Arduous, centuries-old art in Harbin
Flying into Beijing, you can then set off to discover Harbin, the capital of China's northernmost province. Thanks to a high-speed train line, you can be in the city in under eight hours. This sprawling Chinese metropolis reveals a very distinctive architecture, heavily influenced by the Russians who transformed the city at the end of the 19th century. Despite its Siberian climate, winter is a great time to visit Harbin, especially because of its world-famous International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival.
The festival first began in 1963, but its origins go a lot further back to the time of the Qing dynasty when peasants and fishermen used to make ice lanterns to light up the long winter months. The tradition is still going strong today and has actually turned in to a stunning sculptural art.
The theme changes every year which continually fires the imagination of its creators. Fantasy animals, fabulous castles and palaces, and countless one-of-a-kind constructions first take shape in artists' minds and then in ice as they cut the biggest blocks with saws and trim the most intricate parts with scissors. These creators of ephemeral art from all over the world have 111,000 m3 of snow and 120,000 m3 of ice to play with, taken from the Songhua River which flows through the city. The task is long and arduous, both because of the materials used and the weather conditions – and it feels colder and colder as the sculptures take shape and more and more of them appear in the area.
Three different exhibition venues
The results are certainly worth all the hard work and difficult conditions. Breathtaking, out-of-this-world, dreamlike, stunning… None of these adjectives comes close to expressing what you will feel as you go around the three exhibition venues at the Harbin Festival. Zhaolin Park is the main site – that is where you can admire the ice lanterns; and also where the bravest amongst you will dare to take a plunge in the freezing river! Others might prefer icy pursuits such as skating, hockey or sliding on a ice toboggan which the whole family will just love.
Sun Island Park is well known for its huge snow sculptures. It is located a bit away from the other two venues, on the other side of the river. To get there, take a bus or a taxi… or a sledge! The freezing temperatures mean more unusual forms of transport can be used. One of the sculptures, using 13,000 m3 of snow to create the Niagara Falls and the crossing of the Bering Straits by First Nations people, set the world record in 2007 for the largest snow sculpture. Everything sparkles and plays with the daylight and the sun's rays. When the weather is fine, the contrast between the blue sky and the dazzling, crystal-like buildings is simply beyond comparison.
The third and final venue is called ‘The World of Ice and Snow' and it features life-size replicas of the exteriors of famous buildings and monuments from around the world: you will recognise the Taj Mahal, a larger-than-life Coliseum, traditional pagodas and even a sumptuous Russian palace.
Night-time magic and revitalising spa
This last venue is mainly popular for a visit as night falls, after about 4:30 p.m. in these almost Siberian lands, as all the creations are lit up. The sculptures are decked out in every possible colour. In the twinkling of an eye, it is like you are a child again as you gaze at this magical landscape. Do not forget to wrap up warm before you go, as the temperatures are as icy as the sculptures.
After this glacial interlude, a little detour to the Songbei Shangri-La Hotel Harbin is a must. Its welcoming spa is the perfect place for some relaxation and timeless TLC. Slip luxuriously into the whirlpool bath with its 360-degree view over the frozen river. Continue the pampering with a sauna or treat yourself to one of many massages using age-old techniques such as aromatherapy, the science of essential oils. You will certainly appreciate the delights of being in the warmth… and in good hands.
Songbei Shangri-La Hotel
1 Songbei Avenue
+86 451 5862 9999