You can find a lot more pictures that I have uploaded to Flickr by clicking here
If I was compiling a list of coldest places on earth Harbin would definitely make the cut. Although I haven’t been to many (I’m more of a sunny and hot holiday type) I certainly know how Princess Elsa feels now. Frozen. So I’ll tell how it really is in this North East China’s city of Harbin that’s not the arctic but not quite the tropics either. With 5am start I was surprisingly ecstatic despite the fact that I was signing up for a freezing cold. Perhaps, a hope for a Husky ride that kept up the excitement. This was my first ever domestic flight and despite lovely Emirates ladies trying to keep everything under control on my way to Beijing from Dubai, I knew what to expect on this Grand China flight. Chaos. Complete and utter chaos. We can break this down into three types: Airport Chaos: Luggage of all shapes and sizes and clearly baggage limits do not apply in China. Ryanair would go bankrupt in its first year of operations if it ever came to China I tell you. Security just as chaotic. Passport check and smile for the camera (no idea why). Strict lady, so I didn’t ask. There is a sign saying “No liquids are allowed onboard” but the one underneath states “lotions and other liquids under 100ml allowed in clear plastic bags.” Now which one to follow? I guess it depends on the officer’s mood. Typical China. Boarding Chaos: Albeit chaotic, it wasn’t as bad as passengers managed to form what could almost be called an orderly queue. Obviously, pushing, shoving and queue jumping is inevitable whether it’s a plane or an overcrowded Beijing bus. Onboard Chaos: Firstly, I was shocked by safety demonstrations. If it was my first flight, I would not have a clue what to do in an emergency. Not only you could not make out what was being said in English, but the actual demonstration was reluctant. No wonder, there is no order on board when people jump off their seats as soon as the plane touches the ground and start collecting the luggage from overhead lockers with little regard to fellow passengers safety. If you would know how much hope I had for a plane to come to an abrupt stop. Well at least no one opened an emergency door what seems to be a trend as of late among Chinese air passengers. We do land in Harbin safely and as we step out of the terminal the cold hits you instantly! It was -20 celsius and you could feel it with every part of your body. As we ride through the city, I spot less people on the street than you’d anticipate in a city with population larger than London. They’re all indoors, spending time in malls with exteriors that make you hesitate whether to come in, only to find beautiful shopping malls that could rival Dubai. It’s all about inner beauty I guess. Taxi is the only way to get around in such subzero temperatures. Although we did give subway a try on Harbin’s one and only subway line. How cute. Harbin taxi drivers are very kind and sociable when compared to Beijing. Even too much sometimes, as we started to wonder if a taxi driver was a top profession amongst Chinese gay men living in Harbin. As most of our time was spent indoors wining and dining, counting KFCs through a taxi window and getting drunk quicker than usual (we put it down to temperature and thinning blood rather than our lightweightness if that’s even a word!) I’ll go down straight to the main reason we went to Harbin in the first place. There is a KFC every couple of minutes on every road by the way. Taxi driver tells us that Harbin residents really like fried chicken! Aham, don’t we all. The International Harbin Ice and Snow Festival was the reason for our visit to Harbin, which borders with Russia in North Eastern part of China. It is on e of the four largest Ice and Snow sculpture festivals in the world! They call Harbin an “Ice City’ apparently, because it is! They don’t fail to embrace it, there are stunning ice sculptures all around the city, but nothing compares to impressive ice creations on festival grounds. These aren’t just sculptures, but palaces in which you can relive the ‘Frozen’ movie if you like. Around 10,000 of China’s best sculptors and international artists spend weeks crafting these incredible creations from ice that has been cut from a frozen Songhua river nearby (talking about sustainability). There is a variety of creations some of which are so obviously sponsored by brewers, banks etc. Ice sculptures are complete with such detail that is hard to believe they are actually made of ice. True art. Some palaces are as high as 25m allowing to climb right on top and enjoy all the ice creations in awe as they light up at dusk. If we were mesmerized by all the ice art in the light of the day, once all the LED lights came on inside of those iceblocks it took it to a whole new level of excitement. It was like being a child in a frozen Disneyland. Literally.
Sun Island Snow Sculpture Expo is part of the festival and is more ‘arty’ if you may. These sculptures are entirely made of snow. Detail is just as impressive as ice sculptures and feature some amazing Disney characters and Minions (ahhhhhh!) and some other random creations, descriptions of which were just as confusing in English as they were to the eyes. We even wandered off the beaten track into abandoded theme park that reminded more of an abandoned town of Pripyat of a Chernobyl disaster. We did find our way out of it and check out this ice castle we came across there.
We were cold, we were hot (indoors only), we were feeling sorry for the dogs enslaved as counterfeit Huskies to pull you around and for our painfully cold toes. We had a fun race on these bizzare ice-skate-tricycles which are so difficult to explain! We gave in to KFC and got used to every third person pointing at us and shouting waiguoren (Chinese for: look, foreigner), welcomed the compliments about our handsome wide eyes and happily pouted for the photos. So if you see a picture of me with a random person on Instagram, please tag me in! They did mention, that they do not get many foreigners (we counted 16 during our stay) and majority of them are from Russia. Now it’s crossed of my list I never wish to return, for the cold mainly, but for everyone else out there, I highly recommend to visit Harbin Ice and Snow Festival, because it is simply AMAZING! You can find a lot more pictures that I have uploaded to Flickr by clicking here. Xoxo Alex