Winter in China - Beijing and Harbin and a bunch of flights on TG, CA & SQ

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by calvinoeh, Jan 10, 2012.  |  Print Topic

  1. calvinoeh
    Original Member

    calvinoeh Milepoint Guide

    Messages:
    313
    Likes Received:
    343
    Status Points:
    520
    After our Moscow adventure during winter in 2011, Lydia was keen to freeze up again on another winter adventure. We stumbled on the snow and ice festival in Harbin, China through some forwarded email and after some more research online looked like a must-visit destination. Lydia’s family that include her mum, stepdad, sister and brother were also crazy enough to join us in the freezing temperature.

    Redeeming flights through BMI miles appeared to be the best option to get to Harbin. One could buy up to 24K miles a year and 22.5K miles +cash would be enough for a return business class ticket. We had everyone buy the miles during a sale period and the entire ticket including the miles purchased, cash and taxes ended costing ~$1000 USD per person which would have been about the same amount required to purchase an economy class ticket.

    Harbin is only served by Air China via Beijing or Cheng Du and Asiana via Seoul on Star Alliance. We initially wanted to route on Asiana through Seoul but Asiana has their black-out period during the time we wanted to travel. We settled for a routing with a stopover through Beijing since most of us had never visited Beijing before.

    Booking the flights for 6 people using miles was somewhat of a challenge. It was hard to explain to everyone that it would be impossible for everyone to travel on the same flight especially in business class. In the end I routed Lydia and I on Thai through Bangkok and Beijing. On the return, we would take Air China back to Beijing before flying to Shanghai and then connecting to Singapore on Singapore Airlines. Instead of routing the flight back to Penang, we flew back to Penang on Air Asia from Singapore and we tagged on a Bali flight from the redemption a couple of months later for a weekend getaway to further increase the value of the redemption.

    The rest of the family wanted to travel together on the same flight as much as possible. I routed them on Air China since they had good availability and even up to 4 seats from Singapore to Beijing. On the return, my sis-in-law and bro-in-law would fly from Beijing to Singapore on Singapore Airlines where as the adults would fly on Air China.

    As usual, the trip report will be posted on my blog with trip installments below:

     
    OY-JFS and savydog like this.
  2. calvinoeh
    Original Member

    calvinoeh Milepoint Guide

    Messages:
    313
    Likes Received:
    343
    Status Points:
    520
    Penang to Bangkok on TG

    We got to the airport around 6 am for our 8am flight to Bangkok. There was no line in the business class line. Check-in was done by MAS agents with a supervisor from Thai Airways. Our bags were tagged all to Beijing and we were handed boarding passes and lounge invitation to the MAS Golden Lounge.


    [​IMG]
    It was rather annoyingly warm and stuffy that not all the air-conditioning was turned on yet when we got to the lounge. The staff eventually turned it on a couple of minutes later. I caught up on email before enjoying a hearty breakfast of nasi lemak and coffee knowing that the food in the lounge would probably be better than on the plane later.




    [​IMG]
    My hearty nasi lemak breakfast​
    The lounge itself was pretty good with plenty of seating, a good view of the tarmac, business center, a kids play area and even a shower. It does puzzle me however who actually gets to use the lounge since the lounge is on the international wing of the airport and MAS does not serve any international destination from Penang.


    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]
    Read more »
     
    OY-JFS likes this.
  3. calvinoeh
    Original Member

    calvinoeh Milepoint Guide

    Messages:
    313
    Likes Received:
    343
    Status Points:
    520
    Our flight from Penang parked at a domestic gate so we had to be bused to the international terminal. It took an annoying 15 minutes for the bus ride and the walk through security rescreening and the transit area before we were in the Thai Royal Spa lounge for our 30 minute neck and shoulder massage. My back was killing me the entire week and the massage did wonders even though it was cut short by about 5 minutes so we would make our flight to Beijing. We only had an hour plus layover in Beijing.
    As we made our to the departure gate which was one of the last ones in C-gate, I tried to set the expectation to Lydia that the seats and IFE were not going to be that good since we were probably going to be on the old 744 especially since we’ve tried the F cabin before previously. I caught a glimpse of our plane from a far and noticed the 2 engines on each wing so we probably didn’t get “TGed” and our flight was still going to be a 744. I was pleasantly surprised that when we reached the gate to see that yes the plane did have 2 engines on each wing but it didn’t have the 744 upper deck hump. We got “TGed” to an Airbus 346 which had better seats and IFE in all cabins. The only downside was that I didn’t bother double checking our seats when we checked in at Penang assuming we had our pre-booked upper deck seats. We ended up with middle seats and would have preferred window seats for the view.


    [​IMG]
    Our ride to Beijing​
    Business class was pretty much full on this flight with only a couple of empty seats. Pillows, blankets, headphones, menus and amenity kit were waiting for us in the seats when we got to our seats.
    Read more »
     
    OY-JFS likes this.
  4. calvinoeh
    Original Member

    calvinoeh Milepoint Guide

    Messages:
    313
    Likes Received:
    343
    Status Points:
    520
    We stayed at the Hotel G Beijing for our first night taking advantage of the Hotel G mistake on booking.com where a $200 USD room was available for 200 Chinese Yuan or ~$30 USD inclusive of breakfast. What a deal! Too bad I could only get those rates for just our first night in Beijing. I must commend the hotel for honoring the mistake especially since they even allowed the 4 others on this trip who arrived at ~8 am to check-in early.
    [​IMG]
    Hotel G is one of those cool, stylish and modern hotels which reminded me of the Vie in Bangkok. We later found out that the random colors seen in the picture could be changed individually by people in their rooms. The hotel was somewhat hard to find with most cab drivers not knowing where the hotel is. We would recommend printing a map and telling the cab driver the main road that the hotel is on. We personally had to hunt around a couple of minutes before spotting the hotel.

    [​IMG]



    [​IMG]
    Hotel Lobby​

    Read more »
     
    OY-JFS likes this.
  5. calvinoeh
    Original Member

    calvinoeh Milepoint Guide

    Messages:
    313
    Likes Received:
    343
    Status Points:
    520
    We had 3 bright and sunny days in Beijing. Sure it was still freezing cold with temperature close to zero Celcius but I heard that it was a rarity to see blue skies in Beijing. My first impressions of Beijing was how surprisingly modern, clean and somewhat organized the city is. I'm not sure where got I the misconception from but I was expecting Beijing to be loud and chaotic which really wasn't the case. It wasn't the uber organized Hong Kong or Singapore but reminded me of cities like Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok.
    The one thing to get used to however is crossing with streets. Even with pedestrian crossings, it was an adventure to make sure you don't get knock down by an incoming car. Cars have right of way in China.
    During the 3 days, we did the must-do tourist attractions such as visiting the Great Wall, Temple of Heaven, Olympic Park and the Forbidden Palace in addition to the endless visits to the malls and eating around. I'll leave you with some pictures for now but I'll post more details on the visit to the Great Wall, Temple of Heavan and Forbidden Palace in upcoming posts.



    [​IMG]
    Great Wall​



    [​IMG]
    Temple of Heaven​


    [​IMG]
    The Bird Nest​



    [​IMG]
    Mr. Mao​



    [​IMG]
    Forbidden Palace​

    Read more...
     
    OY-JFS likes this.
  6. calvinoeh
    Original Member

    calvinoeh Milepoint Guide

    Messages:
    313
    Likes Received:
    343
    Status Points:
    520
    Exploring Beijing - The Great Wall at Mutianyu

    There are three popular spots to visit the Great Wall from Beijing. Badaling would be the closest but it is supposedly the most touristy. Simatai is the furthest away but the less restored which is good for those who want to see the wall as close to it's original state. We ended up choosing to go the wall at Mutianyu since it was a good in between option - less than an hour drive from Beijing and less touristy and packed if compared to Badaling.
    To get to Mutianyu, one needs to rent a car and driver that will take you there and wait for you when you explore the wall. There are probably public trains & buses but we didn't think it was worth the hassle. There are many driver recommendations on tripadvisor and flyertalk and we picked one that ended up being good. Send me an email if you want the contact for the driver we used.
    We set off for Mutianyu even before the sun was up at 6.30 in the morning. We got to Mutianyu right as the sun was coming up and it made for some stunning views. There are 3 ways up to the wall - a cable car, a ski lift type ride or you could hike/walk up. We chose the ski lift ride as for a couple of reminbi more, it includes a ride down on the toboggan slide (more on that later).


    [​IMG]



    [​IMG]
    The lift to the top​
    Since we were there early, there were only a couple of other tourists around. The tour buses haven't arrived yet. At certain parts of the wall, we were the only ones around which made the experience so much more enjoyable and peaceful. Pictures that we took earlier in the morning also turned out better as there was no haze.
    We spent the next couple of hours just walking (more like hiking) a long the wall. One some parts, it did get pretty steep and it was challenging especially in the cold. Lydia and I gave up when we reached the cable car stop where as my bro and sis in laws continued to the end.

    Read more »
     
    OY-JFS likes this.
  7. calvinoeh
    Original Member

    calvinoeh Milepoint Guide

    Messages:
    313
    Likes Received:
    343
    Status Points:
    520
    Exploring Beijing - The Forbidden Palace

    The Forbidden Palace was a 15 minute walk from our second hotel in Beijing, the Novotel Beijing Peace. It's also easily accessible via the Beijing Subway. We made a quick detour to check out Tiananmen Square which is located opposite the north entrance before heading into the Forbidden Palace. To better control traffic by trying to force the crowd in one direction, there is only one entrance on the north side with the exit on the south side.



    [​IMG]
    Tiananmen Square​
    I was amazed by the number of people visiting the Forbidden Palace. There must have been at least a couple of thousand but the crowd did thinned out once we got deeper into the palace grounds.



    [​IMG]
    The Main Entrance​

    Read more »
     
    OY-JFS likes this.
  8. Gaucho
    Original Member

    Gaucho Gold Member

    Messages:
    6,640
    Likes Received:
    13,407
    Status Points:
    11,795
    Great report !!!

    Your Beijing photos bring back childhood memories.... I learnt to ride a bike on Tienanmen Square... :cool:
     
  9. calvinoeh
    Original Member

    calvinoeh Milepoint Guide

    Messages:
    313
    Likes Received:
    343
    Status Points:
    520
    Temple of Heaven

    Temple of Heaven was the last major attraction we visited while we were in Beijing. From our hotel in Wangfujing, it is an easy 15 minute subway ride away. The closest stop is Tiantandongmen. We arrived around shortly after breakfast around 10 am and as usual, there was already a crowd at the entrance but the line for tickets wasn't too long.




    [​IMG]
    The Entrance​

    [​IMG]


    Read more »
     
    OY-JFS likes this.
  10. calvinoeh
    Original Member

    calvinoeh Milepoint Guide

    Messages:
    313
    Likes Received:
    343
    Status Points:
    520
    Novotel Beijing Peace

    Since the mistake rate for Hotel G was only available for our first night in Beijing, we moved to Novotel Beijing Peace for the rest of our time in Beijing. I chose the hotel primarily for its ideal location right by Wangfujing (wish we had booked at the Hilton though but it costs 3 time mores) giving us easy access to shopping, restaurants, subway and the Forbidden Palace.

    [​IMG]

    We arrived early at the hotel at ten in the morning but the only rooms available at that time were smoking rooms which we declined. There was no mention of my Aclub Platinum status during check-in and had my request for upgrade rejected citing that the hotel as operating at full capacity. I wasn't having any expectation for any upgrades since it wasn't per the Aclub rules and hearing about similar experiences both on flyertalk and tripadvisor.

    Read more »
     
    OY-JFS likes this.
  11. calvinoeh
    Original Member

    calvinoeh Milepoint Guide

    Messages:
    313
    Likes Received:
    343
    Status Points:
    520
    Air China operates only 2 class cabins on most domestic flights in China with the front of the plane tagged as first. There is no business class. Since our BMI redemption was for business class, we were relegated to the back of the plane for the flight to Harbin.

    We arrived at the airport around 5.30 am for our early 7.30 am flight. I'm surprised that there's such a lack of Star Alliance related signage at Beijing Airport!We didn't see any signs for Star Gold check in and the lines for economy counters were already long. We tried checking in at one of the automated machines but failed. We eventually were able to check-in at the Air China First Class domestic counters after showing my Star Gold card.

    After passing through security, we made our way to the Air China business class lounge. The lounge is pretty big which adequate seating although the furniture was somewhat drab. Instant noodles and packaged snacks were the only food available when we arrived. Soon after, breakfast was offered at the dining area which consisted of only Chinese choices like rice porridge and pastries.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]



    [​IMG]
    Sleeping Rooms​

    Read more »
     
    OY-JFS likes this.
  12. calvinoeh
    Original Member

    calvinoeh Milepoint Guide

    Messages:
    313
    Likes Received:
    343
    Status Points:
    520
    Food in Beijing

    There's just so much good food in Beijing albeit on the more oily and salty side of things! Food options range from cheap street food to high end fine dining. One of the major highlights definitely was the hunt for the best Beijing Roast Duck that we tried at three different restaurants.

    [​IMG]

    Other highlights included the street food at Wangfujing street. There is actually two spots for this with the one on the main street looking much cleaner and organized although at a slightly higher price. We were also adventurous enough to try some scorpions, beetles and starfish. Let's just say it's just a one time experience.



    [​IMG]
    Leg of sheep​

    [​IMG]



    [​IMG]
    Fruit Sticks​



    [​IMG]
    Insects​
    Read more »
     
    OY-JFS and Gaucho like this.
  13. Gaucho
    Original Member

    Gaucho Gold Member

    Messages:
    6,640
    Likes Received:
    13,407
    Status Points:
    11,795
    Thanks again for the amazing report..... some great street food to be had in Beijing... :cool:
     
    calvinoeh likes this.
  14. calvinoeh
    Original Member

    calvinoeh Milepoint Guide

    Messages:
    313
    Likes Received:
    343
    Status Points:
    520
    Food in Harbin

    Similar Beijing, there's a TON of food to try in Harbin. However, we did leave Harbin somewhat disappointed with the food quality. Most of the food here was even oilier and saltier than the food in Beijing.



    [​IMG]
    Cotton Candy​
    There are multiple food courts in the shopping malls around town and the food courts would be the easiest way to sample a multitude of choices. I personally liked the food court at the "new 100" shopping mall. I enjoyed the meat wrapped pancakes and wok fried Sichuan style dish where you can choose the meats and vege to be wok fried similar to a Mongolian style grill. There's also a pretty good dessert stall where I liked the red-bean yogurt dessert. Yum..



    [​IMG]
    Read Bean and Yogurt​


    Read more »
     
  15. calvinoeh
    Original Member

    calvinoeh Milepoint Guide

    Messages:
    313
    Likes Received:
    343
    Status Points:
    520
    Ibis Harbin

    We decided to stay at Ibis Harbin primarily because the hotel was really cheap (~$20USD/night) for a room thanks to the Accor supersale rate. The normal going rate is about ~$50 USD per night and the check-in agent helping us even made a comment on how cheap our rate was. We would have paid more to stay at the Sofitel which had additional facilities but the location seemed too inconvenient as it was out of the city. The Ibis was located right smack in the city which provide easy access to plenty of shopping, restaurants and other attractions like Zhou Yang Street, Zhao Ling park and the river.

    [​IMG]


    Read more »
     
  16. calvinoeh
    Original Member

    calvinoeh Milepoint Guide

    Messages:
    313
    Likes Received:
    343
    Status Points:
    520
    Exploring Beijing

    The main reason for the entire trip was to see the yearly world famous ice and snow festival in Harbin. Random ice and snow sculptures can be seen through out the city with three parks hosting their own exhibitions. The smaller but cheapest and closest to the city is at Zhaolin park. We skipped this as it was rather small and we caught glimpses of the sculptures from outside. We spent half a day each at Sun Island Park which primarily has snow sculptures and another evening at Ice & Snow World which is famous for their lighted ice sculptures. I'll leave you with a couple of pictures first but will post up more details on this two exhibitions in upcoming posts.


    [​IMG]




    [​IMG]
    Entrance of Zhaolin Park​



    [​IMG]
    Ice Sculpture at Song Hua River​

    [​IMG]

    Before sharing other highlights of Harbin, I do need to talk about the weather. We had clear blue skies and the sun was out while we were in Harbin but the average temperature was an ungodly -25C!. Stealing from Bourdain, -25C feels like our face was stuck to a piece of ice - it's cold and it hurts! We had to completely wrap ourselves up and any part that was uncovered would start to hurt after being exposed to the cold for a couple of minutes. Talking to the locals, it was warmer than expected when we were in Harbin. Is gets even colder? Yikes!

    My advice would be to invest in some good winter clothing. With beanie to over the head, good down jacket, thermals, scarf, thick wool socks, snow boots in addition to my "normal"wear of a sweater and jeans, I did pretty okay and was able to stay outside in the freezing temperature most of the time. Some of my other family members who didn't too well in the cold just simply wore more layers.

    Read more »
     
  17. calvinoeh
    Original Member

    calvinoeh Milepoint Guide

    Messages:
    313
    Likes Received:
    343
    Status Points:
    520
    Sun Island Park

    Sun Island lies on the north bank of the Song Hua river. It's about a twenty minute cab ride away from Harbin city which should cost no more than 20-30 reminbi. You could also get to Sun Island by taking the cable car across the river or walk across it during winter (more than that later).

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]


    Read more »
     
  18. Efilon87

    Efilon87 Silver Member

    Messages:
    321
    Likes Received:
    344
    Status Points:
    500
    Thanks for the trip report! Going to Beijing on Sunday. Staying at the Beijing Traders Hotel by Shangri-la. First time to China, quite excited!!!
     
    calvinoeh likes this.
  19. calvinoeh
    Original Member

    calvinoeh Milepoint Guide

    Messages:
    313
    Likes Received:
    343
    Status Points:
    520
    Have fun!
     
    NickM_LA likes this.
  20. calvinoeh
    Original Member

    calvinoeh Milepoint Guide

    Messages:
    313
    Likes Received:
    343
    Status Points:
    520
    Harbin Ice & Snow World

    The famous ice sculptures that people visit Harbin to see is found at Ice & Snow World. Similar to Sun Island Park, it's located across the Song Hua River and is a 15 minute cab ride away. Ice & Snow World is the most expensive of the three parks costing 300 Reminbi per person. There also are various organized tours to Ice & Snow World offered by most hotels in Harbin that costs the same as an entrance ticket but includes transportation to and from the park. Unless you are concerned about transportation because of language, I would not recommend using the tours as they only spend about two hours at the park.



    [​IMG]
    Entrance​

    Ice & Snow World is recommended to be visited at night to see the colorful lights from the numerous sculptures that are lighted even though it is actually open for the whole day. They usually turn on the lights to the sculptures around four in the evening when it is about to get dark. We got to the park way early by two in the afternoon with the cab driver who took us was questioning our sanity for getting there so early.

    Read more »
     
  21. calvinoeh
    Original Member

    calvinoeh Milepoint Guide

    Messages:
    313
    Likes Received:
    343
    Status Points:
    520
    Harbin to Shanghai via Beijing on Air China

    We were thankful we got to Harbin airport in one piece. The cab driver taking us to Harbin airport was probably a retired race car driver. He was speeding the whole way to the airport and there was even a moment when we both gasped for air when he squeezed the cab between a truck and car on the two lane highway.

    Check in at Harbin airport was also chaotic due to lack of signage. Air China, which we were flying on, outsourced their check-in and similar to Beijing, there was no Star Alliance Gold signs. We learned from the experience in Beijing and just tried checking in at the generic First Class counters.

    We were flying to Singapore via Beijing and Shanghai and the agent could only check the luggage through to Shanghai. He made a few phone calls and made up some excuse that the luggage tags only allow routing to two destinations which we knew was bogus. Our bags were already on the scales and he quickly tagged them and push them down the chute trying to get rid of us as fast as possible. We were now worried on whether we would be able to check our bags through to Singapore in time since we only had about an hour and fifteen minute layover in Shanghai.

    We made our way through security and then to "First Class" Lounge that was operated by the Harbin airport. We got access thanks to my *G status even though we were flying in economy for the flight to Beijing. The lounge itself was not anything spectacular but was better than having to hang around outside. I enjoyed my last couple Harbin beers while trying to surf the web and check email on the very slow internet access.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]


    Read more..
     
  22. calvinoeh
    Original Member

    calvinoeh Milepoint Guide

    Messages:
    313
    Likes Received:
    343
    Status Points:
    520
    Shanghai to Singapore on SQ

    We were parked at a pretty far gate and took at least 15 minutes walking at a fast pace before we got to luggage claims. We had an hour or so to go before our Singapore Airlines flight to Singapore and was worried we might not make it. Thankfully the bags came out pretty quick even without any priority tags and we managed to make our way to a deserted Singapore Airlines check-in counters.

    [​IMG]


    Singapore Airlines uses the Shanghai Airlines lounge in Shanghai. It's also used by a number of other airlines but the lounge was pretty empty when we were there. After working a slight sweat from the long hike, we took a much needed shower.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]


    Read more »
     
  23. calvinoeh
    Original Member

    calvinoeh Milepoint Guide

    Messages:
    313
    Likes Received:
    343
    Status Points:
    520
    Conclusion

    This trip report ended up being longer than I expected..

    As usual, this trip would not have been possible without the miles. Too bad BMI Diamond Club will be gone pretty soon as this would have made a pretty good yearly redemption. Booking for so many people on the same trip using miles ain't fun. Loving a challenge, we're now looking to see if we can plan another trip but with First Class experience instead. Visiting the FCT in Frankfurt together would be a ton of fun!

    Freezing our butts off especially at Ice & Snow World was totally worth it. The memory of those ice sculptures will be cherished in time to come.

    The only slight miscalculation of the trip was were the number of days we spent in Harbin. If I could re-plan the trip, I'll just have stayed in Harbin for 2 nights and used up the stopover somewhere else in China on the way back home.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the sights and food in Beijing and would love to go back again. I wasn't expecting the huge and properly kept parks. I would love to visit another less touristy part of the Great Wall.

    From the flight experience, Singapore Airlines continue to be Singapore Airlines. The experience with Thai Airways and Air China were mixed. The massage offered by Thai in Bangkok for premium passengers is still a highlight although the food was just okay. I would not want to fly Air China on any of their older cabins but would like to try their newer business and first cabins that they fly on certain routes like to Europe and the US.

    Finally, an unexpected gain on this trip was also the appreciation of the weather in Penang. Lydia has almost stopped complaining about the heat and humidity in Penang after experiencing of living in super cold weather. Wearing that many layers of clothes to protect oneself from the cold is troublesome and annoying.

    Next up, Bali...
     

Share This Page