Ice Festival in Harbin
If you're only planning on visiting the Ice Festival, there's not really much need for a guide. There are plenty of taxis, as well as a regular bus service, from the centre of the city directly to the festival sites.
The airport is pretty far from the city centre, but there's an airport bus which is cheap and quick. Taxi drivers at the airport will try their best to cheat as much money as possible from you - be aware of that.
I live in Harbin, and know a tour guide who doesn't speak English, but may be able to help find one who does if you require one.
By the way, I'm the son of Flying Scotsman - he asked me to give you some advice. Sorry it took so long!
Japanese Inhumanity -- Unit 731 Germ Warfare Base
Unit 731 was a section of the Japanese army in World War Two which did experimental research on germ warfare. The facility was outstanding in their use of LIVE, HEALTHY HUMAN BODIES for experiments which were referred to as "maruta" -- literally meaning "logs". In a manner common to Japanese military throughout Asia then, what happened here could only be described as inhumane, atrocious, barbaric, selfish, merciless... the list goes on.
For example, to investigate whether horse blood could be used as a substitute for human blood, they would transfuse horse blood directly into the subject's body -- thereby coming to the conclusion that a transfusion of 400 ml of horse blood would be sufficient to kill the subject very painfully. To find out more about the results of frostbite, subjects were stripped naked and tied securely outdoors in the freezing cold (Harbin experiences winter conditions of around -30 degrees Celsius!), doused with water and basically left to freeze to death. These are only 2 of the unthinkably cruel experiments awaiting the helpless victims.
This facility had their own private railway to deliver fresh maruta specimens to them. I would describe it as the "Taklamakan Railway": go in and never come out.
As the Japanese realised they were losing the war, they tried to destroy all the evidence of their heinous crimes at this base, but failed to do a thorough job. Many of the officers who had worked at this facility returned to Japan after the war and took up well-respected and high-paying jobs due to their invaluable and unique knowledge in this field -- gained only through the deaths of countless innocent civilians! What a hypocrisy!
I have been here twice, and both times I have been horrified to tears.
There are too few who know of these horrors. We should never forget, nor should we forgive. Please visit, if only to pay some respects to those who died screaming for someone to help them out of their suffering and agony. YOU WILL BE MOVED.
Admission 20 RMB, or 10 RMB if you have a student card.
"Fusion Concept" Fast Food
This is the most frequently encountered fast food chain in Harbin. The very name is hilarious. The most popular dish is a rather sad soup with chunks of beef and swollen noodles. I preferred a sort of oily-spicy fried chicken with relish (see photo). I wonder if everyday eaters believe this is California food...
The lantern Festival is often billed as the major must see in harbin in Winter.
I don't have any photos as they didn't come out but you can see a lot on other pages.
I thought it was REALLY tacky !
Be warned, it's cold in there
Cool Northern City with International Past
"From 1900's to 1930's built by Russia mostly"
The founding of this city began with the development from native traditional small fishing village in 1896 after Russia secured rights from China to build a railway, being an artery for development connected also to other Russian cities such as Vladivostok. By 1920s the region became prosperous by an international group of companies from Europe, America, and to a lesser extent at the time Japanese, as well as local Chinese companies. The international feeling of the city gave rise to nicknames such as "Moscow of the East" or "Little Paris of the East". One interesting facet among the mixed lifestyles of people there were the Russian refugees from the 1917 Revolution who settled in Harbin, many of whom were from wealthy classes and nobility, whose lifesytle eventually changed in Harbin having to sell their possessions in the markets, and many ladies evenually needing to take up employment in the cabarets of the nighttime districts. Such abrupt change in one's station in life throwing into confusion one's perspective of life and values understandably may have lent a hand to increased believers in faith and demand for places of worship.
"Japanese-run as "Manchuria" from 1931 to 1945"
Meanwhile, the Japanese Kanto Military faction long recognised the strategic value of Harbin (having won control of southern Liaodong Peninsula in Dalian area in the 1904-05 Japanese-Russo War), and by 1931, taking advantage of weak points from the years of chaos in Chinese and Russian administration full of their own problems, took control over the Chinese Northeastern District and estabished the consolidated area as a state called Manchuria by the next year, even purchasing railroad rights from Harbin southward to Dalian, this coup now termed the historically the "Manchurian Incident".
From then onward this area was essentially controlled by the Kanto military faction, though not many buildings or infrastructure were produced in Harbin during this time, since most of the funding was being used to build infrastructure at the capital of Manchuria, then called Xinching ("Shinkyo" in Japanese) at the time. Now it's called Changchun.
Still, over the years Harbin attracted Japanese civilians from all walks of life for a chance to become successful starting businesses or working lucratively for companies, and was even a fashionable tourist destination for Japanese visitors, the population becoming so overwhelming Japanese as to lead several Japanese observers of the day to romantically lament the "Japanisation" of what was expected to be an exotic foreign land to live, work and visit. Of course, as is the case in any region with a widening social discrepancy, the non-citizens living the good life were doing so under increasing risk, finally all coming to end by the 2nd World War in 1945.
Today, though Harbin is quite sprawling in the development occuring afterward focusing on industries, and this included demolishment of many Russian and Japanese architecture during Cultural Revolution around 1966 (also included deporting long-term Russian residents as well), in general seems to be developing at a somewhat slower rate than the other cities in China. I'm told the bitter winters partly contribute, as the time available for constructing buildings and infrastructure is relatively limited to the warmer days. That said, I saw a reasonable number of new high-tech companies and factories along the "New Development District" from Harbin to Pingfan (where the Special Forces Military Unit 731 is located.)