Layers! Layers! Layers!
If you want to see the Ice sculpture festival bear in mind, it's not for nothing they hold it in harbin. We are talking temperatures of minus 30. Get some thermals, a silk top, a wooly jumper, a down coat and a windproof outer coat. Wear a hat and gloves and get out there! Don't touch metal: you'll be stuck there till spring! Long exposures necessary, plus wide angle facilities. Because of the cold, find a good pair of gloves with rubber pads (that way you can take photos without always having to take your gloves off.
Famous Steamed Dumplings (Jiaozi)
This is the flagship store of a chain of dumpling restaurants.
It is on the chic pedestrian street.
The dumplings are small. Do not hesitate ordering at least 12 for yourself, 36 for two.
It is all a bit confusing, but excellent.
Indoor activities for young kids
If you visit Harbin in winter with kids then at some stage you will want them to have a good run around. If you have trouble finding somewhere every Carrefour (supermarket) has a little play area where the kids can jump on trampolines, go on slides, in ball pits etc. The cost is about 10Y for one child. It is possible to leave the kids there while you do your shopping as long as you have a mobile contact number but make sure the kids go to the toilet first as the ladies running the place can't speak english. Usually they have art and craft activities here as well. Take some water as the kids usually get pretty hot and thirsty.
Minimal Dressing in Winter City
Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang Province, is located in the middle reaches of the Songhua River in the south of the province. The urban area is composed of seven districts: Daoli, Daowai, Nangang, Taiping, Xiangfang, Dongli and Pingfang. The whole city covers an area of 632 square miles, with a population of 2.54 million.
Arrived at Harbin on 25-Dec-06, outdoor temperature about -15. Look the the picture above, the kids only had on a long-john (wool), sweater and sport jacket.
Best to See Around Harbin
Nowadays visitors to Harbin mainly arrive for one of two reasons: either to attend the Ice Lantern Festival in freezing January and February temperatures or to trade (a multitude of Russians have now returned to the city). This does not mean, however, that the city has nothing else to offer and visitors here at any time of year will still not be disappointed, with some of northwest China's best historical sights, interesting recreational resorts and some great Russian architecture.
The city has been through some really rough times in recent history, from turbulent wars and despotic regimes to some of the worst flooding ever witnessed. Many of the sights in and around Harbin reflect this, of particular interest being the twin sad sights of the Japanese Germ Warfare Experimental Base just out of town and the Stalin Park/Flood Control Monument on the southern bank of the Songhua river. However the city has also known good times and the Russian architecture here is testament to a period when the town, also known as Little Moscow, was in economic boom. The best of these sights would have to be the St.Sofia Orthodox Church, which is located in the nicest area of town, the northwestern Daoli District with its cobbled streets and solid facades.
In terms of fun, the best sight to visit in the city proper would have to be the Sun Island Recreation Resort, which, besides relaxation, also houses the Siberia Tiger Park, designed to cultivate and then release these beautiful, endangered beasts back to the wild. There is also the Jile Temple, one of the four largest Buddhist temples in northeast China. Out of town are the more active sights, and many coming to Harbin are here for the skiing or hunting. Harbin boasts China's largest and most well-facilitated skiing region, the Yabuli Ski Resort, which hosted the 1996 Asian Winter Games. For those without animal killing qualms, winter is also the ideal time for trying your luck and spending your money at the Yuquan Hunting Ground.
"Local Features: Ice Lantern Festival"
Also known as "Ice City", Harbin is most famous in China for its winter scenery and bitterly cold temperatures that accompany the freezing environment. The average winter temperature here is as low as minus 20 to minus 30 degrees C. Make sure you come prepared with plenty of winter woolies!
The Harbinese however, really know how to exploit and make the most out of their situation and have a long tradition of using ice and snow in an amazingly creative and varied number of ways. Frozen lakes are used as natural skating grounds, ground snow is used instead of a refrigerator and even the frozen Songhua lake was once used as a highway.
Ice sculptures first came into being as a traditional Chinese art form during the early Qing dynasty some 350 years ago. Over time, various types and shapes of sculpture have been designed and developed, all enhancing the status of this somewhat unusual art form so that today the annual Ice Festival is televised nationwide, attracting millions of viewers.
Making the ice sculpture is a relatively straight forward process, especially in these freezing temperatures. When the idea first came into being, a colored lantern was placed inside a carved ice block, to make a lantern-like structure. Various techniques have been applied and developed over the years, making the lantern into a more intricate and interesting shape. Designs today include ice flowers, ice buildings (from the Taj Mahal to the Eiffel Tower), ice carvings and life-size figures.
Today, the annual Ice Lantern Festival is held in Harbin from the 5th of January to the end of February. During this time, thousands of ice lanterns,carvings and buildings are exhibited and paraded on huge floats through the city. This is a great experience and even the most cynical visitor cannot fail to be impressed by the sheer size and scale of work that goes into producing many of the sculptures.
"Church of St. Sophia"
The Russian influence in Harbin, including a continuing strong Russian population here, is no better felt than a wander around the streets that make up the Daoli district, in the northwest of the city. Among the many Orthodox churches and Russian style facades in this region, the St.Sophia Orthodox Church (Shengsuo feiya dajiaotang) is the most impressive, and imposing, structure.
In 1903, with the completion of the Sino-Russia railway, connecting Vladivostok to northeast China, the Russian No.4 Army Division arrived in this region. After Russia's shameful failure against the Japanese in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), a plan to reconsolidate the confidence of the army by building a imposing spiritual symbol was proposed. Thus the magnificent St.Sofia Church was born, completed in 1907. Large scale expansion and renovation then started in 1923, and after a nine years' intensive job, the biggest Orthodox church in the far east was finally completed and stood much as it does today.
The 53m tall church is a perfect example of Byzantine architecture: the main structure of the church is laid out as a Latin Cross with the main hall topped with a huge green tipped roof. Under the bright sun, the church, together with the square around it, reminds the Chinese, bizarrely, of the Red Square in Moscow. Although there are still several hundred Orthodox believers in Harbin, the religious activities are usually conducted in other smaller churches. St.Sofia Church is nowadays used as the Municipal Architecture and Art Museum with exhibitions of the architectural history of the city, a photographic survey with captions all in Chinese.
Address: On the corner of Toulin Street (Toulin jie) and Zhaolin Street (Zhaolin jie).
How to get there: Take bus No.101 from the Railway Station to the church or bus No.2 from Stalin Park. A taxi ride from the city center costs less than RMB15.
Opening hours: 9am-5pm.
"Yabuli Ski Resort"
The Yabuli Ski Resort (Yabuli huaxue chang) is located in Shangzhi city, a county city about 150km east of Harbin. As a subrange of the Changbai Mountain Range (Changbai shan), the resort is one of the best natural skiing resorts in China. The area enjoys an average annual temperature of minus 1 degrees C., the freezing period of the region being often as long as six months, from October to April. The snow depth averages 39cm and gets up to 60cm in high altitude regions.
The Resort is currently not only the biggest but also the best established and facilitated skiing resort in China. The 3800m long main skiing trail here is located at an altitude of 1300m. Cable car lifts are available. The whole resort is surrounded by imposing mountain ranges lavishly covered with pine forests. Besides the spectacular view, wild animals are also frequent sights on the resort. In February 1996, the Yabuli Ski Resort hosted the third Asian Winter Sports Games, the biggest winter sports event ever held in China.
The Heilongjiang International Ski Festival takes place from December 5th to January 5th and at this time the resort is filled with skiiers and tourists. Get your skis on!
How to get there: There are a number of tourist trains daily to the resort from Harbin, taking about 3 hours. The return ticket costs RMB60. After arriving at the town, mini tourist buses will transfer you to the tourist resort.
Cost: Cost for the resort can vary greatly. It is generally a RMB300-500 for use of the resort (depending upon your skill level). It is then around RMB100 for ski and equipment rental. A standard double room in the resort will cost RMB540 (Windmill Villa, Tel: 0451-3455168). You may also be able to stay more cheaply in the Yabuli town. Hotels here range upwards from a lowest price of RMB70, although these will be hard to reserve prior to arrival and not all take foreigners. For more comprehensive information you can call CITS (Tel: 0451-2310308).