Winter Wonderland at Harbin, China
Two words to describe Harbin’s International Ice & Snow Festival – WINTER WONDERLAND. I have long read about the world’s biggest annual ice & snow festival from travel articles and books; envied at friends who visited and posted their gorgeous pixs on social media , and gawked at the stunning visuals I saw on TV and YouTube.
Yet, it was other worldly when I actually visited in person. The manmade craved sculptures, settings, backdrops, the -27 degrees that was chilling to the bone (literally) and had me bundled up in almost 5 layers from top to toe.. plus scurrying to the venue’s tea houses for my piping cup of Hot Ginger Tea every 30=45 mins or so I won’t literally froze to death! It was SO magical -the scenes and sights were something that seemed to jump right out of a storybook. It was bizarre; almost like I was experiencing a Disney-like winter paradise but with breathtaking Oriental settings, backdrops and people.
Basically, Harbin’s International Ice & Snow Festival are held throughout parks as well as the streets of Harbin from early January to mid February every year. Giant and life-sized Ice (carved from Harbin’s frozen Songhua river) as well as Snow (due to long cold winters) sculptures are displayed for the public. Professional sculptors around the world also participated; with their pieces displayed clearly along with their country’s flags for all to see. There were also various many other activities like frozen swimming contest (yes, participants dived into frozen rivers only in their swimwear) plus fun activities like ice skating, ice bicycling, ice sledding and ice tubing!
I visited a few venues but my favourites were definitely ICE & SNOW WORLD and SUN ISLAND SCENIC AREA.
ICE & SNOW WORLD came alive after 4pm (it was already dark by then in winter) with the gigantic life-sized ice sculptures and ice lanterns lighted up in beautiful colours. I felt like I was in fairytale land – it was so magical. From ancient Chinese palaces and temples to pavilions, towers, pagodas, giant Christmas trees, as well as the smaller (but even more impressive classical sculptures).. everything was ICY and DREAMY!
Whilst ICE & SNOW WORLD features more ice sculptures; SUN ISLAND SCENIC AREA boasts more snow sculptures. Snow sculptures are best viewed during the day especially during sunny days to appreciate the fine craftsmanship; especially the range of amazing sculptures up for competitions. I also love the huge ice tubing area; with the gorgeous backdrop of ice & snow sculptures which also comes alive at night accompanied by sound & light extravaganza.
Lastly, if you plan to visit Harbin for a few days and look forward to more than just visiting the ice & snow exhibition parks.. do consider a day (but in my opinion best done overnight as there is an onsite hotel) excursion to Volga Manor. Sitting right on the outskirts just a mere 1-hour drive away from Harbin city center; Volga Manor is a winter fairytale land popular among holiday goers, wedding photographers and couples. The settings and landscaping among serene, wooded forests are so magical. And with its’ many Russian mansions, cottages and pavilions .. many a time I actually felt like I was reliving scenes from “Frozen” the famous Disney animation. No kidding.. you’ve got to be there to believe it!
So there you go… my winter wonderland adventure in Harbin. I highly recommend to visit at least once in your lifetime!