By Chris K

Today’s Itinerary

Goodbye Hong Kong

We knew we couldn’t fit even a tenth of what Hong Kong has to offer into two short days, but we gave it our best shot, twice.

But destiny calls, and so we bid Hong Kong farewell – with a very quick hunt for some bargains. Just a quick one.

Insert Flight to Harbin, China

Despite being amongst the ten most populated cities in China, Harbin doesn’t really register that strongly on most people’s travel radar. In the north of China, it doesn’t rank the way that Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Hangzhou do.

Actually founded by the Russians, this city experiences some of the most bitter winters imaginable.

Which doesn’t scream “visit me!”.

But when life gives you devastating cold and frostbite for months and months every year – you make lemonade.

Or in Harbin’s case – you make an Ice Festival.

In the Kingdom of the Frost

With a midday flight from Hong Kong, we don’t properly arrive at our hotel in central Harbin until mid-afternoon. The sun will set in just an hour, and then, my friends, cometh the frost.

Also – the ice slides.

You see – Harbin have turned their possibly disadvantageous winter of freezing cold into one of the most unique festivals in the world. A celebration of all things that chill the bones. Just wandering into the Ice Festival in Harbin is jaw-dropping, and the marvels are everywhere.

Giant slide made out of ice. Check.

Photo by Ivan Walsh, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Ivan Walsh, Licensed under CC.

Giant palace made out of ice. Check.

Photo by Dayou_X, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Dayou_X, Licensed under CC.

Giant weird-looking but ultimately pretty cool things made out of ice.

Photo by Hugh Lee, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Hugh Lee, Licensed under CC.

Check.

Photo by Hugh Lee, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Hugh Lee, Licensed under CC.

Double Check.

Teams of ice sculptors come here to compete. Let’s say that again – people willingly travel to a location where it can be -35° Celsius outside, to build palaces made out of ice with their hands.

You know it has to be entertaining.

History of the Harbin Ice Festival

According to travelchinaguide.com, the festival’s traditions originate in the practice of;

local peasants and fishermen [who] often made and used ice lanterns as jack-lights during the winter months. At that time these were made simply by pouring water into a bucket that was then put out in the open to freeze. It was then gently warmed before the water froze completely so that the bucket-shaped ice could be pulled out. A hole was chiseled in the top and the water remaining inside poured out creating a hollow vessel. A candle was then placed inside resulting in a windproof lantern that gained great popularity in the region around the city.

So we wandered out into the cold

It is these experiences that we should seek to travel for. To marvel at human ingenuity, mixed with more than a small dose of sheer bloody-mindedness. It’s exhilarating, and not just because of the cold.

It is a quite contemplative experience. The sharp precision of the cuts of the ice-blocks (some of them completely clear, like glass) lit up from inside in shocking neon colours…it is a wonderful experience.

Magical, even.

But bloody cold.

Photo by Dayou_X, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Dayou_X, Licensed under CC.

More photos of the Ice Festival, please