Plan for the day
We would fly into Harbin via Beijing on Air China. The first leg of the flight would began at 0015 hr in the early morning and we would reach Beijing some five hours later. At Beijing there was a 2.5 hour transit and then off we go to Harbin. Our expected arrival time at Harbin Taiping Airport was 10.40 am. We had already booked a hotel just beside the airport where we planned to laze the rest of the day away. Then it would be a good nite sleep before we start our sightseeing the next day on Dynasty Travel Land Tour.
By the end of the Day
The decision to laze away the first day was a good one. It was great for recuperating after a sleepless long flight between Singapore – Beijing and then Beijing – Harbin. By about noon we were already settled in our hotel room and sleeping the day away. Though it was boring doing “nothing” for the rest of the day, we had managed a tea break, a dinner and a short venture out of our hotel into the -11 °C environment and “survived”! It was all about layers and as usual Yat Thong needed far less layers than me!
Our flight to Harbin on Air China
We hated flying at night because we knew we would not be able to sleep a wink. Flying somehow did not become easier for us through the years. By now I had already given up eating any airplane food because at high altitude my tummy aways felt queazy and food would only make me puked.
The economy seats of Air China had narrow chairs and short leg rooms. I pitied the caucasian man on my left. Both his knees were touching the seat in front of him and his right elbow crossed over to my side of the arm rest and he was not even a fat person!
It was a great consolation that each passenger got a personal TV/Entertainment set. This was so much better than the last China airlines (Sichuan Airlines) we travelled on which had overhead TV, broadcasting programmes “soundlessly” so as not to create discomfort for other travellers who were not interested in the broadcast!
We arrived at Beijing near 6.20 am in the morning and it was cold (-3°C). There was no aerobridge so we had to walk down the air-stairs to get down to the tarmac. We thought we came “fully” prepared to combat the cold. We put on our fleece jackets then added on another layer of downjackets. Though I had a pair of downpants, it was just too cumbersome to put it over my jeans in the narrow space between the seats.
Standing on top of the stair we waited for our turn to step down. The wind blowing at us was “freaking” cold. My hair was all over my face! We stepped into the transfer bus waiting at the bottom of the stair. The bus doors was kept opened for a long time waiting for more passengers to board and in the mean time freezing wind sweeping into the bus was turning my legs into ice!
At Beijing airport at 6.20am in the morning there was already a huge crowd of locals and foreigners passing through the custom. The queue was very long and it took us about an hour to cross the custom, pick up our luggage, get onto an internal train shuttle to terminal 3C where the 2nd leg of our flight to Harbin would continue.
We had about 1.5 hour to kill before our plane would take off. I was hungry so we walked about to check out a cafe near our boarding gate. We were pretty surprised to find out that the cost of a cup of coffee was ¥50. Wow! that was pretty expensive. We left the cafe without finding out the price of its breakfast meal.
We went backward to search for an airport lounge that would accept our priority passes. We found Air China Lounge and went in for some food and drink. The food was the standard chinese fare which was not our “type” but at least it was “free” with our priority passes.
When it was time for our Beijing-Harbin flight we braved the cold again to board our plane and again at Harbin Taiping Airport we had to step into the cold air to get into the airport terminal building.
Land Tour + some DIY
Our Harbin trip was a combination of a land tour and a couple of days on our own. Due to the extreme weather in Harbin we thought it would be easier to go on a guided tour. We booked ourselves on a Land Tour with Dynasty Travel a Singapore Travel agency. The different between the Land Tour and a Full Tour was that for a Land Tour we took care of our own air flight in and out of Harbin. This allowed us to fly in one day earlier and leave three days later.
For this trip we took advantage of the “cheap” airport hotel to had a good rest before starting our land tour the next day. We found a hotel just next to the airport.
Once we arrived at the airport, we called the hotel and requested a transfer (free). We were told to wait at Exit 6 on road outside the arrival level. Wow the shuttle bus was quick, it arrived even before we walked to the road and in less 3 minutes we were at hotel.
Check-in time was 2 pm and we were two hours early but the hotel receptionist still let us have our room. A room on the 2nd level with no “nice view”. Time to refresh and SLEEP.
Testing the cold
At about 4 pm we were well rested and wanted to test the cold weather outside (-11°C ). I put on four layers of tops and bottoms. The immediate layer against the skin was a uniqlo heattech (extreme heat) top and bottom. The 2nd layer was a thermal layer (wool) top and bottom, the third layer was a fleece jacket for the top and a pair of a jeans for the bottom. The 4th layer was a down jacket and a down pants. Yat Thong put on four layers on top, a short sleeves heattech, a normal short sleeves t-shirt, a fleece jacket and a down jacket. For the bottom he had a long-john pants, a normal cotton pants and a down pants. For the head we had a thin neck gaiter, a hat and ear protector and for the hand we had wool gloves. For our feet we had wool socks and timberland winter boots.
We got out of our hotel for a short walk to a convenient store some 300 meter away. We could felt the cold air on our faces through the neck gaiters that were pulled all the way up to our noses. Our entire bodies except our cheeks and and our hands were comfortably warm. The cheeks felt very cold but still bearable, it was the fingers that became terribly cold. The wool gloves seemed insufficient to ward off the chill and after a while our fingers felt “bitting” cold. It looked like we would need to put on our ski gloves the next time we were out or use heat-pads to keep our hands/fingers warm . Four layers seemed good enough for -11°C with no wind condition.
Lunch and Dinner
We had lunch at a local eatery just about 300 meter from our hotel. We went in and saw three food stores. While we were studying the menu at one store a Chinese man came up and told us that we should use his store-value card to pay for the food. He gave us an impression that cash was not accepted by the food sellers, he could pay for us with his card and we could reimburse him after that.
We had rice, a beef (tiny slices) with vegetable and another meat that looked like pork but was actually chicken liver (yuk!!) with vegetable. It costed only ¥16, a pretty cheap price for an unappetitising meal.
For dinner we had it at the restaurant in our hotel. There was a huge poster just outside the restaurant advertising delicious “hot-pot” but we were told that “hot pot” was not available! We asked for a menu and was told that there was none. At this time of the year the restaurant offered only two items – noodle and dumplings. The noodle was very plain but the dumpling was very nice. It costed ¥40 for for both items.
Our stay for the night
We booked “Harbin Airport Hotel ” on Trip.com and it costed ¥316 a night with breakfast. Trip.com was the English equivalent of ctrip.com for foreigners booking hotels in China.
Our room at Airport Hotel had twin beds with ensuite bathroom. The room was pretty roomy, clean and comfortable. Two bottles of mineral water was provided in the room and a kettle. There was no fridge or tea/coffee (apparently fridge was not a standard item in hotel in China). The toilet came with toiletries, bath towels and hand towels. The hot water in the toilet was hot and strong.
It was a plus that the hotel TV-channel provided some free movies which helped us past the time relaxing.