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Visit the illuminated city of Harbin with it's life-size, electric colored sculptures from Jan. 5-Feb. 5. Credit: marlopolis.

By Vince Font

The words “Haerbin Bingdengjie” may not roll easily off your tongue, but one thing’s certain — experiencing it will make you want to learn to say it right. One of the few places that’s earned a place of distinction among The Seven Wonders of My World, the Haerbin Bingdengjie in Heliongjiang, China — also knows as the Harbin Ice Lantern Festival and the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival — is so downright cool that it makes Disneyland look passé, and gives cause to think there’s probably more than a grain of truth to the old saying that a billion Chinese people can’t be wrong.

The Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival takes place for a month – Jan. 5 – Feb. 5, 2011,  in the frigid climes of Northeastern China, a stone’s throw — in theory, anyway — from Siberia. If it sounds like I’m describing a no-man’s land, think again. With nearly 10 million residents, the city just so happens to be the tenth most populous in China. That’s no mean feat, by any stretch. But what happens each year at the Harbin ice festival beats that, hands down.

The panorama of ice sculptures that are created and put on display is positively awe inspiring by day. But come nightfall, when the city of ice is lit up with an array of multicolored lights, it takes on an air of breathtaking beauty that’s as tough to explain as it is to forget. I’m not talking about ice sculptures just a few feet tall, either — some of these creations stand several stories high and have to be seen in person to be believed.

If you’re planning a vacation and want to be able to experience something few fellow travelers ever have, the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival is just the ticket. Some of the classiest China hotels can also be found in Harbin, and you can score five-star lodgings for the equivalent of a genuine steal. For the best accommodations around, the Sofitel Wanda Harbin is as good as Harbin hotels come. With large and luxurious rooms, three unique restaurants, a disco and convenient access to a large shopping mall, you’ll have plenty to do when you’re not off marveling at towering ice sculptures.

Insider tips: Bundle up and wear boots with good grips, since eventhe streets are layered with 10 cm of ice. And don’t miss  a ride on 8mm hide ice slide.

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Vince Font is a freelance writer born in Puerto Rico and currently escaped to Utah. When not dreaming of interstellar travel, he’s on the hunt for weird, wacky, and off-the-beaten-track vacation destinations. Next stop: The Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast.

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Nina Kokotas Hahn

Nina Kokotas Hahn

Nina Kokotas Hahn is a travel writer and Chicago journalist whose work appears in Chicago magazine, HuffPost Travel and Condé Nast’s HotelChatter. Globetrotting since infancy, she’s the daughter of a travel agent and considers thrill seeking part of the DNA. Find her on Twitter at @ninakhahn.

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