Weekend at Harbin ice festival
I have heard so much about Harbin ice festival – that it was in my head that at around February I need to go check it out.
So indeed when February came – we booked plane / train tickets, a hotel and off we went.
So what you can do in Harbin you ask?
A very cool boardwalk – which is called -Zhongyang pedestrian street.
In it you will find a variety of nice restaurants and stores, as well as a lot of small street food stands – which is my personal favorite (you can read my street food post here).
Also you will see a lot of cool ice sculptures (see below pictures) and in general there’s a very cool atmosphere in this street.
Everybody came to have fun and see the ice city – just look around and absorb.
**They sell a lot of ice-cream in this street – don’t be afraid to try some despite the cold temperatures;)
After you spent some time in Zhongyang street – you can go ahead and continue to St. Sophia cathedral which is also called Sophia square.
It’s a very cool Russian cathedral – very beautiful, and around the square you will find a lot of small shops that sell Russian goods, from paintings to souvenirs and food.
I recommend getting some “Nuts” chocolate bars – they are GOOD!
By the way – while walking in Harbin you will see a lot of “not Chinese” architecture.
The reason is that in Harbin there were a lot of Russians (some still live there) and it was even Russia’s base for fighting in Asia during the Russia / Japan war.
When you walk through Harbin you will see a lot of Russian buildings as well as shops with Russian signs, so be nice, and say privet (Привет).
The next place you will “need” to visit will be the famous ice festival itself.
Now – it’s recommended ongoing during dusk / evening as the entire place is crazy lit by a lot of beautiful colorful lights.
It was all made by hand! Which you must admit is very impressive!
So – having been there, I have a few observations / tips for you visit in Harbin:
The train is OK!
On the way there we flew, and it was actually cheaper than the train, but on the way back the plane ticket was way more costly than the train, so it turned out that on the way back we took the train – high class (not first class but the one below).
About the ice festival itself – make sure you bring enough cash with you when you go – as the the ticket price is no less than 300 (!) RMB each and no credit card is allowed – not even local Chinese card.
We didn’t know and we almost didn’t make it inside because we had just enough.
That was a close one:)
On the way back from the festival to the hotel we had an unpleasant experience with a taxi driver which made suspicious about the taxi drivers in Harbin.
After standing forever in the line for the taxi we finally got one, but for the driver 2 people was not enough so he looked for other people to take.
Now – we didn’t understand how that works so we kept quiet when another girl joined us.
When he dropped her off “on the way” he took some money from her, and when we got close to the hotel I noticed the meter was off, so I told him and he started it.
When we got to the hotel the meter showed 8 RMB – but I thought it’s not fair for him – so I thought that I will give him around 30 / 40 and with the money the other girl gave it will be enough.
Then he surprised me with 80 RMB – for 20 min drive (and the other girl paid as well!).
We had a “discussion” and I wind up giving him the sum I wanted – but it was indeed not pleasant.
After that we realized that the taxi drivers in Harbin look for other people to take all the time and they might “forget” to turn the meter on – pay attention!
The hotel was a little disappointing as well.
We took a very “good” room (suite) in a hotel that should have been good – I will not say which – the room was very big and spacious, but it was very old and just didn’t feel that good.
I felt like someone converted it from a car garage to an hotel room but didn’t really finish the job all the way.
My point is – from past experience with traveling in China – guest houses were great, actually better than this fancy hotel – and they are way cheaper too.
The train ride on the way back was really nice! Amazing seats, very quiet, very comfortable AND its even got electricity as opposed to most aircrafts – so you don’t need to worry about you smartphone’s / tablet battery:)
One small thing about choosing the train – pay attention for the time you return to Beijing!
If you get back after the subway stops working you will be compelled to take a taxi – and the line is guaranteed to be very long! at least 1 hour waiting.
To sum it up – Harbin is a cool trip to take.
I would definitely not pass on it as it’s something you will not see too often.
Don’t forget to drink some of Harbin fine cold beer while you’re there!
Below you can see some random pictures taken in Harbin.
Have a safe journey and have lots of fun!