Chilling Out In Harbin
When the mercury drops in the city of Harbin, local residents do not huddle indoors waiting for spring. Instead, they embrace the cold weather with warm arms, and even build icy effigies to celebrate the season, which is now internationally recognised as the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival.
Harbin was once merely a rural fishing village, but a prosperous period in the late 1800s, as a result of the Chinese Eastern Railway and an influx of engineers from the Russian Empire who chose to settle in the rapidly developing city, helped it flourish into one of the most important cities in Northern China. Although most of the one-time Russian inhabitants have long left the city, there is still a touch of Russian charm lingering on in the form of heritage architecture and Russian-inspired cuisine.
Visiting the city during the winter months can be perilous, with temperatures dropping to -30°C at times, so it is essential to be prepared with warm clothing and cosy accommodation to stave off the chill. Although sometimes uncomfortable, the benefits of visiting the city during this period far outweigh the shortcomings, as the city is blanketed in pure white snow and tourists can partake in seasonal activities, such as ice skating, skiing and visiting the Ice and Snow Festival.
No trip to Harbin is complete without a visit to Zhongyang Road, the city’s pedestrianized central street and the pride and joy of locals, thanks to its exotic European architecture, courtesy of long-gone Russian inhabitants. Once dubbed “Eastern Moscow”, this is the perfect place to sip on a hot chocolate in one of the Russian cafes or slurp nourishing borscht in one of the Russian eateries.
If you don’t feel like sampling Russian cuisine, or the many fusion Chinese dishes, head for a traditional Dongbei restaurant for authentic, hearty fare, characterised by warming soups and heavy noodles to banish the chill. If you are feeling adventurous, and ready to take on the cold weather like a true local, we highly recommend visiting the Old Dongbei Hot Pot Ice House at Wanda Realm, where guests eat their hot pot inside a building made purely from ice, which is attached to the side of the hotel. Although the temperature in the restaurant is below freezing, guests are given a hot water bottle to sit on and can enjoy adding frozen vegetables and meats into the traditional Manchu-style boiling hot pot (from RMB 258 per set).
There are plenty of activities to keep visitors in the city entertained throughout the day. St. Sophia Cathedral was originally built from timber at the beginning of the 1900s, just after the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway, connecting Vladivostok to Northeastern China. A few decades later, as the Russian population swelled to 100,000 the Orthodox Cathedral was renovated into the structure still standing today. Although slightly rundown, it is a beautiful piece of architecture, and tells the story of the city’s vibrant history.
While only a handful of Russians are now left in the city, Harbin still clings onto their heritage with an icy grip, and nowhere is this clearer than at Volga Manor. This vast manor evokes scenes of the Russian countryside, with its Russian buildings and token Russian white faces going about stereotypical activities such as painting the faces on Russian dolls or baking Russian bread for the Chinese tourists. Good for a half day
trip, the manor has a themed restaurant and sauna as well as a handful of tame, artificial ski slopes.
A visit to the Harbin Beer Museum, and a sip of the freshest Harbin beer available, is the perfect way to end an afternoon. Founded in 1900, it is at the site of China’s oldest brewery, which was originally started by an enterprising German citizen of Polish origins who realised that there was money to be made by supplying beer to the Russians working on the Trans-Siberian Railway project. After a particularly fraught history of being passed backwards and forwards throughout political upheavals, and after substituting brewing with rice for brewing with corn during a famine in the 1960s, the brewery eventually found its way into the hands of the Chinese Government.
In the evening, the only place to be seen at is the Harbin Ice & Snow Festival. Now in its 17th year, the silk route is the theme for the Ice and Snow World, which is situated in the outskirts of town. Life-sized buildings, created entirely from ice, are modelled around famous landmarks from each country along the route, and are lit up during the evening by strategically placed strands of LED lights, frozen inside the sculptures. Hitch a ride on a horse-drawn sleigh to see the best of the park in comfort, or scramble up one of the ice buildings to slide right back down to the bottom again on a plastic sleigh. A magical venue for both children and adults alike - just be sure to keep warm!
Where To Stay: Wanda Realm Harbin
One of the newest five star luxury hotels on the block, this Chinese hotel brand proves that through its superior service, high standards and top-class facilities, it can compete with the big brand names in this crowded industry.
Wanda Realm is part of the Wanda Hotels & Resorts brand and boasts “unforgettable hospitality based on traditional Chinese culture”. This core value is clearly evident upon entry into Wanda Realm Harbin’s lobby, with its grand oriental design and attentive, English-speaking staff. The hotel brand also claims that their memorable oriental cuisine takes guests on a taste journey through China, and this the Harbin hotel, in our opinion, goes above and beyond in order to create memorable dining experiences, such as the Old Dongbei Ice House Hot Pot.
Wanda Realm Harbin is ideally located adjacent to the Haxi Wanda Plaza, and within close proximity to Harbin West Railway Station and only 25 minutes from Harbin Taiping International Airport by car. The hotel boasts 345 magnificent guestrooms and suites, which are designed for incomparable comfort and pleasure.
From small occasions to grand banquets, Wanda Realm Harbin offers a superlative culinary experience in its sophisticated range of Chinese, Japanese and international restaurants and bars, all of which offer live music, and foreigner- friendly menus, to make any occasion that little bit more comfortable.
No matter what the social occasion, Wanda Realm Harbin is the perfect choice for events of all sizes. Most importantly, the spectacular 1,270 square metre pillarfree Grand Ballroom boasts a 77 square metre LED screen, the largest of its kind in Harbin city.
Although many foreigners may be unfamiliar with the Wanda Hotels & Resorts brand, it is a Chinese-owned luxury hotel management company incorporating hotel ownership, hotel operation and sales ventures, and is dedicated to delivering attentive customer service and the very best of Chinese culture to global travellers. The brand is also soon to become international, with its scheduled launch of Wanda Vista Hotels in London, followed by openings in the USA and Australia, so it is a brand name that international travellers will become very familiar with over the coming years.
To date, the group has launched three premium five-star hotel brands: fivestar Wanda Realm; upscale five-star Wanda Vista; and premium luxury Wanda Reign, all under the umbrella of Wanda Hotels & Resorts. By the end of 2016, the group will own 98 fivestar hotels across China, including 41 hotels and resorts managed by over ten international hotel brands, and 57 owned and managed hotels. A new brand, Wanda Jin, will also launch in 2016. By the end of 2020, Wanda Hotels & Resorts plans to own and manage over 160 hotels around the world. So it really is time to get acquainted with the new standard of Chinese luxury hotel brands, and there is no better time than during the Ice and Snow Festival at Wanda Realm Harbin.
Ice & Snow Festival Promotion
RMB 2,688 includes:
One night stay in a Deluxe Room
with two complimentary buffet
breakfasts and a free extra bed
Old Dongbei Hot Pot in the Ice
House or buffet dinner for two
Free shuttle bus to Haxi Station
Free shuttle bus to Ice & Snow World
20% discount on the airport pick-up service