China’s northernmost city of Harbin is a popular winter destination for both local and international tourists alike. Hundreds of thousands flock in freezing January temperatures to attend the Ice Lantern Festival, an annual festival of international prominence that sees the city play host to a multitude of magnificent ice and snow sculptures. This does not mean, however, that the city has nothing else to offer – in fact some of northern China’s best historical sights and recreational resorts are located here.
City of Ice
The famed Ice Lantern Festival was first established in 1985, and it is held annually from the beginning of January through the month of February. The city’s location and arctic climate provides an abundant amount of ice and snow that is so necessary for the festival’s success.
One of the key components of the festival is Harbin’s humble ice lanterns, which were originally created by local peasants and fishermen who used ice lanterns as jacklights in winter. These windproof lanterns gained great popularity in the region, and from then on novel changes and advancements in techniques resulted in the various delicate ice lantern displays.
Subsequently the Ice City of Harbin grew to become the center of ice and snow art sculptures in China, and now the Harbin Ice Festival is not only a showcase of ice and snow art, but a cultural event for international exchange, with artists and fans from ?all over the world gathering in Harbin ?to participate in the festival.
From November onwards, the Snow Sculpture Exposition is open at the Sun Island Park, the world’s largest indoor ice and snow art museum. There is also the Harbin Ice and Snow World, one of the world’s largest ice architecture parks, with sculptures deriving from traditional Chinese fairy tales and world famous architectures. Zhaolin Park is another must-see attraction that features a traditional showcase of ice lanterns with water, lights and natural ice from the Songhua River. Touring the various ice lantern parks are a popular tourist activity here, and other than sight-seeing, there are also various activities such ?as ice fishing, skiing and much more.
The exhibits are best viewed at night when the sculptures are lit from within in tones of pink, red, blue, green and yellow. The numerous ice sculptures and exhibits around the park can be toured in the park on foot, but frequent stops at tea tents on the grounds are of the utmost importance if you want to keep somewhat comfortable in the sub-zero weather. The tea tents are outfitted with cozy space heaters and piping hot tea, which are much needed after a mere thirty minutes outdoors atop the ice sculptures.
A tour of the grounds can also be arranged with one of the many horse and carriage operators in the area. Be warned, though. Physical exercise makes a big difference in body temperature and there’s no way to keep warm from the back of a carriage. We recommend doing a short, quick tour of the grounds by carriage before continuing the rest of the way on foot.
Siberian Tiger Preserve
The Sun Island Park is the largest recreation center in Harbin, and one of its must see attractions is the Siberian Tiger Preserve. The Preserve is home to the endangered Siberian Tiger, the largest member of the cat family. These beautiful creatures can grow up to 320 kg! The park boasts about 800 Siberian Tigers of all ages, which makes it the largest natural reserve for Siberian Tigers in the world.
Visitors can ride in an open bus with metal caging around it, and purchase strips of meat to hand feed the tigers. If you’re into it, you can buy live animals such as ducks, chickens, and even goats or cows to feed the tigers. Park employees will set your animal free among the tigers for a showcase of animal instinct at its most basic. This option is definitely not for the faint-hearted, nor for obsessive animal lovers.
Zhaolin Park, located at the northern end of Zhaolin Street at the bank of Songhua River, is also worth a visit. Set up in 1900, the park was built in memory of the General Li Zhaolin, and was originally named Daoli Park before having its name changed in 1046. The park’s enchanting scenery is the main draw, with the Hua Guo Mountain to the East and the Mei Gui Mountain to the West. The park is sectioned into various gardens and man-made lake with a skating ring and exhibition hall.
The Park is home to the original Ice Lantern Festival, and while the newer and larger Snow and Ice World in Sun Island Park attracts a larger crowd, a smaller, more traditional festival is still held here in Zhaolin Park. Unlike the internationally inspired structures at the Snow and Ice World, the ice structures in Zhaolin Park are all Chinese inspired, with various traditional elements such as the red lanterns, dragons and flowers aplenty.
Yabuli Ski Resort
Finally, there is also the Yabuli International Ski Resort, about 200 km east of Harbin, the perfect place to go if you’re into skiing. Located in Shangzy City, this is the largest ski resort in China, and it provides excellent ski conditions with high mountains and natural snow.
The ski resort is sectioned into two separate areas – the competitive section and the leisure skiing section. The competitive section is built to international skiing standard, providing an environment for professional skiers with altitude reaching up to 1,374 meters. The leisure section is about 1,000 meters high and provides a comparatively safe environment for leisure skiing. Tourists can easily ski down a giant slide from the top of the mountain. This is made especially for skiers who are not confident enough yet to ski on their own.
The resort is approximately 4 hours away from Harbin, with various buses and trains going to and from throughout the day. Besides skiing, visitors can also enjoy a multitude of entertainment facilities at the resort, such as hot-air balloon rides, paragliding and mini golf. The beautiful scenery makes this an excellent destination for your winter sojourn, and even in the summer tourists can escape the heat and enjoy an array of outdoor activities.
Unearthing Asia is a travel zine focusing on Lifestyle, Culture and Attractions all over Asia. Don’t miss out on the best majorca holidays ideas and inspirations in the region of Asia, such as this list of divers paradise in Indonesia.
Who doesn’t like a great lake? No, not those great lakes, but any lake where you can see an amazing reflection or view that forces you to make your own reflection. Whether it’s a serene place or an amazing lake that has a story, these are great places to stop for a rest and think. Write in your journal. Or just relax – isn’t that what lakes are for?
Mirror Lake, New Zealand
Sunrise at the Mirror Lake in New Zealand, near Fox Village, is no mean feat. You must drive or bike a few miles from town, then trek in the darkness around the lake to get this view. But it is certainly a noteworthy goal, as a lake clear as glass and silent makes way for this surreal mirror image as light fills the sky. It is a must-see when seeing the glaciers in the area, and even during midday a walk around the entire lake is lovely.
If you’re looking for more reasons to visit New Zealand, look no further than our Dreaming of New Zealand photo blog.
Tonle Sap, Cambodia
The Tonle Sap is Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake, expanding many times its size during monsoon season. Because of the incredible change in landscape between dry and wet seasons, the people who live near here stay on floating villages – complete with televisions, petrol stations, and other typical amenities. It is a surreal sight to behold, especially since the far shore of the lake cannot be seen, leaving you feeling as if you are afloat at sea. It is possible to visit as a daytrip from Siem Reap.
There is more to this Asian country than sun-baked ruins and temples galore. Retreat to the south and experience Cambodia’s shore, full of beaches and off-beat sights to be explored.
Lake Biwa, Japan
Lakek Biwa is the largest freshwater lake in Japan; because of its location next to the historic capital of Japan, it is well known to Japanese historians, but the lake’s beaches are also popular to those not interested in history or literature. Other popular attractions include Ukimido, the floating temple, the Seta no Karahashi Bridge (especially at sunset!), and biwako Hana Funsui – the world’s largest water fountain.
Lake Baikal, Russia
Lake Baikal, just north of the Mongolian border in Russia, is a geological phenomenon. It is massive, containing 20% of the world’s surface freshwater and the deepest (and strangely, clearest) lakes in the world. Because of this and the hundreds of unique species that live here and nowhere else, Lake Baikal is actually a UNESCO World Heritage site. The resort of Listvyanka is also a UNESCO site and popular stopping point.
Not far from there, check out as well our exploration of Kamchatka, at the far eastern edge of Russia.
Lake Wuhua Hai, China
Wuhua Hai, meaning ‘five flower lake’ in Chinese, is one of several of the amazing lakes in the Jiuzhaigou Valley. The name is appropriate, because just in the span of a few meters the lake changes color, from blue to black to yellow to green and back again. It is surreal, spooky, and amazing. Don’t miss the other lakes here in the valley, such as China’s version of the Mirror Lake featured above.
Lake Issyk-Kul, Kyrgyzstan
Would you believe the above photo was shot in Kyrgyzstan? Lakes are a popular tourist attraction in the mountainous countryside of Kyrgyzstan, and Lake Issyk-Kul is no exception. It’s hidden inside a deep valley, giving you endless views of the snowy peaks of the Tian Shan mountains. It was a popular resort destination during Soviet times, and although those resorts fell into disrepair, they are making a resurgence with foreign tourists.
Inle Lake, Myanmar
Inle Lake in central Myanmar is the second largest lake in the country and one of its highest. An entire population of people, called the Intha, have built their lives and villages around this lake. Visit in September or October where you can experience Hpaung Daw U Festival, where Buddha images from the nearby Pagoda are paraded around the lake and there are dozens of boat races. This is followed by the Thadingyut festival of lights celebration.
Myanmar is also home to off-the-beaten-path Putao, a destination that is a veritable paradise on earth.
* Note: Some people seem to get held up with my definition of Asia. Asia = all of the destinations featured on Unearthing Asia, which includes places you might call “Australasia” or “Middle East.” Enjoy.
If you are planning a visit to Asia, don’t forget to check out Unearthing Asia, the best Asia travel portal focusing on Lifestyle, Culture and Attractions all over Asia. We have got some of the best Cheap Holiday Deal and inspirations in the region of Asia, such as this list of must-try Malaysian foods.
About the Author. Andy Hayes. Andy Hayes is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. When not crossing the world to have his next Asian travel adventures, he is hitting the walking trails near home. To get in touch or see Andy’s other travelogues, visit his website, Sharing Travel Experiences.