of the large castle-like sculpture to give ourselves a panoramic view of the entirety of exhibits. These are huge structures, not really sculptures at all.|
|While the usual “suspects” such as the Temple of Heaven were there, we also visited what appeared to be southeast Asia’s renowned “Wats” – temples if you will. There are also sponsors such as Chinese liquor makers and apparel brands too! We visited the zodiac signs’ sculptures and posed with the boar, our birth sign! Mel also discovered the flash option on his new Samsung phone worked well to capture photos of Suan and the background here….learn something new every day!|
|The exit was definitely a mess. And there seems to be a reason for this – the small exit is to ensure that there is a large crowd making their way out, so that those that did not buy tickets cannot squeeze their way in! Wow, ingenious isn’t it??|
It is without doubt one of the largest replica building projects we’ve ever seen. And in a setting that would not be out of place in Russia too! You really have to be here to experience how surreal it seems. And for us this is deja vu! Because we were just IN Russia 7 months earlier! Though not in winter, which we may add is something to think about…
But the highlight of the entire 8 days is finally here!
No amount of words can fully describe the sights and sounds we saw at the ice festival. That’s why the saying “a picture paints a thousand words” rings soooo true. And moving pictures will be even more fascinating. Thinking about posting a vlog of this journey, since we’ve picked up so many video clips along the way too.
Since this is not a travel blog, we shan’t explain how you can make your own way to the ice and snow festival exhibition areas respectively. Only know that yes you can be an independent traveler for this activity.
We conclude here that the northeast of China in winter is doable. Though if you were to attempt that journey to ‘Snow Town’ it might be challenging logistically. But to be in Harbin and touch the sites within the city is easy. Harbin, like its many cousin cities across China has become mini metropolises replete with any of the amenities you’d expect on advanced cities around the globe.
We enjoyed this journey though it was a guided package tour. We are sure you will too! With this, we end another chapter of our Long Journey and closed out 2016.