Nowadays visitors to Harbin...
Nowadays visitors to Harbin mainly arrive for one of two reasons: either to attend the Ice Lantern Festival in freezing January and February temperatures or to trade (a multitude of Russians have now returned to the city). This does not mean, however, that the city has nothing else to offer and visitors here at any time of year will still not be disappointed, with some of northwest China's best historical sights, interesting recreational resorts and some great Russian architecture.
The city has been through some really rough times in recent history, from turbulent wars and despotic regimes to some of the worst flooding ever witnessed. Many of the sights in and around Harbin reflect this, of particular interest being the twin sad sights of the Japanese Germ Warfare Experimental Base just out of town and the Stalin Park/Flood Control Monument on the southern bank of the Songhua river. However the city has also known good times and the Russian architecture here is testament to a period when the town, also known as Little Moscow, was in economic boom. The best of these sights would have to be the St.Sofia Orthodox Church, which is located in the nicest area of town, the northwestern Daoli District with its cobbled streets and solid facades.
In terms of fun, the best sight to visit in the city proper would have to be the Sun Island Recreation Resort, which, besides relaxation, also houses the Siberia Tiger Park, designed to cultivate and then release these beautiful, endangered beasts back to the wild. There is also the Jile Temple, one of the four largest Buddhist temples in northeast China. Out of town are the more active sights, and many coming to Harbin are here for the skiing or hunting. Harbin boasts China's largest and most well-facilitated skiing region, the Yabuli Ski Resort, which hosted the 1996 Asian Winter Games. For those without animal killing qualms, winter is also the ideal time for trying your luck and spending your money at the Yuquan Hunting Ground.
Dongdazhi Jie is the main boulevard running north-east from Hongbo Square, the centre of the commercial district - and point zero - in Harbin. While the western end by the great roundabout of Hongbo Square is filled with modern skyscrapers, there are plenty of older buildings in among the glass, concrete and white tiles. Heading east along Dongdazhi, the older buildings become more numerous, including the substantial green-painted department store [full ref?] on the north side. The streets either side of this long street have some wonderful art-deco structures, often filling the same purpose as originally intended. Dongdazhi eventually ends up at the Jile temple complex and the Harbin amusement park. This park is reputed to have some very nice original Russian wood and brick pavilions. It can be recognised from afar by the vast ferris-wheel dominating the whole sky in this part of the city.
To the west of Hongbo Square, Xidazhi Jie rolls doen the slope, with huge stone buildings either side, including the beautiful Railway Cultural Palace at Number 84. Others are still used, and are probably unchanged internally since the day they were constructed.
In some respects, the buildings in this area are easier to see and appreciate than many in the Zhingyang Jie area because these are not covered in all kinds of advertising clutter and shop hoardings.
See separate reviews of the two churches, Hongbo Square and the Provincial Museum.
The influense of Russia
Jst breathtaking. I would say that the St Sophie church, built by the russians whjen they occupied this area in the 1900's is definately the major must see in Harbin. The guide will probably tell you that the inside is not worth seeing, and it's true that it hasn't been renovated, but inside the church there are loads of old photos of Harbin that are definately worth the tour
More pictures on the Travelogue page
A quiet Zoo with very few visitors. Most cages for animals are with bars, again surrounded by mesh wire so you cannot see the animals well. But it's a nice quiet spot in this bussy city. There are some very rare animals in this park. See my travellog and the information plaque that I posted as picture here for more info.
During Spring Festival, I really had to get away! Hopped a bus to Shenyang. Managed to get a sleeper to Harbin. Got it around 4am. Wandered the city in the early cold morning. Found I could not get tickets out of town on the train so I crossed the square to the bus station. Managed to get tickets to Shenyang (7 hour trip). Saw the Ice Sculptures.