China | Harbin

Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival

China Discovery Tour

Harbin | China

01 Jan 2020 | New Year’s Day | Wed

Day 05 of 18

  • Drive to Unit 731 Museum
  • Unit 731 Museum
  • Sun Island International Snow Sculpture Art Expo
  • Lunch | Local Chinese Dumpling Harbin
  • Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival

Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival

Another big highlight of our trip to China was visiting this year’s Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. A few years ago, we saw some pictures and videos of this amazing event (online, on YouTube, etc.) and could not believe how beautiful (and colorful) the ice sculptures were. At the time, we didn’t know when or how we would do it – we just knew it definitely was being put on our future “must-do” list.

Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival

The Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival is an annual winter festival that takes place with a theme in Harbin, Heilongjiang, China, and now is the largest ice and snow festival in the world. At first participants in the festival were mainly Chinese, however it has since become an international festival and competition, with the festival attracting 18 million visitors and generating 28.7 billion yuan ($4.4 billion) of revenue. The festival includes the world’s biggest ice sculptures.

Officially, the festival starts on January 5 and lasts till late February. However, exhibits often open earlier and stay longer, weather permitting. While ice sculptures are erected throughout the city, there are two main exhibition areas:

  • Sun Island is a recreational area on the opposite side of the Songhua River from the city, which features an expo of enormous snow sculptures.
  • Ice and Snow World is an area open in the afternoon and at night which features illuminated full size buildings made from blocks of 2–3′ thick ice taken directly from the Songhua River. The park usually opens from late December to late February. In 1999, the first Ice and Snow World opened to public to celebrate the millennium. Each year the park has to be rebuilt with newly designed ice buildings and snow and ice sculptures. In recent years, the park has been as large as 800 meters (80 hectares).
  • During the festival, there are ice lantern park touring activities held in many parks in the city. Winter activities during the festival include Yabuli alpine skiing, winter-swimming in the Songhua River, and the ice-lantern exhibition in Zhaolin Garden.

Harbin is located in Northeast China and receives cold winter wind from Siberia. The average temperature in summer is 21.2 °C (70.2 °F), and –16.8 °C (1.8 °F) in winter. Annual lows of -25 °C (–13 °F) are not uncommon.

– Wikipedia Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival

Fast-forward to October 2019. We already had a few trips lined up: 13-day Bhutan in November 2019 and a month-long family trip to Southern Thailand in late January/February 2020. We wanted to do something special for New Year’s but weren’t sure where to go. It was too late to plan a New Year’s Eve trip to any of the big cities around Southeast Asia, so I had to come up with something different. Then I thought what about the… Harbin Ice and Snow Festival!

At first, our original plan for China was just going to be visiting the Ice and Snow Festival in Harbin. But after contacting Discover China Tours, we found out that winter was one of the best times to visit other destinations in China. It is the low season (for Chinese tourism) and the weather is cool to cold but generally dry. So our planned brief visit to Harbin turned into an 18-day tour of eastern China!

Okay, back to the Ice and Snow Festival… It was amazing! We were there in person looking at these incredible ice structures, and we still could not believe it with our own eyes! The size, scale, and beauty of these enormous creations will blow your mind.

Each year, a workforce of around 10,000 (mostly local farmers) work night and day cutting and transporting blocks of ice (weighing up to 1,500 pounds) from the local Songhua River.  They do this work in extreme cold weather (as low as minus 35 Fahrenheit) and are only paid around $35 per day! The large blocks of ice are then transported to the construction site where another group of workers uses cranes, chainsaws, picks, lasers and LED lighting to construct/assemble the blocks into the magical Disney like – Ice and Snow World! And oh yea, all of this takes place in over 30 days or so!

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