Five Essential Travel Tips for the World's Most Artistic Ice Festival

Article by: unknown author

Wed February 06, 2013 | 00:00 AM

Harbin_EntranceDramatic entrance to Zhaolin Park

Most of you won’t decide last minute, “Let’s go to Harbin.” This is a serious undertaking, so let me give you a few tips while I’m still here in this frozen artistic mecca.

Harbin_carWould recommend you fly, not drive

Tip #1: Dress for excess. But that doesn’t mean your suitcase has to be dominated with parkas (you can buy a cheap, heavy coat when you get here if necessary). Harbin was the second festival of five Asian stops I was doing over five weeks so I packed multiple thinner layers that could be used in warmer climates as well. Don’t forget your gloves and something to keep your ears warm. At Ice & Snow World, I saw live minks being rented to attendees for shoulder and neck warmth (will keep PETA off your back).

Harbin_ColorsThe colors will distract you from the cold

Tip #2: Work with a local travel agent who knows Harbin. I used Cathy Zhang at Ice Festival Harbin. She booked me a local guide/driver, got me tickets to all the right events/shows, and booked me at the New Kailai Garden Hotel that’s right on the river at the end of majestic Central Avenue.

Harbin_AcrossStreetThis sculpture was across the street from my hotel

Harbin_NYThis symbol of the upcoming Chinese New Year was at the entrance of the New Kailai Garden Hotel

Tip #3: If I had to rank the top three amusements, they would go in this order: Ice & Snow World (must not miss, only open at night), Zhaolin Park (also a night experience and right in the middle of the city), and the Snow Sculpture Art Expo on Sun Island (biggest of the three choices but, because it’s only open during the day, it’s not as photogenic or stunning in its colors). There’s a huge fireworks display at the January 5 opening and in February, when things are closing down, attendees can start smashing sculptures with ice picks. There are also three different ice and snow sculpture competitions that all occur in the first week of January.

Harbin_Ice&SnowEntrance to the magical Ice & Snow World

DSC01443Four different live performance venues at Ice & Snow World include skaters with vibrant images on the mountains behind

Tip #4: There’s great dining in Harbin. My favorites are the Spring Pancake restaurant in the basement of swanky Central Avenue. Worth going there just for the wonderful stroll along this pedestrian-only street. And, across the square from St. Sophia’s church is the Dingxin hot pot restaurant where you cook your own meats, seafoods, and vegetables at your table. Note: you’ll rarely be offered napkins in even the best restaurants so bring your own wipes.

DSC01376Great food and views at the Dingxin hot pot restaurant

Harbin_Couple_0This treasure chest of an antique store was housed in one of the ice sculptures on Sun Island

Tip #5: Forget about the rest of your life for a few days. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and many other sites are banned in China (there are ways to get around this, but they take more than 5 minutes of planning). The quality of the internet in my hotel was spotty. Why ponder about the challenges of the rest of the world when you’ve got your own chilly piece of paradise here in Harbin?

DSC01485This isn’t fantasy. It exists at Ice & Snow World