Last day in Harbin
Trip Start Jan 02, 2013
70Trip End Mar 17, 2013
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Where I stayed
Gfour Holiday Hotel Harbin
Read my review - 2/5 stars
Read my review - 2/5 stars
I came across a useful web site called TravelChinaGuide.com where you can post questions and possibly get an answer so I posted a couple questions about the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival. I receive an e-mail from them letting me know that someone had posted an answer to one of my questions. At the bottom of the e-mail I was asked to be a fan of their Facebook page, to add them to my circles on Google+ and to follow them on Twitter and YouTube. Unfortunately, I can't do any of those things while I'm in China since they block all four of those sites.
I thought about going back to the Sun Island Scenic Area today. I tried to find out from the travel agents in the lobby of the hotel, Songhua River International Travel Service, if the venue was open and,if so, what their closing time was today. I asked a question, got the single word answer, "No", and was then totally ignored while I stood there for several minutes as she poked away at an adding machine. I eventually left. A real service-oriented company.
Since I couldn't find out anything useful about the Sun Island Scenic Area and since I've already seen it during the day I decided to do some sightseeing in town. The St. Sophia Church was within walking distance so I thought I'd go there. I have trouble even identifying street signs let alone reading them but I managed to find my way there.
I had heard that the St. Sophia Church had suffered greatly since this area was last Russian in 1946. I had also heard that it had been restored. Well, the outside has been. The inside is largely empty and the murals are long gone. The only interior furnishings that looked appropriate were a couple chandeliers. There are a bunch of pictures hung all around the interior of the church showing the history of Harbin. The captions for the pictures are all in Chinese although there were a few summaries that were translated into English.
I decided to go to a restaurant that had been recommended in my guide book. I found what I thought was the restaurant and went it. I took a look at the menu and didn't find anything vegetarian. I also decided it probably wasn't the restaurant I was looking for. I left and looked around in the neighborhood but the one referred to in the guide book seemed to be gone.
Next I tried the Russian restaurant I had wandered into a couple nights ago and where I told it was closed in spite of their sign saying they were open another two hours. I went in and wasn't chased out this time. I checked their menu. Unfortunately, there was almost nothing vegetarian there either.
The menu at Tatoc had looked much more interesting but I wasn't going to go back there after the way I had been treated last time so I headed back to Big Pizza.
I went in the front door this time, paid, got my place mat and utensils and found a seat. I had gone through a plate of food and a drink and went back for seconds leaving my hat, neck gator, gloves and coat along with my place mat, utensils and dirty plate and cup. When I came back there were people sitting at my table. They weren't customers. They didn't have place mats or utensils. They weren't eating. They had just wandered in from the hotel and sat down. When I came back one of them got out of my seat, which was obviously being used, and moved - to the other side of the table. He continued to sit there and play with his phone for most of the rest of my meal.
On my next trip back to get a drink as I was standing at a drink dispenser with my foot literally pressed against the bottom of the counter - there was no gap at all between me and the counter - I had someone step over my leg and barge between me and the drink dispenser. There was at least a five-foot gap behind me with nobody in it but this person thought it was OK to step over my leg and walk into me. I haven't seen rudeness at this level since I was last in Moscow.
Since it's so hard to get accurate information about the Harbin Snow and Ice Festival I thought I'd include a bit of a summary about some of the things I've learned to help anyone who reads this who also makes the trip to Harbin.
The Harbin Snow and Ice Festival is held in three venues.
The smallest venue is Zhaolin Park. I've seen many mentions of the Ice Lantern Garden Party. I understand that this was the name that was used for the event at Zhaolin Park and that the name is no longer used although I've also been told that this name is still correct. I've also seen references to the Ice Lantern Festival. I think this is the name this portion of the event is going by now. In any case, this venue has lots of mostly smallish, at least compared to some at the other venues, but still impressive ice sculptures that are lit at night either with internal lighting that they somehow run inside the ice, lights underneath or spotlights. Inside Zhaolin Park there is something called the Harbin International Ice Art Exhibition Hall. It's an unheated building containing ice sculptures from an ice carving competition that was held earlier in the winter.
Another venue is the Sun Island Scenic Area. I believe that this portion of the Festival is properly called the International Snow Sculpture Art Exposition. There is a path that forms a long loop through this area. There are snow sculptures all along this path. They range from smallish to huge. I went during the day and it's probably best to see it with sunlight but there were lights set up on all of the sculptures and the closing time is advertised as 19:00 although when I tried to go at night I was told I couldn't. I have no idea why not. I've seen references to the Ice and Snow Art Hall and the Ice and Snow Culture Exhibition Hall. I believe these may be a building or buildings at the Sun Island Scenic Area but I didn't see them and I couldn't tell you where they are.
The largest and most famous venue is Ice and Snow World. This is the place that has the huge structures built out of ice. Some of these buildings are over 50 feet tall. The structures are mostly lit by lights either underneath the ice or inside the ice although there are some spotlights as well. There are also a few snow sculptures but the vast majority is built of ice. There are many activities at this venue including skiing, ice slides, rides in horse-drawn carriages and indoor and outdoor performances. If you only have time for one of the venues, this is the one you should pick. It's open during the day but you should definitely see it at night. The huge ice buildings all light up with colored lights are really spectacular. Ice and Snow World is possibly on but at least near Sun Island. It is relatively close to the Sun Island Scenic Area but I wouldn't recommend trying to get from on to the other by walking.
Buses seem to be the way to get to Sun Island Scenic area or Ice and Snow World. The taxis tried to charge me five to ten times what the fare should be and there aren't many taxis available. I took bus 29 from both of these venues to a bus stop just a block west of the northwest corner of Zhaolin Park and I also used it to get to Ice and Snow World. If your hotel is in this area you can use the same bus. They have special buses that have another number on them in addition to the 29 that are free going to the venues as long as you buy your ticket on the bus. The cost is the same as at the gate and you avoid a line.
Be prepared for very cold weather in Harbin. It was -26C (-15F) the two nights I was at Ice and Snow World and I was told that that wasn't particularly cold for Harbin. People said told it's often -40C (which is also -40F).
There are some other things to see in Harbin. I saw St. Sophia Church. It's worth the trip if you have some free time and are in the neighborhood but the Ice and Snow Festival is more interesting. I spent some time strolling Zhongyang Dajie and other parts of Daoliqu(the Daoli District) and that area is worth seeing. I didn't see any of the other attractions so I can't help you with any of them.
Well, that's it for my summary about Harbin and the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival. It's a hassle getting here but it's really quite a spectacle.