IF you fancy a winter break in northeast China, Harbin is a great option ― though be prepared for freezing cold wind coming all the way from Siberia. Capital of Heilongjiang Province, “Ice City” Harbin is renowned for its winter beauty. The average temperature during the coldest months is around minus 20 degree Celsius, so don’t forget down jackets, thick gloves and a winter hat to shield you from bitter cold. However, once indoors, there are no such worries as buildings have central heating as standard.
Each year, visitors come here in winter for the annual Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, which dates back to 1985. Ice and snow sculptures are the main attractions, and Harbin has two major exhibition parks for ice artworks. One is Sun Island, a top-rated recreational area on the opposite side of the Songhua River from the downtown city.
The other is the Ice and Snow World, a theme park that only opens in winter and is famous for its night scenes. Both are within half an hour’s drive from landmark Central Street. And an ice lantern exhibition in downtown Zhaolin Garden, first held in 1963, is also a good place to go, especially for kids. Or you can simply go to the frozen Songhua River, where many people go skating or tobogganing. Huts with heaters are all round so that you can rest if you feel cold and tired. But be warned that it turns extremely cold after sunset.
While the cold beauty of Harbin is enchanting, don’t forget to visit neighboring Yabuli. Yabuli Ski Resort is the largest ski resort in China, with the biggest ski jump facilities in Asia. It takes about five hours by bus drive or three hours by train from Harbin to Yabuli. You are advised to book a hotel in advance, and coaches are available for rookies. There are different ski slopes for different levels of skills.