Early in January this year I went with two colleagues to Harbin for an inspection trip. We spent 3 days in Harbin and then head on to Yabuli Ski Resort for a 3-day ski spree (see my another travel story: 3 Days of Skiing Fun in Harbin at http://www.chinahighlights.com/travel-story/3-days-of-skiing-fun-in-harbin-269.htm). This travel story is about our first three days in Harbin City, enjoying Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival, beautiful snow scenes and exciting winter activities of this "Ice City".
Day 1 Arrival at Harbin Taiping International Airport
There is no direct flight from Guilin to Harbin, so we first flew to Shanghai, than transfer flights there. We arrived at Harbin Taiping International Airport at about 17:10, and our tour guide Hou met us at the arrival hall. When we stepped out of the airport, there was a beautiful ice sculpture at the front gate standing in the snow. It was our first encounter in this city with ice and snow and we got very excited.
Day 2 Watch winter swimming at Songhua River, visit St. Sophia Orthodox Church, Central Avenue and Sun Island.
This day begins with watching winter swimming. We came to the frozen Songhua River, and thought we might had gone to the North Pole. The whole surface of the river had frozen into thick ice, and it was all snow white. It was bustling there, with vendors selling snacks but mostly warm-keeping hats, boots, gloves and so on. There were lots of winter activities there, such as ice slide and dog sledding. The winter swimming show is on twice per day in winter, the first one is on at 10:00-11:00, and the second one is on at 13:30-14:30. A natural swimming pool was drilled on the river, and after warm-up exercises, swimmers dived into the water with every posture you can imagine. We could only stand there and watch for about 15 minutes because it was so cold - the temperature was only -30 degrees Celsius or -22 Fahrenheit outdoor!
St. Sophia Orthodox Church was built in 1907 by Russians to serve the Russian community living in Harbin. The architecture was Neo-Byzantine style with red walls, green domes and golden crosses, looking antique and beautiful. Inside the church, there are many precious old photos showing the city’ modern history and how local people and Europeans (mostly Russians) lived their life back in Harbin.
Central Avenue or Zhōngyāngdàjiē in Chinese pinyin is the main avenue of Harbin. It is the busiest shopping and pedestrian street there. It was a Russian neighborhood about 110 years ago, so there are lots of buildings of various European styles. It is interesting to see ice and snow sculptures almost everywhere in the city. There are also many western restaurants and cafes, many of which are time-honored and famous among the local people, such as Tatoc, Russia Food and Coffee, Orient King of Dumplings, and Modern Coffee and Restaurant. Central Avenue also provides great shopping opportunities, including Russian products (such as chocolates, tin wares, dolls and Vodka) and local products (red sausages and bread with brand name “Churin” is highly recommended). There is a corridor like hall with green gate selling many local snacks, you can eat and warm up there. It is very popular among both local people and tourists, so it is a bit crowded. Don’t forget to taste a popsicle, it is the specialty there, you can buy one once you step inside the door, and the price is 2 yuan.
After Central Avenue, our tour guide and driver took us to Sun Island Scenic Spot, the world of snow sculptures and a venue of Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival. Snow sculptures of various images can be seen, very beautiful and magnificent. Because there was an international snow sculpture competition, we saw many artists from all over China and the world as well in the process of making snow sculptures, trying to make art out of snow. We ran into a parade of cartoon characters, very funny.
It gets dark very early in Harbin, at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Our tour guide recommended us to enjoy a Russian dinner at Mingdian Western Restaurant (Address: 214 Shangzhi Avenue, Daoli District道里区尚志大街214号, 名典西餐厅). We liked the décor there, and we also enjoyed Borsch, pot stew prawns and beef.
Day 3 Visit Jile Temple, Heilongjiang Provincial Museum, Siberian Tiger Park, Grand World of Ice and Snow, and Ice Lanterns at Zhaolin Park.
This day our tour started early from Jile Temple. It is one of the four main Buddhist temples in Northeast China. A very giant Buddha statue and a 7-story Buddhist Pagoda stand inside the temple. Because we went there early in the morning and there were several visitors. Some monks were sweeping the snow. It feels very peaceful to take a leisurely stroll in the temple.
Then we headed to Heilongjiang Provincial Museum. The admission is free, but you need to obtain a ticket at the small house outside of the museum to enter. The first floor seems to serve as an activity room for children, because we saw many children there and their drawing were displayed. On the second floor are the exhibitions. The museum is not a very big one, and the number of exhibitions is not as many as those in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai. However, it shows adequate relics introducing the history of Harbin and Heilongjiang Province. There was no English explanation of the exhibitions, so for foreign tourists they might need a tour guide to translate and explain to them.
After a quiet and informative tour of the morning, our tour went wild by going on to Siberian Tiger Park! About 100 tigers can be seen on the open field. There are also Lions, Pumas, Leopards and Ligers, a rare hybrid cross between tiger and lion. We hopped on a wired van, which took us into the open filed to get close touch with the tigers. Along the way we saw tigers playing, lying on the ground, or fighting for pray. There was a feeding van, which is obviously the most popular and sought after among the tigers. When the feeding van gave out chicken, sheep or even ox, all the animals there went crazy, and tigers even hopped onto the roof the van for meat!
After the exciting tour at Siberian Tiger Park, we went to the Grand World of Ice and Snow, a paradise of white. Because it was getting dark, multi-colored lighting was on, together with the ice sculptures, it was like a fairy world. Ice blocks were made into various shapes, such as Harbin Beer bottle, Terracotta Warriors, the Great Wall, Haibao (Shanghai Expo ascot) , and in big sizes. There was a replica of the Great Wall on which you could slide down the slopes. If you feel too cold, there are some hot drinks bars where you can warm up and enjoy some hot drinks. It is advised that in Harbin, if you are to stay for more than 30 minutes outdoor, you can prepare some warming pads (nuǎn tiē 暖贴, available at most supermarkets or grocery stores) on your knees, in your shoes or anywhere you want to keep warm.
In the evening, we went back to the city center to see ice lanterns at Zhaolin Park. It was like going back to childhood when we stepped into the park. The park cooperated with Disneyland and made some ice lanterns look like cartoon characters, such as Mickey Mouse, Snowwhite and Donald Duck, creating a Disneyland of ice.
These days in Harbin is very exciting and memorable. People in Harbin are very friendly, and we enjoyed every meal, which was very different from what we usually have in Guilin. On the fourth day, we started for our ski tour to Yabuli. See my another travel story on this page (http://www.chinahighlights.com/travel-story/3-days-of-skiing-fun-in-harbin-269.htm). China Highlights offers several well-designed tour packages to Harbin (see tours at ), or simply send your inquiries or requirements to email@example.com, the professional travel advisors will reply within 24 hours.