This weekend was my birthday weekend and as we had decided to celebrate this with a trip to the renowned winter destination Harbin I was more excited than normally at this time of year. Harbin is the capital of the Heilongjiang Province in the far north east of China and besides from the famous winter festival Harbin is known for having the most cold-to-the-bone winter in all of China.
It's a busy time of year and as we have just returned from Winter Holiday in Denmark we decided to keep this trip within a weekend's duration. It sometimes seems like a weekend away is too little, especially if you have to fly but I find that a well-planned weekend away makes me feel so re-energized and inspired that I come back to everyday life happier, healthier and with the feeling I've been away for more than a weekend.
This time we filmed a little video during our China trip so you can get a better feel of what it's really like in Harbin - enjoy!
What To Do in Harbin
We were 6 people going and left Shanghai Saturday morning at 7am and arrived 3 hours later in Harbin: Blue sky, sunshine, bitter coldness and fresh air! Our pre-booked driver picked us up and we went straight to our hotels for a quick change (read: adding layers) and to our first stop: The Snow Sculpture Park (approximately RMB 240).
This park is absolutely beautiful and everything you dream if you love Disney's Frozen (and have watched it 10 times like me....). It's a proper winter wonderland and with the beautiful Saturday birthday weather we were blessed with, it was almost magical. Not too over-crowded as well which is something you always fear/expect when traveling to famous spots in China.
Next stop was the The Siberian Tiger Park (approximately RMB 90). This is the largest natural park for wild Siberian tigers and a 20 years old tiger breeding facility built to protect this endangered animal.
We were all very excited to visit the Siberian tigers and we were not disappointed. Our visit started with the change to hold a baby tiger in the entrance (something we couldn't resist even though the baby tiger might be better off without our loving touch).
We continued in buses through the tigers' large outside areas that to a certain extend has the feel of "natural conditions". My expectations of finding super sad "zoo'ed" tigers was definitely not met and what surprised us the most was the amount of tigers. The park has over 500 tigers which is around 1/8 of the entire world population of tigers... Though only around 100 tigers are viewable for guests iT felt like there was tigers everywhere. And they are enourmous! The Siberian Tiger can be up towards 320kilos... Hello big cute cat!
During our guided tour, a zoo car was driving around between buses and tigers to feed the tigers with living fesans which was quite entertaining. As the buses drive inside the fence and the tigers seemed pretty chilled about this, we got a chance to get really close to those amazing creatures. Absolutely fascinating.
I was expecting to see heaps of white tigers - that's a Siberian tiger in my head, but what I learned was that the existence of white Siberian Tigers has never scientifically been proved! Most White "Siberian Tigers" are actually a mix of a Siberian tiger and a Bengal tiger (the most known tiger species which are smaller than Siberian tigers) born of parents with special genes. The white fur color is due to the lack of pheomelanin pigment (the pigment giving orange color fur).
In order for a white Bengal tiger to be born, both parents must have this gene for white colouring, which only happens naturally about once in 10,000 births. In captivity it happens more often as this distinct color makes the tiger super attractive! We only saw 1 white tiger and he seemed so sad to be honest, I'm wondering if he was missing some friends. He was in the walking tunnel part, which is also where you can feed the tigers with living animals - if you come early that is (I heard goats are a popular one this year, it's about RMB 1200 to buy your tiger friends one of these and get to watch nature in action). In the park you also get the change to see lions, leopards and my BF saw a liger (tiger lion mix) at his last visit.
Our ambitiously packed day continued to the Snow & Ice festival (Approximately RMB 300) as we wanted to be there for the sunset and get a change to see this part in both daylight and after dawn.
This place was absolutely packed with people who might have had the same idea as us and our over-crowded Chinese tourist attraction became a reality! But nothing a couple of Harbin Beers and home-made brownie can't ease so while it took us over an hour to get parked and get tickets (meaning we were sitting in the back of the car while our driver fixed all this) we made it to the festival.
This place is probably the biggest attraction in Harbin and also the most expensive. In my opinion it's been over-done. Too much happening, too many unnatural colored UV lights are covering the beautiful ice sculptures and too many people! Still, the grandness of the castles, the famous buildings and the sculptures made out of ice is absolutely incredible.
After lots of ice, snow and fun in the cold we enjoyed a traditional Russian meal at a super cool central restaurant with half Russian owners and simply crashed out at our hotels. Oh yes that means we skipped the Russian disco experience and my birthday shots buuuut as Harbin has lots more than snow & tiger attractions our Sunday was planned to be a cozy chilled sightseeing day in the old city center (read: without being hungover).
I really enjoyed a day with no tight schedule and no fixed plans. Also knowing that the following day was Monday and a new week with late working hours.
Harbin City Center: Visit the Sofia Church, try the famous dong-bei dumblings, stroll through one of the small city parks, go check out the frozen river and aaaall the crazy activities going on, try the yummy dong-bei noodles and just enjoy this beautiful Russian Chinese spot!
Tips for Harbin in a weekend
- Layers, layers, layers! You do not want to spend your weekend with blue lips saying Brrrr
- Hire a driver: Super efficient and super convenient having a warm car waiting in between activities. He also sorted all our tickets for the different parks. You can call Mrs. Song (Samantha 187 4575 9496) and book one - we paid 700 for a day (6 people) without the airport transfer. We paid 4-500 for the airport transfer which is way too expensive as the taxi our hotel fixed for the return was only RMB 150.
- If you start exploring around midday like us you should save one of the major attractions for Sunday. 3 was a bit too much with our tight schedule..
- Visit the tigers first - the park opens around 10 and this is when the tiger are most excited and hungry...
- Me and my BF stayed at the hotel Ibis and paid less than RMB 400 for the night. The location was super central and the hotel absolutely fine!
- If you are looking for something more fancy Holiday Inn is in the same amazing location and both rooms & service is super nice but expect double or triple price from Ibis.