Category Archives: Harbin


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!

Tres impressive

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

Pretty horses

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

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Posted by on 6 February 2010 (Sat) in Harbin, Holidays, Uncategorized



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

Afterwards, comfort food at KFC :P

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Posted by on 6 February 2010 (Sat) in Harbin, Holidays, Uncategorized



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”!

For those interested here are photos of the Siberian tigers killing a cow, in the same park.

I just LOVED the whole park. All the gorgeous animals, roaming freely and looking so healthy. Was a real eye-opening experience, and just so amazing :)

The incredible Siberian Tiger Park

Sitting in our caged van, so the tigers don’t maul us.. lol.

Siberian tiger on top of a car, eating the live chicken we bought

Chomping away


Lazing about in the sun

A whole pack of ’em!

Lionesses tearing into a lamb (!!!)

A white tiger!


Video we took after the Siberian tiger grabbed our live chicken!

(link for China visitors)

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Posted by on 5 February 2010 (Fri) in Harbin, Holidays, Uncategorized



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!!!

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Posted by on 4 February 2010 (Thu) in Harbin, Holidays, Uncategorized



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!


One very scary and weird looking sea creature

Gorgeous Beluga whale

Video of the Beluga whale performance

(link for China visitors)

Adorable mega polar bear

Video of the polar bear swimming – so soothing!

(link for China visitors)

Cutie patootie seal

GORGEOUS arctic fox….. awwww!!

Wolves. Sadly, in a tiny enclosure :(

Big fishy

Super cute (and smart) sea lion

Video of the sea lion playing with a ball!

(link for China visitors)

Video of the sea lion catching rings – sooo cute

(link for China visitors)

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Posted by on 4 February 2010 (Thu) in Harbin, Holidays, Uncategorized



Harbin’s Snow Sculpture Festival has been around since 1985, and I’d wager that it gets better and better every year. It’s also home to a Guinness Record of the largest snow sculpture: 250 metres long, 28 feet (8.5 m) high, using over 13,000 cubic metres of snow. Hard to appreciate it by just reading those words, or even to see the photos below. The photos just can’t capture the IMMENSE looming sculptures and the jaw-dropping knowledge that they’re built entirely out of snow… in just a few weeks (working day & night nonstop). It’s truly an incredible sight.

White, white, white everywhere! Ice and snow on the ground, huge snow sculptures everywhere you look. Wonderful to behold but OMGGGG it was freezing. We could only survive 1 hour out there. My fingers went numb and my toes actually HURT like hell – so painful it was like they were burning and I couldn’t walk without limping. So then we ran into an ice hut which housed a little cafe selling (heavily overpriced) beverages and with lots of heater inside to warm up. It took us a good 30 mins to warm back up, before we headed back outside for another 1 hour round of sight-seeing the snow sculptures.

An awesome experience. We loved it!

Entering the Snow Sculptures

EVERYTHING is made of snow, snow and more snow

Freezing snow, everywhere!

Video of the snow sculptures (that’s Chris talking.. and me waving!)

(link for China visitors)

A snow cabin

A mini ice slide

Video of Chris zoooming down the mini ice slide

(link for China visitors)

Another huge snow sculpture


Scurrying into one of those snow-covered huts, for a hot beverage

Dusk – when the temperatures drop a further 10 degrees

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Posted by on 3 February 2010 (Wed) in Harbin, Holidays, Uncategorized



One thing about Harbin – despite being a place that seems to rely solely on tourism during the winter months, we found it quite unfriendly/difficult to be a tourist. Sure, by researching and speaking to friends, we knew where to go and what to do. But when you’re actually there, it’s way harder than expected!

1) Everyone speaks either Chinese or Russian. Really difficult to read shop signs to figure out what’s inside, menus (if they don’t have a (broken) English version), asking for help, etc.

2) The cold. Well, that’s a given and you guys already know that, but it’s worth mentioning again because it was so bitterly cold. That said, that’s the beauty of the place – it wouldn’t be as gorgeous and white and fantastical without the freezing chill.

3) The rip-off tourist traps. I don’t know if they’re actually that rampant, but we were caught. It was a meal in a run-down restaurant that looked like it’d be utterly cheap, but turned out to be almost $200. Dollars. We could’ve gone fine-dining for that amount! More about that in another post.

4) The entry tickets to attractions. They range between 100 – 200元, which is what you’d pay for attractions in Australia! However, I appreciate these attractions are amazing and are practically a miracle of humankind that they exist (more on that in a later post), so not complaining that it’s expensive, but rather acknowledging that it really does add up.

5) The taxis. Wow….. Shanghai taxis are a doozy by comparison! Harbin taxis don’t like going by the meter, so you ALWAYS have to remember to ask them to “da biao”, whilst frantically indicating that you want them to push down the meter so it starts. And they’ll only do it if you’re in the main city and travelling within the city. Thing is, ALL the attractions are OUTSIDE the city. So once you’re done and want to go home, you are HUSTLED like crazy by all these cabbies, that won’t go by the meter so you have to negotiate a price (entirely in Chinese). It’s stressful and something you DO NOT want to do when you’re standing in the freezing cold.

We were very very very lucky to have a nice hotel conceirge, who gave me his phone number so I could call him (I did, at all kinds of weird hours, and he bailed us out of sticky situations multiple times – we would’ve have been totally lost without him). He not only planned our entire itinerary of what to do, but gave us tips of all these tucked away places that locals go to and foreigners aren’t that aware of. Plus he helped tell us when/where it’s hard to get a legit cab and also arranged a cheap driver + tour guide for us for a full day. Better yet, the tour guide was a university student, and so would run out to buy the tickets for us (so we didn’t have to queue in the cold) and use her student card to get us discounted rates! Score!

Anyway, I’ve started rambling.

We decided to take a cable car across the Song Hua River. The river is a HUGE river, dividing the main Harbin city on one side, and all the attractions on the other side. The river is completely frozen solid. It was a breath-taking site to see, as since I only live in pretty tropical climates, I’ve never seen this in my life – not even when we used to travel to USA lots and saw snow there. This was on an entirely different level – white everywhere, a massive solid river, and freezing cold.

Hilariously, after much frantic charades, we figured out that for the cable car tickets – I was charged 30元 for having a Chinese-looking face, and Chris charged 50元 for being a white guy. ROFL!!!!!!!!!! Only in China you could charge separately by race, and get away with it. Was highly amused, and Chris a bit miffed since he always declares “Wo shi zhong guo ren” (I am a Chinese) to random people, so he couldn’t quite fathom why he was charged foreigner rates ;)

All rugged up, with 3 layers of socks!

See those cable cars up there? That’s where we’re going, baby!

30元 ticket for me, and 50元 for Chris THE FOREIGNER… hahaha

Up up and away

All that white? It used to be a river.

A river turned into solid ice. How cool..

A santa sticker.. despite it being over a month after Christmas, lol

Dinner was a Moscow cabaret show. We heard from Chris’ colleague that there was this particular show that had topless Russian dancers (!), random Chinese comedians, etc, all intermixed into one show. We asked our fantastic concierge and he smirked, then arranged it for us – even taking us personally to the theatre in a cab! We were treated to a Russian dinner during the show, and could sit back and relax whilst watching the 1.5 – 2 hour extravaganza.

It was a totally random show, so hilarious! First, the hot Russian girls came out bearing painting after painting, and it was a live auction. Then, we had dancing/performances, intermixed with comedians, intermixed with topless dancing. Hilarious! It was like a schizophrenic’s show or something. Strangely, there were children and also old women there… quite odd considering these show girls were parading around and we even got glimpses of *ahem* down-there parts.

Was a really fun performance and show though, and also good food. Except the bottles of beer were 28元 which is daylight robbery!!!! So annoyed. They cost only 4元 in the supermarkets – harumph. I hate places that blatantly overcharge like that.. shame on ’em.

The Moscow cabaret show

Outside the theatre, at a little shop selling tons of vodka :P

Russian borscht soup, potato salad – part of our dinner served during the show

The cabaret, was tres fun

The Russian dancing girls… who later took off their clothes. w00t!

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Posted by on 3 February 2010 (Wed) in Harbin, Holidays, Uncategorized