Harbin is located in the North of China (Heilongjiang Province) and is widely known for its spectacular Snow and Ice Festival each year from around December to February.
I had seen so many photographs of Harbin and convinced myself there was absolutely no way it looked that amazing. Well I had to eat my words as I was very very wrong. It is truly a breathtaking place but layer up because you will freeze.
Myself and two friends set off from Qingdao to Harbin on a three-day trip. I had never packed so much clothing before but at least i was prepared for the below zero temperature.
On arrival the icy cold air hits you like a door in the face. Immediately we were adding our hats, scarves and gloves just to find a taxi from the airport to our hostel.
The hostel we chose to stay in was called Kazy International Hostel. The location was very convenient as we could walk to most places. The nightly rate was fairly low and the staff were super friendly, not to mention helpful. From the hostel you can easily book your tickets for the Ice Playground plus the Ice & Snow Festival. Again prices are reasonable and worth it.
The Ice Playground
When you think of a playground what do you imagine? I bet its not three adults running around around acting like toddlers. Well we really showed those kids how to have fun from taking a Husky Sleigh ride, racing each other down the Ice Slide, taking a nippy Snow Ski and much more. The playground is actually a frozen lake/river creating the perfect area for both locals and tourists to have some innocent fun.
As a blonde, I was constantly mistaken for a Russian woman by both locals and Russian tourists. A few times I had to raise my voice to show I was not joking about my nationality which is British by the way. In this area of town you can visit the Cathedral. I would suggest visiting once during the day as the sun hits it making the snow sparkle and once again after the sun sets and it lights up in a beautiful shade of yellow/orange.
Take a look inside the local souvenir shops to find that perfect gift from expensive detailed pottery to mouthwatering chocolate. I knew about this from my Russian friend who told me beforehand.
If you can handle the cold long enough for a stroll through the many streets lined with Russian architecture, you can stop off at some small shops and restaurants to escape and grab a hot drink and some local food. Try the bread, its delicious.
The Ice Festival
One word, spectacular!
We booked our tickets through the hostel. We were picked up and taken there with an English-speaking tour guide. He was very helpful and funny making the experience a high. The night we went the temperature had plummeted to minus 27 degrees Celsius, needless to say we were absolutely freezing from head to toe.
Trying to take the perfect picture in minus temperatures with thick gloves on was quite the challenge. A method for this is to cut the tip off the glove finger used to press the capture button. Also be careful that your camera can withstand the cold and keep it in your pocket when its not being used. The last thing you want is an ice cube for a camera.
If you’re thinking you can just rock a pair of UGG boots with think socks and your feet will be warm and that you wont slip and fall, you would be very wrong. Having snow boots is a must! Kazy Hostel where we stayed sold appropriate footwear and accessories to help protect you from the severe cold temperature and for a good price. My snow boots only cost me 70RMB. What is 70RMB against frost bitten toes?!
The Snow Festival
An impressive display of creativity can be found at the Snow Festival. Some of the sculptures are jaw-droppingly huge and detailed. Be prepared to spend a minimum of half a day wondering around but a full day would be better to really take it in.
Frozen fruit & Harbin Beer
One of the good things about being in such a cold place is of course the abundance of frozen fruit, mainly strawberries and the super chilled Harbin Beer. After retuning to the warmth of the indoors, you immediately start to remove layers of clothing due to the temperature change. A small portion of mixed frozen fruit will help you balance you body temperature and what better to wash down that fruit with a beer.
This part of the trip was not planned beforehand. After meeting some people at the Hostel and talking to the staff we decided to go as we had some unexpected free time. It is not hard to find if you just take the bus.
After paying the admission fee you are taken on a minibus through the outdoor roaming area where you will see many tigers taking a stroll or lying in the snow. The minibus is very open but don’t worry as they all have metal bars on them. Maybe just don’t stick your hand out for that close up picture. After the minibus tour you arrive at a zoo-like area where you can walk around and see the various tigers, lions and ligers doing their own thing.
Have you ever wanted to feed a tiger? Well look no further! Here you can buy a chicken and lower it into a tiger pit. I personally don’t find it amusing to see an animal tearing another apart but I watched it nonetheless. Tigers true to form, play with their food like an ordinary house cat but in this situation that poor chicken had no means of escape.
Before leaving the sanctuary you are able to pay 50RMB to hold and pet a baby tiger. My friend did this and the poor little thing looked terrified but oh so cute. Outside you can have some fun taking pictures on the various tiger related sculptures.
Hop on a plane to Harbin this winter and enjoy the spectacular scenery. Remember to pack your thermal clothing, winter accessories and get yourself some snow boots. You will thank me later.