Festivals of Snow and Ice

Imagine a journey that starts with a bang and finishes with an absolute explosion of colour and light. A journey that is linked mainly by bullet trains on either side of the Sea of Japan. This is a tour which touches iconic cities, yet also probes the ‘paths less trodden’. Festivals of Snow and Ice is an astonishing rollercoaster that pairs reflection and deliberation in Hiroshima and Beichuan with the intensity and exhilaration of the snow and ice festivals in Sapporo and Harbin.

The journey starts with a visual feast in Sapporo, home of the annual Snow Festival. This the launch pad that will take us through the Seikan undersea tunnel, which links the islands of Hokkaido and Honshu, to Japan’s iconic mountain, Fuji. We then move south for a three-night stay in the ancient capital of Kyoto which boasts more than a dozen UNESCO World Heritage sites and is home to Japan’s largest population of geisha. Continuing south-west via the great ‘White Heron’ castle of Himeji, we arrive at the sobering city of Hiroshima, where the cataclysmic events of 6 August 1945 etched the city’s name permanently in the history books. Yet through the sadness, our exploration of Hiroshima focuses on the amazing resurgence and resilience of the city and its inhabitants. We then take a flight to Chengdu and explore the beauty of Sichuan. Here we visit the famous Giant Pandas before heading to a remote mountainous capsule of extraordinary beauty. This secret corner of China, dotted with scenic Tibetan villages, is almost unknown to the Western world. Great contrasts continue to be played our as we arrive to the place where time has been frozen, Beichuan. Here one of the greatest tragedies of Chinese history, has become a vast and haunting memorial of the earthquake and the landslides that followed. We then board a marvellous scenic bullet train that pierces the very heart of the Three Gorges to reach Hangzhou. Here a marriage of antiquity and modernity flourishes along the legendary banks of the West Lake. Our final bullet train journey takes us to Harbin, close to the Russian border. Here, the world famous Ice Festival provides a breathtaking kaleidoscope of colour, art and imagination: the ultimate finale to our thrilling tour!

Tour Fitness Level: Moderate

Highlights

Japan

  • See the lights on the snow sculptures at the Sapporo Snow Festival in Odori Park as night falls
  • Take a cable car to the mountain top at the Olympic ski jump in Sapporo
  • Explore the snowy landscape and beautiful buildings of Hokkaido Village
  • Ride on the famous bullet train to Mt Fuji
  • Overnight stay at Lake Yamanaka in the shadow of the great mountain
  • Three-night stay in Japan’s delightful former capital, Kyoto
  • Visit beautiful Nara Park, a World Heritage site, which is home to 1,200 deer
  • Stroll through the famous bamboo forest to the Nonomiya Shrine
  • Explore historic Nijo Castle
  • Enjoy a city tour of Kyoto, including the Silver Pavilion and Philosopher’s Pass
  • Exclusive dinner with beautiful geisha entertainers
  • See the amazing ‘White Heron’ castle of Himeji
  • Visit to the Peace Park in Hiroshima
  • See the UNESCO A-Bomb Dome, the last building left standing after 6  August 1945
  • Visit to the ‘Island of the Gods’, Miyajima, for fantastic views of Hiroshima’s skyline from the top of Mt Misen

China

  • Visit the Giant Panda breeding research centre at Chengdu
  • See the amazing ‘Treasure of Sichuan’, the Dujiangyan irrigation system
  • Explore the fascinating Nine Villages Valley in the Min Shan Mountains
  • Visit the remarkable open air memorial of the ruins of Biechuan city
  • Take the scenic bullet train journey along the past the Three Gorges to Hangzhou
  • Explore the timeless beauty of Hangzhou
  • Feast on a traditional hotpot dinner in the Ice Palace Room in Harbin
  • Marvel at the stunning life-size ice sculptures at Harbin’s Ice Lantern Festival
  • Visit the magnificent Siberian tigers at feeding time
  • See the beautiful snow carvings on Sun Island

Inclusions

  • All flights between Australia, Japan and China
  • All accommodation (twin-share)
  • All transfers
  • All meals as specified
  • Travel Directors tour leader throughout
  • Expert local guides throughout
  • All entrance fees for specified sightseeing
  • All ticketable air taxes (NB. may be subject to change)
  • All visas and courier fees
  • All tips and gratuities

Please note that whilst every effort will be made to adhere to the above pricing, currency fluctuations beyond our control can affect final costs. A booking form is to be completed by all passengers, and a non-refundable deposit of AUD $3,000 per person paid at the time of booking. All escorted tours are based on a minimum group size of 10 people travelling.

Itinerary

01/02/2020 Australia – Singapore

Check-in at your chosen Australian airport for the flight to Singapore. On arrival we connect with our flight to Sapporo.

02/02/2020 Singapore – Sapporo (D)

Depart Singapore TR 892, 05.55

Arrive Sapporo 16.05

After completing customs and immigration formalities at Sapporo we transfer to our hotel.

Keio Plaza Hotel

Sapporo

03/02/2020 Sapporo (BLD)

The first Sapporo Snow Festival was held in Odori Park in 1950, with only six snow statues made by local high-school students. Since then the Snow Festival has greatly expanded, gaining worldwide recognition. In 1974, the International Snow Sculpture Contest started as part of the Snow Festival with many overseas nations, including those that never receive snow, competing in the contest every year. Over the next seven days, two million people will visit Sapporo’s Snow Festival. After breakfast we visit the Olympic ski site. Taking a cable car to the top of the mountain, we witness first-hand the breathtaking height of the ski jump. The view from the mountains back to Sapporo provides a fantastic panorama. After lunch we explore the city centre.

04/02/2020 Sapporo – Otaru (BLD)

After breakfast we depart for Otaru on a scenic train journey that winds along the Sea of Japan. Otaru is a beautifully preserved fishing town known for its herring mansions that date back to the 19th century. In the afternoon we visit the famous Sapporo beer museum and later soak up the atmosphere of the Snow Festival that stretches across the four blocks of Odori Park.

05/02/2020 Sapporo – Mount Fuji (BD)

Depart Sapporo, 08.39

Arrive Mount Fuji 16.05

This morning we take the shinkansen bullet train to Mt Fuji. Here we transfer by bus to the magnificent Yamanaka Lake, one of the five lakes at the base of this sacred mountain. Shaped like a whale this area is where some Japanese families have second homes, due to its outstanding natural beauty and scenery. At this time of year the sky is usually clear which provides a stunning vista as the sun sets behind Mt Fuji.

Hakone Fujiya Hotel

Mt Fuji

06/02/2020 Mount Fuji – Kyoto (BLD)

After breakfast we transfer to the railway station for our journey to Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan for 1,000 years until 1867 when Tokyo took the crown. Surrounded by mountains, Kyoto is the city that touches the heart of the Japanese in a way that no other place can. Ancient customs and heritage have continued here as Geisha and Maiko scurry between appointments in tiny alleys lit by traditional lanterns. On arrival we visit Nijo Castle and Kiyomi Zu Temple.

Kyoto Royal Hotel

Kyoto

07/02/2020 Kyoto (BLD)

One of the most tranquil places in Kyoto is the Philosopher’s Walk – a pleasant stone path running beside a canal lined with hundreds of cherry trees. This morning we stroll along the path named for one of Japan’s most famous philosophers who practised meditation as we walked the route. From here we continue our exploration of Kyoto with a visit to the Silver Pavilion, set amongst a beautiful moss garden and a unique dry sand garden, known as the ‘Sea of Silver Sand’. After lunch we visit the western historical area of Arashiyama, an hour from Kyoto centre, where we meander through the famous Bamboo Forest and the wonderful Nonomiya Shrine.

08/02/2020 Kyoto – Nara – Kyoto (BLD)

Nara Park is situated south of Kyoto, about an hour’s drive from the city. Japan’s capital from AD710–784, the park is a serene place of natural beauty and infinite treasures, and home to around 1,200 freely roaming deer. Among the historic buildings within the park are Todaiji Temple, the world’s largest wooden structure, which houses the ‘Giant Buddha’ that soars 16 metres in height. After fully exploring Nara, we return to Kyoto.

09/02/2020 Kyoto – Himeji – Hiroshima (BLD)

Today we take a short bus ride to Himeji Castle, also known as The White Heron because of its elegant, white appearance. This is Japan’s most imposing castle and its beautiful gardens, create a wonderful backdrop to the white edifice. The castle, which like Kanazawa, was never destroyed by war, earthquake or fire, survives to this day as one of the country’s twelve original castles. After our visit here we board our bullet train for the two-hour journey to Hiroshima.

Rihga Royal Hotel

Hiroshima

10/02/2020 Hiroshima (BLD)

On 6 August 1945, the world’s first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. The tremendous impact of the bomb obliterated everything within a 2km radius, and immediately killed more than 80,000 people, with tens of thousands more dying from radiation exposure. After the war, despite some predictions that the city would be uninhabitable, Hiroshima was reconstructed quickly and a large park was built in the centre of the city. This morning we visit Peace Park and Peace Park Museum which provide a powerful reminder of the worst day in Hiroshima’s history. We also see the A-Bomb Dome, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, which remains the last visible link and iconic image of this cataclysmic day.

11/02/2020 Hiroshima – Miyajima Island – Hiroshima (BLD)

The so-called ‘Island of the Gods’, Miyajima Island, is on the beautiful Seto Inland Sea. One of the most picturesque spots in Japan, this romantic and historical island is laced with virgin forest as well as numerous Shinto shrines, temples and monuments. Today we board a ferry for the short trip to the island and take a cable car to the top of Mt Misen for breathtaking views of Hiroshima and the surrounding islands. After our visit here we take the ferry back to Hiroshima.

12/02/2020 Hiroshima – Chengdu (BLD)

Depart Hiroshima China Air MU 294 1623, 09.15

Arrive Chengdu 15.40

Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan province and is often referred to as the ‘Country of Heaven’. This evening we explore the Jinli area, an ancient pedestrian street, and the Tibetan Quarter. As evening descends, the wooden buildings which line the alleyways, are illuminated by traditional Chinese lanterns creating an almost surreal vista.

Crown Plaza Hotel

Chengdu

13/02/2020 Chengdu (BD)

This morning we head out to the nearby Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding where a natural habitat of the giant panda has been created that facilitates the best possible environment for rearing and breeding. In total there are fewer than 2,000 pandas left in the world. The base also cares for other rare and endangered wild animals including lesser pandas, black-necked cranes, white storks and over 20 species of rare animals. Facilities at the base include medical stations, research laboratories and a training centre. As many as ten thousand clumps of bamboos and bushes have been cultivated to provide for the animals’ diet and habitat. After our visit to the base we continue to an ancient scenic area that is known as the Bamboo Sea. Here a total of 58 species of bamboo cover more than 500 hills and merge with a landscape of caves, lakes and waterfalls.

14/02/2020 Chengdu – Dujiangyan – Nine Villages Valley (BLD)

This morning we begin our journey to Nine Villages Valley. Soon after leaving the city we stop to visit the ‘Treasure of Sichuan’, the Dujiangyan irrigation system, which still plays a crucial role in draining off floodwater, irrigating farms, and providing water resources for more than 50 cities in the province. Originating over 2,200 years ago when the city was threatened by the frequent floods caused by the Minjiang River, it was decided to construct an irrigation system that would prevent such catastrophes. Recognised as the oldest irrigation system in the world, it freed the Chengdu Plain from flooding, creating a peaceful and affluent environment. After our visit here we head up into the mountains to Nine Villages Valley.

Sheraton Hotel

Nine Villages Valley

15/02/2020 Nine Villages Valley (BLD)

Located in the Min Shan mountain range in Northern Sichuan, the area was first settled in the 1300s by a group of Tibetan pilgrims looking for refuge and was untouched for more than six centuries. In 1972 the valley was discovered by accident by a lumberjack, and the mountains slowly began to open as accessibility improved. The mountains, the multi coloured lakes, natural primeval forest and the expression of Tibetan nationality make Nine Villages Valley a veritable fairyland. The whole area is described as China’s ‘best kept secret’ and is largely undiscovered by the outside world.

16/02/2020 Nine Villages Valley – Biechuan (BLD)

This morning we drive to Beichuan, a rural town located on a seismic fault, 143 kilometres north of Chengdu. On 12 May 2008, the town was destroyed by a devastating earthquake measuring 7.9 magnitude. More than half of the town’s population was killed, and the survivors were faced with the insurmountable task of cleaning up the place and providing shelter to those displaced. With more than 80% of the buildings in Beichaun destroyed, the situation was exacerbated by landslides that buried the town in thousands of tons of mud. At this point, it was decided that Beichuan would never be rebuilt, or even excavated, but would remain in its current state as a memorial. Today, Beichuan appears frozen in time, its crumbling buildings preserved almost exactly as they fell. This giant open-air memorial is the only place in the world, where the ruins of a modern city struck by an earthquake, have been preserved.

New Biechuan hotel

Yongchang

17/02/2020 Biechuan – Chengdu – Hangzhou (BD)

Depart Chengdu, 09.10

Arrive Hangzhou 22.24

This morning we leave for Chengdu railway station and board our bullet train to Hangzhou. Perhaps one of the most scenic train journeys in China, the line snakes its way along the Three Gorges and past the world’s largest dam. It then moves onto a plateau at speeds of 300kph, following the Yangtze River into Hangzhou.

Sheraton Hotel

Hangzhou

18/02/2020 Hangzhou (BLD)

Hangzhou’s beauty and West Lake panoramas have been eulogised by poets and applauded by emperors for thousands of years. The vision is that of a classical Chinese watercolour of willow-lined banks, mist-covered hills and ancient residential lanes. Here timeless pagodas co-exist with blissfully quiet temples, canals and a modernity that blend seamlessly. Today we fully explore this flourishing city which dates back to the Qin Dynasty of 221 BC.

19/02/2020 Hangzhou – Harbin (BLD)

After breakfast we transfer to the railway station for our journey to Harbin via Shanghai.

Depart Hangzhou, 07.15

Arrive Shanghai 08.20

Depart Shanghai, 09.39

Arrive Harbin 21.55

On arrival in Harbin we transfer to our hotel.

Shangri-La Hotel

Harbin

20/02/2020 Harbin (BLD)

Known as the ‘Moscow of the East’, Harbin has always been regarded as a unique and exotic city. We explore Harbin on foot as we enter perhaps the most interesting area of the city, simply known as ‘Central Street’. This long pedestrianised corridor of European architecture renders Harbin an enthralling metropolis, fused with Russian history that attracts people from all over the world. Afterwards we continue exploring Harbin, including Stalin Park, which is located on the south bank of the Singhua River. The park was established in 1953 after the death of the Soviet leader, Josef Stalin. This evening we enjoy a traditional hotpot dinner in the hotel’s Ice Palace Room.

21/02/2020 Harbin (BLD)

This morning we head to nearby Sun Island on the north bank of the Songhua River. This gorgeous area, surrounded by blue water, boasts crystal lakes and wooden rockeries. Covering some 3,800 hectares, Sun Island can be divided into several sections which include an animal park, a centre garden and the amazing Sun Gate. This is composed of five white ellipse gates, with four small gates on the sides and a huge one occupying the centre. There is also a Snow Art Hall which is the largest of its kind in the world and it allows as to appreciate the fantastic ice architecture, even in the summer. In winter the island is at its most beautiful and the snow carvings are magical as they sparkle in the sun. Tonight, we head to the magical lights of Harbin’s world famous Ice Lantern Festival.

22/02/2020 Harbin (BLD)

After breakfast, we visit the Siberian Tiger Park in the northwest of Harbin. Covering an area of 1,440,000 square meters it is the largest natural park for wild Siberian tigers in the world. Built in 1996, to protect the severely endangered species, it is now home to 500 purebred Siberian tigers. In addition, the park has white tigers, Bengali tigers, lynx, leopards and black pumas.

23/02/2020 Harbin – Singapore (B)

Depart Harbin TR 155, 10.15

Arrive Singapore 18.00

On arrival in Singapore we connect with the flight to our chosen Australian airport.