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Harbin: Journey to the Cold

Thanakrit (Putt) Thavorn-amornsri, GMBA Class of 2017

For the past four months of the MBA life together, we had been through a fruitful learning experience. Now, as the winter break begins, what else can someone originally from a tropical region like me do apart from enjoying the winter (some might not agree with me though)?!


Just a short plane ride removed from Beijing, participants exhibit unbridled enthusiasm for the winter wonderland offered by Harbin.

Harbin – the fascinating capital city of Heilongjiang well known for its ice and snow sculpture festival in the winter – had always been my travel destination. If you want to know what living your day way below the freezing point is like, you have to visit Harbin once in your lifetime! Harbin is pretty close to Beijing, only two hours by plane, yet the Beijing winter feels like a breeze compared to Harbin. It was not difficult to get eleven adventurous Global MBAs together for this trip. Eleven people, six different nationalities, and four days together – we were ready for the journey to the cold!


We all agreed that our first impression of Harbin was literally “freezing” with daytime temperature reaching as low as -18°C. We started our first day by strolling along the Central Street (中央大街) where we could see Russian-style buildings lining the big pedestrian street, as Harbin was once home to Russian refugees before the 1930s. Sold along the street were various kinds of street foods such as Harbin-style smoked savory red sausage (红肠), candied fruit (冰糖葫芦), and tasty ice cream, which we actually found tasted much better in such cold weather. Not so far from the street is St. Sophia Cathedral – perhaps one of the most significant Russian remnants in the city. The orthodox church stood at 53 meters in height topped with a green-tipped dome. I realized it was very hard to tell that Harbin is actually a Chinese city when all the architecture and streets look so European. We ended our first day with the highlight of the trip – the Ice and Snow World (冰雪大世界). This annual winter festival is considered the largest ice and snow sculpture festival in the world, displaying more than 2,000 ice sculptures, ranging from man-sized statues to ice sliders and huge full-scale ice castles, all decorated with colorful lights. Although it could get very cold at night, the festival still offers a joyful and lively experience and attracts thousands of visitors per day.


GMBA students in the Russian-style architecture of the pedestrian-filled Central Street.

Eager to experience something even more local, we decided to spend the second day out in the wood at the Snow Village (中国雪乡) in the Mudanjiang (牡丹江) neighborhood, which took us another 4 hours by van from Harbin. The village is still young as a tourist destination, as it only gained attention several years ago after being featured in famous TV shows and films. At an elevation of 1,500 meters, the village can be covered by 2 meters of snow during the winter with an average temperature dipping below -30°C. Of course we were well prepared for this with five layers of winter clothing on top and three on the bottom! The village consists of about forty local traditional wooden houses surrounded by high mountains – creating a  beautiful white scenery. Especially when the sunlight shines on fluffy-snowy roofs of the houses, it is like a winter wonderland!


Just a short plane ride removed from Beijing, participants exhibit unbridled enthusiasm for the winter wonderland offered by Harbin.

The next day, we headed off for skiing at Yabuli (亚布力) ski resort, which is often said to be the best ski resort in China. It is okay if you do not know how to ski, because there are easy slopes where beginners can learn – and have a blast, just like I did! On the way to the ski resort, we were fortunate enough to pass by a lookout point near a big valley. Despite the abnormally short battery life of phones and cameras in subzero conditions, we still managed to capture breathtaking panoramic shots of mountains and forests covered with white snow.


GMBA students find a bit of sunshine while braving the bitter Harbin cold.

We spent our last day of the trip in Harbin city. We visited Snow Sculpture Art Expo on Sun Island (太阳岛雪博会), which features enthralling snow sculptures and architecture. We drank hot chocolate (best drink for cold weather), played icy slider, and ate our last meal in Harbin at an authentic Russian restaurant. The fun continued on our overnight train back to Beijing, where we played cards, laughed, and relaxed after such a long journey. This trip was one of my favorite memories of time spent with my Global MBA classmates. Indeed, Harbin is a place worth visiting, especially with friends and family – and was for me, “a warm journey to the cold.”

Just a short plane ride removed from Beijing, participants exhibit unbridled enthusiasm for the winter wonderland offered by Harbin.