An icy blast

Updated: 2013-01-11 07:21

(China Daily)

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An icy blast

Visitors walk through in Harbin's Ice and Snow World. Photos provided to China Daily

While birds fly south for the winter, people in China head north to see one of the country's most spectacular sights - the ice sculptures of Harbin

For a genuine taste of winter, combined with some of China's most amazing, if temporary, sights, the place to head for is Harbin in Heilongjiang province. With a latitude as high as 46, similar to Vancouver, Harbin's winter lasts for about four months a year with temperatures falling to as low as - 40 C, which provides the city with an abundance of natural ice and snow.

Along with Japan's Sapporo Snow Festival, Canada's Quebec City Winter Carnival, and Norway's Ski Festival, Harbin Festival, which began in 1985, is one of the world's four largest ice and snow events.

It starts on Jan 5 and lasts for a month, during which time it overlaps with some of China's most important traditional festivals, including Spring Festival and the Lantern Festival.

1. Sun Island Park

An icy blast

Sun Island Park is said to be where Chinese ice sculpture originated. An exhibition of sculptures here runs for 60 to 70 days thanks to the city's weather. With the varied styles and enormous size of its ice sculptures, the Sun Island Festival is also known as the world's largest ice and snow carnival.

The sculptures are inspired by various cultures including those of Japan and Russia, which borders Heilongjiang province.

Besides the ice sculptures the park is packed with other entertainment, including an ice slide, snow puddle jumper, snow motorcycles and a snow maze.

The national snow sculpture competition also takes place in Sun Island Park, showcasing China's most amazing ice and snow creations.

Visiting the park in the day and at night offers different perspectives on the sculptures, with the artificial lighting of the evening giving them a very different look.

Prior to 1949 Sun Island Park was an expat resort and it retains a lot of the foreign architecture. This helps to make it an interesting and fun place to visit in both the winter and summer.

2. Zhaolin Park

Located in the center of the city, alongside Songhua River, Zhaolin Park is a paradise for children. An entertainment park designed by Disney, it has ice sculptures of some of the world's most recognizable cartoon characters.

Some 1,500 ice sculptures are displayed across the park's 6.5 hectares and as much as 2,000 cubic meters of ice are used each year creating them. The ice comes from the nearby Songhua River.

The ice lantern is said to have been invented by local fishermen and farmers who had to work outdoors. In the old days, people would pour water into a bucket, let it freeze into the shape of a lampshade and put in a candle so that the fire wouldn't be blown out by the wind.

It soon became popular among people who couldn't afford a lantern during the Lantern Festival and gained the nickname "Pauper Light".

Zhaolin Park contains one of the largest outdoor ice lantern exhibitions. It is listed by the National Tourism Administration as one of the 35 most amazing scenic spots in China.

3. Ice and Snow World

Ice and Snow World is perhaps the most magnificent of the three ice sculpture parks. It holds a Guinness world record as the largest ice sculpture park in the world. Every year, the park takes on a new theme.

Walking, or taking a carriage through the park if trudging through the snow becomes too much, you'll see sculptures reflecting elements of both Chinese and overseas cultures.

The sights are a combination of ice lanterns and ice sculptures inspired by traditional Chinese fairytales and world-famous architecture.

In previous years, sculptures have included St. Petersburg Cathedral and the Paris Opera House, but as the ice comes and goes each year, there is a fresh and exciting new set of work.

The world of ice doesn't stop at sculptures. There are also ice bars, ice hotels, snow climbing, snow golf and snow football.

China Daily

 An icy blast

Visitors ride on ice slides in Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival. Photos provided to China Daily

(China Daily 01/11/2013 page22)