There are certain places where the temperatures during winter drop under -20 degrees. Usually the people living in these areas hide themselves as much as possible inside their warm houses.
Well, in Harbin they build life-sized Ice Castles and impossibly awesome Snow Sculptures.
Sadly it got more and more expensive during the last years. While 5 years ago it was just 240 Rmb when my aunt first went, it got up to 450Rmb 2 years ago when I went myself and this year it costs 160RMB for just the Ice Sculptures during daytime from 9-12, 300RMB at night/evening and another 240 RMB for the Snow Expo. There is a student discount, but just for up to undergraduates and it sounds like you maybe have to be a Chinese Citizen to get this discount. But take your card with you, it is always worth try.
Just some information:
Do yourself a favor and book your Hostel ahead. We didn’t do that and nearly had to sleep outside 😉 One Hostel felt bad for us and they put up two extra beds in a dorm, making the room super crowded, but at least we were inside.
Also book ahead your train. We kind of went spontaneous and for some strange reason just could book our train to Beijing, but not from Beijing to Harbin. Which ended with us getting a No-Seat Ticket to Harbin, for a 18 hour drive and a hard seat on the way back.
Otherwise there are a couple of flights from Shanghai and Beijing too, but they are usually really pricey during winter season.
As always, life is easier if you travel under the week, not on the weekends.
We were a bit insane. My friend and I just had that one weekend free and we really wanted to see the Ice Show. So we boarded in the evening, somehow found a small space between all the luggage and other people to stand and later sit
and had our most terrible train ride ever. But it was also the most memorable. It simply was an adventure.
Did we sleep much? Nope we didn’t because every couple of hours the stupid train personal had to pass through with a wagon to sell goods, other people had to step over us to go to the bathroom, the luggage was in the way and sleeping while sitting on the floor simply ain’t fun.
The last 4 hours it started to get colder and colder and actually the windows of the train completely froze over.
When we stepped out of the train we first where in shock. I never have been anywhere this cold before. I had the feeling my nose completely froze and the cold was hurting my troth. Welcome to -25 degrees.
On our search for the Hostel we took a Taxi and showed him the pictures of the address and where lucky that they felt sorry for us xD
Like I said, book ahead of time 😉
From there we booked our tour and in the evening we went to the Harbin Ice Festival. We layered as many clothes as possible and in the city we were still fine. But outside where the Ice Sculptures are it gets even colder. So you maybe want to pack some heat packages into your pockets and shoes.
After 1 hour walking on ice and snow, your feet will freeze.
Besides that get shoes with a good grip, or practice a bit of ice skating before. The ice bar was a very slippery area and I nearly couldn’t get out, because the entry was slanted upwards a bit and I constantly slid back down xD
There are a couple of shows going on and there are little cafe places scattered all around to warm you up a bit…but prizes are not as cool as the ice, expect to pay a lot for a hot drink.
I loved the Ice Castles, was just a bit disappointed in the set up…there is no real theme, everything is scattered around and seems kind of random, amazing but random.
The lights are a bit too much, but it is the typical chinese colorfulness, always a tad too much, but then it looks great on pictures, so who am I to complain 😉
The next day I had a stroll around, the city itself is rather pretty, reminds a lot of a Russian city. I actually liked it, it felt a bit more like home.
In the afternoon we made our way to the Snow Show, there are several Buses driving there, best is to ask at your Hostel or simply take a taxi.
I loved the area, it is amazing what people can do with Snow.
In the end there are a lot of other things to do for you, for example dog-sledging, visiting the Siberian tigers (but careful animal lover might be a bit shocked) and ski/snowboarding opportunities. Check this page for extra ideas 😉 It is the official Harbin Snow Festival Site.
We went back in the evening with a lot of amazing memories and some great pictures. Would I go back? Not sure to be honest, I am simply not a fan of the cold, but I am happy that I saw this at least once.
It was a pretty cool trip, especially the train drive back when we were singing Karaoke in the train with some Chinese People 😉
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Thank you and wishing you a cozy and warm winter time 😉