Wednesday, September 13, 2017

harbin ice and snow festival

i am not a fan of theme parks, so i don't really fancy a visit to playgrounds, large urban parks and wild theme rides. until i went to Harbin's Ice and Snow festival and uttered to myself "this to me, could be the happiest place on earth". 
we took a taxi ride to Sun Island which is just a bridge away from the city. it was magical as we were like transported to another world of ice. unlike the other ice and snow festivals in the world, the one here is totally isolated from the city in one huge flat area enclosed by towering walls of ice bricks. 
it is indeed considered as the world's largest festival that displays giant artworks of ice and snow. the facade alone resembles the gates of castles towering up to 50 feet. it was still on its soft opening when we got there as the festival runs from early January up to the month of March. we were there end of December and luckily they already allowed tourists to enter at a standard rate.
since daytime is shorter in Harbin during winter, we went there just in time for its opening. sundown happens at 3:00pm. it was a cold winter day as it was snowing almost the entire time.
like most of the theme parks, it has areas featuring particular landmarks and icons for one to enjoy. a guided map is displayed and every year, the theme of the festival would change. during our visit, it was mostly castles and Chinese zodiacs.
there were structures which resembles chess boards, trains and even Chinese gongs. what made Harbin's winter festival unique is it focused mainly on structures built from large bricks placed on top of the other to form icons. unlike other winter festivals which are entirely focused on large snow artworks and ice sculptures. 
since it was still a soft opening, we have seen how they were building these structures which looked like bricks were entirely placed on top of the other. made me wonder what held each of these bricks. probably some few thin bars or also just entirely placed on top of the other. 
it would take a month for them complete the entire ice city. a total of about 150,000cubic meters of ice are taken out from the frozen Songhua river to form all these. the ice festival was said to have started as a simple lantern festival in 1963 until it has gained the world's attention for its current grandiosity. 
but it was not all bricks, in between brick castles were giant snow forms of Buddha, zodiac figures and even some igloos. small slides here and there were designed for kids but a huge one was still under construction that time. 
the temperature that time was ranging from -5C to -12C and the sky was plain white. good that there were coffee and food shops within the park which has heaters. noodle soups and hot drinks are offered along with the usual hotdogs and few rice meals. 
the center of the park was a colorful towering structure and a large platform for performances during night time. take note that at a certain part of the day the park will be partially closed as it will require another fee for the lights show which happens right after sunset.  
we just walked around the entire day enjoying every structure in this huge frozen city of gigantic ice formations. i can't believe that it would only take a place like this and all-day snow for me to declare that this is indeed one of the happiest place on earth. not wild rides. not funny people.

here's a youtube video that would entice you more to visit Harbin:
tips and recommendations:
1. take note that during winter, day is shorter in Harbin. sunset is around 3:00pm. so to maximize your day, you need to start early.
2. for the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival, there are two tickets, day time and night time. night tickets offers the light show which adds colors to these structures but you need to be prepared for the extreme cold.
3. you can purchase tickets in advance thru your hotels and some travel agencies but you can also buy tickets on the spot.
4. it is best to take a taxi from the city to Sun Island to go to the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival. take note that there are two large festival area, one entirely dedicated for large snow artworks and the famous Harbin Internation Ice and Snow Festival as featured in this post. 
5. for other details and updates on this year's Harbin Internation Ice and Snow Festival you can check out the following links:
www.harbinice.com
www.icefestivalharbin.com
how to get there:
by plane: 
most major cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Guangzhou have regular direct flights to Harbin.
by train:
Trains Schedule Beijing to Harbin
Bullet Train:
Train D29 - Beijing ETD 7:00am ETA 3:00pm (Estimated trip length: 8hrs)
Train D25 - Beijing ETD 10:00am ETA 6:00pm (Estimated trip length: 8hrs)
Train D101 - Beijing ETD 1:50pm ETA 9:50pm (Estimated trip length: 8hrs)
Train D27 - Beijing ETD 3:15pm ETA 11:15pm (Estimated trip length: 8hrs)
Sleeper Train:
Train T157 - Beijing ETD 6:18am ETA 5:00pm (Estimated trip length: 10hrs)
Train K339 - Beijing ETD 11:00am ETA 2:40pm (Estimated trip length: 15hrs)
Train K297 - Beijing ETD 12:00nn ETA 2:00am (Estimated trip length: 15hrs)
Train T39 - Beijing ETD 1:45pm ETA 4:45am (Estimated trip length: 15hrs)
Train K2265 - Beijing ETD 1:57pm ETA 8:30am (Estimated trip length: 18hrs)
Train T47 - Beijing ETD 6:57pm ETA 6:20am (Estimated trip length: 11hrs)
Train K1082 - Beijing ETD 8:43pm ETA 4:04pm (Estimated trip length: 19hrs)
Train T17 - Beijing ETD 9:23am ETA 8:30pm (Estimated trip length: 11hrs)
Train K19 - Beijing ETD 11:00pm ETA 3:04pm (Estimated trip length: 16hrs)

Train Trip Updates:
http://www.chinatrainguide.com/beijing-railway-station/to-harbin.html
https://www.travelchinaguide.com/china-trains/high-speed/beijing-harbin.htm

Note: 
Trains from Beijing to Harbin will be from Beijing South Railway Station (Kaiyang Rd Cor Nanzhan Xingfu Rd)
Train length varies depending on the train speed and the number of stopovers

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

huangshan on a winter day

i find it weird on situations where you really just get to see the beauty of the place the next day. the idea that it would still take a night until you see what you are surrounded with.
recalling back my previous post, where we had the entire afternoon walking under misty trails caused by the snow breeze. we reached our hotel almost night time and missed seeing the scenic views along the way.

Friday, December 9, 2016

lost in huangshan

"i think we're lost" that's one of the worst things one would hear when on top of a mountain range with almost zero visibility. we were already walking for an hour when a snow breeze passed over the mountain range. 
mt huang or simply huangshan mountain range has several ways to be reached. there are are trails up to its mountain peaks. during winter, these trails are closed and the only option would be thru cable cars. three cable cars located at different points at huangshan's base. these cable cars will bring you to a level and from there you can trek to its many peaks. 
we took the Yungu cable car which brought us up to White Goose range. it took about 20 minutes. the view of the first few minutes of the ascend were mostly trees covered with snow but as we went up, it gave us a view of Huangshan's magnificence. its granite ridges. 
but it was not for long. as we continued to ascend, it became foggy. few minutes more, we realized that we can't see both ends of the cable lines. it was already close to zero visibility. that meant one thing. freezing cold temperature at the mountain range. 
we reached the end of Yungu line late afternoon. just right after we went out of the cable car, we immediately felt the cold. temperature was at -4C. it was very different at the base where one can wear a single-layer jacket. here, we had to wear all the gears for the hike.
we had a map but we stall had to depend more on instinct and some luck. some signs were already covered in snow and not all trails and routes were in our map. we passed by an inn which we almost decided to just check-in if a room was available. with hope though, we decided to continue and find the hotel which we booked in advance.
this time we found ourselves ascending to a radio tower. this meant we're going the wrong way. another half hour hiking and found ourselves descending. only to find out that we were still going the wrong way. it was the route going back down. 
before we continued our way down, a local passed by and helped us find our way to our hotel. it was almost 6:00pm when we reached the satellite center. it was a sign that we were going the right way. we rested and there we met other travelers. a short descend lead us to our hotel. finally! it was already dark but just in time for dinner. 

exploring huangshan peaks post up next...

this post is part of the winter blog post series which will feature our huangshan, harbin, takayama and nagano trips.

Huangshan National Park
Category: National Park
Site: UNESCO World Heritage Site

location: 
Mt Huang (Huangshan)
Elevation: 1,864masl (Highest point)
Province: Anhui
Country: China
Island: Greater Eurasia

how to get there:
by plane:
There are several flights daily within China. Often coming from the major cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou. Take a plane to Huangshan-Tunxi Airport. From the airport, take bus 19 to Qiyun station (1 hour or less) which will lead you to another bus terminal to the drop off point of Huangshan. there are several options to get to the top depending on the season. you need to coordinate with your hotel to get this information. once you reached your drop off area, you can choose to take cable car or trek your way up. during winter though, most of the trail up are closed for safety.

by train from Shanghai:
there are daily train trips. Take the train from Shanghai Hongqiao Station to Hefei Station (6 hours) or Shanghai to Huangshan North Railway Station (6 hours). From here, take bus 19 to Qiyun station (1 hour or less) which will lead you to another bus terminal to the drop off point of Huangshan. there are several options to get to the top depending on the season. you need to coordinate with your hotel to get this information. once you reached your drop off area, you can choose to take cable car or trek your way up. during winter though, most of the trail up are closed for safety.

by bus from Shanghai:
there are daily bus trips from Shanghai and Hangzhou to Huanghsan. go to Shanghai South Bus Station and take the bus trip to Tunxi. you need to tell the bus conductor to drop you at the bus terminal to Huangshan drop off (depending which route/options you will take). once you reached your drop off area, you can choose to take cable car or trek your way up. during winter though, most of the trail up are closed for safety.

tips and recommendations:
1. once you've booked your hotel, let them make a detailed instruction to get there. so as for you to get the updated options.
2. when you're in China, always take note that they have several airports, train stations and bus stations even within one city. so it is very important that you make sure which of these stations or terminals you will be taking. i even recommend that you have a copy of it in Chinese characters. the way you pronounce these places might be different and they might end up leading you to another place.
3. you can actually book online for train or bus tickets, please make sure that you know where to pick up these tickets. online bookings usually requires you to bring your online booking to a ticket station to claim your tickets. so make sure that it is clearly specified which station you can get your ticket. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

apo reef mindoro

you've been traveling around the Philippines for quite some time and has stopped counting the islands that you've visited. you cant even hardly identify which island has the best white sand, pristine clear waters or the one that brings endless underwater amazement. well, i think we're sharing the same dilemma. 

most of the time, when i visit less known islands, i would end up saying i thought i've seen the best. it seemed like no one had really set a standard in gauging a beautiful island. though travel magazines have ranked their top islands mostly based on the number of high class resorts available and its accessibility. the isolated and almost untouched islands will less likely make it to the list, where transportation is a concern and you only have tree shades or a tent to spend a night.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

st sophia church harbin

why would somebody from the Philippines visit China to see a church? it may actually sound like a Chinese local going to the Philippines to eat dumplings. but not quite. when i searched for Harbin online, i found St Sophia church. an iconic Russian Orthodox church in Harbin. 
i've been longing to see this type of structure because of the famous St Basil church in Moscow. so i didn't have second thoughts. immediately decided to make Harbin as my side trip to Beijing. it was initially Mongolia but then train trips to Ulanbataar from Beijing was just twice a week.
the next day after i arrived in Harbin, i got myself a map from the hostel and walked my way to St Sophia. felt the early morning breeze but still hoped that it would snow. it has been two weeks according to the daily weather that the city had no snowfall despite it was still on a month of February. 
good thing the hostel where i stayed is part of Daoli, Harbin's central district, where the church is also located. it just took me 15minutes to reach the square. there were many beautiful colonial structures along  the way but when i saw the church, i was awed by its scale.
i have always been fascinated at huge brick structures but it was the church dark green cupola and the multiple golden cross that made it even more striking. being in the center of the open square, it was just imposing. it somehow made me feel like i was in Russia.
thru the years when a large community of Russians occupied Harbin, other minority groups from Ukraine, Germany, Israel and Denmark also established structures and churches in the city. but what remained today as iconic structures were predominantly Orthodox. 
sad though that like the church of St Basil in Moscow, this church is already a museum. contrary to my thought that it still is a church. but let's look at some of the similarities and the differences of the two churches:

St Basil Church (Moscow, Russia)
Date built: 1561
Location: Red Square
Height: 47.5meters
Number of domes: 9
Number of spires: 2
Wall: Bricks
Floor layout: Irregular

St Sophia Church (Harbin, China)
Date Built: 1907
Location: Harbin Square
Height: 53.3meters
Number of domes: 1
Number of spires: 5
Wall: Bricks

Floor layout: typical cross-shaped orthodox style

it may not be as old as St Basil Church, its history as a spiritual symbol to the Russians who lived in the city, makes it the most iconic structure in Harbin. the church was closed in 1959 and was a warehouse for certain years. only in 1996 when it was decided to be re-opened as a museum of architectural heritage.
there was not much to see inside except for old photos and a miniature set of the old city and the church. but then i was more interested in the interior structure itself more than the photo exhibit. the rustic pillars and the high dome ceilings was beautiful.
temperature that day was ranging from -5C to 0C. so i stayed inside the museum to about 20minutes for the heat. checked out some souvenirs and bought post cards before i went out. not knowing that outside the church it started to snow. 
the entire time i thought i will leave the place without experiencing snow fall. it made St Sophia Church even more majestic. quite a great chance to have captured the church without and with snow on one day. 



structure profile:
church: from 1907-1958
closed: from 1959-1996
museum: from 1997 to present
built by Russians as a spiritual symbol
re-opened by China as a museum

location:
St Sophia Cathedral-Museum
Harbin Square - Toulong St corner Zhaolin St
short walk from Harbin's famous Zhongyangdajie

for more updated information:
Website: St Sophia Church
Admission: 3-5USD
Open: 8:30am-6:00pm


how to get there:
by plane: 
most major cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Guangzhou have regular direct flights to Harbin.
by train:
Trains Schedule Beijing to Harbin
Bullet Train:
Train D29 - Beijing ETD 7:00am ETA 3:00pm (Estimated trip length: 8hrs)
Train D25 - Beijing ETD 10:00am ETA 6:00pm (Estimated trip length: 8hrs)
Train D101 - Beijing ETD 1:50pm ETA 9:50pm (Estimated trip length: 8hrs)
Train D27 - Beijing ETD 3:15pm ETA 11:15pm (Estimated trip length: 8hrs)
Sleeper Train:
Train T157 - Beijing ETD 6:18am ETA 5:00pm (Estimated trip length: 10hrs)
Train K339 - Beijing ETD 11:00am ETA 2:40pm (Estimated trip length: 15hrs)
Train K297 - Beijing ETD 12:00nn ETA 2:00am (Estimated trip length: 15hrs)
Train T39 - Beijing ETD 1:45pm ETA 4:45am (Estimated trip length: 15hrs)
Train K2265 - Beijing ETD 1:57pm ETA 8:30am (Estimated trip length: 18hrs)
Train T47 - Beijing ETD 6:57pm ETA 6:20am (Estimated trip length: 11hrs)
Train K1082 - Beijing ETD 8:43pm ETA 4:04pm (Estimated trip length: 19hrs)
Train T17 - Beijing ETD 9:23am ETA 8:30pm (Estimated trip length: 11hrs)
Train K19 - Beijing ETD 11:00pm ETA 3:04pm (Estimated trip length: 16hrs)

Note: 
Trains from Beijing to Harbin will be from Beijing South Railway Station (Kaiyang Rd Cor Nanzhan Xingfu Rd)
Train length varies depending on the train speed and the number of stopovers.

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