Monday, January 7, 2013

[HEILONGJIANG] Harbin Ice and Snow Festival

When someone tells you that he or she is going to Harbin, more or less the reason would be the annual Ice and Snow Festival held every January. Considered as one of the four big winter festivals on the planet, this is Harbin's biggest tourist draw. And so, the million dollar question: is it cold? To which my answer would be: Are you on drugs? Harbin is on the same latitude as Montreal. January, considered as the coldest month of the winter, experiences temperature drops of at least -20 degrees Celsius. Sculptures made from blocks of ice can be seen anywhere from the sidewalks to the parking lot in front of the train station, and they are not melting. Perhaps, that gives you a clear idea?

My biggest problem was how to get there and endure the whole night to enjoy the park. You see, there are three popular parks here during winter: Ice and Snow World, Sun Island, and Zhaolin Park. You can immediately cross out Zhaolin Park from the list and save a couple of 100 RMB; most travel guides would suggest the same thing. Why? As they say, you only need to see the first two attractions to be impressed. Sun Island is said to have many sculptures made from enhanced snow. Ice and Snow World is an ice kingdom full of sculptures made from blocks of ice with embedded neon lights. I skipped Sun Island because I figured out that I fancy ice more than snow. As such. this entry will only be tackling Ice and Snow World.

Getting there should be easy but because this is China, some Mandarin is necessary to decipher those bus stop names. Just check out my budget and itinerary post for details. The important thing is I got there anyway. Of the three parks, this one is the most expensive, charging 300 RMB for entrance. It's said to be much cheaper if you go in the morning but that means you won't be witnessing the lights show trapped underneath those ice structures. The admission fee climbs up to 330 yuan on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays.

Once you pay for your ticket, you'll have to fall in line again for verification. This is the part where students usually slow down the process. Since they get discounted tickets, they have to prove that they are indeed students which just slows everything down. In any case, when you finally get in there will be lots of space for you, but then again I went on a weekday. It might be a different story on weekends. You can treat it as a blessing in disguise, though. More people just means more warm bodies to heat up the place!

How many hours do you need? The place is surprisingly small. If all you want to do is go around without taking photos or a hot choco break, 30 minutes should be more than enough; 15, if you are willing to run or jog. It is that small. But who are we kidding here? You have come to this place to take photos of the place as well as photos of yourself at the place. Considering how each structure has the tendency to mesmerize you because of the awesome craftsmanship or plain admiration for the patience of whoever constructed them in the open with ground temperature reaching -25 degrees Celsius, believe me when I say that you will ignore any respiratory track irritation or frozen extremity just to maximize your time for photo-ops. Besides, you paid 300 yuan for this, remember? That amount is not a joke.

Yes, there is a giant thermometer buried in ice within the vicinity and it read -25 degrees Celsius. I was there at around 7 PM. I didn't even stay until closing time at 9 PM. There are many cafes inside as well as KFC and some food stalls that offer some refuge from the cold. Of course they will jack up their prices. I got hot chocolate on a Nescafe paper cup for 15 yuan. In the Philippines, such a cup won't even cost more than 3 yuan. But we are in Harbin! The normal price of such a hot drink outside would be around 7 yuan. Stop calculating already. You don't own those joints and they are saving you from frostbite just as much as you are saving them from bankruptcy.

Activities inside include camwhoring until you drop dead and cold, indulging your addiction for hot drinks, trying the ice slides and suffering the consequence of a wet ass after that, overpriced horse carriage rides, watching some tradition inspired figure skating show, and sports on ice such as ice tubing, sled ride, and skiing. I only tried the ice slides which came for free. The wet ass is not so much of a dilemma. You are bound to get numb everywhere anyway, so why the fuss. Camwhoring might pose a problem if your gloves are cheap mittens bought from that ice skating rink at Lotte World when you visited Seoul the year prior. Sometimes your fingers are not contented with just being numb, they also love hurting like hell from time to time, impeding you from clicking the shutter.

Another problem is when your camera and phone batteries eventually decide to try their luck on being primadonnas. They will only consume less than half of their charge before they die on you. In a way, it is not their fault especially when you find them wet from the moisture as you replace them. That replacement will only repeat history. I had the camera of my phone, an extra battery for that, and my Pentax. I had around an hour and a half worth of photo and video coverage. If you have a warm and dry place to keep the batteries, then you might get lucky if they get resurrected before the park administration calls it a day.

What you see inside is said to change from year to year or maybe that is just a rumor. What I found inside were mostly castles and similar structures: a mosque, a temple, a castle, a castle, another castle, a bar made of ice, a mini version of the Great Wall, another castle, and yeah, most of them are castles. They light up your world like nobody else. The way their lights flicker gets you overwhelmed. Okay, I am plagiarizing One Direction. Brain fart. Freeze! Brain freeze!

This park also tied up with some western conglomerates such as Disney and Rovio. The big castle in the middle has a giant screen playing an animation of Angry Birds. The birds also have their own castle of sorts at the western end of the park. Surrounding the big castle mentioned are snow sculptures of Disney characters such as Ariel and Flounder from the Little Mermaid. Only half her body seemed to be on display, but still it makes you wonder how she could endure that cold when all she is sporting is an improvised bra made of sea shells.

Touts will chase you around to ride their horse-drawn carriages. Ignore them. Some people will ask you to take their photos for them. Assess the possibility of you asking for the same favor. Otherwise, ignore them. The cold winds will make you want to go home earlier than you should. If you are wearing more than enough layers to keep you warm, ignore them. This post will make you want to go to Harbin next year to experience this park. If you do not have the funds or the time, ignore it.

Harbin is on the extreme northeastern province of China, a 12-hour bus ride from Vladivostok, Russia. Nothing is impossible with proper planning. I suggest you go in February or early March, then it wouldn't be as cold as January. You have one year to plan. Good luck. Suit up.

2 creature(s) gave a damn:

Anonymous said...

hi. what's your airline to harbin? thanks

ihcahieh said...

@Anonymous - Oh no, ang tagal na pala nitong tanong mo! Sorry, busy-busy-han ang peg, LOL.

I did not ride a plane to Harbin. I took a fast train from Shenyang. But if you are planning to fly, I think there are many options. Try

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