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Hopefully you got some good rest in a nice warm bed after that big first day in Harbin. After playing on the frozen river, checking out the Snow Expo, and enjoying the smaller ice festival at Zhaolin Park, it’s time to go big on the second day. Speaking of big, the day starts out with a visit to some very big kitties.
Catch a cab and head out of town a bit to reach the Siberian Tiger Park (东北虎林园 – dōng běi hǔ lín yuán). This is much more than a zoo. In fact, it’s the largest natural park for wild Siberian tigers in the world. In addition to the hundreds of tigers, the park is also home to lions, pumas, leopards, and more. There’s even a liger! It’s pretty much my favorite animal. Visitors take a bus around the area where the tigers roam free, and can also walk along an elevated pathway in another section. Previously, you could buy slabs of meat, live chickens or ducks, and even a full cattle to feed to the tigers, but it seems as if that aspect has been shut down. Probably for the better… Head back to town to get some lunch, warm up a bit, and put on many layers of clothes.
After dark, head out to the Ice and Snow World (冰雪大世界 – bīng xuě dà shì jiè). This park is the main event of the annual International Ice and Snow Festival (国际冰雪节 – guó jì bīng xuě jié). This is one of the Top 5 largest festivals of its kind on Earth, and it attracts thousands of tourists who brave the cold to take in the sights.
Whereas the Snow Expo is best visited during the day, you want to make sure to come here at night. Massive structures made from ice become illuminated in a sea of LED lights. If admiring the lazer-ice-castles isn’t exciting enough for you, there are plenty of other activities to choose from – horse-drawn carriage rides, a dangerously fast ice-sled, a carny-style thrill ride, and much more.
Not surprisingly, Harbin beer (哈尔滨啤酒 – hā ěr bīn pí jiǔ) is a big sponsor of the festival. A huge ice sculpture of a beer bottle is a central fixture in the park, little tents serve it (ice cold, of course), and there’s even an ice bar where you can get a free – albeit disappointingly small – glass of it. While I’m of the opinion that all Chinese beer sucks, Harbin is one of the more tolerable brands.
The price of admission is a bit steep (330 RMB for adults and 200 for children), but it’s well worth it. Make sure you’re dressed appropriately and take a few breaks in the tents to warm up, and you’ll be able to spend 2-3 hours here taking it all in. If you’re not on the last bus back to town, be prepared to haggle with cab drivers who are well aware that you’re freezing cold and have no other options.
Back in town, take a stroll along the Central Avenue (中央大街 – zhōng yāng dà jiē). Along this pedestrian-only street, you’ll see plenty of beautiful Russian architecture. During the festival, you’ll also see a handful of ice and snow sculptures.
There’s a little night market here, where you can try one of Harbin’s favorite snacks – candied hawthorns (冰糖葫芦 – bīng táng hú lu). There are other varieties of candied fruits, such as strawberries, grapes, and cherries. Another winter favorite is roasted chestnuts (栗子 – lì zǐ) – perfect for the bitter cold weather.
While Harbin doesn’t hold a candle to cities like Beijing and Shanghai when it comes to the nightlife (夜生活 – yè shēng huó), that doesn’t mean you have to stay in your hotel room. Having visited the city three times, I found that there’s usually only one bar that’s open for business in the downtown area. On our last visit, we had a great time in one, trying on their silly hats and costumes. As with most Chinese cities, you’ll find plenty of gaudy nightclubs and KTV (karaoke) joints here as well.
Whatever you do, make sure you try the local specialty – sausage (香肠 – xiāng cháng). Harbin is famous for its meat-sticks, and they’re damn good, especially when paired with a cold brew.
That does it for a jam-packed 48 hours in Harbin. While this itinerary is obviously meant to be done in the winter months while the Ice and Snow Festival is going on, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit at other times of the year. In fact, summer is supposedly a great time in Harbin. There’s a beer festival, plenty of fun on the river, and you don’t need five layers of clothes just to step outside!