Written by Emma Tilley, (Brown University) Student Correspondent CET Harbin, Spring 2019
Why would anyone go to an industrial city in a practically Siberian climate in the middle of winter? Harbin is possibly best known for its annual ice festival, comprising two months of ice and snow sculpting competitions, arts and culture activities, and even a group wedding. This semester we were too late for some of the events such as the ice lantern show, but were still able to see the main attraction: Harbin Ice and Snow World (哈尔滨冰雪大世界), where the largest and most elaborate ice and snow sculptures including complete walkable buildings and giant Buddhas and dinosaurs can be found. Read on for tips on making the most of this experience.
Timing: The festival is open from late December through mid-late February, though certain events have more limited timeframes. As usual, attempting to go during Chinese New Year is inadvisable. We arrived around 3:30, which I thought seemed very early until I considered that the sun sets around 5:30. I highly recommend this timing as you can see the park at every stage of day and night lighting in the least total time, but it’s also fairly crowded. If you want to stay longer, take into account that food and drink in the park are predictably overpriced.
Getting there: The ice festival is held near Sun Island Park, about half an hour’s drive from HIT. You can take the bus but it can take up to an hour or more from HIT and you may have to walk a fair distance to get to a line that runs to the park. I recommend splitting a taxi or Didi with a few friends.
Staying warm: If you don’t go on an exceptionally bad day, you can handle the weather as long as you don’t underestimate it. It’s not that it’s too cold to bear, it’s more that you will be outside for hours, most of which will probably be taking pictures and sledding or standing in line for snow tubes. I wore two pairs of Uniqlo heattech under jeans and one under a sweater, warm socks, a down coat, snow boots, and gloves. I also brought a balaclava but didn’t need it – this February has been unseasonably warm so the hood of my coat was enough. This worked well for about 3 hours, but by the end my hand warmer had run out of energy and my fingers were starting to feel numb. It’s hard to tell if this was due to the temperature difference at night or if a third daytime hour would have been the same.
Most importantly: take pictures!