If you think it's cold where you are at the moment then Harbin Ice Festival—an annual extravaganza of ice and snow transformed into magnificent palaces, castles and frozen homages to some of the world's most recognized buildings—kicks off today.
As you can imagine, it takes a wee while to construct such colossal ice architecture so the sculptures have been in place for some time already, but the 5th January is when the lights go on, the ribbon is cut and it all becomes official.
On top of this frozen wonderland that holds sway over the city's Zhaolin Park every year, Harbin has much to offer those who brave its icy climes, from stunning Russian architecture to a Siberian Tiger Park (though be warned, feeding time is not for those of the vegetarian or animal-loving persuasion). Some of China's best skiing is also just a few hours away so why not combine your Harbin trip with a day or two in Yabuli? Guaranteed to blow out the cobwebs. More after the jump....
The festive period quite likely left your wallet as well as your body feeling the strain, but a Harbin mini-break needn't be too expensive. Despite high demand during the Ice Festival period, a budget hotel will set you back around RMB 120-250 per night (check out the Shennong Hotel or the Home Inn on Zhongyang Street for a decent and cheap stay within walking distance of Zhaolin Park). For a good mid-range option try the Jingu Hotel or, if nothing less than all out luxury will do, there's the Shangri-La whose cozy and warm 5-star rooms offer great views of the vibrantly-colored ice festival glory in the neighboring park.
Dōngběi fare (东北菜) of steamed dumplings or stewed chicken and mushrooms and a Harbin Beer (Hā'ěrbīn Píjiǔ, 哈尔滨啤酒) or two and you're looking at a 4-day/3-night trip for less than RMB 3,000 per head.
Don't forget to wrap up warm!