When you hear -20 you can’t imagine it. Yes, it’s cold and you’ll need a lot of layers, but really imagine that sort of temperature is impossible unless you’ve experienced it for yourself. This is what I was thinking during the eight hour train journey from Beijing to Harbin. Above the doorway was a digital banner displaying the time, the next destination and the temperature, which was rapidly decreasing with each mile as we head north.
We were going to the Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival. An entire town made purely of ice.
The train journey was an event in itself, where the dining cart only offered blueberry steamed bread, chicken feet or odd dried fruit and nuts. The smells were interesting to say the least. I hadn’t bought any food with me as I assumed there would be snacks on the train, but this was all we were left with until perhaps a third of the way through the journey an attendant brought round some freshly made popcorn. Phew.
The journey may sound long compared to the UK, but I would thoroughly recommend it as you see the most beautiful views of the countryside and little villages. I really enjoyed the scenery it was worth doing and much cheaper than flying.
My advice if you’re planning to take a train anywhere in China is to give yourself enough time to get through the station as security is much higher here. Don’t forget your passport as they will check it and your visa. There are various checks you need to go through as you get to your platform as make sure you watch the time. The train itself was very spacious and comfy even though we went for the hard seat option, which is the cheapest ticket. There isn’t an enormous amount of leg room but its better than most airlines and the seats go back to sleep. Trains are very popular around China, it is common to take a 10 hours train to visit friends and family. Bring a book and neck pillow and enjoy the ride, you’ll experience views of China you would never be able to see otherwise. I thoroughly recommend.
Equally, Harbin was definitely worth the journey. The temperature I perhaps never want to experience again but I am still glad I went and advise all China travellers to make the trip. The city is mainly famous for the festival, which lasts only a couple of weeks in winter. The dates vary so its best to check near the time you are going. Generally, beginning of January to the end of February. It largely attracts a Chinese audience however, over the last couple of years its international acclaim has grown.
There are three parks; one for children, one made of snow and the other of ice. The snow park is a massive garden displaying an enormous variety of snow sculptures, the time I went they were still finishing several so we could watch how they did it.
The ice park opens at night, where they line the ice blocks with neon lights. There is even a KFC, Pizza Hut and other food venues within the ice.
The site was truly spectacular. These huge, vast perfect frozen blocks were constructing buildings, which you could walk inside of, there were forts, castles, palaces, even advertisement on these ice walls. I remember an huge ford advert, where the car was hanging off the side of the wall as though it was driving down it. It must have taken months of preparation.
When I went I stayed in a hotel nearby, which luckily organised tickets and a driver. I would definitely recommend organising something like this because it will save you standing in the long taxi queue in the cold. The park is set outside the city so the only way to access it is by driving. Due to how busy it is taxi’s are generally scarce. The driver waited for us outside the park for two hours, which I think is the max you can spend there. As beautiful as it is, after 20 minutes you have to step inside and warm up so you can imagine after two hours.
My trip was at the beginning of January probably within the first couple of days of its opening. Going at this time, I would recommend packing the very warmest clothes possible, pick up a couple of pairs of gloves and socks, and plenty of thermals. I wore thermals, jeans and a massive, long coat and I was still very cold. If I spent too long outside my glasses would actually begin to freeze over. Be careful.
If you have been to Harbin Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival or would like more information about it please leave a comment. ♥