Saturday, April 10, 2010

Harbin, Northeast China

Mention Harbin, and the Ice Lantern Festival comes to mind. In fact, it is Harbin's number one tourist attraction, and so, significant efforts are also put in to capitalize on this.

Beautiful lighted ice sculptures
There are now like three locations where you can admire and see the snow and ice sculptures - Zhaolin Park, Sun Island, and the Snow & Ice World. All require entrance tickets in excess of 100RMB each. The biggest is probably Snow & Ice World, but all will be crowded. And they are best admired at night where the multi-coloured lights bring the sculptures alive.

However, I actually enjoyed some of the other attractions aside from this number one attraction!
  • The main tourist street of Zhongyang Dajie (中央大街 ), a cobbled pedestrian street, makes for nice browsing with Russian influenced architecture, some dating back 1900s. And it's really nice to just chill in a warm cafe after a wintry walk! (And the cafes have nice decor too!)
  • The Church of St Sophia, the most photographed picture in Harbin, is well worth its shutter time especially early morning or late evening when it is bathed in the winter sunlight. 
  • I also enjoyed the walk across the Songhua river, where you know as you stand in the middle of the river that this view is only possible in winter. There are also all manner of activities on the frozen river, from horse-carriage rides to sledding. But I prefer to walk - how often can you walk on a river?! ;)
  • And the amazing winter swim that the locals partake, though having to pay an entrance fee to see it caught me off-guard for a moment (and then I remembered I am in China... :p). It's interesting to note that for the "warm-up" before they plunge into the icy-cold waters, the participants actually roll themselves on the snow/ice-covered ground! I guess it's to minimize the shock the body gets when they jump in.

I've always enjoyed winter, though in Dongbei (Northeast China), you have to be properly equipped for it. A number of friends are particularly concerned about visiting Harbin since many are worried about the extreme cold here. But once you're properly well attired (a good down jacket is an absolute must!), Harbin is really quite enjoyable!

Winter swimming
Zhongyang Dajie at night

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