The North-East Tour – The Beginning
Its Spring Festival! A national holiday in China; Christmas, Easter and New Years all rolled into one, a monumental celebration. For an entire two weeks the country shuts-down, a hold on the constant workaholic grind. EVERYONE in China heads home for the holidays to be with their families.
I have no classes to teach during this time, I have a full 2 weeks of freedom, it would be a shame to waste it. Using my time efficiently I’ve planned a quick tour of the North Eastern end of China.
Why North-East China?
My reasons for which are simple; 1 – Easy access from Beijing, 2 – It allows me to tick North of Beijing off the list, and from there on focus on further South.
Now this trip was definitely a challenge when it came to planning. China isn’t exactly tourist friendly, with little to no English signs and the complete lack of the language amongst locals, it can be difficult. Needless to say, outside of Harbin, there’s little reliable information to go off to plan this journey. Most of the planning was based off my faithful “lonely planet” book and plotting along the North Easts train tracks.
This however would arguably be the worst possible time to travel in China. I’m not overexaggerating when I say everyone goes home. Particularly Considering when the majority of Beijing’s population is made up of citizens from throughout the country who came to find money and fortune in the capital. As a result, every single plane and train out of Beijing has been sold out minutes after they were open for sale over a month in advance.
A combination of being determined to save money and desperation to find any available ticket resulted in all my transport being on train. Long trains, packed train, on vertical wooden seats. Picture your typical movie scene of any train that passes through China. Stacks of prison style beds in a smoke-filled confined space packed to the brim with locals, that will be me right in the middle of it.
Another point to consider is that it’s the coldest time of year, and we mean seriously fucking cold. In Beijing for the past month we’ve been dealing with -5 to 0 degree temperatures as a constant. Whereas in the North-East as of now is between -15 to -20 degrees.
Here is where I will be visiting on this week long journey:
Not too many travellers head further North than Beijing, and a few places are known by name. The biggest and most well known of all is the city of Harbin, the capital of its province and the hub of the North-East.
The city also holds an international reputation as it serves as a cross-roads in culture from the influence of surrounding cultures, historical conquerors and Russian railways. It also holds some international bragging rights. Conveniently being the time of year (Spring Festival), Harbin is home to the world’s largest ice sculpture festival held during this time. This festival provides some extraordinary examples of art crafted from the very ice that forms on the cities riverways.
The other bragging right is being home to the largest collection of Siberian tigers, in an aid to increase the numbers of the endangered species. However, being that China is quite notable for having poor zoo conditions and for animals in general, I’m sceptical yet open-minded of the site.
Very little information is found about this place, however the very little that I’ve heard has ended up in this out of the way trip having to be included. 8 hours North of Harbin, and just a stones throw away from the Russian border, this place is herald as a visual history of volcanoes. Wudalianchi stands for “5 linking lakes”, of which were formed by unbelievable amounts of volcanic activity in the area which results in 14 craters littering the area and these extraordinary lakes. It’s an opportunity I simply can’t miss out on.
Jingpo Lake (Via Mudanjiang)
Following the theme of natural beauty, the next anticipated stop on the journey is Jingpo lake. It also claims its own bragging right, being the biggest waterfall in all of Asia. There’s also word of an “underground forest” growing in the craters of yet more historical volcanoes. Too much to miss-out on.
The visiting of which will require a stop in the town of Mudanjiang, which happens to be the best jumping off point to get to the lake. On first impression and after heavy amounts of research there doesn’t seem to be much highlights in the area, but we shall see.
This city provides a stop before reaching the capital. At this point the remining time was short, therefore I had to leave Changchun behind and avoid Dalian, however Shenyang will be the lucky final stop. There are a number of highlights yet to see here, being quite a substantial sizes city.
How will it go?
There’s a lot of apprehension with this trip. Very little information on the locations I’ve arranged on seeing. Incredibly busy and crowded public transports which will be my first time really using them. I’ve never taken a train in China, let alone during the holiday period…the only real holiday period China has, so it’s a big one.
However that increases the sense of adventure. With less details, it’s the sense of mystery and anticipation which makes the journey that more special. As always, it wouldn’t be as fun if it was easy, and treading where few Westerners do always feels enriching. We’ll see how it goes.