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Ice and Snow World: Harbin, China

harbin international ice and snow festival
By Emily Meyer

At the end of 2018, Cris and I were sitting in a bar in Beijing called the Red Dog, and the lovely bar owner told us about her hometown Harbin. From the moment we heard about it we knew we had to go! She described a city that transforms into an ice and snow wonderland 500 km (300 miles) from the China-Russia border. Since 1963, Harbin has been the home to the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival 哈尔滨国际冰雪节.

It happened that the festival was beginning in a few days and there was a quick cheap flight from Hangzhou, where we were living, so, like most of our trips, we decided last minute to go for the opening.

First things first, Harbin in early January is FREEZING.

We were not at all prepared for -22º C (-7.6º F), at that temperature there aren’t enough layers to keep my feet warm! I have been living out of a suitcase for the better part of 10 years so, I don’t really have an excess of heavy winter clothes. But luckily I had recently learned this lesson the hard way in Beijing where it was also -6º C (21º F). So this time I packed every pair of leggings and pants I could find. Even with all of this I had to buy feet warmers, more about that in a bit.

Other than the temperature, the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival is one of the craziest things that I have ever seen! It is literally tonnes of ice and snow shaped into ornate sculptures, fun parks, and even a post office! According to Wikipedia, the 2019 Festival took up over 600,000 square meters and was made from 110,000 cubic meters of ice and 120,000 cubic meters of snow!

We walked around the park during the day and were blown away by the amount of work that went into all the exhibits. There is an international Ice Carving Competition, a public ice skating rink, snow tobogganing, and even a sightseeing train to take you around all the exhibits. The amazing part is that most of this ice is cut from the nearby frozen river and then carved into bricks used to build ice buildings! Once the sun set, the whole place transformed, what were impressive palaces of ice turned into elaborate LED shows. The whole place glowed with LEDs, even the train got an upgrade.

The downside of the sunset was that the temperature dropped drastically.

As I mentioned my feet were already freezing, so we headed into the ice Pizza Hut to warm up a bit. The thing about my feet is that they sweat and then they are twice as cold. So what do you do when you are at an Ice Festival in China with freezing sweat-soaked socks and boots? Dry them in an Ice Pizza Hut with the warm air hand dryer of course! Ok, this may seem kinda gross but I promise it wasn’t the weirdest thing that was happening there. After drying my socks and then having a pizza we went back to explore a bit more. Cris played a Tanggu at a ceremonial exhibit, and I had a Strawberry Tanghulu from a festival vendor.

All in all, the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival is impressive, I am still not sure how they manage to assemble it every year. If you ever find yourself in northern China in January, make sure you go to Harbin!

Published in Collaboration with Next Stop Awesome

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