We got the train for Beijing to harbin and back. You can only purchase singles up to 4 days in advance of your travel.
Its about half the price in soft berth than the plane flight. Worth it if you are not in a hurry recommend booking the lower bunks more confortable. Ear plugs and masks a must. Very clean toilets and wash area 30shames us british!!!!!!!!. train goes quet about 10:30 so can get a good night sleep.
Each cabins sleeps 4 (2x2) in bunks. Each has television (u might find something with english subtitles).
I will say there is not much storage space if you have lots of cases. Thats why we got the lower bunks as there is some room under the beds.
Train leaves about 8:30 beijing and arrives about 7:30 harbin. The way our flights back to the UK worked out we could not fly back and get our flight anayway.
The train might be surplus to requirements for us now anyway as im told you can fly direct from heathrow to harbin soon..
Cost: 445 reminbi p/p (~£30 one way)
No idea what hard berth is like! about half price again i think
Find a little tea shop
Find a little out of the way tea shop. I am not a tea snob, but the Chinese Tea ceremony is fun, and they take their tea serious. We happened across one place where the owner sat us down for some cups and a discussion about the ceremony. They have some wonderful tea in China. Our favorite was the "8 ingredient tea." Not surprisingly, it has 8 ingredients in it. Be careful how you drink it though, there is definitely a science to it.
Mayonnaise on an Italian Sausage pizza? At Portman's they serve many "western" style dishes. Some have extensive artistic license taken, but they end up being quite good. Maybe it's the Russian influence. We had coffee at Portman's one night, the house blend, served in an unique test-tube-holder-like-device.
They have what seems like a fairly full bar, though I don't know what drinks the bartenders know.
They have an extensive menu, but here are some items with prices if I remember them...
Black caviar, 168 RMB
Red caviar, 48 RMB
Yellow salad... crumbled egg yolk and mayonnaise over cold meat strips.
Russian red soup
Butter (you pay extra for the butter... 3 RMB)
American-style roast pork ribs(?)
Other western-style meats
Overall, it's a nice place with live entertainment on some nights (or at least earlier in the evenings). Just don't try to take photos of the performers. The pizza wasn't a western pizza. I'd say it was more of a white pizza, but it doesn't fit that mold either. They're somewhat unique.
The other dishes, as I said above, seem to take their own interpretation of western dishes. It makes the food interesting. Not bad, just interesting.
The Songhuajiang - Part 2
Much of the blame for the flooding, both here and further south on the Yangtze, was laid squarely on poor environmental management that over decades has removed much of the forest cover in the floodplain and on the slopes of the Dahingganshan mountains further west: where the trees have gone, the water runs off the land and into the streams and rivers far more quickly, and so the Songhua rises that much faster.
Yet just five years later, the level in the Songhuajiang hit record lows, in early July 2003, reducing the 1km wide river to just 300 metres, and river traffic was suspended.
Over the years, 13,000 kilometres of levees and dikes have been built to protect farmland and the cities of Harbin, Qiqihaer, Daqing and Jiamusi.
Now, in 2005, the effects of the management project can be seen everywhere. Great forests have been planted and are being planted. Actually this is best seen not on the Songhua but on the outskirts of Wuhan on the Yangtze from the train: the northern side of the river has a fringe of forest several kilometres deep. In Harbin, reforestation is also extensive, especially to the west and north of the city.
While protection of the riverbanks continues, regrettably the water quality remains very poor, with extremely high levels of pollutants in the water. It really is not recommended to join the brave Harbin winter swimmers while they take a dip in the river!
The feats and bravery of the people who saved Harbin, not just in 1998 but also in the earlier floods of 1932 and 1957, are commemorated at the Flood Control Monument on the riverbank at the entrance to Stalin Park in Harbin.
Harbin, Cold Winter City
"A cool introduction to Harbin"
Harbin was the second place I visited after Guilin in China. I still remember how the SEVEN of us i.e me, my colleagues and 2 bosses, went on this crazy trip to this cool, freezing place just to celebrate New Year 2004! Everyone told us that we' re really OUT OF OUR MIND to ever go Harbin in December because the temperature can plummet to well below -30 degrees Celsius! Yup, the time I left Harbin i.e. 2nd of January 2004, it was -36 degree Celsius and I was terribly sick with cold feet, high fever and contagious flu. At that time, the government were still screening train passengers for SARS. Thank god, I wasn't considered as one of those who are infected with SARS but it was pretty scary for me at that time, going through the detector with the temperature projected in big red neon light. I thought I could not make it. Phew! Or else I would end up in hospital, being quarantine against my will. Ha ha!
Anyway, Harbin is the capital city of Heilongjiang province, which is situated in the northern parts of China and closer to Russia. The reason we made this trip to Harbin at that crazy time is because it is also the best time to see its winter ice festival!
"The shudders that takes u by surprise!"
Harbin's winter can be rather harsh especially when the cold, freezing winds cuts through your skin making it dry and bleed. Mine did...It was awful! It was like looking at a 70 years old hand, even my grandma's hand look better than mine and she was 77 years old then!!
Despite all that, Harbin comes to life in winter where sculptures and buildings rise up out of ice, gripping the city with heavy snow, ice castles and a frozen river. Of course, all this comes with a risk of a little frostbite and mayb, if you're lucky you might bump into the Snow Queen. But don't let her go near you, or your heart will turn cold as stone!
"U must be crazy to go to Harbin in Dec!"
Most Chinese, which includes my colleagues and students, will most likely try to encourage you to alter your plans when you mention that you are taking a trip to Harbin late December. They will shudder at the thought of cold, freezing Harbin and shake their head as in disbelief when they heard that I was going to Harbin. They say I was totally insane to go there.
Nevertheless, it did not prevent me from going and also the 3 million people who live in the far northeastern Heilongjian province. One of my student, who is from Harbin, told me that the best thing to enjoy in Harbin is to eat ICE CREAM! Yeah...these ice cream are sold at 1 yuan! Well, I tried to eat ice cream then but I got sick before I got to do it. Wasted! Never mind, there might be a next time to that!