Monday, January 26, 2015

Frozen: 48 Hours in Harbin Part One

We don’t see much snow and Ice in Shanghai, so when I see pictures of my friends and family playing in Midwestern Blizzards I get a teeny case of snowlust.  So for Christmas, Chris and I gave each other a weekend getaway to Harbin, China.   Located in the northern Heliongjiang province, Harbin is the home to the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture festival.  For two days, we had a great time exploring and playing in the snow.

Before we left for our trip, Chris and I stocked up on our winter gear.  If you are heading to Harbin and are looking for a good packing list, I highly recommend Kristin’s packing list on her blog Donuts to Dumplings.  Luckily the weather was an unseasonably warm 9° F, so we didn’t need as many things as she suggested, but I highly recommend you take a look ant the post and pack lots of layers if you plan on heading to the area.

After a pleasant Friday evening flight, we were ready brave the Artic on Saturday morning.  Our tour guide, Anne, did a GREAT job showing us the sites we requested, and some we didn’t know existed.

Our day started with a visit to the Harbin Swimming Hall where we caught some iron men and women doing the polar bear plunge.

Many older polar bears believe the secret to longevity is exercising in the cold.  They do so with much bravado.
I was super impressed with their ability to walk around in swimsuits in single digit temperatures. This polar bear startled me for a photo op.
In addition to seeing some seasoned polar bears, we had a great time playing on the ice.

Talented ice skaters did The Worm while jumping rope.  I appreciated their talent and their attire.

We also had a chance to pose with some popular Chinese cartoon characters.  I call this "Silence of the Goats".
I had a large time scooting around on this chair ski.   
Then we took a trip down the ice slide.
After we had some fun on the ice, we headed to the Siberian Tiger Sanctuary for a little fun with some tigers.  For 100 RMB, visitors can take a ride in a tour bus to see Siberian tigers in their natural habitats.

For an additional 50 RMB, I was able to hold a one month old Siberian Tiger.  I am allergic to cats so I didn't cuddle the cat in fear of breaking out in hives.  I am happy to report I had no problems allergy wise.   
Chris had a great time snuggling with the cat. 

We were able to visit the tigers via a safari bus.  Many of the cats are in spacious enclosed areas.  If you want, you can feed the tiger a live chicken for 60 RMB.  We passed on that opportunity.
If watching a tiger hunt a live chicken isn't your cup of tea, you can also feed the two year old tigers butchered meat.

We chose to feed this friend some beef.  I saw somewhere that visitors can pay 1500 RMB to feed the tigers a live cow, but I did not see that option anywhere.  (Thank goodness!) 
Before I visited the sanctuary, I thought Ligers only existed in the movie Napoleon Dynamite .  I was wrong.  The sanctuary bred a Liger.  A Liger is half tiger, half lion.
The Liger kept getting angry with its tail.  It was really funny.
I have to admit parts of the safari did not sit well for me, especially the part where tourists could pay 60 RMB ($10 USD) to watch tigers hunt live chickens.  Overall the Tigers looked like they were well cared for, but if you are a strong animal rights activist this is NOT the place for you.

The tigers weren’t the only ones that were hungry, so we took a hot pot break to warm up.  After lunch, we headed to the Harbin Polarland.

Harbin Polar Land is an aquarium with all kinds of polar creatures in REALLY cheesy Sea Lion and Beluga Whale shows.  For us, Harbin Polar Land was a warm place to kill time before heading to the Ice Festival. 

The highlight of the aquarium was a seal feeding pen.  Be careful, the seals get aggressive and splash. 

The Beluga Whale show was comprised of two flamboyantly clad whale trainers swimming with the Belugas for about 15 minutes.  Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On looped the entire show. 
I don’t know if it was the 15 minutes of Celine Dion or the hoards of people, but after the show we were VERY ready to see some ice sculptures.

When we arrived at the Harbin Ice and Snow Amusement World around 5:30, the entrance was PACKED! I am talking People’s Square Metro Station at rush hour numbers of people wanting to enter.   I was REALLY thankful we had Anne take care of our admission when we got there.  Otherwise we would have waited a long time to enter.    I think you can buy tickets online, but you will still have to wait in line to exchange your online voucher for a ticket so going in with a tour group is definitely your best bet if you don’t want to wait. 

Our tour guide Anne helped us get in to the show with minimal wait.
Once we entered, we were greeted with a neon icy wonderland that would put Elsa’s castle to shame.
The Ice an Snow World was definitely a highlight of the trip! 
This snow sculpture celebrates the upcoming Year of the Goat. 
Visitors had a slippery time climbing the different sculptures. 
I highly suggest visiting Ice and Snow World at night to see the neon lit sculptures. 

The festival has many ice slides that are fun for kids of all ages.

There is a large Snow Buddha at the back of the festival.

Many people made offerings to the Snow Buddha in hopes of a prosperous new year. 
For 200 RMB, visitors can ride around the sculptures in a horse drawn carriage.  We opted to walk instead.  
If you plan on taking pictures in Ice and Snow World, make sure to have a fully charged phone and/or bring multiple camera batteries.  We were able to take one selfie at the festival before my phone died.  The cold weather is really tough on batteries.
After 90 minutes of gawking at the ice town, we were ready to head back to the hotel, catch some dinner, and warm up for the next day. 

Also, if you are looking for a tour guide in Harbin, I highly recommend Anne!  Here is her Wechat Contact QR code. :)

There’s more Harbin fun to come!