In Orlando, FL a hotel for the past few years host a holiday tradition called ICE! I remember reading about the exhibit that artists from Harbin, China (never heard of this place before yet I found out since living in China it is the 1oth largest city in China) were flown in to make the exhibit. I never went when I lived in Florida not because I wasn’t interested in seeing ice sculptures, going down slides of ice and wearing borrowed ski parkas the exhibit provides for who has such things in Florida? I didn’t go for it is ridiculously expensive, I think a ticket is nearly $30 US PLUS you have to pay for parking. I will show them… I will go to Harbin, China to see one of the world’s largest ice festivals in the world in person. It would have been cheaper to see the ICE! exhibit but not the same experience. Here is a photo of me in part of the experience which is putting on the layers to be out in -11 degree weather. I have on 3 pairs of socks, 2 hats, 2 gloves, tights, 1 thermal pants, 1 pair fleece pants, fleece lined snow pants, a thermal shirt, a heat tech turtle neck, a fleece, a fleece jacket and a ski jacket. I looked like a Chinese baby all bundled up with every piece of clothing I own, not really but if felt like it! If only I had split pants.
We flew from Shanghai Friday night after work, many fellow foreigners had a similar idea to go to the ice, I haven’t seen so many foreigners in one place in a long time. Our plane was delayed, typical for China domestic travel but only by 1 hour so I will call that on time. Coming out of the airport we had our first ice sculpture sighting. It was very exciting! In Alaska, I remember seeing the bald eagles and at first so exiting to see these beautiful birds, at the end of the trip folks would point out eagles and we were like, yeah yeah another eagle. That is the same feeling about the ice sculptures they are everywhere in Harbin. You wouldn’t even need to pay to get into the ice and snow festival park to see sculptures but if you came this far you need to go and see the tigers as well.
Siberian Tiger Park
I have a soft spot when it comes to animals. I prefer furry children over other options and I refused to go to any zoo things in China. When I see the man on the street with his monkey asking for money I want to ask how much for the monkey and take it home. Todd doesn’t let me. One of the things to do in Harbin is to visit the Siberian Tiger Park. I heard stories of this park where one of the attractions is you can buy live animals (chickens, goats, cows) and feed them to the tigers. No way I am going there! I did enjoy when a co-worker said how stupid people are for the park is going to feed the tigers a cow anyway ( really a cow?) and the tourists are funding it and paying $441 US (2800 RMB) to do it. I decided I had to go not for the live feedings but where else in the world can you see hundreds of tigers and even ligers!
The Tiger Park wasn’t as bad as it could have been. You start off by going on a lion safari ride in a bus with cages/bars over the windows and you go through gates with guard shacks, it reminded me of all these things 1. a prison (or a school) 2. my visit to Dachau 3. Jurassic Park. There are hundreds of lions just hanging out as you drive through the various gates.
After the lion safari you walk on an elevated platform around the park, looking at the lions, the white lions, the liger, jaguars, etc. In one section you can pay $10 USD (60RMB) to put a live chicken in a basket and send it over to be released over the lions. It was going on, I just kept walking past it. I did have to tell the boys they were not allowed to buy any chickens to feed the lions. Thank goodness nothing else was being fed to the lions while there. Overall the park was better than I thought it was going to be in regards to kept animals and to see so many tigers, a liger and other cats was pretty cool.
Central Street (Zhongyang Dajie)
We headed to Central Street where there was promise of delicious snacks and just a fun pedestrian street. It was a beautiful street with a lot of European influenced buildings makes sense as Harbin is called “Eastern Moscow” for its heavy influence from Russia.
One of the promised snacks on this road is the homemade milk popsicles. Who would eat popsicles in -30 degree weather? The belief is eating them keeps you warm? It is big business and it is a thing to do on the street. In addition to being delicious so good some of us had them 2x even thought they come with no wrapping and in a giant plastic tub. Things you do in China that yo wouldn’t do anywhere else.. That adds to the fun experience. What do they taste like? Todd called them pudding pops.
The other street snacks is the sugar-glazed fruit (bing tang hu lu) back in dynasty days they were used as a form of medicine. Who says TMC is all crazy? I love these! I had a strawberry one which costs more than the others for I guess they know it is delicious so supply/demand. They are really tasty! You need to be careful though it is so cold that the fruit is frozen, the sugar hard, it is a disaster for your teeth waiting to happen and I am sure a dentist favorite time of year. A co-worker who went the weekend before we did broken off half her tooth on one. Having been warned I took it easy and had 2 total on this weekend trip. If you don’t want to put your teeth at risk try the banana skewer it doesn’t freeze all the way.
Ice and Snow World
After our walking food tour of Central street we made it to the river to take in the frozen river sports this river is where the ice blocks are taken from for the ice sculptures. On the river there was a lot of activity from skating, horse carriage rides (on the ice!), top spinning, sliding, etc.
We didn’t have time to do that we had ice sculptures to see and we wanted to see them during the day light and all lit up at night so we headed over to the park. Seeing them during the day I enjoyed more than when they were lit. Hard to believe for my love of Vegas and the over the top and lights but it is a little much all the lights. We spent approx. 2 hours at the festival, did some ice slides, no one broke anything so left when we had enough of the cold and it was getting crowded. They did have little snack shacks that served beverages and microwave popcorn and you could go in and get warm.
St. Sophia & Snow Sculpture Park
Our next day we visited St. Sophia church and I fed pigeons like I was in Mary Poppins! No bird poo accidents either.
The highlight of the trip for me was the snow sculpture park which also pricey $41 USD (260RMB) when in Harbin… and when am I going to be back? It was incredible the sculptures amazing! There were so many of them and some HUGE and some with a slide.
For approx. $5 (30RMB) we hauled a tire tube up the top of a sculpture and was sent down an icy, snow covered death chute. OMG it was incredible! We rode it only 1x, didn’t want to press our luck we were all standing and nothing broken. We did have to walk back on the icy and slick paths back to the entrance, walking in Harbin is a little dangerous.
2 days is perfect to see Harbin and the ice festivals. We stayed at the Holiday Inn, it is located across from one end of Central Street making it very convenient. The hotel is fine, nothing too fancy but good for a quick weekend trip. We did hear getting taxis can be a challenge. A colleague who worked in Harbin previously hooked up with a guy with a taxi and for 1300RMB ($205) he was our private driver for the weekend. He picked us up at the airport and took us where we wanted to go, helped us get tickets, waited for us, keeping the cab warm (and taking a nap) at the attractions to come out and off to the next place and brought us back to the airport. Worth it for we saw the people on the street trying to get a cab in the freezing cold. The cabs in Harbin are smaller than those in Shanghai so the 4 of us were snug but it kept us all warm. Fun weekend, glad to have done it and it is now checked off the list on to the next.