Winter Festival in the Ice City of Harbin - United Hub
Employee Travel Blog

Winter festival in the city of Harbin

By The Hub team, January 20, 2017

Each week we will profile one of our employee's adventures across the globe, featuring a new location for every employee's story. Follow along every week to learn more about their travel experiences.

By San Francisco based Airport Operations Station Support Senior Coordinator, Maridol Olarte

Winter is often considered cold, gloomy and miserable. I didn't realize the true definition of cold until our recent trip to Harbin, China. Misery, however, was far from what I felt. Harbin is known for its bitterly cold winters. It is called the "Ice City" for its well-known Ice Sculpture Festival during the winter season. A festival that is claimed to be the largest of its kind in the world and the reason why we ventured to Harbin during the cold winter months.

Winter ice sculptures in Harbin, China

Starting our trip from San Francisco we traveled to Beijing and once there we joined a locally organized all-inclusive private tour to the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival with co-workers and our families. Well prepared for subzero temperatures, our suitcases were full of bulky winter outfits. On our first day we started with three layers of winter clothing plus our winter coats, double layers of head covers and thick wool socks. The temperature that day was around 10 degrees. The next day it was negative 8 degrees so we added another layer of clothing, a neck warmer plus a jacket and an extra coat as well. On our third day it was even more cold with temps at negative 17 degrees so we added another thermal and a face mask. As you can imagine, we felt like we were dragging our bodies under this weight. To make matters worse, our cell phones froze and lost power in the cold very often. We had to use hand and foot warmers while holding them, as well as recharge them often. Going indoor to defrost every hour or so was a must. I know you're wondering… Is it worth going to this place with such drastic temperatures? The answer is: absolutely yes.

Colorfully lit ice sculptures at night in Harbin, China

We started our first morning with a visit at the center of Stalin Park where stands the Flood Control Monument, built to commemorate the tremendous feat of the Harbin people in controlling the massive flood of 1957. On our way to the park, you can see giant snow sculptures all over the city, which are made from giant blocks of ice from the frozen Songhua river. Afterward, we continued on to Central Street, which is lined with stores and restaurants. Intrigued by locals eating ice cream on this bitter cold winter day, we decided to try it too and it was delicious. We then proceeded to the Ice Lantern Show in Zhaolin Park. The magical and extraordinary ice lanterns and sculptures have literally made the park an icy wonderland with colorful humongous ice sculptures.

Ice sloping, a cold-weather winter activity in Harbin

Can you imagine swimming in freezing cold water? We watched a winter swimming performance on Songhua River and took part in some activities such as ice sloping and ice tubing. Taking a cable car ride across the river with the sight of the frozen water beneath you is a sight to behold. At the Ice and Snow Festival, there are many awesome ice and snow sculptures created by artists from all around the world. The freezing cold penetrates the bones, especially when you stay outside for longer periods of time, but the sight of the beautiful and impressive sculptures was so enjoyable we forgot about the cold.

An ice sculpture in the city of Harbin, China

This festival spreads across much of the city. You can see massive snow sculptures at Sun Island as well — located on the northern side of Songhua River and in downtown Harbin City. Sun Island is the only floodplain wetland ecology in a city center in China. The island is the pride of the locals and the pursuit of visitors. Each year, Sun Island becomes a paradise for the ice and snow festival sculptures art show. The island also has a zoo for Siberian tigers and provides a bus tour, allowing us to get close to the tigers. It was quite the adventure. Lastly, we visited Polarland, a theme park combining animal shows, polar land sights and interactive activities into one. Polarland is also located on Sun Island. This trip was a travel experience like no other on earth. The subzero temperatures didn't stop us from enjoying all of what the city has to offer. It was truly a trip of a lifetime.

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