A Travellerspoint blog

Happy Chinese New Year!

Xīn Nián Kuài Lè!

Another week in China… what to get up to??
We both agreed we wanted to try and get out of the city and see a little more of China as we may have gone mad staying in the city any longer. Harbin, a town 1200km north of Beijing renowned for its yearly winter Ice Festival, would have been beautiful to see at this time of year (with over a thousand sculptures made from ice, some reaching up to 40ft tall). Unfortunately however, being Chinese New Year train tickets were impossible to come across and flights were selling out, becoming more and more expensive by the second. One of the staff at our hostel told us about a small town only 80km out of Beijing named Longqing Gorge, which hosts its own Ice Festival of a smaller scale (sculptures reaching a maximum height of maybe 20ft), and even has a ski resort only 3km away!
Accessible by public bus we decided we’d go there!

Many failed attempts to find and book accommodation online saw us resorting to asking our hostel staff to phone the ski resort hotel (the only hotel we were able to find), and book us a couple night’s stay. In hindsight we probably should have seen the difficulty of booking a room online as a sign, but we were yet to know better…

After a confusing bus and taxi ride we finally arrived outside the ski resort. Bombarded instantly by locals trying to sell us, (in Mandarin), tours maybe? taxi services? I’m really not sure… we quickly made our way into the resort to check into our hotel… hmm, where was the hotel? We approached the ticketing office and enquired where we would find the hotel. No English. We managed through body language to express the message of ‘hotel’ to which they confirmed the nearest hotel was “3000m” away and started trying to palm us hotel brochures. Luckily we had a phone number for the supposed resort hotel and after pleading with them to call it they managed to arrange for someone from the hotel to pick us up.
Our chauffer arrived, we loaded our packs into the car and drove a whole 300METRES (yes that’s right) around the corner and we were there?! How on earth did the resort staff not know there was a hotel literally metres away? Anyway, having arrived safely we entered the hotel lobby, got out our passports and checked… attempted to check in (none of the hotel staff spoke a word of English either). After finally being shown to our room, the two of us just stood there looking at each other dumbfoundedly. How did we manage to get ourselves in this situation? After our time already spent in China should we not have known better? Of course no one in a small un-heard of town was going to speak English! Why haven’t we purchased a Chinese phrasebook already? Shouldn’t the hostel staff have thought to mention any of this before we left? What do we do now?

We contemplated getting straight on a bus back to Beijing however it was going to be dark before too long and we had no accommodation booked once we got there and decided we just couldn’t be bothered with the hassle. We’d stick this place out for one night.

The place was a little eerie. The hotel was quite a large building and had ample staff meandering around yet it seemed to be completely empty apart from the two of us. I felt like maybe I’d stepped into North Korea or something… not a single guest to be found anywhere! Joel kept saying things like ‘this is the kind of place you’d wake up in a bath of ice with no kidney’ – um yeah thanks Joel. With no phone, no internet and no way of contacting the outside world it suddenly dawned on us just how far from home we really were.

We managed to find a nice man who spoke about 4 ½ words of English, consisting of chicken, taxi and nigga (we later found out it translates to “that” in Mandarin) – this was enough for us to ask for food and tell him we wanted to visit the ice festival of which he arranged a ‘taxi’ to pick us up at 7 and bring us back at 9.

A nice older lady arrived at the hotel at 7pm and drove us out to the Gorge; we just hoped she’d definitely come back for us in a couple hours. Longqing was a different experience. In Perth an exhibit of this size would draw numbers in the thousands, (think Cottesloe beach sculpture festival and some, but with snow). The streets leading up to the festival were lined with hundreds of colourful lantern style sculptures. Every building you passed however was dark and empty; hotels and shop fronts appeared near on vacant with little to no staff or activity visible inside – it was like walking through a deserted town.


As you entered the festival you were greeted by large frozen ponds and thousands of fairy lights covering fake snow statues. Thinking the whole place seemed a tad bizarre we walked further through the gorge to find a rather large stage blaring out Chinese song and dance to a crowd of maybe 5 people. Both now convinced it was a bit over the top we ventured further again and explored the supposed 300 ice sculptures and the “50 foot natural frozen waterfall” (which was actually just a dam waterfall which had frozen over with winter, not exactly natural). While the ice sculptures well-made and very pretty lit up at night, the whole festival was a little extravagant and strange; the number of visitors compared to the scale of the event didn’t seem to add up.



After a couple hours exploring, feeling very chilled and ready to get back into the warmth, we left the festival hoping that our lift would be there waiting for us. Sure enough she was and drove us back to the hotel; the round trip costing us less than $5 – not bad.

The next morning we passed on going skiing and made our way back to the ‘comforts’ of Beijing. We were lucky to find a cheap enough room at a hotel across from the hostel we had previously stayed in as, (rookie mistake), we hadn’t thought to book this before leaving for Longqing Gorge and being Chinese New Year almost no one had availability.

Chinese New Year was something else. For days leading up to it we witnessed people lighting fire crackers in the middle of the streets before casually walking away as if nothing ever happened; like rebels without a cause –it was really quite strange. Come the morning of New Years Eve however every man, woman and child was out on the streets with shopping bags or car boot-loads of fireworks setting them off in the middle of the streets all throughout the day and night. At night it sounded like we were in the middle of a war zone with sound of ‘gunfire’ and ‘missiles’ down every street you turned – it was crazy! Approaching 12 o’clock we made sure we were out on the streets with everyone else to count down into the New Year. It was really a sight to behold!

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Exciting as it was, I have to admit that 2 days later when we were up at the break of dawn determined NOT to miss our train to Mongolia (round 2) I was pretty over the crackers which had yet ceased to stop. But as it turned out missing our first train to Mongolia wasn’t such a bad thing… Chinese New Year was most definitely a weird and fascinating experience!

Xīn Nián Kuài Lè!


Posted by Joel-Renee 01:04 Archived in China Tagged longqing_gorge chinese_new_year ice_festival

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