Christmas in China is not really a thing. Sure thing they put up some Christmas trees at the shopping malls and start playing Christmas carols a few weeks before, but they might also not take the Christmas decorations down before February and still play Christmas carols in June. Most people work on Christmas day, unless you’re lucky and it lands on your day off.
Having already spent 3 Christmases in Hangzhou, we decided it’s time to do something different. In the North East of China there is a little city of about 5 million people called Harbin, where they put up this massive snow and ice sculpture exhibition every year. We have been talking about it and thinking about it for the past few years, but either we didn’t have enough time off, or we had a newborn baby, or whatever other excuses we (read I) had. This year we decided to go for it, since next year I would have the new baby excuse again.
We did our research and found out it would be really cold up there. The forecast for our stay predicted the temperature to drop to -25’C at night and the warmest it would get was -10’C during the day time. Hangzhou can feel pretty cold too, but the coldest we’ve had this year has been -3’C at night. We packed our brand new ski pants and warm beanies and thermals in our carry-on size Rimowas. These suitcases are amazing. We were able to fit winter clothes for 3 people + diapers for 3 days in just these two carryon cases. We also brought Hailey’s stroller and two small backpacks with our iPads and snacks for the flight.
We left after work on Friday and our flight wasn’t until 8:30pm, which meant that we didn’t get to Harbin until just before midnight. Luckily we got a cab quite quickly and it was only about 25 min ride to the hotel. We were hungry though and we had to go get some milk for Hailey’s bottle so we all went for a little walk in the cold winter night looking for a convenience store. We were lucky to find one open not too far from the hotel and even luckier finding a hotdog stand right next to it. I got the milk and G got us some hot dogs.
I must say as much as I sometimes hated the cold and the winter in Finland now I realized how much I had actually missed the cold crisp air and how it feels in your nostrils and lungs. Hailey was excited about the snow too. She didn’t seem to mind the cold at all.
We had a few things in mind we wanted to see/do so the next day we got up rather early to try to find some breakfast. We walked to the Central Street everyone was recommending to see and found a cozy looking coffee shop where we sat down for a cup of coffee and some snacks. I ordered a borsch soup and G ordered a hamburger. Real American Breakfast! My borsch soup came and it was nothing I expected. Basically what they brought me was a slightly red/orange broth with absolutely no flavor and NOTHING ELSE in it. It was a huge disappointment. I obviously had to send it back and bite my tongue not to get too nasty with the waiters. They probably had no idea what the soup should have been like.
In the afternoon we went out for another walk in the hopes of finding a good restaurant for dinner before visiting the Snow and Ice show. That turned out to be disaster. We happened to find a restaurant on tripadvisor that got quite good reviews and we decided to give it a try. Well after more than an hour walking around in the cold we came to the conclusion that the restaurant doesn’t exist anymore. In the end after a little further walk up the Central Street we ended up finding a pretty good Russian style restaurant that served nice meat dishes. I can highly recommend this place to anyone visiting Harbin!
We took a cab to the Ice and Snow World. It was about 20 min ride. We bought a little sled for our daughter from the parking lot for 10 kuai and then paid some people to take us in with a group since they promised us no waiting in line. That was complete bs! We ended up waiting for like 20 min to get another 4 members to join our group. At least we got to wait indoors. The tickets
The snow sculptures and buildings made out of ice were absolutely stunning. They were lit up in all the colors of the rainbow and they were massive. Hailey had the best time going down the slides made out of ice and being pulled behind in a little sled. Though it was -20’C outside, we weren’t cold at all. My cashmere wool thermals kept me warm and comfortable and my feet were warm and toasty in my brand new UGG boots.
I thought we would stay for an hour and go, but we ended up being amongst the last few people leaving the place 20 past closing. Getting a cab back without being ripped off didn’t seem likely, since we were the last ones there. All the cabs were asking triple the fare or more. We managed to talk them down to like double the price it would normally be. It’s a shame they do that, but we also wanted to get back to our warm room and didn’t want to wait for uber or didi.
We were tired so we slept in and ended up missing the breakfast. I doubt that it would have been anything special anyway. G ordered us some takeaway Egg McMuffins and hash browns and we enjoyed breakfast in bed. We decided to splurge on the last night and stay at the Shangri-La by the river. We checked out of our room closer to noon and headed to Shangri-La to check-in. They upsold us a bigger room with The Horizon Lounge entry which included a pre-dinner drinks and snacks buffet.
We checked out our room and took Hailey outside to play in the snow. There was a slide made out of ice not far from the hotel we had seen from hotel room window and we took our daughter there. She couldn’t get enough of it. Little Miss Independent refused to go with one of us and demanded that she gets to slide down all by her mighty self. It was fun to watch her go down the slide at least 20-30 times. She only accepted my help getting up one of the steps that was too high for her.
After spending a good hour and a half outside our cheeks were nice and rosy and even though we weren’t exactly cold, we were ready to go inside. Well at least two of us were. We managed to get the little one persuaded to go when we promised to take her swimming. She had been asking to go swimming ever since she spotted her floatie a the airport in Hangzhou.
I was so happy to get to go to “Joulusauna”. The sauna at the Shangri-La was nice. They had a pool which was too cold for me to enjoy, but our daughter didn’t seem to mind the temperature, which probably was only cold to me.
The pre-dinner buffet was nice. They had some wine and whiskey for daddy and ginger ale and soda water for mommy. We enjoyed some cheese and salad and cakes and such and ended up being quite full and tired after.
At 7pm we were all ready to go to bed, but decided since it was our last day we should go out for a walk and take in the sights on the Central Street. It was even colder than the night before and we had to walk quite briskly to stay warm. There were quite a lot of people out and more sculptures had appeared since the day before.
We walked up the street for an hour before returning to our room and having room service for dinner. I must say that was the saddest Christmas Dinner I have ever had. I expected a little more out of a room service at a 5-star hotel.
We almost slept through the breakfast serving again, but I managed to get there approximately 20 min. before closing. The breakfast was a lot better than the room service the night before.
We also managed to get a little maternity photoshoot done on our iPhones. They do come with pretty great cameras nowadays.
We went looking for the Ice Bar that we saw advertised everywhere but turned out it was only an Ice Restaurant. We snapped a few photos and started heading to the airport. On our way there it started snowing. It didn’t snow hard but enough for Hailey to get excited about it.
Our flight was delayed due to the snow, but only by 30 min. or so. I was hoping Hailey would nap during the flight so it would go smoother, but she was quite happy to just watch movies on the iPad. We got home rather late and we gave our daughter her few Christmas Gifts and warmed up some tamales for dinner. It was nice to be home again!