Favorite thing: You can order vege dishes in Chinese restaurants. Western style are basically pizza, burger and russian. Which are not vege at all. 3-4 days are good enough if you are not going to ski. I'd say 3 is definitely more than enough.
I'm going back to Harbin around New Year from the US, so kindly let me know if you needed more help.
Ice Festival in Harbin
Favorite thing: 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!
Harbin- Not that great
Favorite thing: Harbin, I must say, is hardly inspiring as a city. At least elsewhere in China there's occasional respite from the dull throb of concrete-obsessed builders. Sure, Harbin has the riverfront and the Flood Control Monument and even a few temples, but for the majority of the city, there is little to recommend it. After months here, though, I must say that it feels like home. Coming back from a month of travel around China, our apartment feels more like OUR apartment than it did when we left. I think Harbin has been hit, in part, with the same lack of architectural vision of most of China, stemming primarily from a need for cheap, fast, quantity housing. Russia, of course, influenced Harbin to a great extent, but there is little aside from the Sophia Church that really retains the mark of unique Russian design.
Sure, it's slick. Some parts are even modern. But as progress-minded countries often go, trees along Heping Lu have been cut down (a swath paralelling the road a few miles long and maybe 30-50 feet deep) to make room for even more construction. More concrete, more signs, more pollution from more coal heating... and more electricity demand...
Fondest memory: I don't want to get into politics at all, but as travelers, you should understand that "Energy crises" are affecting China. That's why the government wants to build the Three Gorges Dam. It's a great project, but no one really knows the environmental consequences or worries about the physical risk. In true human style, only a few seem to care, and those aren't heard. The government needs to look out for the good of the whole country, of course.
One of the things China seems to clearly misunderstand, is that, when you have a country this size, it can behoove you to think in terms of less, not more. Yet China is very much pointed toward the more: more goods, more money, more buildings, more lights... yeah, fewer kids, but... more cars, more... it's a country on the rise, but the danger is that when you build too fast, don't set a proper foundation, your building can come down... and China doesn't want that. However, China, in many ways, should be focusing more on conservation, considering the sheer number of lights used in cities, not just Sodium-vapor lamps in parking lots and streets, but lighting sky scrapers, bridges, trees. It's pretty, but it's why China has energy problems, aside from over a billion people needing electricity.
China doesn't want to be held back by minor details, especially if you consider building techniques and disregard the cracks already formed down the height of the dam... It seems to believe that progress is best achieved by manic lunges at advantageous moments rather than ensuring proper structures are in place. And maybe this will work very well for China. For our part, as independent travelers, we leave small footprints here. Tours leave large ones. Choose wisely, and get here now before it becomes the West of the East!
- Budget Travel
Song about Sun Island
Favorite thing: Not many people know that there's a model of a piano on Sun Island.
Even less people know that there's actually a song written about Sun Island called "Tai Yang Dao Shang" (On Sun Island), sung by Zheng Xulan -- the same singer who's famous for singing the songs of the drama serial based on Dream of the Red Chamber/Mansions.
- Romantic Travel and Honeymoons
- Arts and Culture
Don't be a tight arse
Favorite thing: This is my least favourite thing but I felt it was very important to write i and I didn't know where else to put it.
I have seen a whole host of men and women who have spent this winter outside plying their goods and services in minus 25 degree celcius weather. You should see their faces when you stop at their stall to buy something, they feel lucky that you have deigned to buy something from them. Straight away they are going to try and get what they can out of you but for goodness sake don't quibble over 1 or 2Y. These people have a monthly salary of 500Y if they are lucky. It is probably what you spend on one night at a hotel. Don't see it as being ripped off, we are rich foreigners to them and 1 or 2Y can buy them a meal. Try to put yourselves in their shoes.
Have a look at the things they are selling and see if there are a couple of other things you can buy from them. Everyone needs cotton buds.
Favorite thing: Sun Island International snow sculpture art fair 100 RMB
Zhaolin Park, in the evening 40 RBM
Siberian Tiger Park 50 RMB
taxi from airport to the city (zhongyang dajie) around 100 RMB, be aware some taxi drivers have taximetars that shows 200 RMB
Sun Island Park
Favorite thing: Called something which sounds like "Taiyang Dao" in Chinese, it is located across Songhua River from Flood Prevention Monument and Stalin Park, and may be accessed by ropeway ride across the river.
Here is a nice open park popular with the locals as a place to relax, and a favoured place for newlyweds to have memorial photographs on nice days. There is a group of Russian Dacha architecture, and a Japanese garden called the "Harbin-Niigata Friendship Garden" reflecting the sister city status. The Squirrel Island is especially popular with children as they can purchase food for the animals. The Chinese lettering of this area struck a funny bone with us as the Chinese rendering of "Squirrels" translates to Japanese conceptually as "Pine Rodents", and the modern Japanese language version does away with the rodential nuance of the character. Not as furry and cute now, eh?
- Family Travel
Ordinary Street Scenes of Harbin
Favorite thing: Outside of the main tourist spots is a large city with lots of driving around, the typical scenes are:
1) Residential tower blocks with shops on the ground floor. Note how balconies are glass-covered all over in Northeastern Area, to me an interesting contrast with Japan where balconies are always open. Being afraid of heights standing on my own high-rise open balcony in my own home, I can understand the attraction of the covering.
2) Older slum-looking areas seen several kms along the tracks.
3) Business Districts which look bustling with corporate logo of foreign capital companies.
4) The "New Development District" on the outskirts of Harbin upon a nice road with adverts for IT, pharmaceutical, manufacturing companies and the like.
5) Modern-looking shopping centres. (Though, I'm told by a local that the quality of fresh produce and meats can vary wildly even among different locations of the same particular international chain!! I guess the distribution quality control and standardisation is one of the growing pains in establishing new business in a new market.)
- Road Trip
Time to visit
Favorite thing: The Harbin Ice and Snow Festival is from Jan 5th till Mid Feb. However, it is actually opened near X'Mas for trail purpose. So best time to come should be around X'Mas till Mid February. I don't think it is a perfect time to visit Harbin in November. All those ice and snow fancy things will be started since late December. I am sure there will be snow in November but not that much. Even you have to come in November, maybe arrange it at late November or payin' close attention to the weather report and come to Harbin when it snows. Weather in November is considerable cold. Temperature is around -5~-10 Centi. Harbin is pretty dry, if you are used to humid weather, better get a kinda lipstick to wet your lips and drink more water during your stay.
General tip esp. for people with language problem
Favorite thing: First of all, I would like to introduce this wonderful city to ya. I am born in Harbin, however, I spent my recent years in Shanghai and USA instead of staying home. For general information about this city, you can try the following link, which was frequently edited by me:
For pictures of this city, please visit the following link, which is my personal online gallery. The photos are collected online:
It seems that foreign visitors usually meet a language problem in their visit to Harbin. I will be back to Harbin at Feb, 2005 and stay in town for about the whole month. So if anybody is travellin' to Harbin at that time in need of a local guy who can speak frequent English. Please feel free to contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. I would like to help.
The best time to come is after X'Mas.All the exhibitions and performances will be on at that time. Try to avoid the first three days of Chinese New Year, since there will be nobody on the street. In local custom, people will select to visit their relatives and friends so no service is been offered at the time.
Please feel free to contact me if any help is needed.
Fondest memory: My lovely hometown.
taxis and public transport
Favorite thing: Going in taxi's is frequent during the winter. About 5km costs about £1. Taxis are abit problematic if you are a large group. Technique only two people approach taxi once deal has been struck the others can appear.
I never paid more than 28 reminbi for a taxi and that was for a long journey.
Equivalent buses cost between 2-5 reminbi. As i had no idea of routes taxi's were the better choice
Favorite thing: The chinese are tough business people. And if they see you are a westerner you stand no chance (no body's got a chance anyway in the dept stores).
I found the best thing is if you have a chinese person with you get the to haggle (discount), hide round the corner and appear when the deal has been struck.
Sounds abit pink panther but trust me I saved about 3000reminbi/£200 with this approach
Favorite thing: We got the train for Beijing to harbin and back. You can only purchase singles up to 4 days in advance of your travel.
Its about half the price in soft berth than the plane flight. Worth it if you are not in a hurry recommend booking the lower bunks more confortable. Ear plugs and masks a must. Very clean toilets and wash area 30shames us british!!!!!!!!. train goes quet about 10:30 so can get a good night sleep.
Each cabins sleeps 4 (2x2) in bunks. Each has television (u might find something with english subtitles).
I will say there is not much storage space if you have lots of cases. Thats why we got the lower bunks as there is some room under the beds.
Train leaves about 8:30 beijing and arrives about 7:30 harbin. The way our flights back to the UK worked out we could not fly back and get our flight anayway.
The train might be surplus to requirements for us now anyway as im told you can fly direct from heathrow to harbin soon..
Cost: 445 reminbi p/p (~£30 one way)
No idea what hard berth is like! about half price again i think
Old Russian map of Harbin
Favorite thing: The image is of a detailed old Russian map of Harbin, displayed in the Urban Development Museum in the town.
Unfortunately I didn't note the date of the map, but close examination suggests it must be in the 1900s or 1910s.
Unfortunately it doesn't show the development of much of Harbin's classic buildings, and the east side of what is now Zhongyang Dajie is mainly what looks like army barracks.
I have a larger version which I can e-mail to people intereted in Harbin's history.
Favorite thing: If you enjoy sitting with your bum two inches from the ground while you rocket down a slope on a tiny sled, then Harbin has plenty of places for you.
In many parks, but notably in Stalin Park by the Songhuajiang and at the Children's Park, you can rent little toboggans and slither around on the manmade slopes.
At the riverbank, there is also a huge structure, constructed every winter, which has a long - about 300 metre - slope divided into sections. Be warned that this particular run is wickedly fast and the toboggans are not suited for two people, despite what the staff say. Even with a small child in front of you, your knees end up outboard of the sled: a serious injury is a very real possibility in this situation.
Just alongside the big structure are several smaller (and cheaper) slopes running down onto the ice of the river.
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