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August 02, 2018

Ice, cameras and action

As temperatures plummet and nights grow long in winter, stay jolly and embrace the elements with fantastic festivals

MEREDITH WOO

A CITADEL of elaborate ice sculptures, seasonal sports like ice fishing and glorious light displays draw visitors from around the globe to winter festivals every year.

In some places, the mercury plunges to minus 20 deg C, but the promise of shutter-worthy sights — and for some, the experience of a lifetime — is reason enough to brave the cold and soak up the convivial atmosphere.

Here are some stellar winter festivals in Asia to plan your next trip around:

Hwacheon Sancheoneo
Ice Festival, Gangwon, South Korea

Winter brings the promise of delicious mountain trout, or sancheoneo in Korean, to the people of Hwacheon county in South Korea’s Gangwon province.

The fish, which thrive in the clean, icy waters, are at their plumpest and sweetest in this season.

Hwacheon even has a winter festival centred around the trout. The 23-day Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival has been held in January in the county since 2003.

Popular activities include snow sleighing, snow-sculpture building, ice figure skating and ice soccer. There are also food booths and a winter cultural village showcasing traditional games gong-gi (similar to five stones) and tuho (in which players pitch arrows into a pot).

Of course, the headline events revolve around the bounteous catch. Locals and tourists alike can try their hand at various types of fishing.

If you have the patience and strong knees, opt for ice fishing, where you wait for the fish to take the bait while perched over a hole made in a frozen stream. The layer of ice can be up to 30cm thick.

Get ready to squat for an extended period of time, or bring a chair.

Otherwise, opt for the livelier bare-handed fishing. Try to score a slippery prize while splashing about in freezing waters in only a T-shirt and shorts as onlookers cheer you on. Man versus fish, anyone?

But the reward will be well worth your effort as you can enjoy your catch cooked or as sashimi afterwards.

WHEN: Jan 5 to 27, 2019
INFO: www.narafestival.com/ice_eng/

Harbin International Snow and
Ice Sculpture Festival, China

The winters in Harbin can be a punishing minus 30 deg C.

But that is also the reason why the massive ice sculptures in China’s Heilongjiang province — made with the river’s pristine water — maintain their structural integrity for more than two months.

The festival started in 1963 as part of Harbin’s traditional ice-lantern show and garden party.

It alludes to the 17th-century practice of Chinese fishermen using traditional ice lanterns, in which ice formed in buckets were hollowed out to make windproof candle holders.

Today, up to 1.5 million people visit the event every year to see “ice lanterns” created on a gargantuan scale. The sculptures occupied an 800,000 sq m area this year, with some reaching up to a height of 46m, or about as high as the Statue of Liberty in the United States without her pedestal.

About 15,000 sculptors worked on this year’s icy extravaganza, with many flying in from across the world to be a part of this mega event.

In 2007, a festival sculpture called Romantic Feelings made it to the Guinness World Records for the largest snow sculpture — it was a whopping 3,398 cubic m in size, 35m tall and 200m long.

Visitors can take part in other fun activities, including fireworks displays on some nights, ice golf, international snow sculpture competitions, skiing, and even a concert or group wedding ceremony.

WHEN: Jan 5 to Feb 28, 2019
INFO: www.hrbicesnow.com (in Chinese only) 

Nabana no Sato, Mie, Japan

A visit to Nabana no Sato will brighten up any winter.

It may not be a festival, but the 230,000 sq m flower park in Nagashima Resort near Nagoya is a stunning sight in winter when night falls, when the millions of colourful LED lights affixed atop seasonal blooms come to life.

This dazzling annual light display is said to be one of the largest in Japan, although the park is gorgeous all year round with its expansive multi-hued fields.

In addition to the vivid fields, visitors can stroll through a 100m-long tunnel lit up by thousands of light bulbs that flicker in time to music. Last year, a wisteria corridor, perfumed by the lilac climbers, was also set up.

Visitors will be awed by an animated light show, themed around the beauty of nature and Japan’s iconic sights such as Mount Fuji.

Nagashima Resort is accessible by regular bus services from both Mie and Nagoya prefectures.

The resort also boasts attractions such as spas, Anpanman Museum, and a theme park and shopping district, making it the perfect winter getaway.

WHEN: Oct 20 to May 6, 2019
INFO: www.nagashima-onsen.co.jp/nabana/ index.html/ (mostly in Japanese)

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