Published: April 30th 2012February 26th 2012
A much delayed blog:
Less than 6 days after I got back from a 5 week long excursion to Vietnam and Philippines with the (relatively) warm balmy weather I was off again, this time to the opposite temperature extreme: Harbin (or Haer'bin) to see the Ice Festival.
The train was booked so I headed down to the train station. No english spoken or written anywhere so I was left to my own wits to figure out where to go. The first problem was that my ticket was all Chinese and I couldn't even tell any of the information aside from date and time (numbers). The second problem was that everything in the train station was also in Chinese. Not even sure what I was looking for I tried to match anything on the ticket to any sign pointing anywhere. As I passed many signs - no luck. Eventually I managed to find an alphanumerical code that matched which designated where I should and the characters matched what I assume are the characters for Harbin on the ticket.
Shortly after arriving the gates opened and people streamed through. Fortunately because of my size and fast walking pace I was
able to push through the throng to be among the first to reach the car. I grabbed the bottom bunk (almost always a better choice) and there were two more bunks above me along with the 3 on the other side for a total of six per (open-doorless) compartent.
The train ride itself was uneventful as I woke up to daylight as we passed through the outskirts of Harbin. The train slowed to a stop and we all piled out crossing the tracks to the station and out. I taxi'd to the hotel, dropped stuff off, had a shower and then headed out in the frigid conditions. While I have been in colder weather back in Edmonton, this was certainly the longest time spent out in below -20 degree weather. It ended up being roughly 12 hours of walking outside with a few small breaks inside.
I walked to north to the river side, finding one of the lesser ice festivals (empty: only on at night). Eventually at the river side, which was of course frozen solid, I walked along westward for quite some distance. I passed by several skating 'rinks', although no skate rental could be seen.
Some were skating on skates much like in Canada, while others were on glorified sleds with metal poles to use for propulsion. There were also many people spinning a sort of top on the ice, and whipping it to keep its momentum.
After trying a sled for a bit, I made an attempt to take the cable car across the river to the other side. The building for the cable car was obvious; you could see it for kilometres. The problem was there was no entrance. Or at least no observable ones. I walked around, to the adjacent hotel and around. Eventually I saw that was looked like a construction wall was in fact a door. I got the tickets and was on my way. The ride was slow but pleasant, and a weclome respite from the wind and the chill.
It docked on the other side and I headed down and out to a Russian village. There were two serious looking Russian soldiers (much more intimidating than Chinese soldiers - who look like boys). All staff inside were in fact Russian. I got a ticket to go in and wandered around. It wasn't much of anything: just
a few small Russian statues and some 'homes' selling Russian goods.
Afterwards I headed towards one of the ice festivals but it was getting late and there wasn't a whole lot of time and the price for entry was quite large. We talked with a Swiss couple and decided to take a taxi to another ice festival which ended up being the best choice. It was open late.
This ice festival was the big one with large buildings around the world sculpted in ice, sometimes up to 5-6m high. Ice slides were abundant throughout the grounds and one side had set up a number of 'extreme' activities (made extreme by the relative unsafeness of it). There were famous buildings from around the world. Thai wat's, european castles, chinese buildings, pagodas, etc). There were also some other large sculptures like the Harbin beer scuplted and labeled in likeness (and at night lit up yellow). After wandering around for some time and sliding down several small slides, I made my way over to one side seeing some tubing. I got in line when I realized it was free (or more precisely: included). The staff love to spin the people as
fast as they can (particularly foreigners) and regardless of whether they want it. It was fun though.
Next I spotted an odd building that people were heading up and there were clearly lights beyond but could not tell what. My curiosity got the better of me and I climbed the building to realize that it was a zip-line. It was not particularly long but it was steep. The wait was long, but eventually it was my turn and I got strapped in. Off I was speeding at quite a high speed (much higher than I've ziplined before). As I approached the landing, I realized quickly that I was going to fast to naturally stop and there was no mechanism on the wire to stop or slow me. So I crashed hard into the cushion at the end. It gave me quite the jar and I wasn't expecting it. That 'method' would be liable to break a bone of you hit it at the wrong angle.
By this time it was dark and so made another round, this time to appreciate the colourfully lit up ice sculptures. After this I noticed another building with lights going down a very
high and long ramp off into the darkness. I decided to figure out what it was, and it was a slide that you use a little broken plastic sled. Again lack of safety. I was off at a blistering speed hurtling down the steep ice slope before slamming into a pile of snow at the end and being hurtled out of the sled and into the snow.
After I brushed off I headed back to the hotel. I tried to go see a movie but of course no english. Disappointed I headed home but not before grabbing a bubble milk tea that I have been growing fond of. I headed back to the hotel for the night.
The next morning I tried to head out to find a supposedly beautiful green cathedral but the map showing it was very aproximate and I couldn't find it. It was getting time to catch my flight so I headed back and caught a taxi to the airport to fly back to Dalian.
There are more photos below