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Harbin the Ice Town

[ 1 ] February 25, 2010 |

To celebrate the fact that I’m now located in China (without Facebook and Twitter!) freezing my butt of in the Beijing winter, i have a fantastic guest post from Jacqui Rivers about a place much colder than Beijing!

Jacqui and her husband have been living in China for the past year. Who better to ask about what to expect living in China! I love this quote of Jacqui’s about her current home Shanghai…

“Shanghai is an amazing place full of expectation and anticipation. People are generally quite abrupt until you smile or attempt to converse in Mandarin and that changes everything. It is amazing to watch the older generation navigate this cutting edge city and think what they must make of all of it coming out of the cultural revolution and the Great leap forward where they watched friends and family starve to death amongst other things. Now they live is this neon lit progressive city where anything can be bought for a price and making money is the name of the game. What an amazing life they have had!”

Now read on and enjoy hearing about Jacqui’s adventures in Harbin the Ice Town at the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival.

Harbin Ice Town

When we arrived in Harbin we were stunned to walk across the tarmac to the waiting of the ramp shuttle bus, it was beyond freezing. We were expecting -15 to -30 degrees Celsius but as we had never been in those temps before we did not really understand what this meant. We did now! Thank god for puffy jackets and friends who lend you theirs so you have two of them.

Harbin was quite an unexpected place. It was a bit like being in the wild west, but with 4 million Chinese in town. Add to that Russian architecture and European wide boulevards, -25 degrees and there you have Harbin. It was quite a surreal.

Harbin Ice Town

On the second morning we caught a taxi out to the famous Harbin Tiger Park, they have over two hundred Siberian tigers in mostly open range enclosures. We had heard that you could pay to feed a goat to the tigers and were most intrigued. I know, I know, how barbaric, but the goat is going to be fed to the tigers dead or alive, imagine how much more exciting it is for the tigers, if occasionally they get to catch a live one rather than have a dead one thrown in?

After an annoying 20 minute taxi ride with the driver telling us we had to book him for the return trip as there was no taxis out there to bring us back we arrived to find hundreds of taxis lining up. But hey, you cannot blame a man for trying to make a buck. We headed into the park where first we were corralled into the eternal ‘shop’ where we had to stand being harassed to buy things for 20 minutes while waiting for the mini bus that would tour us around the open enclosures. When they had decided we had bought enough off we went! It was just a standard mini bus with some steel bars over the windows, most of which was broken and you could happily shove your camera filled hand out the window.

We were the only westerners on the bus and quickly surmised that you had to be ruthless to maintain your seat and your window space, but no real worries there as we are that much bigger than most Chinese so have a physical weight advantage.

From stage left a gate opened and all the tigers stood up. They obviously knew what was about to happen, as they started moving in that direction. Suddenly a 4WD appeared, kitted out like something out of Mad Max I. Steel caging all over it, including the tyres. It roared closer, stopped suddenly and before we could get our cameras in focus a chicken popped up through the sunroof! Just as quickly a very large tiger popped up onto the roof took the unsuspecting chicken who was still contemplating how he just went from a snug 22 degrees in the back of a car to a sudden negative 20 degrees.  The tiger gracefully jumped down and skulked off behind a bush to play with it.  A bit like a cat with a mouse really, he then plucked it. I hate to tell you this but that chicken who was now no longer contemplating the sudden change in temperature was still kicking as being plucked!

Now you had to be there to appreciate the entire atmosphere and why we might have paid for four more hapless chickens to come to their demise. Imagine a mini bus full of squealing over excited Chinese and the possibility of making them squeal even more for a lousy 10 bucks a hit. It was just too funny, the whole scene. The bus driver now yells ‘Who will pay to feed another chicken to the great tigers”. I was so impressed with myself having understood what he yelled, I yelled back in Chinese “I will pay for another chicken to feed to the tigers”. Well the bus went crazy! Yelling and screaming and smiling at me.

I got out my 50 kwai and it was quickly passed down the bus to the driver with much appreciation from all the passengers. We then positioned the bus waiting for the mad max car! It appeared over the horizon, speeding into shot, the squealing got louder, the tigers got more agitated and then out popped another dumbstruck chicken and just as quickly over the roof went the tiger. Our bus shook to the rafters with the cheering and squealing I actually did worry a bit that a side might fall off it and we would also be contemplating the sudden change in temperature.

No sooner did that chicken meet his maker that everyone on the bus turned and looked at me with expectant excited eyes and yelled ‘again, again!’ So why the hell not? I yelled ” I will pay for another chicken to feed to the mighty tigers” and the bus went crazy! It was an absolute hoot, we did it four times! So sorry for the chickens, but it was just too much fun.

After that we walked through not so great cages with various other cats and more tigers and then caught one of the plentiful taxis to the snow sculpture park on the river. The difference being that these sculptures were made of snow, rather than ice and better viewed against the bright blue sunny sky. They were quite amazing and most the size of houses. We spent a pleasant afternoon wandering around the park in awe of the skill and size of the sculptures.

Harbin Ice Town

That night to the big event! As we approached the Ice Sculpture Park in the taxi we at first thought it was more of the town, as we got closer we realised were looking at the park. The sculptures were that big! There were 10 stories buildings made of ice and lit up to look like real buildings, it was just amazing. We were all dumbstruck!

Harbin Ice Town Night

We spent about 4 hours walking through the park, it was just sensational! We got to get our photos taken with Artic foxes, a yakkity yak and watched one of those shocking bear shows because it was held inside the very toasty warm coffee shop come restaurant and there was no where else to look and we needed to warm up. It was an amazingly surreal night, the park was incredible and we really enjoyed it.

Harbin Ice Town Night

We finished the night in the ice bar at the hotel, where they served your beer warm from a heated box and it quickly cooled as it sat on the ‘ice bar’ so much so that the last few mouthfuls were icing up. It was -10 degrees in the bar, too cold to consider taking off my gloves to use chopsticks to eat dinner so we ran back to our room, had warm baths and room service.

Harbin Ice Town Night

The following morning we went to have a look at the Russian built Sophia Church and headed out to the airport to sit through another two hour delay.  A great trip, if your ever in that part of the world in winter make sure you stop in at Harbin, it’ well worth the effort.


Thanks to Jacqui for letting me post her story Harbin the Ice Town.  If you’ve been inspired to see the festival in person it runs throughout the entire month of January each year starting around the 5th.

Keep an eye out for even more stories from China as i write about my own experiences of living, teaching and travelling in China.  To keep up to date with my latest adventures subscribe to the RSS Feed.

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Category: China

About onurwaytravel: Colin has been travelling the world with his young family for the past 2 and half years. He runs a couple of websites all revolve around travel, family travel and digital nomadism. His websites include,, and now View author profile.

Comments (1)

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  1. nelly

    What an awesome story!
    Well told.
    I am hoping one day my rich sister will pay for me to see this amazing place….
    Until then I will have to settle for your great photos.

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