Before we left Harbin, we wandered around the city sight-seeing. Though it was mostly 30 mins outside looking around, before our bodies couldn’t take it anymore and we had to run indoors for warmth. It was a lot of fun poking around though – so many local things to see and hole-in-the-wall places to check out. What we realised about Harbin is that it’s a lot like Japan – a lot of small, non-descript doors that you think won’t lead to much, but actually leads to HUGE places and also underground places. It’s like there’s a whole city behind these small doors, and also underground. Very interesting!
It was an excellent trip. The cold is biting and painful – that’s true – but it’s worth braving the weather to step into a totally different world. A truly memorable holiday :)
Some little standalone shop, cute!
A tiny, nondescript door that we found, that led to a L-O-N-G row of
shops selling all sorts of weird and wonderful foods!
The famous Dumpling King!
Yummy food, washed down with Harbin Beer
Outside the famous Sophia Cathedral, gorgeous Russian architecture!
I went into shock when I saw this – it is DOG *speechless*
A myriad of candies
Standing on the river that’s completely frozen solid
Dogs – they looked cold :(
Freakin’ cold but so much fun!
Having a hot coffee to warm up… brrrr…
Ice creams and internet-surfing whilst waiting for our flight back to Shanghai
The 2nd favourite part of the trip was Harbin’s Ice Sculpture Festival. It’s THE #1 attraction in Harbin and not hard to see why. It’s phenomenal! Even more impressive than the Snow Sculptures, in my opinion, as these were GIGANTIC. They were the size of actual, full-sized buildings – made entirely out of blocks of ice. A totally insane sight.. especially because they burrow neon lights through the ice cubes so it is magical at dusk when the sun is setting and all the lights glitter.
There are many, many, many full-on buildings and massive sculptures made from the ice. And best of all….. ice slides!! There was a MASSIVE one that delighted us to no end. After climbing up the (ice) steps in the (ice) building and waiting on the (ice) balcony, we go whizzing down the (ice) slide at top-speed. NOT for the faint hearted ;) Especially the ending – you know how you stop yourself after flying down the slide? INTO A WALL OF SNOW. You slam into it at full speed, and all the snow comes crashing down and burying you. Hahahhaha!!! Toooooo fun!!!
An absolutely brilliant experience, and it’s mind-boggling to think that the people here work 24/7, building a whole city of these life-size buildings in just a few weeks. It’s a total feat – because let’s not forget the freezing, bitterly cold weather and the fact they’re working with ice the whole time. I can’t comprehend how they can survive doing that.
My camera ran out of batteries (argh) so I didn’t really take photos. However, check out this link of the Ice Festival – identical one but way better photos than mine :)
The beautiful, awe-inspiring Ice Sculpture Festival
On the (ice) steps leading up to the (ice) building
Hoo boy it was cold! And no, that’s not drool on the clothin covering
my mouth… it was ICE that formed on it. Brrrr….
Standing up in one of the buildings, about to toboggan down a HUGE ice slide :D
Another building made entirely out of ice behind us
My absolute FAVOURITE part of the trip and of Harbin was the Siberian Tiger Park. What I don’t like to see are zoos where animals are kept in small cages or that look upset, so I just adored this park. Amusingly, this park swaps the role of animals VS humans. It’s the humans that are enclosed in caged walkways, and go around in caged buses… whilst the animals roam around the park. It’s the largest natural park for wild Siberian tigers in the world at present – very cool!
The Siberian tiger is endangered, so it’s really nice to see them being protected and living so comfortably. There were also white tigers, lions, cheetahs, jaguars, etc in the park as well (separated, of course).. and…. most unbelievably…. LIGERS!!!!! 3 of them!!! These are a hybrid cross between a male lion and a tigress, and the Liger (only 0.1% are successfully born) turns out LARGER than both combined… the biggest of all cats in the world. And apparently there are only around 10 ligers in the world, so we very very very lucky to have seen them with our own eyes, and probably never will again.
During the caged bus tour, you’re driven up close to the tigers, and you can purchase live animals to feed the tigers. HOLY CRAP!!!! We were like “We are soooo buying an animal” when we heard that. Chickens are the cheapest, but you can buy a whole cow/ox… and the animals are set free among the tigers, so you get up-close action of the tigers hunting and killing the animals. We couldn’t exactly stomach the idea of a large animal being hunted right in front of our faces, so chose to buy a chicken instead. ANNOYINGLY, everyone else in the bus with us were local Chinese, and stingy as hell. They said, in Chinese, “Oh don’t spend money buying. Those foreigners will buy and we can watch” Was really annoyed at their blatent ‘make the foreigner pay’ attitude but decided to suck it up, be nice, and buy a chicken for the whole bus to watch the spectacle.
A guy sits in a small truck with the livestock, and when we reach, he grabs a chicken and chucks it right onto the roof of the car. The tigers have obviously learned that this particular car dishes out food.. so they were waiting. One promptly jumped onto the top of the truck, and grabbed and ate the chicken! It was all over in about 5 seconds flat, LOL. Was still fascinating though – I mean, not many people can say “I was 5 metres away from a Siberian tiger killing and eating a live chicken”!
One of the famous dishes in Harbin is the river fish, caught straight out of the river and plonked into a MASSIVE cauldron in the middle of the table. That cauldron sits on top of a fire and the fish bubbles in the spicy soup, amidst a huge array of assorted veggies and mushrooms.
Sounds exciting, right?
So our guide brought us to this restaurant, which was in the middle of nowhere with 3-4 other similar stand-alone restaurants around it. It was a bit run-down, which is great, because it means it’s really local. There’s a small pond in the middle of the restaurant, where you catch your fish and get it weighed. Ours was 4.3kg (!!!!!) which is a whopper, but we figured it’s a run-down cheap place so decided to treat ourselves.
They asked me to order other dishes so we picked random veggies/mushrooms to chuck into the fish stew, as well as 2 more dishes. I was thinking it was a LOT of food, but since it wouldn’t be too expensive, I didn’t mind trying out their local fare.
The bill came up to…………….. almost $200. DOLLARS.
Chris paid when I was in the bathroom, and he looked a bit shell-shocked and quiet when I came back. I asked him “How much?” and thought he was joking when he told me. But nup, it was true. They charged us the price of a fine-dining meal we could’ve had anywhere in the world. Sigh. I don’t know if it was truly a rip-off though, because honestly, the amount of food that we had could’ve fed 6 people.. the portion sizes were enormous!
The 4.3kg fish alone could’ve filled us ;) It was a huge beast of a thing, simmered in the cauldron until the meat was incredibly soft and tasty. Since it’s a river fish and caught in freezing waters, the skin was thick and fatty, and the meat itself was so different to regular fish! Really tender, soft and moist.. with a mild flavour. Ohhh it was luscious. One of the best fish I’ve ever eaten, if not the very best. It came with plates and plates of veggies and mushrooms that we cooked inside the big cauldron, but we barely touched it.. since we had so much food.
We also had a chicken and mushroom dish, which sounds fairly normal but was excellent. A traditional home-cooked-style dish of Harbin’s, it’s chopped chicken pieces, a tumble of mushrooms, all stewed in a luscious, rich gravy. It’s served piping hot and is oh-so-tasty! Was a very large portion though, 1 dish could’ve filled both of us entirely for a meal.
Then, the pickled cabbage and blood dish, which we would never have ordered if we’d understood what it was :P But they said it all in Chinese so we just nodded our heads, oblivious! Actually though, the stewed pickled cabbage was wonderful. It wasn’t salty at all, but very mild – shredded cabbage in a thick gravy. Didn’t touch the blood though – which was like jelly chunks. Definitely too weird for me! Again, that dish alone could’ve filled both of us for a meal.
I just wish the waiter had told us 1) we’d ordered enough food for 6 people and 2) the prices of the food. They were giant sized AND expensive! Sighhh. Well, live and learn.
Catching our fish… which we found out later was over $100 bucks. Ouch..
The meal that cost us about $200. DOLLARS. YEOWCH!!!
Usually we’re not a huge fan of aquariums, since they’re all largely the same. But Harbin’s Polarland is different because it features all these Arctic animals – many of which I’d never seen in real life before. Despite being an arctic aquarium, it was still remarkably warmer than the temperatures outside… that says a lot about Harbin’s weather ;)
Had a great time there looking at all the fluffy animals. I’m amazed that they can all survive comfortably in such cold weather.. I guess that’s what they were made for! I just adored the Arctic foxes – I was amazed by how adorable they were. Very cute feline faces, and pure white fur. They were smaller than I’d expected, about the size of a large cat or a small dog. They were really really tame and sweet-natured – there were many peddlers around Harbin that were carrying these beautiful arctic foxes around (10元 for a photo) and they were so docile and cute! Sadly, these arctic foxes are hunted for their fur. It’s not hard to see why – pure white, super dense, and oh so divine! I want an artic fox as a pet.. to cuddle up to in winter :)
I was also amazed with the Beluga whales. They looked a bit odd – pure white whales about the size of dolphins. But they did a performance that totally shocked me – I had no idea whales could learn what they did! They were so in tune with their trainers, and so responsive. I’ve seen other whale/dolphin shows but this one was the most impressive.
And my 3rd favourite was the Polar bears. I was surprised that they also seemed so docile. One of them was swimming around and he was just playing by himself, throwing himself around in the water, floating away, and playing with a big rubber tire. So cute!
It wasn’t cheap (like all the other attractions in Harbin) but I’m glad we went, since we were originally debating it, thinking it wouldn’t be that interesting. Very cool to see all these animals, which you wouldn’t normally see in regular aquariums, up close!