We had a fabulous weekend in Harbin. Friday January 18th, we collected the kids from school at noon ready to fly up to Harbin in the very north of China. In fact, any further north and we would have been in Russia! Evidence of this can be seen in the town centre:
This was an “Emerald” weekend away as there would be 6 families staying in the same hotel and doing all the same site seeing! We had travelled up with John, Jenny and their 2 boys: Daniel and Luke, and the others were arriving at different times during Friday and Saturday morning. Once we had walked off the plane into the baggage claim area, we (along with every other person on the plane) immediately started to bundle up: ski gloves, scarves, additional layers. It was cold, cold, cold! We stepped out of the airport and felt the cold air on our faces. It was only minus 27 degrees centigrade that night! Luckily it was a short walk to the waiting car. It was funny to see the inside of the car windows frost up during our 45 minute drive to the hotel. Once we got to the hotel (Shangri-la – highly recommended in Harbin) it was time for dinner. We dropped bags off and decided to eat in the hotel restaurant. It was buffet style and the kids loved being able to help themselves. We also met up with Marie and Tim and their 3 children: Cai, Lia and Seren. They had arrived earlier this morning and had already done some sight-seeing.
We got up early on Saturday morning and began the long task of getting dressed. Layering up with thermals, long sleeves, 2 pairs of socks, sweaters and then ski coats. Then add ski gloves and liners, hats, ear muffs, face warmers and scarves!! Poor Isabelle and Oliver did not like wearing so many clothes and they weebled their way down the hotel corridor to the elevator! They both look the Michelin Man! We had arranged for a mini-bus to take us, John & Jenny + family and Tim & Marie + family to the Tiger breeding station first.
The Siberian Tiger Park covers an area of more than a million square meters (250 acres+) and it was set up as a place to breed and house Siberian tigers. The Siberian tiger is the largest of the big cats. The breeding program has been very successful, and there are now about 800 Siberian tigers (about 100 can be seen here) along with other large cats like lions and pumas. This is amazing, since it is estimated that there are only about 500 Siberian tigers left in the wild. Almost all of these wild ones are in Russia, and maybe 12 are in China. The facility includes a museum, breeding areas, and cages/pens for the other large cats. It is amazing to see a group of striped golden tigers walk and run together. You can also have the option to buy some live animals to feed the tigers with:
We were full of good intentions to buy a chicken but by the time we had walked through to the bus, we had lost our opportunity.
Once we moved into through the gift shop, we got into the bus that would drive us through the large open areas filled with the tigers. It was fantastic to be so close to these magnificent animals. They are beautiful.
After spending a good few hours here, our feet and our faces were starting to get numb. The temperature was minus 35 degrees centigrade and you cannot stay out for too long! We all got back into our lovely warm bus and drove back to the Hotel for lunch and to warm through! After we were toastie again, it was back in the bus to check out the snow sculptures at Sun Island Park.
The Harbin Snow and Ice festival officially starts January 5th and usually lasts one month. Ice sculpture decoration technology ranges from the modern (using lasers) to traditional (with ice lanterns). Some of the most impressive ice sculptures are full size buildings made from blocks of 2–3 feet thick crystal clear ice directly taken from the Songhua River.
The sculptures are absolutely amazing. Many of them are huge – towering above us. They are all intricately carved with exquisite detail. There was even a building with a slide. We all rode down this on a rubber ring – it was thrilling!
We spent all afternoon here and as the sun began to set, the light was amazing and the photos that we took later in the day were spectacular.
We had been overwhelmed enough for 1 day! Tigers and snow sculptures and we had been outside for most of it. Our feet were cold and it was time for dinner. All the other families from Emerald had arrived earlier in the day so we were looking forward to a lovely meal with everyone!
We had booked several tables at the back of the restaurant in the hotel. All the boys gravitated towards one, while the girls took another and that left all the adults to enjoy an evening together at the main table! 🙂
We had another early morning on Sunday so that we could go down to the Songhua River. We wanted to walk on water!! The kids laughed at this!
We had found a Costa coffee shop and warmed up with coffee and hot chocolate. After that, we needed to get from downtown to the Ice Festival and so jumped in a couple of taxis. This was a very interesting experience as Owen watched our driver signing the driver of the other taxi (where John, Jenny, Luke and Daniel were) and then both taxis pulled over into a side road. The drivers were trying to negotiate an exorbitant fee to take us. Thank goodness for iPhone’s with maps as John saw that our hotel was right around the corner so we just got out the taxis and started walking. A little bit scary and I was sad that we were targetted for a rip off (especially with young children with us). Once back at the hotel, we (hotel concierge!) negotiated taxis to take us to the Ice Festival at Zhaolin Park and then wait to bring us back to the hotel when we were done! A much better solution.
We safely returned to the hotel (not to be under-estimated, given our earlier experience with the taxi ride!) It was hot chocolate all round before we all crashed into our beds. An exhausting day with so much walking and the biting cold. I definitely could not live in this climate! We had decided to get up early again to take advantage of a couple more hours on the frozen river. Our flight back to Shanghai was early afternoon on Monday January 21st and we wanted to make the most of our final hours. Isabelle and Oliver both wanted to ride in the tanks again, do the tyre slide down a few more times and try out the ice bumper cars:
This was a fantastic, fabulous, wonderful weekend. It would not have been on our “must see” list if it were not for Jane Steele, lovely Emerald friend. She organised all the families, researched transportation, hotels, things to do and gave us the inspiration to go! If you come to China in the Winter, Harbin should not be missed!