Frozen China

The Inner Mongolian Horse Stampede & Other Icy Delights

Ask A Question
Get Our eNewsletter

Just north of Beijing an extensive swathe of Inner Mongolia grassland lies on the Bashang Plateau.  This windswept tableland is buffeted in winter by frigid weather systems originating out of the frozen northerly regions of Mongolia and Siberia.  Reminiscent of similar habitat found in Yellowstone National Park, this aspen-dotted landscape is normally snowbound throughout much of the winter.  It is in this wintry countryside that one of the most photogenic equine spectacles takes place annually—the stampede of Mongolian horses.
Bashang is located east of one of Kublai Khan’s three former capitals—Yuan Zhongdu. This region was once one of the most important ranchlands for Mongolian military horses.  Relatively small and extremely hardy, these sturdy horses exhibited remarkable stamina and could survive in climates that would have killed other breeds—enabling the Mongols to launch successful winter attacks on Russia.

Stampeding horses in ChinaJust a few years ago foreigners were forbidden to enter Bashang, because it surrounds several active military installations.  But recently the numbers of both Chinese and foreign visitors have been steadily increasing.  Travelers are attracted by the sensuous rolling landscape, the cool summer temperatures—and the horses.  These days, numerous Mongolian horses are bred here for equestrian tourism and wrangled for large-scale performances in the Chinese film industry. 

Virtually unknown to Western photographers, a spectacular winter horse drive of 50 to 80 Mongolian horses is orchestrated by the local Bashang horsemen—exclusively for photographers.  Mongolian riders dressed in Mongol costumes are the “cowboys” of the Bashang Plateau.  Along with the thundering horses, the riders are highly photogenic as they gallop across the wintry plain through clouds of snow kicked up by the multitude of stampeding hooves. 

Harbin Ice Festival ChinaThere is much to shoot in Bashang, including Bactrian camel caravans, smoke rising from the working Mongolian herders’ yurts, livestock grazing the winter grasslands, isolated aspen and birch groves, mist-frosted stream scenes—and, of course, horses, horses and more horses in a variety of pastoral settings.
Following our 5 days of horse shoots in Bashang we fly north, almost to the Siberian border, to create fantastic images of the celebrated rime-frosted trees along the steamy Songhua River at Jilin.  Finally, we travel by high-speed train to Harbin to shoot the famous and extremely photogenic ice sculptures at the Harbin Ice Festival.  

From the dramatic Mongolian horse stampede to a variety of other photogenic “icy delights”—and with the added bonus of ringing in the Western New Year at a very unusual location—all are highlights of this diverse and image-intensive (and very cold!) photo safari to China in the winter.

Tour Itinerary

Day 1
Depart from home.
Day 2 (Dec 26 in Beijing)
Arrive at Beijing Capital International Airport and transfer to our airport hotel.  Meet in the hotel lobby at 6 PM for dinner. (D)
Day 3
Following an early breakfast we board our bus for our northward journey to the Bashang Plateau.  Traveling roughly 400km (250 miles), the 8-9 hour trip (with a stop for lunch) will take most of the short daylight hours.  We should be prepared for extreme cold temperatures—well below freezing—upon our arrival with adequate cold weather clothing.  We arrive at our hotel by late afternoon and settle in.  Participants should be aware that our hotel is a guesthouse that normally accommodates Chinese travelers and will be relatively basic by international travel standards.  (BLD)
Days 4–8
Our days at Bashang will be busy with several massive horse stampedes, special smaller horse drives arranged exclusively for our group, photo shoots of Mongol riders in classic costume, Bactrian camel riders, hoar-frosted trees, rolling snowbound landscapes, pastel sunrises, tree patterns, and daily village life around the region.  But the horses are, of course, our main focus.
Even in winter, Mongol horses typically do not require a daily supply of grain.  Their ability to forage grass and twigs on their own—and to survive on such fodder—helped free the Khan's army from the need for extensive supply lines during war.  The Mongol horse was the ATV of its day requiring little “gas” or maintenance and providing “excellent mileage.”  A warrior relied on his herd to provide milk and meat, hide for bowstrings, shoes and armor, dried dung to be burned for fuel, and hair for rope.  (BLD)

Day 9
We retrace our steps to Beijing and board an evening flight to Changchun, the capital of Jilin Province bordering Siberia and North Korea.  We reside in a 5-star airport hotel for the night.  (BLD)
Days 10–11
Following a leisurely breakfast we travel by bus to Jilin City, a “small” metropolis of 4 million people—about a 3-hour drive from Changchun.  We have a day and a half of photography as we search for the thick frosty rime—the dazzling feathery white ice crystals that form on the cypress, pine, elm and willow trees along the city’s Songhua River and into the “wilder” countryside.
For rime to occur, a combination of very cold temperatures, sufficient low-level fog and clear skies overhead is needed.  Typically, this happens in the interior of large continents, in protected river valleys, or on misty mountain slopes.  Jilin’s setting, however, offers the perfect blend of ingredients for this magical landscape to occur.

Despite air temperatures dipping as low as -32°C (-26°F), a hydroelectric dam on the Songhua River keeps the water churning for miles downstream, which in turn encourages the creation of a super-cooled fog.  The fog droplets remain liquid, even though the temperature is well below freezing.  But as soon as the droplets come in contact with something solid, they freeze instantly forming the beautiful and very photogenic rime “flowers” over the riverside tree branches.  (BLD)

Day 12
A morning high-speed train trip brings us to Harbin—the “Ice City”—in time for a late lunch.  Harbin, with a population of ten million inhabitants, is China’s northernmost major city.  The city serves as an important gateway for Chinese/Russian commerce and includes a sizable population of Russian diaspora.
Following our hotel check-in we head to the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival to capture the colossal ice sculptures against the pastel evening twilight colors of the sky.  The ice festival is a festive yearly highlight for the local residents which attracts thousands of Chinese and international travelers.

Held in a riverside park outside of the city, the LED- and neon-illuminated full-size “buildings” are constructed from 2- to 3-foot-thick blocks of crystal clear ice taken directly from the Songhua River.  In early December, ice artisans cut 120,000 cubic meters (4.2 million cubic feet) of ice blocks from the river’s frozen surface as the raw material for the massive ice sculpture display. The sculptures take 15,000 workers laboring for 16 days to create.  

Lights are inserted inside the ice and, when illuminated at dusk, create a frozen fantasyland—one often featuring replicas of famous iconic buildings from around the world as well as classic Chinese architecture, abstract carvings and playful animals.  They are a sight to behold!  Once we are thoroughly frozen we will head back to our hotel for dinner while we thaw out.  (BLD)

Day 13
This morning, we fly back to Beijing.  In the afternoon, we spend our last photo session (ironically) at the Summer Palace.  Originally an imperial garden of pavilions, halls, palaces, temples and bridges, the Summer Palace was first constructed in the Qing Dynasty.  Dominated by the excavated Kunming Lake and man-made Longevity Hill, UNESCO declared the Summer Palace "a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design” on its World Heritage Site list in 1998.  (BLD)
Day 14 (Jan 7)
Depart for the Beijing airport by hotel shuttle bus and fly home.  (B)
Print this Page

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris Enrollment Information

Frozen China

Dec 25, 2019 - Jan 07, 2020

A deposit and completed and signed Registration Form are required to reserve a place for you on a Joseph Van Os Photo Safari.


All prices are quoted in US dollars and all payments must be paid in US dollars. For deposit only, we accept Visa, MasterCard or American Express. Final payment of the trip fee is due 120 days priors to departure and must be paid by check or bank transfer. Trip deposits are non-refundable and non-transferable.

We must receive written notice of your cancellation, at which time cancellation fees in the following amounts apply:

If Written Cancellation is Received:
90 days or prior:
89 to 61 days prior:
60 or fewer days:
Cancellation Fee:
100% of deposit
50% of trip fee
100% of trip fee

Emergency evacuation insurance is REQUIRED for this tour. As noted in Section 3 below, we send a brochure for trip insurance to US and Canadian residents. The policy offered includes the emergency evacuation coverage required for this trip. Participants purchasing trip insurance on their own—that is, not through our office—should confirm that emergency evacuation is included in their policy.

No partial refunds are made for unused portions or services of a trip for any reason whatsoever. Trips are sold as a package only. This policy also applies to tour extensions and independent travel arrangements. Cancellation fees are not transferable.

Protect your travel investment and purchase a trip insurance policy that includes emergency evacuation coverage. A trip insurance brochure will be sent with your enrollment confirmation.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris are within the capabilities of average people in good health. Some of these trips require the capability of walking for several miles over uneven trails, stepping from a small boat to a wave-washed rocky beach, flying in small planes and helicopters, and occasionally hiking at high elevations—all while carrying an assortment of camera equipment. If you have concerns about your own capabilities and/or fitness as it relates to a trip, please inquire with our office before reserving a space. By forwarding a signed Registration Form and trip deposit, you certify that you do not knowingly have any physical or other conditions of disability that would create a risk for you or other trip participants and you agree to inform our office in writing if changes in your health occur any time prior to the tour. We reserve the right to request a doctor's statement of good health. The company's or trip leader's judgment shall provide the ultimate determination of an individual's ability to embark upon or to continue a trip. Once a trip has been confirmed, medical circumstances will not be considered as exceptions to our cancellation policy. We assume no responsibility for medical care or for special dietary requirements. “Meatless” meals are normally available at most locations. Due to the remote nature of many photo locations, and the growing diversity of today’s dietary trends, participants requiring special food items are encouraged to bring their own.

Tour members are asked to refrain from smoking with or near the group.

Participants will receive three emails before the trip departs: 1. Initial Tour Information sheet confirms the deposit and provides pre-departure information. 2. Invoice/Practical Information provides clothing and photo gear recommendations, climate data, applicable health advisories and reading list. Visa information will also be included (if applicable). 3. Final Tour Information includes arrival instructions, itinerary revisions (if any), hotel addresses, trip telephone contact information and participant list. We provide the trip leader's telephone number(s) and/or e-mail address with final documents so you can inquire about special photographic questions you may have regarding your trip. We welcome your calls or e-mail messages to

Information supplied upon enrollment describes the specific costs that are included in your trip fee. Generally these costs include lodging in double room occupancy, all meals (specified in the itinerary as BLD denoting breakfast, lunch or dinner), ground transportation during the trip in vans or small busses, air transportation as specified, meal and baggage tipping, and guide services provided by the trip leaders. Not included are airfare or other transportation from your home to the trip staging location, airport departure taxes, insurance, alcoholic beverages and bar expenses (plus bottled water and soft drink expenses on international tours outside of North America), tips and gratuities to local guides abroad, phone calls, passport or visa expenses, laundry or items of a personal nature. Gratuities to Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris trip leaders are optional and always appreciated. Rates are based on group tariffs; if the trip does not have sufficient registration, a small party supplement may be charged.

Single accommodations are available for a supplemental cost in many locations; see the pre-departure trip information or call our office for details. You will be charged the single supplement fee if you desire single accommodations or if you wish to have a roommate, but one is not available. In some remote locations, clients with single rooms are infrequently compelled to share a room due to circumstances beyond our control. In such cases, appropriate per diem refunds will be made reflecting the direct cost of the single room at the facility where clients are required to share. There is no additional single supplement fee on ship-based cruises, if you request a roommate and one is not available.

Cost increases may occur unexpectedly due to rising costs of airfares, ground transport, fuel surcharges, accommodations and currency fluctuations, among others. Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. may be compelled to amend prices, and we reserve the right to do so without prior notice. An increase in trip prices shall not be sufficient grounds for any refund of funds paid for the trip other than as determined by the terms of our cancellation policy.

Whenever possible, our trip participants are lodged in comfortable, modern hotels. We select among the best available accommodations, but refrain from extravagance. Some interesting photographic destinations are far removed from modern amenities, however, and where necessary we will be accommodated in rustic country inns, cabins or tented camps.

Meals are always a special part of our trips for the camaraderie they engender and the opportunity they provide to try new foods from different areas. Depending on the trip and specific locale, participants order restaurant meals from the full menu or, less frequently, table d'hôte. Some trips include picnic lunches in the field. Fruit juice for breakfast and coffee or tea are included with the meals. Soft drinks are included with meals on tours within North America. Participants are responsible for their own bar tab (including bottled water, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages on tours outside of North America) at restaurant lunches and dinners.

Our itineraries are intended as examples only. Participants should allow for flexibility due to changes in weather, natural history or cultural events, or other logistical arrangements deemed necessary by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. or our leaders.

The second tour leader (and any subsequent additional leaders) listed for each trip on the website will be added as the group size warrants. If only one space remains on a trip, and logistics permit, we accept two persons traveling together, even if it exceeds the trip maximum.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. and/or their Agents act only as agents for the passenger in regard to travel including, but not limited to, sightseeing, meals, lodging, transportation, and all other services whether by railroad, motorcar, motor coach, boat, ship or aircraft and they assume no liability for injury, damage, loss, accident, delay or irregularity which may be occasioned either by reason of defect in any vehicle or for any reason whatsoever, or through the acts or default of any company or person engaged in conveying the passenger or in carrying out the arrangements of the trip.

They can accept no responsibility for losses or additional expenses due to delay or changes in air or other services, sickness, weather, strike, war, volcanic eruption, terrorist acts, political unrest, quarantine or other causes. All such losses or expenses will have to be borne by the passenger, as trip fees provide for arrangements only for the times and locations stated. Baggage is at the owner's risk entirely.

The right is reserved to 1) substitute hotels of similar category for those indicated and to make any changes in the itinerary or transport where deemed necessary, or caused by changes in air schedules or equipment substitution; 2) cancel any trip prior to departure, in which case full refund of the paid trip funds will be given, but Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. is not responsible for any other trip preparation expenses such as penalized or non-refundable air tickets, visa fees and medical related expenses; 3) substitute trip leader(s) for the leader(s) originally specified, in which case the substitution is not a basis for participant cancellation or refund other than provided by our normal cancellation policy; or 4) accept or retain any person as a member of any trip.

Trip prices are based on tariffs and exchange rates in effect at the time of publication and are subject to adjustment in the event of any change therein.

A Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section must be signed by each participant prior to the commencement of the trip. Participation by any trip member will be declined in the absence of the signed Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section, with no trip fee refund. No modification to the Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section will be accepted.

Should Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or anyone acting on their behalf be required to incur attorney's fees and costs to enforce this agreement, the enrolling trip participant(s) agree(s) to indemnify and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs. In the event a lawsuit is filed, the enrolling participant(s) agree(s) to do so solely in the County of Lewis in the State of Washington. Certain ship owners require the use of pre-printed ticket forms that limit the ship owner's and operator's liability. When such tickets are used, the passenger is bound by the terms of these tickets with respect to the passenger's legal relationship to the owners and operators of the ship, their agents (Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc.), and the ship's crew.

Frozen China: Easy Activity Level

Trip Details
Dec 25, 2019 - Jan 07, 2020
Fee: $7,495 from Beijing, China, includes internal tour airfare
Deposit: $1,000
Limit: 13 participants
Activity Level: Easy
  • Photograph scores of Mongolian horses stampeding over a snowy Inner Mongolia landscape
  • Shoot Mongol horsemen in traditional dress—the cowboys of the Bashang Grassland
  • Create otherworldly images of rime-laden trees near Siberia
  • Experience the amazing building-size ice sculptures at the Harbin Ice Festival
Tour Leaders
Joe Van Os

Joe Van Os

And local guide