China Expat & Travel Blogger. ATTRACTIONS & THINGS TO DO IN CHINA. See My Fun TRAVEL Adventures in China!
Harbin Ice and Snow World Festival. Check. Saint Sophia Cathedral. Check. Skiing in Harbin. Check. Freezing My A** Off On My Coldest Adventure in China Yet. Hell to the Yeah!
Ice, ice, crazy! Oh man, my trip to China’s infamous northern city of Harbin was undoubtedly the coldest adventure I had ever taken in my life. I’m talking FREEZING. Negatives. Apocalyptic cold. “Colder than a polar bear’s toenails”. Well, you get the meaning.
But despite the frigid temperatures and thick coats of snow, the trip to Harbin was just far too much of an EPIC experience to simply pass up; after all, Harbin is renown for its international ice and sculpture festivals and various recreational snow activities. Who could pass that up?
With that, my girlfriend and I hooked up with a local tour group and set out on a 4-day mission to explore a few popular attractions across China’s coldest region. Here’s an account of my 4-day adventure in Harbin:
Day 1 of our trip began with a late night arrival into Harbin from Shanghai. Now, one of the funniest moments I’ve ever witnessed during my time in China happened on the airplane when a passenger stood up to grab his luggage from the compartment above not a second after we landed and the wheels hit the ground. Sure, maybe it was his first time flying and he wasn’t familiar with the rules of airline transportation, but watching the scene unfold as the flight attendants chewed him out was absolutely hilarious. Oh, China.
As soon as we stepped foot off the plane we were overcome by glacial temperatures, burst of sub-zero winds, and the residue of snow scattered all across the ground. Welcome to Harbin!
Before long we met up with the rest of our tour group, made our way to the hotel, and checked-in. The next few days we’d visit plenty of attractions across town so we prepared a lot of warm drinks and foods and slept early. Day 1 in Harbin was officially done.
The next morning we woke up and made our way outside only to find out that ground was covered with a few inches of snow. It wasn’t the first time I had seen snow in China but it was definitely the first time I had seen it so thick and widespread in any region of the country.
We then hopped on the tour bus and were on the way to our first destination: a scenic ride through the snowy mountains via horse and carriage.
On the ride there we saw snow everywhere. EVERYWHERE. In fact, it was so much snow around that we wound up stuck in traffic for over an hour due to cars stuck on the icy highway.
And with traffic backed up, most of us decided to go outside to have a snow fight. What a great way to pass the time!
After awhile we finally arrived at the attraction: a picturesque mountainscape that also included an area for sliding down a small manmade hill on an inflatable ring.
This stop wasn’t included in everyone’s trip package, including ours, so a few of us needed to shell out nearly 350rmb extra to partake in the activities.
It looked fun but we found the asking prices to be absolutely ridiculous, and so my girlfriend and I decided that it was best to observe from afar rather than participate.
In the meantime I did manage to take a stroll around the area and take some nice pictures.
Our next stop was a family friendly ski resort situated on a hill.
It was nearly coming up on 4pm and we couldn’t believe how crowded it was.
The room for renting skis was jam-packed with locals from other tour groups and was very, VERY disorderly.
Nevertheless, we managed to grab our skis and hit the slopes for about an hour and a half.
Now, I had skied a few times during my youth; well, actually, more like my primary years, and my girlfriend was completely new to the experience. Together, we were both silly amateurs on the snow and it made way for a lot of fun.
We both fell, and fell, and, well, you get the picture!
Luckily there were pulleys on the left and right sides of the resort to help us reach the top again without having to climb back up.
After snapping a few pictures we made our way back to the bus and to the hotel. What a fantastic way to end the night!
We woke up to a ROARING blizzard on Day 3. There was heavy wind and blinding snowfall just right outside the hotel door, so much so that our tour guide had trouble parking the oversized bus.
Despite the freezing temperatures, most people, including myself, made a bold effort to venture outside and to grab a few selfies in the snow. After all, we were in Harbin!
Our first stop was a scenic train ride attraction through the mountainside. Again, this was not included in everyone’s itinerary and cost a whopping amount to take part in, so a few of us ended up waiting around, again.
I managed to take a number of photos of Harbin’s snowy landscape to past time.
We also found a small, unregulated hill to slide down on using inflatable rings. Of course, we took advantage.
And then it happened: we finally landed at the city’s most popular event: The Harbin Ice and Snow World Festival.
We arrived at the festival's front gate around 4pm, about an hour or so before sunset, and boy was it CROWDED. After a short while of queuing up our tour guide brought us our tickets and everyone made their way in.
AWESOMEEEE! Spread out over the festival grounds were dozens of small to large attractive ice sculptures decorated with colorful neon lights.
At the center of the festival stood a 3-column tower. Near the entrance sat an ice show theater, slide snow circle …
… a large bell …
… and plenty of other remarkable ice sculptures resembling shapes, buildings, animals, and much more.
I found it pretty cool that there were some displays in which we could interact with, and that allowed for some playful fun.
As night fell all of the ice sculptures became brilliantly illuminated and it made for an absolutely remarkable scene.
Additionally, I should note that the temperature dramatically fell as well. I’d take off my gloves for 1-minute just to take a picture and my fingers would go numb. No kidding!
The BEST SCULPTURE at the Harbin Ice and Snow World Festival had to have been the steam-engine railway train that was about 50 yards in total length.
How could they have possibly carved something that large, long, and marvelous out of ice?
Furthermore, our last leg of the festival was well spent atop of an ice sculpture resembling China's Great Wall.
It offered a spectacular panoramic view of the Harbin Ice and Snow World Festival from a few meters up.
Visiting the 2015 Harbin International Ice and Snow World was an extraordinary experience.
It was rewarding to know that I had the chance to finally explore one of China's most celebrated festivals.
And just like that, Day 3 was over.
The next day started off with disappointment. Our tour guide informed us that we couldn’t make the Sun Island International Ice Sculpture and Art Expo due to a scheduling conflict—for what reason, sorry, I forgot! The event was an attraction that I really wanted to explore and the news definitely ruined my mood.
Nevertheless, we proceeded with stops at other items on our itinerary, including a LACKLUSTER Russian village/museum that made me so confused as to why we didn’t just skip it to make time for the Sun Island Expo, but I digress.
Next to the village, though, was a sprawling frozen river that ran through the city. It was coolest thing in the world to see throngs of people not only walking across it …
… but also riding a cable car across it.
How awesome was that!?
Next up was a short trip to Saint Sophia Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox Church.
I had never seen Russian architecture in person so I was excited to see it up close.
The area surrounding the church was loaded with tourists and photographers.
I made sure to take plenty of photos myself.
What do you think? Feel like heading to Moscow?
The very last stop on our trip was to Central Street, which was located in a densely crowded shopping district.
There were a wide range of shops selling everything from electronics, toys, and souvenirs …
… to local foods and street barbecue.
My trip to Harbin was a fantastic experience, and if you’re in China during January or February, I suggest you make plans to gear up, load your camera, gather plenty of warm fluids, and head to the region.
Safe & happy travels!
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