Survival Guide for Ice and Snow Festival in Harbin

Harbin is one of the coldest places in China, -30C degrees, but don’t let this scare you. I had been postponing Harbin for more than 3 years simply because it was so easy for me to get sick and turn into one of the characters in the american commercials for flu medicine haha.  But it was high time to experience the ice fairy tale in Harbin by putting on 7 layers;) Good news, I haven’t caught cold and standing stronger now. Afetr I challenged myself with that cold, I feel ready for the next level:)

In this post I’ll get you ready to a trip that will make you freeze and defreeze with a smile on your face while making you say “it is so worth it”. You’ll get ready step by step with this post:

  • Preparation
  • Accomodation
  • Transportation
  • Language
  • Devices
  • What to do in Harbin:  THE ICE AND SNOW FESTIVAL IN HARBIN

PREPARATION

“HOW MANY LAYERS DID I PUT ON?”

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 7  top! 5  bottom!

TOP: 1 t-shirt, 1 long sleeve t-shirt, 1 waistcoat, 2 turtle neck sweaters, 1 cardigan,  and the winter coat = 7 layers

BOTTOM: 1 pair of tights, 2 pair of socks, 1 pair of jeans and 1 pair of ski pants (from Decathlon) = 5 layers

SHOES: Winter boots (from decathlon worked perfect).

SKII GLOVES A HAT: I bought them from one of the street sellers in Shanghai with fur(fake) inside them for 20RMB (3.6USD) each.

We could have easily avoid wearing too many layers by buying thermal clothes from Decathlon as well but that was ok.

WE’RE NOT DONE YET:)

HEAT PATCHES (MUST HAVE ITEMS!): My friend Gökçen bought HEAT PATCHES (from Watsons both for feet and for the body) that you can stick on your clothes and socks (do not put them on your bare skin!!!!). Those heat patches last for 10 hours. We put one on the chest, one on the back. I didn’t put heat patches on my feet during the day but I put them on under my feet during the evening. They will save you!

As soon as we arrived at Harbin airport, I started to put on layers but be careful guys cause outside is freezing but most places inside is just the opposite, so make sure you won’t sweat a  lot and end up being sick. You need to start delayering as soon as you walk into any place.

From the airport we took the bus to the city center which took 30 minutes. The last stop of the bus was also where our hotel was located so it was very convenient.

ACCOMODATION

WHERE AM I GONNA STAY IN HARBIN?

We stayed at Hanting Hotel which is a hotel chain all around China. There are more than one Hanting Hotel in Harbin, so ours was in Harbin Station Square. It was easy to spot the building from the pictures we saw on the internet but it wasn’t easy to find the entrance of the hotel. In front of the building, next to KFC there is an entrance,covered with curtains that keeps the cold away. After you walked in take the door on the left that will lead youto the private elevator of the hotel which goes directly up to 24th floor. Keep reading and you’ll see our happy and sad faces based on our stay here.

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HAPPY FACE: Generally it was ok based on the price you paid. Hot water, towels, clean room, working radiator, comfortable bed, central location.

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STILL HAPPY FACE: And a lot of plugs. I carry a lot of photography equipment, cables and chargers and to avoid not having enough plugs, I started to carry my own extention. Here wasn’t necessary as there were plenty of plugs.

SAD FACE: If you’re sensitive to smoking, want to have your peace no matter what and be warm during the night, then this is not the best choice. People smoke in the elevator, in the hallway and even in front of your door and all the smoke will come to your room under the door. Second, there is a high probability of witnessing/hearing drama, which means the woman kicks the guy out of the room and then the guy starts kicking the door to get back in the room in the middle of the night as the rooms are very close to each other. Moreover you will wake up in the middle of your sleep feeling so cold as in our case AC didn’t work in the room even though the radiator is working full capacity.

TRANSPORTATION

HOW CAN WE GO TO THE PLACES? BY METRO, BUS OR ON FOOT?

If you come to Harbin on Friday, TGIF won’t help you at all as most taxi drivers won’t open their taxi meters but will ask you to pay tripple.

But how can you not fall into this trap?

There are central locations where you get in line to take taxis where there is always a person in charge with uniform on. Those taxis open taximeters that is what you want as there is no need to bargain. The taxi meter starts with 8RMB.

You can still take a cab on the street with taxi meters but you will wait a little bit longer. During our stay we never spent more than 39RMB for one way, it was to the Ice and Snow World and there was a traffic jam at the gate to the area.

LANGUAGE

WHAT IF NO ONE WILL UNDERSTAND ME?

You can still get by without speaking good or no Chinese at all, it will be difficult but as long as you have the address written in Chinese characters and know how to pronounce it a bit would help you a lot.

1-Get a map with you from your hostel or from the internet and download a map app.

2-Point out and hightlight all the places you want to go which you will be reading about those places below.

3-Some simple sentences: Nihao (Hello), Wo yao qu …. (I want to go to ….). Street means “lu” and make sure you give them a cross road as all most all the taxi drivers will ask you except if you go to extremelt well known places like below. But you will need proper tones for it to make sense to the Chinese people so download Placo app or a translation app that speaks out for you, for this one I recommend Youda app.

DEVICES

WILL I BE ABLE TO USE MY DEVICES IN -30C DEGREES?

SMART PHONES: Your phone will shut down immediately especially if you just put it on your coat’s outside pocket. So if you put your phone in your inner pockets to keep it as close as it is possible to your body, you’ll be able to keep it open a bit more and take some pictures.

GOPRO: If you have generic gopro batteries, no matter how full they are,  they will run out extremely faster than you can ever imagine. I fulled the original battery as well but it also went down pretty quick, not sure if it is only my case or it is common.

DSLR: If you have a DSLR camera and not bring it with you to Harbin, you’ll kick yourself for sure. Especially during the evening, my phone shut down soon enough even though I was carrying a power battery. My Gopro batteries run quickly. ONLY MY DSLR CAMERA KEPT WORKING AND HELPED ME TO CAPTURE THE BEAUTIFUL MOMENTS YOU’LL BE READING BELOW.

WHAT TO DO IN HARBIN ?

THE ICE FAIRY TALE IN HARBIN

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 There are 3 main attractions that you shouldn’t miss in the city if you’re in Harbin for just the weekend.

1. SUN ISLAND

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Sun island is one of the biggest parks for snow sculptures and activities on the frozen river beside the park and also the frozen lake in the park.

________________________________SUN ISLAND BASIC INFO_______________________________________

TIME TO VISIT: DAY TIME! During the night it is closed. It is open from December 23rd 2016 till the end of February 2017.

TICKETS: For adults it is 240RMB in 2017 January. You don’t have to buy your ticket in advance. There is a big ticket office on the left of the park entrance.

TRANSPORTATION: We took a taxi from Harbin Square Station and it cost 38RMB one way and took around 20-25 mins to arrive. If you do not prefer to take a taxi then, Bus 88, 85, and 80 go to Sun Island Station. Then you can take a cable car there.

_________________________________________ACTIVITIES____________________________________________

There are giant snow sculptures all around the park. Each sculpture has a different concept either to illustrate Disney characters, fairytales or people around the world.  We are not sure what that sculpture below means but it was also fun to watch local people to pose in front of the giant snow sculptures.

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From the entrance you cross the bridge and keep walking straight, at the end of the road you turn left and see the big frozen lake where you can do many activities. Like the ones you see in the picture below. Here I am rescuing Gökçen as her boots bottom were straight and wasn’t helping her to walk on the ice.

REMINDER: Make sure your boots are good for walking on the ice.

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You must try this activity, you can see in the video how much fun we had during going down with slides 🙂

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The ice bicycle is fun with friends and if you try to cycle faster, you’ll sure will give some adrenalin to your friend behind:)

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There is a cafe beside the frozen lake where you can take a break and get warm with coffee or instant noodles.

You’ll like to walk on the snow to explore the quiet parts of Sun Island and enjoy the view…

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I would like to kindly draw your attention to a situation below:

________________________________STAY AWAY_______________________________________

I would suggest you to stay away from any activity that involves animals like holding foxes or using dogs or horses for slides. I saw a snow fox around and  held the cutie and realized that I had to pay money for holding it. I would never do it again as it keeps this business going.

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On Songhua River, you can do some other activities but it will be so cold that you might regret during the activity and you can’t get off as you’ll see in the video:)

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2. ICE AND SNOW FESTIVAL

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It is best to visit Ice and Snow World around 5pm or in the evening as the lights will be on.

________________________________ICE AND SNOW WORLD BASIC INFO_______________________________________

TIME TO VISIT: SUNSET OR EVENING! December 23rd 2016 till the end of February 2017.

TICKETS: You don’t have to buy your ticket in advance. There is a big ticket office at the park entrance.

Time Period Opening Hours Child Student Adult
Day 09:00-12:00 ¥120 ¥120 ¥150
Night 12:00-21:00 ¥160 ¥160 ¥300

WARNING: There will be some local people at the entrance that will act as they are working in the park and they will take you to a nearby place to get the tickets but then put you in a group of tourists. You do not need to get into a group to walk in the park, you’ll be better off by yourself or with your friends than following a group.

TRANSPORTATION: We took a taxi from Harbin Square Station and it cost 40RMB one way and took around 30-35 mins to arrive as there was a bit of traffic in the entrance for cars.

_________________________________________ACTIVITIES____________________________________________

Here is the map that will give you the idea of how big Ice and Snow World is.

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Walking around the giant ice sculptures which illustrate famous buildings around the world.

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Some of the sculptures reach 46 meters high.

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The castle in pink light is my favourite.

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There are slides as well but the line for it will make you freeze as it goes and goes and goes. Here is one part of the line:)

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Travelling to Harbin with a friend is highly recommended as you’ll be doing the fun stuff and freeze together, it feels better hahah:)

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3. CENTRAL STREET (RUSSIAN STREET)

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Visiting Russian street around sunset or evening is higly recommended, but after 10pm the lights will be off and most of the stores are closed except fast food chains and one street food bazaar which is a bit at the end of the street.

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Harbin has its well-known ice-cream. I am not kidding, even though it is freezing outside, people eat this special made icecream from fruits. You should try too.

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Before our flight, we spent some time at this cafe on the Russian Street trying to get some energy back by tasting the cakes and doing some people watching.

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Harbin Ice and Snow Festival is a bucket list item, it’s a once in a life time experience. For more pictures follow me on instagram and stay tuned for more adventures.

Best, Evrim

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