Bali Holiday: A 10(ish) Day Itinerary

So you’re thinking about a trip to Bali, or at least a way to vicariously live through a fantasy trip, but you aren’t sure what you’ll have the time or money to do there. Well, we’ve just returned from an unforgettable trip in Bali, and we managed to do everything we dreamed of and more, without breaking the bank!

If you have ten days in Bali, this is the place for you! If you have less time, you can use the information here to pick and choose what you want to see. If you have more time, well, take it a bit more slowly!

One more note: This is just the order we happened to do things based on internet research, suggestions from locals, and weather. Your itinerary could be in a completely different order! I have to say though, that this trip worked out perfectly for us and there isn’t much we would change, given another chance.

Day 1:

Overview: This day was primarily arrival, resting up, and planning the next 10 days.

Ngurah Rai International Airport, Denpasar:

Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/y85v9y3u

More info: https://www.baliairport.com

Personal tips: Pretty easy airport to get out of. Grab a $5 SIM card, fire up Uber, and get where you’re going for cheap. Don’t take rides from random taxis unless you want to pay more than double the price. Alternatively, arrange to be picked up with your hotel or even AirBnB. We got this service for less than $15 for three people. It’s more expensive but gives you peace of mind.

Planning: We spent most of this day planning the rest of our busy trip. Read on to see the results!

Day 2:

Overview: The night before, we’d hired a private taxi driver who had picked us up the previous night. He charged us 500,000 Rupaih ($35 USD) for an entire 8-hour day of driving us wherever we wanted to go. He was very nice, trustworthy, had many suggestions, and the best thing about it was being able to leave our things in the car while we were out sightseeing. Don’t pay your driver until the end of the day, just to be sure! And if you use a private driver, be sure to get their phone number so you can find them after each activity.

Recommended: Bosono +62 822-8205-1311

Barong Dance:

Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/yc4vtuol

More info: https://tinyurl.com/yb9keexj

Personal tips: Must see while in Bali. A very interesting cultural experience, complete with slapstick comic relief. Entry fee RM 100,000 ($7 USD).

Sea Walker Experience:

Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/yahstck3

More info: https://www.water-sports-bali.com

Personal tips: They asked us initially for $90 per person, but we showed them a website that was much cheaper on our phones. We managed to get them down to RM 500,000 per person, about $35 each. The experience was amazing and can’t be described in words, so check out the above YouTube link!

Tohpati Batik Village:

Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/yb6txvzo

More info: https://tinyurl.com/y8y3s9u8

Personal tips: They will offer to batik a quick design on your clothes, so be sure to decline if you’re wearing anything expensive. Inside, you can buy lots of batik good for very reasonable prices.

Celuk Gold and Silver Village:

Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/ybxewlw9 (Celuk Village)

More info: https://tinyurl.com/y88qkecv

Personal tips: A bit depressing to see the conditions these people work in, but still interesting to see how jewelry is made. If you plan on buying anything, start by offering 50% of the asking price and go from there.

Coffee Plantation:

Google Maps: All over the place, including right next to the Gold and Silver Village

More info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kopi_Luwak

Personal tips: To be honest we didn’t note the name of this plantation, but they are everywhere. Just tell your driver you want to try Luwak Coffee and they’ll take you to the nearest one. Generally they offer free tasting of all the different kinds of coffee! We bought some to take home; it was delicious! We gave the actual Luwak coffee a miss though, because of the inhumane exploitation of the animals.

Painting “Village”:

Google Maps: All over the place

More info: http://www.whatsnewbali.com/must-visit-traditional-villages-in-bali/

Personal tips: These art markets are also everywhere. Just tell your driver to take you to a painting market. If you want to buy something, be prepared to haggle!

Uluwatu Temple:

Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/ycb2mxsc

More info: https://tinyurl.com/ya356eop

Personal tips: Best view of the sunset in Bali, possibly in the world. Don’t miss out on this amazing chance. BE CAREFUL OF THE MONKEYS! One of them stole my glasses and threatened to break them. Fortunately there are local ladies nearby who accept 20,000 RM to bribe the monkeys with fruit to get your stuff back. Keep your hat and glasses in your bag, and your bags closed.

Day 3:

Overview: We hired Bosono again for the day, and it was well worth the price!

Kemuneh Butterfly Garden:

Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/yah2hgpx

More info: http://www.kemenuhbutterflypark.com

Personal Tips: Probably the best butterfly garden we’ve ever been to. Very humane conditions, helpful and informative staff, and overall good vibe. You can even hold giant moths and stick insects!

Tegenungan Waterfall:

Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/yabqmbhm

More info: https://tinyurl.com/ybgt3hjo

Personal Tips: Be prepared for lots of stairs and an amazing view. If it’s the middle of the day, use sun screen and a hat, and bring some water.

Batuan Temple:

Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/y8lcj3ss

More info: https://tinyurl.com/y9rnzm9b

Personal Tips: Beautiful 10th century temple complex, small donation suggestion for renting a sarong.

Two Guns Tattoo Studio:

Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/y7ecyhy3

More info: https://www.facebook.com/TwoGunsTattooStudioBali/

Personal Tips: Best tattoo shop in Bali! We paid 1.2 million ($80 USD) for a small tattoo (Australian cleanliness standards). This is the minimum price and it goes up from there.

Tanah Lot Temple:

Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/yd94z5qc

More info: https://tinyurl.com/h6jh2ff

Personal Tips: We honestly enjoyed Uluwatu more for the sunset but it could have been because of the weather. It was quite crowded, cloudy, and very windy. I’m sure it would be nicer in better weather, so definitely don’t pass this up. For the sunset, head up the stairs to one of the many restaurants and grab a cheap beer.

Ubud: Our next stop was the town of Ubud, which is a great central location for all activities in Bali.

Day 4

Overview: Money forest and massage!

Monkey Forest:

Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/y9kmmn2l

More info: https://www.monkeyforestubud.com

Personal Tips: Walkable from almost anywhere in Ubud. Remember that you’re a guest in the monkeys’ house, and be nice to them! The walk through the forest is beautiful, and the monkeys are much friendlier than at Uluwatu Temple.

Massage: Google Maps: Anywhere

Personal Tips: Get yourself a massage at any of the various spas in Ubud. We paid RM 100,000 ($7) for a one-hour deep-tissue massage. Perfect midway through a busy trip!

We went to bed early, because the next day started at 2 AM!

Day 5

Overview: Mount Batur Sunrise Trekking!

Mount Batur Sunrise Trekking:

Google Maps (Mountain itself): https://tinyurl.com/y73pcu82

More info: https://tinyurl.com/yaobh3ca

Personal Tips: Don’t bother booking in advance because the weather is unpredictable and the price is higher online. Just ask the staff at your accommodation for the best and cheapest tour. Whether AirBnB, a hostel or hotel, they will point you in the right direction.

The rest of the day you may want to just relax, because you’ll be tired from the trek. We grabbed a bottle of wine from Coco supermarket and relaxed on our porch =)

Day 6:

Overview: We hired the host of our AirBnB to drive us around. RM 400,000 ($28 USD) for the whole day.

Tegallalang Rice Terrace:

Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/yd4o8cj7

More info: https://tinyurl.com/gpgv7sw

Personal Tips: Try the nearby swing for a thrilling view of the terraces! Grab lunch at one of the many cheap eateries while enjoying the view.

Tirta Empul Temple:

Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/y7f7tuxv

More info: https://tinyurl.com/jajdo7f

Personal Tips: Pack a bathing suit and purify yourself in the holy spring. Remember to be respectful of the religious customs. Definitely a spiritually rewarding experience, even if you are not religious. Don’t get the outdoor sarong wet! Rent the special green one for the water.

Gunung Kawi Temple:

Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/y8ebjvbp

More info: https://tinyurl.com/hmvnjay

Personal Tips: Be prepared to climb a lot of stairs, but it’s worth it. When you finish, get a coffee from one of the shops at the top overlooking the rice terraces. We had a rainy day, but it was still magical.

Day 7:

Overview: We spent this day touring the Tamblingan Twin Lakes region! We used Bali Dynasty Tours, and their price and service can’t be beat: https://tinyurl.com/y9qzzfgh. 650,000 for a driver for the day plus 600,000 for the tour of the lakes. Overall, around $27 USD per person for the day! They do offer an all-inclusive tour that includes Lunch and entrance fees, but we went with just the driver.

Tamblingan Twin Lakes Tour:

Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/ybu4q637

Personal Tips: Go with the agency listed above. Our guide was amazing, took us to the best spots, and the price was very good. They took us to Ulundanu Temple, Banyumala Twin Waterfall, Ulun Danu Temple, and the Bali Botanical Gardens. Oh, and on that note:

Botanical Gardens:

Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/y9lpq59o

More info: https://tinyurl.com/y92n89v5

Personal Tips: Don’t go here at the end of the day. It was beautiful and seemed to have a lot to offer, but it was closing when we arrived at 4:30. If you want to go here, set aside at least half a day. Allegedly, this garden is home to the famously aromatic “Corpse Flower!”

Day 8:

Overview: We left our awesome accommodation in Ubud for an equally awesome one in Sanur: Pondok Nuri Homestay. We spent most of the day at the beach!

Beach, Pantai Matahari Terbit:

Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/yayzknhu

Personal Tips: Much less busy than Sanur beach and lots of cheap shopping in the area. You can also catch a ferry from here to the nearby island of Nusa Penida, but we decided it wasn’t worth the 300,000 RM each for just a day-trip. If you have an extra night, we hear it’s a great stopover!

Day 9:

Overview: Hidden Canyon, Uluwatu Part 2!

Hidden Canyon Beji Guwang:

Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/y78p45pd

More info: https://tinyurl.com/yb7bljf3

Personal Tips: Not for the faint of heart! Be ready to climb, balance, and swim against strong currents. If you’re physically fit and adventurous, don’t miss out on this amazing place. Be sure to call ahead to make sure they are open though! They often close it off after heavy rain. +62 857-3727-0288

Uluwatu Temple Kecak Dance:

Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/ycb2mxsc

More info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kecak

Personal Tips: We only went to Uluwatu a second time because the tickets for the Kecak dance had been sold out the first time. Be sure to arrive by 4 to get tickets and a good seat for this amazing show!

Day 10:

Overview: Just the beach today!

Sanur Beach:

Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/y9plfggh

More info: http://www.bali-indonesia.com/sanur/

Personal Tips: It was our last day, so we stayed here all day. Good shopping in the area, lots of food and cheap drinks, white sands, and a nice view. We paid a small fee to use beach chairs and umbrellas. We even rented a jet ski in the area! We paid 380,000 for 15 minutes.

Day 11:

Pack your bags and head to the airport. Uber will get you there for very cheap!

Accommodation:

Family Room Denpasar – Moslem village – AirBnB:

More info: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/19789795

Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/y7H5efYR9Un

Personal Tips: $4 a night per person. Incredible price. But, bring earplugs if you stay here because the nearby mosque has a loud call to prayer every day at 5 AM. Aside from that, it was amazing. Good location and friendly house-sitter.

Tutde’s Place – AirBnB:

Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/ya2nxzv3

More info: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/15332469

Personal Tips: if you come to Ubud, stay here. It’s awesome. That is all.

Pondok Nuri Homestay, Sanur:

Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/ya8szp8m

More info: https://tinyurl.com/y8cm33zl

Personal Tips: Clean rooms, good price, nice host, perfect location, can’t complain!

Food:

Loving Hut, Denpasar:

Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/ycobpqot

Website: http://www.lovinghut.co.id

Personal Tips: Great place to go for vegan food! Even if you’re not vegan, the food is amazing and cheap.

Happy Buddha, Denpasar:

Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/y73mt3nx

More info: https://tinyurl.com/y78kztzj

Personal Tips: More awesome vegan food in Denpasar, with a very kind lady running the place.

Veggie Karma, Ubud:

Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/yakftjbf

More info: https://tinyurl.com/yba34vry

Personal Tips: ALL YOU CAN EAT for under $4! All vegan food! Even if you’re not vegan, don’t even THINK about not eating here at least once. We ate here three times and could barely walk afterwards. Also, there’s a similar place next door that offers the same price, and they even have coconut milk ice cream! In short, Ubud is a haven for vegans.

Street food and cafes:

Personal Tips: There are cafes and street food everywhere! Enjoy the cheap food in Bali!

And that’s it! We hope you found this itinerary useful for your planning! Don’t over-plan though, because life in Bali can be unpredictable! If you have your own experiences, please comment!

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10 Signs That You Travel Too Much

This year I’ve been lucky enough to travel. A lot. I spent New Year’s Eve in Seoul during a long layover after visiting the USA already anticipating my trip to the Philippines and Indonesia for Chinese New Year. Between working full time and working on my blog and YouTube channel, I was excited to have some time between the constant flights.

During this free time, I also did what I do best, which is booking more trips… specifically to Taiwan and Singapore for two long upcoming weekends. On my way to work one day I got a frantic call from my husband. The Shanghai metro was crowded as usual and all I could make out were the words ‘Harbin’, ‘weekend’, ‘cheap flight’ and with a sigh, I said what I always say no matter our financial, physical or mental situation: “buy it now!”

While I was beyond excited about all these trips, I couldn’t help but feel exhausted. I even found myself complaining about travel time and airport security – cue the #firstworldproblems hashtags. A friend of mine listened to my complaints and pointed out that travel is worth all the inconveniences. This made me feel bad for complaining despite being lucky enough to be able to explore the world!

This experience inspired a fun list that I’m sure all frequent travelers can relate to at one point or another.  You know you travel too much when…

1. You confuse your travel dates with destinations.

“Are we going to Singapore on our first long weekend of the year?” I ask my husband for the third time in one week.

“Let me check after I book the hostel for Harbin, I keep getting the dates Taiwan and Singapore mixed up…” he responds. *Sigh* Typical…

2. You insist on getting stamps on specific pages.

Valuable passport space is limited when every country thinks that their stamp looks best on its own in the middle of a fresh page. Don’t airport employees know the panic of flipping through your passport to see if you can squeeze that new visa in?

“Please stamp page 20, sir. Yes, the one with all the other stamps on it. Thank you!”

3. Your phone automatically connects to the Airport WiFi.

When you’re travelling through Asia (or anywhere else in the world) there are always several airports notorious for layovers. Saving $100 on a flight is worth two hours in Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur, especially since you already have the WiFi set up from the last time. So grateful for ‘connect automatically’.

4. You know how to pack your carry-on for a smooth & quick security check.

“Would you look at the travel noobs?” I ask my husband as the couple in front of us is getting re-scanned for leaving their laptop in their suitcase.

“I know, right?” he says with our lithium batteries in one hand and his boarding pass in the other. “Can you take the liquids baggie out once a tray is available?”

5. You don’t have time to unpack your suitcase between trips.

When you return from the brisk -25°C of Harbin and fly to tropical Manila three days later, believe it or not, but there are plenty of things that can stay in your suitcase. It’s not like you have time to unpack and repack… plus you’re used to living out of a suitcase anyway!

6. You have multiple currencies in your wallet.

No need to yell at the vending machine for spitting out your coin for the third time. Look at it carefully. After all, PHP can be easily confused with RMB not to mention Japanese Yen. I somehow always have a dollar in my wallet, even if it’s been years since a trip to the US.

7. You have to stop yourself from babbling incessantly about your trips.

We get it, you’re well-traveled. You don’t need to make an anecdote about the sushi you ate in Japan. No one wants to hear you comparing Vietnam to Cambodia and then concluding that Laos was actually your favorite. We all know someone like that and I bite my tongue the moment I hear myself becoming them. You should too!

8. You’re already thinking about your future trip on your current one.

“Oh no, I should have waited to come here before booking accommodation. The resort is cheaper than my hard to access Airbnb, maybe I should cancel my bookings for Bali… oh, I need to remember to pack the dress I wore in Macao, it was great for hot weather… oh but what will I wear in Taiwa-”

“Or we could focus on Cebu, Olena.”

“Fine…”

9. You an expert at converting currencies.

I know that 50 Philipino Pesos are worth a $1 which is too much to pay for a 5 minute tuk-tuk ride if I’m comparing to the prices in China. But since I paid 16,000 South Korean won for an airport shuttle in Seoul I can afford to splurge 1,000 Pesos for a comfortable taxi back to the Cebu airport to make sure I don’t miss my flight to Bali via Manila. Right?

10. You complain at restaurants because the “real thing” tastes better.

I knew that eating sushi in Ginza, Tokyo would ruin me. I might no longer eat fish (6 months vegan and going strong) but if the wasabi doesn’t dissolve instantly in my low sodium soy sauce, I’m not going to be satisfied with my mango rolls… don’t even get me started on pizza in China.

Don’t believe that I travel too much? Check out my 2017 travels in 346 second clips!

Ever woken up and forgotten what country you’re in? Accidentally said “vodu, prosim” in Spain? Or weren’t sure how many hands to accept money with because you’ve read so many ‘basic manners in *blank*’ blogs that it’s all blended together? Share your story in the comment section below!

Harbin Ice and Snow Festival 101: Weekend Guide

By Isaac Roosa

Is a winter trip to Harbin worth it for just the weekend? If you live in Eastern China, the answer is “Yes!” Not only is it possible, but we wholeheartedly recommend it!

You may have been searching around trying to figure out how to “Do Harbin in one Weekend” but have been getting some conflicting information. I know we were… Well, look no further! It took us quite a bit of searching around various forums, YouTube channels and Tripadvisor reviews to finally form a perfect itinerary for a winter weekend in Harbin. You can fly out after work on Friday and be home in time to get some sleep before returning to work on Monday!

If you’re just here for the basic info on the top sights in Harbin, scroll to the end. For a detailed itinerary read on! You’ll also find some tips on flights, accommodation, transport, food and weather. Here we go!

Friday – Arrival

This day is just for arrival and settling in. After heading out of the airport, you’ll get your first of many hefty slaps in the face by Jack Frost. Don’t worry though, because that long line of cars you see are all warm taxis and Didis. Don’t pay more than 200 RMB to get to the city center. We’ll cover transport and accommodation later in this article.

Anyway, unless you got off work super early and somehow arrived before midnight, you probably won’t have time to go out after arriving. We wouldn’t recommend staying out late anyway, because you’re in for a couple of long and chilly days!

Saturday – Sun Island + Ice and Snow World

On Saturday you’ll tackle the first two items on the list. Feel free to sleep in a bit and grab some breakfast nearby. You’re not in too much of a hurry because the main event of the day is in the evening. We arrived late, so we slept until about 9:00, suited up, and were out the door by 10:00.

Your first stop is the Sun Island International Snow Sculpture Expo. It’s best to visit here during the day because at night the lighting isn’t so good, and of course because you want to spend your only night at Ice and Snow World. So, hop in a taxi or Didi and tell them to take you to Sun Island. You can show them the Chinese name and the picture at the end of this article.

We had them take us to Entrance #1. Follow the obvious mobs of people heading to the ticket booth and pay for your ticket. After entering, you’ll be herded by several guides into golfcart-like buses. It’ll take you about 1km to the main attraction of the park… Don’t be sad that you’re passing some statues and pretty scenery; you’re not missing a lot because the bulk of the things to see are at the end of the line. You can always return later if you have time – the park isn’t huge.

Spend a good hour or two walking around photographing the various sculptures and statues. While marveling at the artistic craftsmanship, remind yourself that Harbin does get very warm in the summer, and 100% of these sculptures are doomed to melt! This makes it all the more special to see. I’m intentionally not posting many photos, because you shouldn’t be spoiled!

There’s a café or two by the lake so if you get too cold go and grab some coffee (26 RMB) inside. There are also plenty of outlets to charge your batteries which you are no doubt noticing have lost half their charge already due to the frigid cold.

Head back out and make sure you’ve done a good circuit of all there is to see. When we were there, there was even a place to inner-tube down an icy hill at terrifying speeds – for free! Try it if you dare!

By 14:00 you should be finishing up this leg of the trip. Make your way back to where the bus let you off and head directly in the opposite direction from the entrance to the area, towards the cable cars. We managed to find it with a combination of Google Translate and miming, so I’m sure you’ll be fine!

The Cable Car costs 50 RMB one-way or 80 RMB round-trip. It takes you across the frozen Songhua River to the center of town. It’s up to you if you want to spend the extra 30 RMB to go both ways, but we just grabbed a 40 RMB Didi right to the Ice and Snow World when we got to the other side… After stopping at a shop for some well-deserved Russian vodka, that is!

Again, you can use the Chinese name and picture at the bottom of the page to show the taxi driver that you want to go to Ice and Snow World. Believe me, they’ll know where you want to go!

Congratulations, you’ve made it to the main attraction! Hopefully you’ve managed to make it by 15:00 or so because the sun will set by 17:30 and trust me, you’ll want to see this place both at day and at night.

Don’t head directly for the sign marked “Entrance”. Go to the indoor ticket hall first, pay the ridiculous but worth it entrance fee, fill up on some free hot water, and head to the entrance.

Here I’ll leave you to your own devices. Every year is vastly different so chances are the sculptures and structures are not the same as when we went in 2018. All I can advise is to try to do a quick circuit while the sun is going down, find some high ground to watch the sunset and turn the ice a gorgeous silvery color, and then be dazzled as lights go on everywhere, giving you a visual feast beyond your wildest imagination.

By 22:00 or even before, you’ve probably been inside and out several times, eaten some greasy KFC or dumplings, lost all feeling in your fingers and toes, and have been sufficiently wow’d by this marvel of man’s artistic manipulation of nature. It’s time to get back into a cosy bed! Take your last few snapshots and head out the main gate where taxis are waiting. We took a Didi around 22:30 and were in bed by 23:00.

Sunday – Zhongyang Street + St. Sophia’s Cathral

Good morning! Again, unless you have a pretty early flight you won’t be in any hurry. Our flight was at 19:55, so we could take our time. Adjust your schedule accordingly and head out a good 4-5 hours before you need to be at the airport. You’ll probably have to check out of your accommodation, but ask the reception, or the AirBnB host, if you can leave some luggage. Our host let us leave our things until 5!

This time you’ll have your taxi or Didi take you to Zhongyang Street. Again, show them the info at the bottom of the page and you’ll be good.

They’ll drop you off at the North end of this old street, and if you have a bit of extra time, head north a bit to Stalin Park before heading south down the historic street. You can once again gaze out at the frozen Songhua River, and if you’re feeling up to it you can skate, sled, slide, or eve drive a car out onto the river! We didn’t have time for those kinds of things so we grabbed a few snapshots and headed down Zhongyang Street. Along the way, you might see the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac all made of ice!

Zhongyang Street is basically a shopping street, but even if shopping isn’t your thing it’s a lot of fun. You’ll pass various shops selling Russian goods, a few Russian restaurants, interesting architecture, and of course, countless advertisements made of ice sculptures! Including lunch at one of the many pubs and restaurants, expect to spend about two hours on Zhonyang.

The streets are numbered on a grid, just like New York, and your next destination is on W 14th Street. Take a left onto this street and keep going until you see St. Sophia’s Cathedral. No need for more of a description because the massive Neo-Byzantine dome of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral will be a dead giveaway after 500 meters.

Spend a nominal 15 RMB on a ticket inside and pop in for an interesting experience. Having lived in Europe for quite some time, it was a bit odd for us to see how this church had been first closed down and then converted into a museum. The altar and pews are gone, and in their place are historic artifacts and photos. Not much information is in English, but it’s worth a quick look, especially for the cheap price.

Grab a few more photos from the back side of the Church, then get into one of the many taxis waiting behind it.

We had enough time to spare to also head to Zhaolin Park, but we decided against it. We felt like we had already been sufficiently satisfied with our experience of Harbin. Also, we read that it was best viewed at night, and that wasn’t an option for us. We’re not at all saying it’s not worth the trip, because we simply don’t know. Go for it if you have the time and energy! Take a look hereto help make your decision, or just play it by ear.

What we can say is not worth it during the day is the ice bar at the Shangri-La hotel. We wasted a bit of time going there and found that 1) it wasn’t open for business and 2) it’s more of a restaurant than a bar. It was kind of cool, but not worth the time. If you have an extra day and 300+ RMB to spend on dinner per person, go for it.

Head back to your hotel, hostel or BnB, grab your stuff, and head back to the airport! From the city, it should be around 180 RMB to get to the airport. Again, don’t pay more than 200. If you don’t use Didi, take a metered taxi to avoid any scams.

On the plane, browse through your photos, relish in this thrilling experience, post a few snapshots to social media to make your friends jealous, and take a well-deserved nap on the flight home. Go to sleep that night with visions of brilliantly-lit ice dragons swarming in your mind!

Logistical Notes:

Flights

Our go-to website for flights literally anywhere is Skyscanner. You can read more about it here. With the help of this website, you can book a flight from Shanghai to Harbin only a few weeks in advance for around $450 per person. We went with China Eastern Airlines to get there, and Spring Airlines to get back to Shanghai (PVG). With a little luck and flexibility, you should be able to get a similar price.

Accommodation

When it comes to budget travelling in comfort, you can’t beat AirBnB. We found a place just a 10 minute drive to most of the main attractions for $84 for the whole weekend, for three people. If you break it down, that’s $14 per person per night. There are hostels for cheaper than that, but this place has had private bedrooms with huge beds and was very quiet. It’s a matter of preference, but we usually go with AirBnB. The host didn’t even speak English, but we got their WeChat info and used that to communicate the whole time and had zero problems even though we arrived at 1:00 in the morning! Here’s a link to the place we stayed.

Verdict: If AirBnB isn’t your thing and you don’t mind spending extra, there are plenty of nice hotels in the area. Check out Booking.com or CTrip. If you want even cheaper than AirBnB and don’t mind sleeping in a dorm-style room, you can find beds for as little as $7 each on Hostelworld.

Transport

Like with accommodation, this is down to comfort to cost ratio. For transport in general, you’re looking at three possibilities:

  1. Public bus – Cheapest, but slow, and very difficult to navigate if you can’t read Chinese.
  2. Taxi – Trustworthy, no risk of a scam, don’t need to speak Chinese, but a bit more expensive than Didi. Just show the driver the name of the place in Chinese, at the end of this article. Make sure they turn on the meter! If you do speak a bit of Chinese, you can negotiate with most drivers and even hire them for the entire day as a private driver!
  3. Didi – Similar to Uber. This is our preferred method. It’s super cheap and you know how much you’re going to pay before you even order the taxi. We probably took a dozen Didi rides on our trip and never waited longer than five minutes or paid more than 50 RMB, aside from the airport ride (180 RMB). Even if you don’t speak Chinese, you can open this article on your phone, copy the place name where you want to go, and select the first option on the list. From there, it’s pretty self-explanatory. The driver will no doubt try to call you, but if you don’t speak Chinese just ignore it and wait. Be sure you’re in an easy place for the driver to spot you, and be on the lookout for your car. Note: You need a Chinese bank account and a Chinese SIM card for this app to work properly.

Verdict: If you have experience with Didi, or are a bit adventurous, go with that. If not, a taxi isn’t too much more expensive. Don’t do the bus, because it’s not worth the hassle.

Food

This was actually challenging for us because we are vegetarian. We ended up eating a lot of fast food French fries, plain rice, and boiled vegetables. If you’re a carnivore though, you’ll find eats everywhere, from street food to fine dining. Search around here if you’re a foodie!

Weather

Harbin is COLD! The weekend we went, temperatures approached -30°C (-22°F). At this temperature, you can lose feeling in your hand just by taking a gloveless selfie. Come over- prepared, because you can’t be too careful. Wear thick boots with several pairs of socks, at least three layers on your legs, another four on your upper body, a good pair of cloves, a warm hat, a scarf, and even a head/neck warmer if you have one. I even wore a face mask, so the only part of me that was visible were my eyes. You might look like an arctic ninja, but you’ll be glad you thought ahead! We also brought a lot of disposable heat packs to stick on our backs, in boots, gloves, underwear, you name it. Don’t underestimate the cold!

Details about each site (With original photos)

#1 – Ice and Snow World

Chinese Name: 哈尔滨冰雪大世界
Address: No street address. Just show your driver the Chinese name and/or the picture.
Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/ycj9gd6c
Price: 330 RMB for adults, 200 for kids. Free for kids under 120cm
Opening Time: 11:00-22:00
More info here.

#2 – Sun Island International Snow Sculpture Expo

Chinese Name: 太阳岛国际雪雕艺术博览会
Address: Same – No street address, just show the photo or name to the driver.
Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/y6wqlcmw
Price: 330 RMB for adults, 200 for kids.
Opening Time: 8:30-18:30
More info here, but the pricing is outdated.

#3 –Zhongyang Street (Central Street)

Chinese Name: 中央大街
Address: Zhongyang Dajie, Harbin. Get dropped off near Stalin Park (斯大林公园)
Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/y89n7l3g
Price: Free! Only what you want to buy
Opening Time: 24/7
More info here.

#4 – St. Sophia’s Cathedral

Chinese Name: 圣·索菲亚教堂
Address: 88 Toulong St, Daoli Qu, Harbin
Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/y8ldd6qw
Price: 15 RMB
Opening Time: 8:30-17:00
More info here.

#5 – Zhaolin Park Ice Lantern Show

Chinese Name: 兆麟公园
Address: Daoli, Harbin
Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/y7czog55
Price: 150 RMB for adults, free for kids under 120cm
Opening Time: 10:00-21:00
More info here.

Still not convinced? Check out some of TheTravelBugBite’s videos of our 2018 Harbin experience!

Tips? Questions? Comments? Feel free to leave them below. Whether you have you own experience to share or if you’re still unsure about your trip and need some help, please share!

20 Best Photos of Harbin’s Snow & Ice Festival 2018

The Ice and Snow Festival have been popular tourists attractions since Harbin began hosting them in 1989. The Snow Festival is held on Sun Island, close to the city center and the Ice and Snow World is only a few kilometers away. Tickets to each event cost 330 RMB for adults.

If you’re limited on time and have to only choose one, definitely go to the Ice and Snow World. Make sure to arrive around 3pm to get the best experience. That way you get to make the rounds during daylight, enjoy a spectacular sunset and warm up inside before exploring the LED winter wonderland after dark!

Of course if you have the time, like we did, do both. You only need one day. Visit the Snow Festival in the morning from 11am. It should take you 2-3 hours to explore including a quick coffee or brunch break to warm up. I also recommend the tubing slide if you enjoy a one-minute adrenaline rush – it’s free, just leave a deposit!

Here are the best shots of Harbin’s 2018 Snow and Ice Festival. Thank you Amanda for letting me use your amazing photos.

1. A very voluptuous lady. – Sun Island Snow Festival

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2. Gigantic Snow beer glass sculpture looms over the festival. – Ice and Snow World

Fun fact: Snow is the most popular beer in the world based on number sold annually – this 2% beer is mainly bought in China by Chinese people.

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3. The perfectly timed sunset framed by an ice statue from an international competition. – Ice and Snow World

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4. Asia’s most iconic landmarked frozen in ice and light! – Ice and Snow World

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5. A close-up of a 46+ meter tall bottle of “frozen” snow beer. – Ice and Snow World

Fun fact: lots of beverages had ice advertisements at the festival and throughout the city center… Even two competing brands of water!

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6. The sun starting to set over a life-size replica of Beijing’s Temple of Heaven. – Ice and Snow World

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7. A Native American scene frozen in time. See the cacti and eagle? – Ice and Snow World

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8. Lucky Chinese “Fu” – Sun Island Snow Festival

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9. What Beijing’s Temple of Heaven would look like as a nightclub – Ice and Snow World

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10. Heckin’ good puppers and doggos. – Sun Island Snow Festival

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11. LED train. Next stop: Overwhelmingly beautiful thing #99. – Ice and Snow World

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12. This is a snow replica of a real statue in the park. This one is bigger than the original! – Sun Island Snow Festival

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13. The coolest travel-themed sculpture! – Sun Island Snow Festival

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14. Malaysia ice sculpture with a sunset as the backdrop! – Ice and Snow World

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15. Cambodian Temple lit up in a rainbow. – Ice and Snow World

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16. A snow goddess with a puny human for scale. – Ice and Snow World

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17. Santa and his reindeer. – Ice and Snow World

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18. Big booty that my husband motorboated. – Sun Island Snow Festival

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19. Rainbow slide. No, she’s not a unicorn. – Ice and Snow World

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Sorry for the long post. There were no snow potatoes, so here’s a zebra herd instead. These giants are over two meters tall!

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Harbin Ice Festival Teaser (Video)

Our first trip of 2018 is very different from our usual warm destination getaway. While we usually pack swim suits and straw hats, this time our backpack is filled with thermal leggings and even a electrically heating vest. The highlight of our weekend trip to Harbin will include the Ice and Snow Festival which is outside in below freezing temperatures.

We can’t wait to tell you all about our trip! But for now, watch this teaser with a bit more information about this amazing city!

Tibet Adventures: Chapter 3 – Potala Palace

We’re climbing the steps at Potala Palace, and indeed they are a challenge. Olena and I are panting as we ascent ever more slowly, and my dad is just a few steps behind. Considering he had another restless night, he’s doing very well. Even with a full night’s sleep and plenty of food, each of these 360-something steps feels like ten.

While we climb, I’ll fill you in on a bit about this place. The Potala Palace was built in 1645 under the 5 th Dalai Lama. After its completion it was traditionally the residence of the Dalai Lama for generations, until the current 14th Dalai Lama fled Tibet to live in India in 1959. Since then, it’s basically become a museum for tourists, though some monks
do work and worship here.

Now we’ve reached the top of the steps, and our fatigue is for the moment forgotten. The view from up here in incredible. I’ve been to many mountainous areas of the world, but there is something unique about Lhasa’s landscape as it mingles with the city. None of the buildings is very tall, so it’s the mountains that dominate the scene. It’s as if someone has painted a beautiful brown-gold mountain scene and added a small city as an afterthought. It’s remarkable that this city has been around for so long because it seems to have only expanded outwards and not upwards.

Entering the Palace, we come upon yet more stairs. Every time we round a corner it seems like there is another set of stairs. “It’s like at Disney World” my dad says from behind me, “They torture you by making you think you’ve made it, but there’s always still more hiding around the corner!” I agree, and suggest we make a stop to rest. The others go on ahead of us, and I figure we can catch up…

We’re waiting on the steps going down the other side. It turned out, we couldn’t catch up. At the top of the palace there was a fork in the road, and the group went one way and my dad and I went the other. In an attempt to catch up, we snaked our way through the palace, passing by other tour groups speaking at least three different languages.

I curse myself for losing the group and I’m a bit sour at Olena for not waiting for us, but to be honest we have already seen a few places like this. I don’t mean to sound insensitive, but once you’ve been to a monastery in Tibet, others are remarkably similar. I’m of course not saying that they’re not each unique and wonderful in their own way, but you end up a bit jaded when you’re travelling through them so quickly. Our guide is impressively well-informed and tells us about many of the statues – this one of the female aspect of the Compassion Buddha, this one of the 6 th Dalai Lama – but it all starts to blend together. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to absorb all of this in a week-long trip. Yesterday I started writing down little facts at Drepung Monastery, but I’ve since given up. I’d rather just enjoy the sights and move on, rather than feeling like I’m in school.

Ah, here they are. After twenty minutes of waiting and a dozen attempts at contacting our guide on WeChat, we spot our group coming down. Reunited, we head down the stairs with our group.

Ah yes, our group. Let’s take a look at them, shall we? We have representation from all over the world – USA, Ukraine, China, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, England, Wales, and Ireland. It’s quite a mixed bag but we get along pretty well. The middle-aged couple from England like to go off on their own during tours, and the Australian guy is around our age. Olena and I usually sit next to the Chinese-English 20-something couple on the bus, and we they’re very nice too. There’s even one other vegan on the trip from the USA, so we can commiserate about the lack of food options sometimes!

Now we have a few hours off before going to the Welcome Dinner. It’s a bit late in the trip for a Welcome Dinner in my opinion, but I understand that it’s only because the itinerary got switched around. This was actually supposed to happen yesterday, but the plans changed. Time to go back and rest for a bit!

We’re in a taxi with our new vegan friend, on the way back from the Welcome Dinner. We left early, because we felt absolutely terrible. Olena and I had thought it was a fantastic idea to split a rum and coke earlier today, and that was a terrible decision. If you visit Tibet, just avoid alcohol altogether.

The dinner was ok, but anything that was vegan was doused in oil. This didn’t help the way our stomachs felt, and overall, we were just dead tired. After the steps of the Palace, time on the bus and all the other walking we have done today, we just had to call it quits and leave early. There was apparently some kind of show, but we can hear about it from the others. No point forcing it if we’re feeling this badly. Let’s just go back and get some sleep… Tomorrow we finally head in the direction of Everest! Stay tuned!

Tibet Adventures: Chapter 2 – Lhasa Monasteries

We’re eating again, this time the next day at a buffet with our tour group. We are seated outside, and I’m currently devouring a stack of deep-fried vegetables. There are actually quite a few vegan options here! A dog circles around our feet. “Can we get it some chicken?” Olena suggests, “He looks hungry!” I agree and go get some, and the little guy is quite pleased with his afternoon snack.

Whew, it’s been a busy day already! How are we doing you ask? You’ve heard about our first night at 3700 meters, so let’s go back to when we got up and boarded the bus to Drepung Monastery.

Drepung Monastery is the biggest Monastery in Tibet. It’s not as old as some other monasteries we visited (built in 1416) but it’s huge. It held the position of largest monastery in the world for a while, and because of the altitude, it was quite a feat to explore. With our guide, Kunchok, leading us, we snaked our way up and down stairways, in and out of prayer rooms, passing countless statures of every aspect of the Buddha and every Dalai Lama you can imagine. Until the 5th Dalai Lama had the Potala Palace constructed, it was the home of the 2nd -4th Dalai Lama.

One thing I would never get used to on this trip was the smell of yak butter. They use it for everything, including candles throughout the monasteries. When you think of Buddhist temples it usually conjures up olfactory images of fragrant incense, but here it really smelled like we were inside a dairy factory… on fire. I can’t imagine how these monks deal with it! Is there a Butter Lung disease similar to the Black Lung that coal miners get?

Speaking of the monks, there are about 400 of them living in this place now, which is nothing compared to the thousands who used to inhabit it. In its prime, we were told there were 10,000 monks living here. There are several orders of Monks, some holier and more revered than others. I found it quite confusing that we saw some monks walking around in fancy shoes while tapping away on iPhones. It was explained to me finally that the lower orders of monks don’t need to abide so strictly by the rule of no possessions. This isn’t Zen Buddhism, where one should renounce all possessions, so I guess they have slightly different rules. Anyway, I will never get used to the idea of a robed monk sitting in a chamber full of statues of the Buddha, smoking a cigarette and chatting away on WeChat.

What’s that on my leg? Oh, it’s that dog again. Looks like that bit of chicken wasn’t enough for him. I’ll go get some more…

We’re in bed again, trying to sleep. Actually, Olena is asleep next to me, but I’m having a bit of trouble and I can tell by my dad’s sighing that he’s as frustrated as I am. Like last night, my body and mind are completely exhausted, but it’s difficult to fight the feeling that I’m not getting enough air. My head hurts, probably from a combination of real physical symptoms and hypochondria-induced fear that I’m dying… Eventually, I fall asleep…

And wake up feeling pretty ok. The breakfast helps a lot; there are a lot of options for Olena and me. We stuff our faces, and prepare for the day’s agenda: exploring the Potala Palace. If you look at the back of a 50 RMB note, that’s where we are going. Notice the steps? Yeah, there’s a lot of them. We saw this building from a distance in the bus, and those steps are going to be a challenge….