Harbin Ice Sculptures, Harbin
We were confused before we went to Harbin about where to see ice and snow sculptures. This marginally improved once we were there. Chinese tourism marketing and newspaper reporting is so vague that it is often impossible to work out what is on, where or when.
Ice sculptures can be found all over Harbin during winter, with many just sitting by the roadside.
The most spectacular ice sculptures are across on the north bank of the Songhuajiang at "Ice and Snow World", a commercial 'theme park'. For various reasons, we were unable to get there at all during our visit. Note that taxi drivers will simply refuse to take you there during the day. This is obviously mainly a night place, as the sculptures are lit up from inside.
In town, Zhaolin Park has some awesome sculptures, but we were particularly irritated at being charged full adult rate for our two children (who are both over 1.2m tall). However, we do believe it is worth it to see these enormous sculptures, including a huge aircraft-carrier, life-size seven-storey pagodas and a 1/4 size submarine. There are hundreds of sculptures in this park.
Out at the temple complex at the far northern end of Dong Dazhi Jie, the street outside the temple has a lot of particularly good religious and humorous sculptures, including one of three men sitting on a row of toilets.
The ice sculptures along Zhongyang Dajie are a bit tame in comparison to these others.
For snow sculptures, the main place is Sun Island Resort (Taiyang Dao) on the north bank of the Songhuajiang, not far from the Ice and Snow World Complex, but these are definitely best seen during the day. They are simply incredible, and once seen will never be forgotten. At Taiyangdao, it is not just the size and quality of the carving, but the artistic merit of the compositions. This is not just 5o foot high sculptures of Mickey Mouse or Mulan: the 200 foot long sculpture of King Neptune surrounded by nymphs, crashing waves and sea-animals was just astonishing.
Every year, the Ice Lantern Festival is held in Zhaolin Park from early January to early February with the park turning into a fairytale landscape with magnificent, cool great sculptures consisting of stairways, bridges, arches, and buildings that would filled u with big "Ah!" and "Ooh!". Well, we started out early i.e. late December cos' we are 'kiasu' i.e. scared to lose out, since we heard that this festival brings an influx of million tourists. So we wanted to be there before others did and boy, we were glad that we had our sneak previews! Of course, we do missed some goodies at the later stage but at least we had the 'first frostbite" ; )
Most of the sculptures were made of ice, carved with chainsaws and picks, by lowly paid (i.e. 20 yuan or USdollars 2 only for 10 to 12 hours day of work in sub or below zero degree Celsius) sculptors who are mostly teenagers or students. Usually these ice sculptures were illuminated with coloured lights inside them to heighten the psychedelic effect.
There are three main locations for the Snow and Ice Festival.
The most frozen-moon like is Bingxue Gong, on the North Bank of the Songhua River. It is extremely cold. With the bright lights, it is almost a near death experience.
This is where the largest ice structures are.
There is one reason, and one reason only to travel to Harbin in the winter ... that is a most fantastic Ice sculpture festival. When I went it started on January 5th (2000)... be prepared: it's freezing (minus 20 - 30) so don't touch metal or you'll be stuck there till spring! You need to visit at night (it's illuminated) and during the day you can wander through the old streets which have amazing Russian domes.
This famous festival takes place in Harbin from January to February, during the bitter chinese winter, and it is worth of a visit indeed, despite of the bitter cold.
The park is located near the banks of river Sanghua, where a variety of figures are constructed using only ice blocks.
Some of them are models of great chinese and western buildings, human figures, dragons and budas...
Simply amazing to visit it and to see with your very eyes what can be build using simply ice.
An exciting experience is to go to the home of the famous Harbin ice carvers - each year the display of often very intricate and ornate ice carvings are able to be displayed sitting in the park as its minus 30 degrees or more.
So head for the far north of China, rug up, lots of layers or even better like I was lucky enough to be given, put on a PLA coat and rabbit skin hat and roam around on a night visit with the display done up in lights, music etc.
Heading up that way in sub zero winter though have a good read before you head off and before you get there of a good guide book such as the travel bible for China I relied on - the Lonely Planet.
The liveliest of the three Snow and Ice main locations. Because it is in town, it is a bit more crowded, and that makes it a lot of fun: Everyone is on their cell phones, or taking photos, or taking photos with their cell phones.
This is the spot for moderately sized ice sculptures, although you can climb inside many of them.
If you are coming to Harbin for the Ice Festival attractions, book hotels and all early. It seems to be a popular time. I will get photos this winter, if I can, and upload them then. For now, some information. It's become an international festival, though I can't say it was as impressive as I imagined.
There are a few places to go to see Ice: Sun Island Park, Harbin Ice and Snow World and Zhaolin Park . Each has something different.
Sun Island Park holds the Snow Sculpture Exposition and the largest snow/ice art museum in the world, I believe.
Harbin Ice and Snow World is the site for other Chinese ice sculptures, buildings made from blocks of ice with colored lights inside. Get here around dusk (which can be 4:30pm during the winter). In the summer, get here around 8pm, but don't expect to see any ice... ;)
Zhaolin Park has the more traditional ice lanterns. Supposedly well worth a visit.
There are several bus lines that run to these. For more information, the website http://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/heilongjiang/harbin/ice_snow.htm has good information.
The Zhaolin Park is small, but worth visiting for the spectacular ice sculptures, displayed during thee winter months.
It would be nice to know how they do all these sculptures, but the attendants look at you blankly if you ask questions. Life would certainly be much richer for them without all these damn tourists asking nosy questions.
The ice sculptures on the streets are good, but this is where they start to get really great. Aircraft carrier, submarine, life-size pagodas, temples, animals, ships, trains, statues of unknown people.....all fantastic, and most of them are lit from the inside.
We trudged across the Songhua river, with a faint hope that the odd shapes in the distance resolved into something related to ice sculpting. Harbin's Ice and Snow World cost an astounding 150RMB to get into. Once inside, it was a nifty place to visit, cold, of course, but an interesting way to spend an evening.
What impressed me most was the sheer quantity and size of the piles of feces that sat freezing behind (and in) some of the ice buildings. Human, no less. I'm not sure what's worse... that people couldn't use the bathrooms (which were probably filthy with no toilet paper or soap- which really makes me wonder why China hasn't had an enormous epidemic... or if it's due for one...) or that no one cleaned it up. Anyway, that about summed up the place for us: cold crap with colored lights.
Ha ha! It wasn't that bad, really. The Parthenon was really neat, and they have slides which aren't that great to slide on, I hear... but if you plan to go, buy some crampons or those little things that fit over the soles of your shoes to help walk on ice... the place is slippery and in China if you fall and hurt yourself, you're on your own... welcome to the real world, I guess.
They turn the lights on around dusk, which can be around 4:30pm!
It's bright, colorful and famous... why not?
Five images here, many more in the travelogue, "9th Harbin Snow and Ice World".
It's amazing that the annual Harbin Ice Festival hasn't permeated into the mainstream travel destinations for westerners. This is a truly world class event; it alone almost worth a flight out to China. Be sure to check out all the photos and those in the travelogue attached to the Harbin page.
The grand opening of the festival is usually on January 5th, but they tend to let people in about a week early. We were there on the 2nd, so they were still doing some finishing up, but mostly all the sculptures were complete. There are life-size sculptures of famous buildings around the world and you can climb over most of them. There is a man made mountain with an ice castle and slides coming down. There are enough exhibits that it takes a few hours to see, climb over, and photograph each one.
They are also many activities for kids: skating, skiing, riding ice-skate-sled things, spinning Chinese tops on ice, and small to large ice slides. You can rent mini ice yachts, snowmobiles, or dune-buggies. You can have a ride on a donkey, horse, or reindeer; or in a horse-drawn sleigh. There is also a climbing wall for adults, 20 feet tall with knotted ropes, with a fall onto solid ice if you fail. Of course there are absolutely no safety measures at any of these activities, as well as at the multi-storey sheer ice steps. It's kind of refreshing after the western lawsuit-conscious world.
It's worth two trips: make the first one in daytime and you will be amazed. Then come at night and you will be blown away! Inside each ice brick is a coloured light. The whole city lights up in multicolour display at night, creating a sight you will not see anywhere else in the world.
There is also a Snow Sculpture Art Fair, another daytime display elsewhere, and an Ice Lantern Festival in Zhaolin Park.
R. Todd King appears to be an expert and has much better photographs than mine.
We didn't make it to Ice and Snow World for various reasons, but we do regret it. We tried several times during the day, but taxi drivers refused, point blank, to take us, saying it is open only at night. It's not, it's open during the day as well, but there's no correcting the world's taxi-drivers. They know everything, and you are stupid if you disagree with them. Sigh.
The sculptures are supposed to be incredible, and given the prowess of the snow sculptors at the Sun Island Resort, we can wll believe it.
Harbin is the homeland of China's ice sculptures, the Ice Sculpture Festival has been held annually in January/February since 1963.
Plenty of ice sculptures and buildings here, especially beautiful when lit up at night -- that's the reason for the higher admission price after 1600.
Some are competition pieces by countries such as China, Japan, Russia, Malaysia etc. Some are even made by primary school students!
Plenty of family fun for the kids and everyone else at the ice slides and "playgrounds". There's also sledding for free.
Admission 20 RMB before 1600, 40 RMB after 1600; students get half price. Price also seems to fall as you get nearer to the end of the festival (usually February).
The night I was there, it was pretty cold (approximately -25 degree). My youngest call it quit after an hour outdoor and when to an heated indoor cafe for a cup of hot chocolate (20 RMB). My 2 teenager kids played for 4 hours outdoor and wanted to continue.
Myself, I fell twice on the slipping floor / ice. Learned that one has to walk with the upper torso leaning slighting forward to swift the body centre of gravity forward.
Entrance fee: 150 RMB (Adult) and 75 RMB (child) fixed regardless of time of buying ticket.
Shangri-La hotel's room promotional rate gives a 20% discount for the entrance fee to the Ice Sculpture.
Best time of visit: After 4pm when the sky gets dark.
Get a good pair of shoes easily available at Wal-Mart or pay a hefty price at the park's indoor cafe for the same pair.
Zhongyang Dajie is lined with Russian-style buildings, and in winter with small-scale ice sculptures too. One end of it ends at the Flood Control Monument beside Songhua River.
At night it's lit up and looks very atmospheric.