Harbin, in the far North province of Heilongjiang is not just famous for giving its name to a tasteless Chinese beer. No, Harbin is also the town that holds each year the largest ice and snow festival in the world (for more details on how to plan a visit, read this post). The long cold winter of the region and the Siberian wind are the perfect combination to hold such a winter activity. So each year around Chinese New Year (this year the festival was delayed to last until the end of February since the festivities were a bit later than usual) the town puts in an impressive amount of effort to put together this festival.
Blocks of ice are cut from the frozen river, creative people come from all around the world to make their sculptures, and the streets of this freezing town fill up despite the terrifying temperatures. People come to enjoy an ice cream, a hot Coca-Cola, slide on the ice and spend their day visiting a new winter paradise.
The Harbin Ice and Snow festival takes place in a number of locations throughout the city and different entrances fees apply to each of the sites (count up to 300RMB for entry to the 2 main parks and 200RMB for the Zhaolin park. Prices tend to change every year). For that you get to see castles and skyscrapers, trains and towers all reproduced to scale from blocks of ice and snow. There are even bars and restaurants in which not only the buildings, but even the tables, chairs and other furniture are all sculpted from translucent slabs of ice. The beauty of all this hard work helps you forget that the temperature never rises above -15°C outside and often, it’s even lower.
This year 2015 we had the chance to explore the festival after a flight to Beijing and an 8 hour train to Harbin. While not easy to get to (unless, unlike us, you book your flight early, we did not… sadly) it is truly an activity I would recommend to anybody visiting China during that period. The cold is quickly forgotten thanks to the festivities but also the people who, as usual, are warm and welcoming, and nobody gets bored. Travelling there with children? Get to the frozen lake and enjoy a few activities like riding a school chair mounted on skis across the ice. A couple? Come and light lanterns at night. Friends? Get drunk in the ice bar! And if, like us, you’re still children in the body of grown-ups, get lost in the ice labyrinth or slide down ice slides and ski jumps in giant inflatable tyres. Or simply enjoy the views, sit down (don’t forget to move before you freeze to death) and watch talented sculptors giving life to their imagination on ice and snow to only see it disappear a few months later.
If you are still considering if you should, yes or no, go the this festival next year and if the price of the entry is worth it here is a selection of 10 photographs for this 2015 Ice and Snow Festival honouring the year of the Goat. More information will be given in separate articles concerning the 4 main parks: Sun Island, Ice Lantern Garden Party, Ice and Snow World and the Songhuajiang River. Would I go back there? Yes, definitively. How long? Maybe a bit longer to get time to visit the snow town.
Where is Harbin?
Harbin is in the province of Helongjiang, in the North of China. No wonder this place is that cold!
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Are you planning to visit Harbin? Have you visited similar festivals? Tell us everything in the comments!