Why you should visit Harbin in China (and what to expect)
A work colleague once showed me some photographs of his daughter in Harbin on a school exchange program. She was visiting the annual International Ice Festival and I was awestruck by the beautiful powdery snow and amazing ice sculptures in the photographs. I immediately added Harbin to my bucket list of destinations. Three years later, I finally had a chance to visit and it was everything I expected and more!
Reason to visit # 1:
The International Ice and Snow Festival. This is only on for a short period at the beginning of each year however it is truly spectacular. I timed my visit to China specifically so that I could see this event.
Reason to visit # 2:
The Songhua River is frozen over and becomes a playground for horse rides, skiing, skating and other activities.
Reason to visit # 3:
Zhaolin Park. This park is adorned with huge ice sculptures for the International Ice Festival. If you can visit this park at night it’s even better because it’s all lit up! If you can’t brave the cold at night, it’s still beautiful during the day.
Reason to visit # 4:
Sun Island Park. This park houses the really huge size ice sculptures. You can take a break from the cold here in these wonderful heated coffee huts. For the non-coffee drinkers like myself they also sell other hot drinks and soups.
Reason to visit # 5:
Harbin city in general, feels like an authentic experience that is not westernised.
Reason to visit # 6:
The Russian Influence on the architecture and clothing is really unique. Check out Gogol St in particular to see the influence on the architecture.
Reason to visit # 7:
All that snow! It’s just beautiful to look at and experience.
What to expect in Harbin
I won’t lie, Harbin is horribly cold! January is the coldest month of the year here and I visited in January. The temperature at night was around -25°C at the time of visit, and around -10°C during the day. Despite this, you absolutely have to visit Harbin when the Ice Festival is on because it truly is a sight to remember. Especially if, like me, you come from a place that is usually around 30°C at this time of year!
Harbin mostly has squat toilets in public restrooms. Only international hotels and airports have Western toilets. When you think about it, squat toilets are actually a blessing in these temperatures. Can you imagine how cold a toilet seat must feel like on your bottom at -25°C. There is also no hot water or soap in public restrooms. The temperature of the water that comes out of the tap to wash your hands is literally painful so its worth having some no-wash soap in your bag.
Harbin has quite a lot to offer travellers. Both Zhaolin Park and Sun Island park have spectacular ice sculptures on display for the International Ice Festival at the beginning of each year. There is also an interesting, yet incredibly depressing Germ Warfare Museum that has excellent English signage. Strolling around the city itself in the snow is also an experience not to miss.
Want To Learn About More Awesome Places?
For more blog posts, articles and photographs of my travels through China, check out this page: China
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