Exploring Shanghai Day, Sunset & Night

You can see all of this in one day in Shanghai. Did you know that the financial center has some of the tallest buildings in the world?

You can see all of this in one day in Shanghai. Did you know that the financial center has some of the tallest buildings in the world?

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Beach and Tubing in Xiangshan, China (Video)

A day full of splashes and driving on a scenic route! The beach was at Xiangshan, Ningbo and the Tubing/Drifting was at Danshanchishui Yuyao, Beixi Stream. Taken with my GoPro Hero+! Trips like these are some of the few things I miss about living in China.

A day full of splashes and driving on a scenic route! The beach was at Xiangshan, Ningbo and the Tubing/Drifting was at Danshanchishui Yuyao, Beixi Stream. Taken with my GoPro Hero+! Trips like these are some of the few things I miss about living in China.

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Tubing in -25°C: Harbin, China 2018

Wearing an entire suitcase worth of clothes, tubing in Harbin, China was so scary that we weren’t even cold!

Wearing an entire suitcase worth of clothes, tubing in Harbin, China was so scary that we weren’t even cold!

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Dragon Burn: Shanghai’s Burning Man

Last month Isaac and I visited our first Burn! It was the Dragon Burn – Shanghai’s regional of the Burning Man. It was bigger than ever, with almost 700 attendees and there were plenty of workshops (planned as well as guerrilla) and lots of fascinating art pieces! As members of the Vegan Camp, The Cucumburners, we made a lot of delicious food to share with the camp as well as any hungry passersby.

Last month Isaac and I visited our first Burn! It was the Dragon Burn – Shanghai‘s regional of the Burning Man. It was bigger than ever, with almost 700 attendees and there were plenty of workshops (planned as well as guerrilla) and lots of fascinating art pieces! As members of the Vegan Camp, The Cucumburners, we made a lot of delicious food to share with the camp as well as any hungry passersby.

Check out the highlights of our camp and the effigy burning finale below:

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Finding Happiness in the Simple Things

Honest, rambly, longest post ever time. I have been quite unhappy in my daily life lately and I’ve been trying to find happiness in simple things, as cliche as it sounds. I have found that being unhappy can be a complicated and controversial topic to discuss with others. But it’s such an important to share your feelings and have a venting outlet can keep you from blowing up unexpectedly… because trust me, I’ve been there.

Honest, rambly, longest post ever time. I have been quite unhappy in my daily life lately and I’ve been trying to find happiness in simple things, as cliche as it sounds. I have found that being unhappy can be a complicated and controversial topic to discuss with others. But it’s such an important to share your feelings and have a venting outlet can keep you from blowing up unexpectedly… because trust me, I’ve been there.

People seem very surprised whenever I let it slip that I am unhappy because I have a pretty awesome life. When you have access to clean drinking water, have a roof over your head and never having the worry of going hungry plus on top of all that you manage your finances well enough to afford frequent travel, people assume that you must be happy. Somehow it feels like being happy is an obligation and you might even feel guilty if you admit that no, you’re not happy.

Personally, I feel the need to specify that I’m unhappy about *insert one of many reasons here* to avoid shocked looks and references to my most recent trip. I happen to be one of those people who only post happy things on Facebook. I don’t really see how sharing my unhappiness publicly would make me any happier, I’d rather discuss something like that one-on-one. I also keep so much unhappiness inside that when I let some out, a flood of complains threatens to swallow me up completely, drowning relationships and taking over my life completely.

Now that you understand a little about the reasons I struggle talking about my unhappiness, maybe you’ll be able to read this without having the automatic responses that shut me up and make me regret ever saying anything in the first place. Yes, I know that everything will be okay. I know that I am incredibly fortunate to have what I do. I also know that I could work harder to have a more optimistic outlook on my life. But the truth is, you haven’t walked in my shoes…

Walking, or more specifically, taking the metro to work, is the core of my unhappiness here in Shanghai. Let me paint the picture for you. In an overpopulated city of 25 million people (New York only has 9 by the way) the metro can get crowded. When you live in the outskirts, the people crowding you are mostly farmers. Not only do they have lots of bulky baggage, but they aren’t the best at basic etiquette. I manage to exert a lot of patience with these hard-working people and almost always forgive them for acting the way they do.

I get much more frustrated with the rich, educated, iPhone X wielders who shove, push, run ahead as if they are on fire and cut in front of me on the metro every day. Now I’m not talking an accidental push with an immediate apology. Imagine men and women in expensive suits sticking out their elbows and charging into an already packed metro, showing people who are yelling out in pain without a drop of consideration or a second of hesitation.

This happens to me twice a day, Monday to Friday and always ruins my morning and afternoon without fail. Even the 15-minute walk before and after being on the metro isn’t always enough to calm me down. On a mediocre day, walking is one of the simple things that does bring me happiness and alleviates many negative emotions.

There are other rude behaviors on the metro that irk me, although being physically injured (I’ve been elbowed in the head four times this year without apology) tops them all. Yelling into cellphones (or at each other – not in an angry way), playing games or listening to music on the loudest volume possible (headphones cost $1), men shamelessly clipping or grooming overgrown nails and spitting on the platform or into the gap every time the door opens (there’s always a loud horrible vomit-inducing gargle before every spit) are a few other things that make me unhappy no matter how much I try to ignore them.

Another thing that happens on the metro, and anywhere in public really, is the pointing. Although most advertisements feature foreigners and most schools have foreign teachers, we are still a bit of a curiosity here in China. I’m not saying I’ve never noticed someone who looks different… we all have. I’ve even watched people out of the corner of my eye because I was curious. But I have never pointed, said: “look, a foreigner” or giggled directly at someone who looked, dressed or acted differently. This, also, happens to me every day that I venture outside. It is also the reason why I sometimes prefer to stay at home for an entire day or even weekend. Being outside is emotionally straining and being angry exhausts me.

The angriest I ever got in China was during a visit to the zoo where a mother poked her child, who was looking at animals, pointed to me even though I was looking right at her, and had her kid look at me instead of the lion. I had to lose my shit internally because I didn’t want to scare the innocent child, but I still wish I could have given the mother a piece of my not-so-innocent mind. Almost every expat I know has at least one similar experience, however, some manage to laugh at it instead of letting it eat away at them like I do. I’m very jealous of those people and if I were more like them, I wouldn’t be so unhappy. And yes, I’ve tried to be like them but I can’t turn my tears into laughter no matter how hard I try.

As always, when I discuss or write about these things that turn me into a bitter person that I don’t recognize, I feel bad. China is a fascinating place with so much history, culture and some of the kindest people I’ve ever met. I’ve had strangers help me without me asking and go WAY out of their way to make sure I was happy, healthy and safe.

It’s a cultural thing that once you’re on the metro, you only worry about yourself and getting to where you need to go. I honestly believe that this will change with time. We can’t forget that China was cut off from the rest of the world not too long ago. There are so many ways that China is ahead of the West that goes beyond technology, including the impeccable timeliness of their public transportation and some of the fastest delivery services in the world despite the insane amount of people using the services.

Also, doctors and nurses are amazing at what they do – don’t fear the gigantic needles that they use for a blood test. I’m a huge cry-baby and I’ve never had such fast or painless blood tests anywhere outside of China. My boss jokes that it’s because they do so many blood tests/operations/*insert medical procedure here* in China on a daily basis, practice makes perfect, right? Another plus is the direct nature of Chinese people is extremely refreshing and often better than fake politeness that’s popular in the West.

I’d also like to point out that expats living in China usually fall into one of the extreme sides of loving it here and never want to return home or hating it. You know what category I am in, but most of my friends and colleagues have never been happier. It seems to be 50/50 since you either come to China for a year (if you last that long) or you’ve been here for years without planning to leave. It all depends on your attitude, needs, where you live, whether you take the metro, your level of patience, where you lived before, what you want in life, the list goes on and on and on.

There are more reasons why I am unhappy in my daily life, including living in an apartment that is tiny even though I know I’ll soon be moving into my own house. Again, #firstworldproblems. Somehow, knowing that something will happen soon can make it even harder to deal with a present situation that is not ideal. But maybe that’s just me… I feel so vulnerable to judgment right now, but hey, that’s honestly for you.

Some of the simple things that bring me happiness, for example, my walk to and from the metro, are sometimes ruined by factors that I can’t control. Like the pollution that hurts my eyes and throat that can only be prevented by an ill-fitting mask that makes my face sweat and break out. Or the constant stream of trash littering the path even though I clear some of it up every day without making a dent. Then there are the people who stop to stare at me… Sometimes it’s the e-bike drivers that offer me a ride to the metro, that make grunting noises (or clap) at me to get my attention, oblivious to the fact that they are being rude. Do I have a right to be mad?

I recently visited a Chinese farm and even there I found things to complain about. I do know that I complain too much, by the way, no need to rub it in my face. But I also found some long-yearned happiness there. It was among the unique upcycled garden creations that inspired me. In meeting the owner of the farm, a smart and beautiful lady who is a vegetarian and owns an architectural company. There was so much happiness (and oxytocin) from petting adorable dogs and feeding sheep, geese and chickens. It was a great plus knowing that they would never end up on anyone’s plate.

Finally, I saw the most amusing zen frogs, doing yoga, in a beautiful greenhouse filled with exotic plants – Chinese farms are very different from the European farms that I’m used it. I mentioned to my husband that I want a statue like it one day and he surprised me by ordering a set on my favorite Chinese website, Taobao, that delivered them less than 48 hours later.

I’ve bought many things for our cramped apartment to make it feel homier over the last two years. But these frogs, something that I didn’t even pick out myself, have made me happier than any of the countless items I’ve purchased. Which, as a hoarding shopaholic with an OCD for having one of each color/style of anything that I consider cute or cool (especially when it’s dirt cheap) is an obscene amount of stuff even for my standards.

They are now sitting on the living room table and every time I look at them I feel happy. They make me feel happy despite being pushed on the metro, or not already living the life that’s almost in reach but not quite. Even despite hearing the neighbors coughing up mucus every hour through the thin walls that have zero insulation and let in the biting cold of winter, the unbearable heat of summer and the unexpected pollution that is now worse in Shanghai than in Beijing…

*looks at frogs to calm down after each ranting sentence*

Maybe, if I focus on these cute little frogs (named Mufrogsa, Frogalicious and Frogward) for my remaining 81 days here, I’ll manage to stay happy. I was so close to given up on anything other than traveling making me happy. But if I can find happiness in a set of $15 wooden frog statues sitting in peaceful yoga poses (I don’t even do yoga FYI) then anyone can manage to find happiness in something unexpected. I promise you that there is one specific yet random, very simple thing, that they can bring unconditional happiness into your life.

I don’t normally share personal thoughts like this, especially when I know that many people will judge and criticize me or will try to fix my problems by giving me advice that I’ve heard before. One of my friends unknowingly motivated me to write this. She is beautiful, ambitious, smart, kind and is in a disgustingly cute marriage. Basically, she is perfect and has it all. Yet, she shares posts about her insecurities, some of which I can’t relate to and others that describe my exact problems better than I ever could. It makes me feel like I’m not alone after all.

So basically, that’s what I’m hoping that this long, rambling post will achieve. If there’s at least one person out there who has felt misunderstood, unable to complain or unsatisfied with life when nothing major is wrong with it, then I didn’t just waste an hour writing this. If my problems really are unique to me, at least I got all of this off my chest and I’m hoping that if nothing else, my zen frogs put a smile on your face even if you couldn’t get past the first paragraph of my incessant babbling.

 

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Waste-Free Wednesdays: Intro to Zero-Waste Lifestyle

Recycling is the last option on the “R” list that we had drilled into our heads from a young age. Recently, the list has grown to include even more “R”s that come ahead of recycling. REFUSE, REDUCE, RE-USE, RE-PURPOSE, REPAIR snd finally, if all else fails, after you’ve re-used THEN re-purposed THEN repaired, THEN you should RECYCLE.

I have been on a journey towards a zero-waste lifestyle since the beginning of this year. What began as an item on my New Year’s Resolutions list sandwiched in between ‘lose weight’ and ‘leave China’ actually ended up changing the way I live and see the world.

Living in a rural area of Shanghai has really opened my eyes to the wasteful habits that plague the world we live in. It’s hard to describe the amount of single-use plastic I see littering the streets when I walk to and from work every day. Big cities on the other hand, especially in the West, produce more waste than you can possibly imagine, but it’s all very well hidden.

Until recently, most plastic produced by the USA was shipped to China and the responsibly to deal with it was shifted. But handing your trash to someone else to deal with is not the way to go. Just like simply throwing your recyclables into the allotted containers is not actually the best things you can do for the environment, despite it feeling like a good and productive thing to do.

Recycling is the last option on the “R” list that we had drilled into our heads from a young age. Recently, the list has grown to include even more “R”s that come ahead of recycling.

  1. REFUSE
  2. REDUCE
  3. RE-USE
  4. RE-PURPOSE
  5. REPAIR
  6. And finally, if all else fails, after you’ve re-used THEN re-purposed THEN repaired, THEN you should RECYCLE.

I have learned a lot about sustainability during my journey. Although I’ve been posting tips and updates on social media, a friend pointed out the other day that I haven’t been writing much about it on my blog… and that’s about to change!

After several people have asked me for tips on how to be less wasteful, I’ve decided to share what I’ve learned on my blog in the hopes that others will be inspired to make the world a better place.

One big obstacle that everyone needs to overcome to begin this journey is actually extremely simple and happens to be a good life lesson as well. Everyone needs to realize that ONE PERSON CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

Sure, when you see the careless wastefulness going on around you, it can be extremely discouraging. Living in China, where the entire population is addicted to plastic has made me question if what I am doing actually matters. They literally buy drinks in plastic-lined cups camouflaged as paper (#sneakystyrene), with plastic lids and plastic straws that they carry in a disposable PLASTIC BAG. But I had a long-term zero-waste friend knock some sense into me.

– “How many bags and bottles do you refuse every day?” She asked me.
– “At least 10,” I told her after doing the math. “But everyone else uses up to 20!”
– “But if you save 10 bags a day, how much is that in a year?”

3,650 bags that would end up in oceans, landfills or incinerated and turned into air pollution. Does that really sound like not making a difference?

Other than refusing plastic, one of the biggest differences I make when it comes to sustainability is being vegan. Don’t panic! I’m not going to tell you that you HAVE to become vegan to save the planet. Simply skipping one meat-meal can apparently save thousands of gallons of water so it doesn’t have to be all or nothing! There are many ways that you can change your diet to make a difference without doing anything “extreme”.

SHOP LOCALLY! If you eat meat, find a local butcher, preferably working with a smaller farm. Not only will your purchases directly help a hard-working family instead of a greedy corporation, but smaller farms tend to treat the animals slightly better plus you minimize the waste that comes from shipping the meat across the country or even from abroad.

I can’t emphasize this point enough: EVERY single seemingly minuscule decision that you make every day can make a HUGE impact – never forget that.

You shouldn’t limit shopping locally to animal products. Find local farmers markets for fruit and vegetables as opposed to stale, plastic-wrapped vegetables full of preservatives in large shopping centers. You can also find a local producer of handmade beauty and cleaning supplies. Not only will it benefit the local economy, but they will be a healthier alternative for you and the world around you.

For example, I buy all natural cleaning supplies made by an Australian couple living in Shanghai. Although they come in plastic bottles, the store offers a discount if you come with an empty bottle for a refill. If you find a similar store in your area, you will only ever need ONE bottle of laundry detergent, window/mirror cleaner, etc.

Of course you can also buy your ingredients in bulk and create your own cleaning supplies. It’s much easier that you would expect, but I’ll share recipes and tips in another blog post. If you’re just beginning your journey towards sustainability, there are many other things to start doing before you become obsessed with everything DIY (like I am).

There’s one more important thing to know about pursuing a zero-waste lifestyle. It may not be the most CONVENIENT way to live, but it definitely is CHEAPER. Yes, you read that right, it is much cheaper to avoid single-use plastic! Warning: you might have to occasionally sacrifice your comfort and immediate needs. But ONLY until you get the hang of it – once you’re properly equipped with your canvas bag, collapsable food container (affiliate link), aluminum straw and re-usable water waterbottle. Again, I’ll write more about this at a later time, but a quick example is buying a safety razor.

In China, a SAFETY RAZOR only costs $10 but in the USA or Europe they can cost up to $100. It can be overwhelming to spend $100 when a disposable razor is so cheap. But unless you lose it, one of these $100 razors is FOR LIFE. I cringe when I think about the countless Venus razors I’ve bought over the years… All you need to buy for a safety razor are blades, that come packaged in paper and cost close to nothing.

If you’re interested in learning more about a zero-waste lifestyle (which I still haven’t fully achieved, and probably never will because I will never stop using toilet paper), follow my blog and subscribe to my YouTube channel! I can’t wait to share my tips and stories about my journey to zero-waste travel as well as all of my successes and hilarious failures.

Have you made any positive changes towards a zero-waste lifestyle? Feel free to share in the comments below!

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Snow Day in Shanghai, China 2018

Shanghai experienced one it’s heaviest snowfalls in years and it shut down schools throughout the city. Rolls of non-slip carpets covered the Shanghai’s slipperiest paths and people were warned to stay indoors if possible or waddle like a penguin. Snow selfies took over everyone’s WeChat Moments and giggling children ran outside to build snowmen. Here’s what the snow day on January 25th, 2018 looked like…

While an unusually cold winter has been causing chaos around the world, the focus has been mainly on Europe and the USA. Although you can’t compare several feet of snow that’s keeping people from leaving their homes in the West, it’s surprising what a little humid snowfall can do to a city that isn’t equipped to handle sleet.

Shanghai experienced one it’s heaviest snowfalls in years and it shut down schools throughout the city. Rolls of non-slip carpets covered the Shanghai’s slipperiest paths and people were warned to stay indoors if possible or waddle like a penguin. Snow selfies took over everyone’s WeChat Moments and giggling children ran outside to build snowmen. Here’s what the snow day on January 25th, 2018 looked like:

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The Second Tallest Building in the World, Shanghai

When we’re not traveling and exploring South East Asia, we’re exploring China and the city we live in, Shanghai. We have now been to the three tallest buildings in Shanghai – the only trifecta of mega-tall skyscrapers in the world! “Mega-tall” isn’t just my way of describing them, it’s the official term for skyscrapers taller than 600 meters.

Second only to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the Shanghai Tower towers over Shanghai and adds to the spectacular skyline. Although it isn’t the tallest building in the world, it does boast the world’s highest observatory deck. So even if you’ve been to Burj Khalifa’s spectacular observatory floor, you still haven’t stood as high as you could have while visiting the Shanghai Tower!

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Harbin Ice and Snow Festival 101: Weekend Guide

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!

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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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