The cold bites through my skin; the soles of my feet feel a numbness that I’ve have never felt before. That’s how it felt when I visited Harbin in 2009 – a city located in Heilongjiang Province, Northeast China. Not surprisingly, it is also known as “Ice City”. It is the most fascinating and amazing destination I have encountered. It is a unique city to visit but not for the faint-hearted. An average annual temperature of minus 35 degrees Celsius is considered “normal”.
It is imperative to do some research if you’re traveling solo. Not so much if you’re going on a guided tour. There were many important tips I took for granted and learned the hard way. For instance, always carry lots of spare batteries for your camera. Apparently, in cold temperatures the power diminishes rapidly. Sneakers or regular leather shoes don’t work. I learned that there are different types of shoes meant for walking on ice. It takes more effort than we can imagine. Believe me, I slipped many times even with the proper shoes I purchased there. Finally, your winter apparel makes a difference. It has to be heavily and well insulated which unfortunately, makes us look aesthetically unattractive or like the Michelin man.
There were two intriguing events that linger on my mind till this day. The first one is the mineral water bottle I left on the bus turned to ice the next morning. Next, the persimmon I bought degraded in the hotel room temperature.
The most famous attraction is the Annual Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival which is officially held in January every year and lasts for a month. However, it usually starts earlier and lasts longer depending on the weather. There are two main exhibition areas; 1) Snow sculptures at Sun Island and 2) Ice and Snow World which features illuminated blocks of clear ice. I personally prefer the Ice and Snow World. Massive sculptures carved from huge blocks of ice by sculptors from all over the world are exhibited. According to our guide, the blocks are taken from the Songhua River. It is best to view the sculptures at night when it is illuminated with multi-colored lights. Absolutely breath-taking!
Harbin is also known for its Russian influence and it is obvious as you travel around. The Saint Sofia Church is one such Russian legacy. However, it is now a museum located in the central district of Daoli. The bread is a “must-try” as it is absolutely delicious, even if you don’t like bread. I was told that it is an old Russian recipe. The city has many shopping malls in Daoli District with a wide range of goods. I was surprised to see a Wal-Mart in the city. There are also many fashionable high-end goods available.
Finally, an unusual attraction is winter swimming in Songhua River. Just watching the participants will send a chill up your spine. I can only imagine how it is like to take a dip in the freezing water. It was an amazing and unforgettable trip. Highly recommended.
Chuck is a content writer under Headliner by Newswav, a programme where content creators get to tell their unique stories through articles and at the same time monetize their content within the Newswav app.
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