{travel} Harbin Snow and Ice World! Part Two: The Ice

Now we get to THE ICE PART! Which is arguably the more fascinating part. If you haven’t read Part One: The Snow I strongly recommend doing that now, in advance of delving into The Ice, since it contains useful information and background about the event and location as a whole, as well as a good deal of descriptive prose about the extent of the freezingness, iciness, snowiness, coldness, windiness, and so forth. So just to review, we’re in Northeastern China and it’s insanely cold and you have to dress yourself in so many layers that you can’t move or have any part of your face or body exposed and you can’t last that long outside but there’s a wicked cool ice and snow festival and it makes it all worthwhile.

Moving on… without further ado: THE ICE!

So, in case you’re wondering, let’s clear this up: pretty much everything is made of ice, with lights inside. The pathways, the buildings, the stairs, everything: all ice. I love the pathway, it is so fun to walk on, and reminiscent of the Saturday Night Fever dance floor in fact. But more slippery. You can get a sleigh ride along the path!

The Ice World is super cool because it happens at night… when all the coolest things happen, natch. Of course, it gets dark at like 3:30 PM up in Harbin so “night” is sort of a relative term. (Of course, being at night, it’s pretty challenging to take great photos.) If you look up close, the buildings are made of ice bricks, some of which have channels to hold the light tubes, which taken as a gestalt illuminate the whole building. Here’s a close-up of the light in the ice bricks.

The Ice World doesn’t hold much allure during the day- the ice all looks greenish-gray and dingy in the glaring winter sun. But as the sun starts to set, around 3:30 PM, the lights come on bit by bit and the Ice World becomes gradually illuminated from inside out. It is an amazing sight to behold, and one of the most incredible things I have ever seen. It is at its most breathtaking just at dusk, before the sky is completely dark. This only lasts a few moments so you have to be quick to get a photo!

The theme for the Ice World in 2008, which is when these pictures were taken,was, of course, The Olympics. You should realize that 1 billion plus Chinese citizens were collectively in a state of practically peeing their pants about the impending 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. They were, as a nation, proud and excited as hell. (Of course, as individuals, their Olympic fever ranged from raging hallucination-inducing temps to stone cold.) So there could really not possibly be ANY other theme for this Ice Festival.  Ergo, you’ve got your ice Olympic rings with the giant “Olympic Tower” behind. You can see little tiny people in front of Olympic Tower- the thing is maybe 8 stories tall? Taller?

They weren’t completely faithful to the theme, but instead presented a seemingly random amalgam of representative buildings from cities to hold past and future Olympics. For example, the dusk picture up top shows a Moscow building (1984 Olympics) and there was a funny London Bridge (2012 Olympics.) They also had the Athenian Acropolis (2004 Olympics):

We couldn’t figure out what the pink church (top picture) was representing. But there were also a lot of pagodas. Pink round ones… I think these are for Beijing?

And red square ones. For Tokyo 1964 perhaps?

But the best thing about the Ice World is that there are so many weird and fun activities. For example…

  • You can go on a terrifying death-defying insanely fun and scary ice luge. See the Ice-cropolis? That’s the launch point. The whole curving yellow turreted path is actually the 2 parallel ice luges. It is really long and although it doesn’t look steep, it is. You can see a person in the foreground which gives you an idea of the scale.
After waiting in line for about 10 minutes, you get a little tiny kids’ plastic sled. You sit on it, and a guy wraps your hands around the rope in front, shoves your knees, feet and elbows in so they are as close to your body as possible, and pushes your sternum down so you are laying flat on the sled. Then he gently shoves you off with his foot. The luge is incredibly narrow, so if an elbow or foot should stray, it’s instant pain. The whole thing is exhilirating, and fun, and then you start to pick up speed. Holy crap, you think, this thing is at like Mach 5. And just as the freezing wind starts to whistle more loudly in your ears, a disturbing thought starts to creep in, which is: how the heck is this thing going to stop? And then, just as the fear starts to really set in, you round a curve and plant face-first, cartoon-style, into a giant snowbank. A guy picks you up by the armpits and shoves you out of the way. Awesome. If you’re too wussy for that you can try these kids’ slides which don’t get you up to much speed at all… if any. Sometimes you have to stand up and walk down them…
  • You can climb these ice walls with ice toeholds and non-ice ropes.
You can see, there are 3 levels of ice walls and they all have toeholds and ropes so you can climb up them. It’s goofy and slippery but not as hard as you’d think going up- except for kids, because the toeholds are kind of far apart and with everything being ice they’re really hard to see. You can go down the stairs once you’re atop the 2nd wall, but unfortunately, once you climb the very top one, the only way to get down to the 2nd level and the stairs is to climb back down. The thought of slip-careening down 3 massive ice precipices was much more real while climbing down than up but we made it unscathed. We met a friendly young American guy at the top who was so excited to see us. He said he had lived in Harbin for 4 months and had yet to meet a non-Chinese or non-Russian. This is the view from the top… worth it, I think.
  • You can hold the cutest baby snow fox in the whole wide world, but only for about 30 seconds.
  • You can ride on these bicycle ice skate hybrid thingies. This was at the end of the night and I thought they looked super cool all lined up.

  • While you warm up and drink really expensive and watery hot chocolate in a little clear plastic lean-to, outside the window there might be a creepy old-fashioned circus– of a type that has long been frowned upon here in the Western world, and with good reason. The animals seemed totally drugged up or something. Not to mention cold. Lions live in Africa! Not Siberia!
  • You can take an expensive sleigh ride around the central ice pathway.
  • You can try to walk across these bizarrely constructed and clearly ancient perilous chain bridges which totally seem, and feel, like death traps. When a bunch of people are on them, the planks move in a most unpredictable manner and I was shocked that no one broke an ankle.

And just in case you were wondering… there are a few snow things in the Ice World, like this giant Buddhist statue made of snow that people can pray in front of- also photographed right at dusk.

So if you’re ever in or near Northeastern China between January and March… I recommend making the detour and seeing it for yourself. It’s pretty frickin’ amazing.

CLICK HERE for Part One… The SNOW!

You may also like...