In the frozen north of China, not far from Russia and North Korea, Harbin has become famous over the years for its Ice Festival held every winter. Teams of sculptors work for weeks to create massive replicas of famous buildings from around the world, and when viewed at night its a crazy theme park of lights, ice, slides and people. In a word: awesome!
The city is very attractive too, with a relaxed bustle on the streets. Before we came we both had some doubts about staying for three days. Would it be too long? Would we get bored? In fact it was the perfect amount of time, though splashing out for the luxury of a classy hotel in the centre of town made a huge difference. I’m sure it’s a nice place at any time year, but coming during the Ice Festival is definitely the way to go…
* Ice skating in the sun on the broad frozen river that divides the city, followed by hot chocolate, coffee and cake in a warm cafe
* Visiting the Siberian Tiger Park on the outskirts of town, where several hundred tigers (plus some leopards, jaguars, lions and ligers) are kept in a vast icy park. Like most people we toured in a minibus, though amazingly private vehicles are also allowed to drive through if you’re game enough!
* Wandering slowly up and down Zhongyang Dajie, the long cobbled pedestrian thoroughfare in the heart of town, people-watching and window-shopping
* Going to the Ice Festival a night before it officially opened, when the crowds were not so frantic. Ice slides, silly poses and tube-riding down a slope kept it fun; being in just the right place for a long fireworks display made it magical
* Spending one lazy day almost entirely in the comfort of the hotel, venturing out only for a few hours of chatting over coffee at SPR. And loving every minute of it
And was it cold? Oh yeah! Daytime maximums were around -11 celcius, though when the sun went down the temperature would rapidly drop to -20 or lower. But there was no wind and we came prepared with proper clothing, plus three weeks of acclimatising as I slowly headed north from Shanghai helped enormously. Beijing’s current range of -6 to 4 degrees will be summery by comparison 🙂