A high-speed train
Ice sculptures at Harbin Ice and Snow World Photo: CFP
A snow sculpture at Shenyang Ice and Snow World Photo: CFP
A train in front of the Museum of Imperial Palace of Manchu State in Changchun Photo: CFP
Winter in the north can't be called perfect without the falling of snow. But Beijing looks to have few white days as 2013 trickles to a close, save through smog. But now, with the high-speed train network expanded to Northeast China, travelers can head northward for the chance to frolic in snowfall. Major cities on the train line include Shenyang, Changchun and Harbin, all of which are transportation hubs that allow easy connection to nearby scenic spots.
As one of the largest cities in Liaoning Province, Shenyang enjoys a good reputation among backpackers for a taste of real northeast flavor. The fastest high-speed train only costs you over four hours from Beijing to Shenyang, which allows travelers to organize a weekend tour to the city. Take the morning train which leaves Beijing South Railway Station at 8 am, and you can have lunch in Shenyang after arrival.
Then you can take a taxi or city bus to the renowned Zhaoling Tomb, also listed as a World Cultural Heritage site. The mausoleum of the Emperor Huangtaiji of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and his empress Xiaoduanwen is a must-see for backpackers. Located in Beiling Park in northern Shenyang, the tomb complex took about eight years to build and follows the design of that time with a row of animal statues leading up including stone lions, lion-dogs, horses, camels, and elephants. Perfect for Qing enthusiasts, it'll appeal to anyone who wants a fun day out.
Errenzhuan is the most popular art form throughout the whole northeast area. It dates back more than three centuries when local peasants performed it during the slack season. In the initial stage, there were only male actors on the stage. But then it developed into a form of storytelling with traditional singing and dancing, but performed by a man and a woman. With props like paper fans and silk handkerchiefs, actors sing folk songs and perform dances to celebrate sowing and planting. Quite unlike the staid and sometimes tedious nature other traditional operas and forms, errenzhuan is a grass-roots tradition that is deeply rooted in ordinary people's life and moves with the times. So you will always find popular jokes and online slang deployed by practitioners.
In Shenyang, the Liu Laogen Big Stage created by Zhao Benshan, godfather of Chinese errenzhuan and comedy star is the most well-known theatre. The tickets to their performances are not easy to get. So you'd better book it in advance. You can make reservations one or two hours before the show and then go for a wander in the nearby pedestrian thorough way, Zhongjie (Central Street). You will find plenty of lodging options near Zhongjie, from 200 yuan ($32.94) to near 1,000 yuan. Have a good rest for the next day, then head out to the Qipanshan Ice and Snow World.
The Qipanshan Mountain Scenery Spot is the biggest natural park in Shenyang, which includes three mountains, Qipanshan, Huishan and Dayangshan, and the Xiu Lake. When winter comes, the whole area becomes a kingdom of ice and snow with natural ski resorts and a skating rink. Since 1993, the Qipanshan Ice and Snow World has attracted millions of travelers. In 2003, the first Shenyang International Ice and Snow Festival was held in the scenic area. One year later, they collaborated with the Japanese city of Sapporo on ice and snow tourism, to build a snow theme park. Every winter travelers from home and aboard arrive there to ski, skate and appreciate unique snow sculptures, which have given the spot a place in a popular saying, "Go to Harbin for ice sculptures, and Shenyang for snow sculptures."
Where you can also go: Shenyang Imperial Palace, a miniature version of Beijing's Forbidden City
What to eat: You will easily find many local restaurants serving northeast cuisine as well as the yummy northeast dumplings.
How to get to Qipanshan: The Qipanshan Ice and Snow World is about 17 kilometers from downtown Shenyang. Public bus routes 168 and 331 can take you directly there.
Changchun, the capital city of Jilin Province, is less than a two hour trip from Shenyang by high-speed trains. In modern Chinese history, the city has suffered a lot, especially in 1932, when the Japanese army established Puyi, the last Qing Dynasty emperor, as ruler of the puppet state of Manchukuo there. But today, the Museum of Imperial Palace of Manchu State has become a must see attraction in the city.
It's very convenient to get to the museum by bus or taxi. The exhibits in the museum include palace buildings where Puyi and his concubines lived, two feature exhibitions and a display of their daily lives during that time. Then you can see the collection of important relics and documents. The palace is divided into two sections, the outer palace and the inner palace. The outer one, where Puyi worked and attended many important ceremonies, includes Qinmin Mansion, Huaiyuan Mansion and Jiale Palace. Besides, there are also gardens, swimming pool, and even a tennis court in the outer palace. Puyi and his concubines mainly resided in the inner palace, which includes the Jixi Mansion and Tongde Palace.
Besides the historical attractions, the city is also a good travel destination with natural sceneries like Nanhu Park and Jingyuetan National Forest Park. The forest park is not only popular among travelers, but also a favorite leisure spot for locals. Located in the southeast part of Changchun, the park is about 18 kilometers away from downtown Changchun. Its picturesque sceneries and the renowned lake will treat you to a visual feast. Winter brings a different flavor to the park with snow and ice activities everywhere in the park.
Changchun is also well-known across the country for its film industry and you shouldn't miss China's first film theme park in the city. The Changchun Film Theme Park offers a visit to an exhibition of China's film industry, "4D" movies on large-screens, and a chance to see films being shot.
Still thirsty for more attractions? Then you will take a bus or train to the nearby Changbai Mountain, where the spectacular views will mean you won't regret the hardship on the trip and extreme cold on the mountain top.
What to eat: Changchun is well-known for Korean style food because most of China's ethnically Korean population live in this area. Some may not like it, but dog meat is one of the most popular dishes among locals.
Where to stay: As a developed tourism hub, the city offers various choices for travelers from hostels to starred resorts and hotels.
Harbin is a famous city, full of charm and exotic Russian flavors. People say that summer in Harbin is cool, but winter there is the coolest, with the lowest temperature reaching minus thirty degrees. With the title of Ice City, Harbin in winter attracts millions of travelers for its Ice and Snow Festival usually running for one month starting every January.
During the festival, different kinds of ice sculptures can be seen at several locations across the city including the Harbin Ice and Snow World to Yabuli International Ski Resort. And the Harbin Ice and Snow World must be the most popular place among travelers to have fun. This year's event is said to include dozens of activities besides the traditional ice sculpture exhibition. One of the highlights is Cool Harbin, a specially designed performance on the ice presented by the North Korea Pyongyang National Acrobatic Troupe. This year Lin Hai Xue Yuan (Tracks in the Snowy Forest), a live action performance and ice fashion show will also be presented at the festival.
One street that you can't miss is Central Street full of exotic flavors in Harbin, which is also known as Eastern Moscow. Harbin's history, with its rich ties to Russia, can be tracked in this street. From a hundred-year-old hotel to numerous foreign shops and street stands, the street is a perfect place for you and your friends to experience real local life and Harbin's history. And you must try the ice pops sold at Modern Hotel at that street.
Where you can also go: the Sun Island Scenic Resort, St. Sophia Church and Zhaolin Park
How to go to Harbin Ice and Snow World: Take bus routes 552, 551, 346, 212 and 211 or take a taxi
What to eat: Russian restaurants are a must try in this city. Besides, this city also offers northern Chinese cuisine food, which is well-known for its flavor and large portion. One of the local drinks, Kvass, is now becoming popular across the country. It is a Russian traditional fermented beverage made from black bread, beloved by enthusiasts for reasons best known only to them.
Where to stay: As a favorite travel destination, Harbin is full of lodging choices from budget hotels to luxury resorts.