Harbin travel guide
Venture up to the north-eastern province of Heilongjiang and straddling the sub-Siberian wilderness you will find the wonderful city of Harbin. Famous for its fantastic Ice Festival in the winter months when the temperatures can drop down to a staggering minus 30 degrees, it has many more things to do and see for the curious traveller.
You may notice a strong Russian vibe to this Chinese city but this is due to a major Russian population which has called Harbin home since the 1890s. Due to construction of a rail line, escape from the Bolsheviks and the Russian control of Harbin in 1945, Harbin has earned the name 'Little Moscow' unsurprisingly.
Many international travellers will venture to the provincial capital during the winter months for the aforementioned Ice Festival, renowned all around the world for fantastic sculptures crafted from gigantic blocks of ice. However, if you come here during this period please be aware of how cold it can get. Summers, on the other hand, are very pleasant.
If you truly want to experience the atmosphere of Harbin then make your way to Zhongyang Dajie, the city's key shopping area. Not only are the buildings wonderfully restored to their former glories, but each retells its own individual story on a plaque outside. One of the best buildings to check out is Number 107 as it has a fantastic interpretation of a section of the Sistine Chapel. Various restaurants and bars makes for a wonderful atmosphere.
The Russian Orthodox Cathedral was once known as St Sofia and is Harbin's top attraction for tourists. Construction began in 1907 but due to conflicts has been destroyed and then rebuilt. The Harbin Architecture and Art Centre is situated inside and tells the story of Harbin through a collection of photographs.
For when you need to unwind, stroll up the Songhua River, starting from the Flood Control Monument, a touching memorial to all those who have perished during the Songhua floods. If you head southeast you will come across Zhaolin Park where the celebrated Ice Festival is held. The river itself freezes in winter and you can skate or even take a horse-drawn carriage over it.
Another unforgettable place to visit in Harbin is Pingfang. This was where the Japanese Unit 731 tortured more than 3000 Mongolian, Chinese and Russian civilians in various excruciatingly painful ways during WWII for scientific study. Journalists from Japan discovered it years later, together with proof that the Americans helped the Japanese government cover it up in exchange for the research. It is a haunting place, designed to remind people of the atrocities that occurred in this black era.
Restaurants in Harbin takes elements of Chinese, Russian and Korean cuisine to create a variety of dishes that are utterly unique to Harbin and the surrounding region. Harbin Smoked Sausage, Harbin Spring Rolls and Hot Pot are dishes you must try in Harbin.
There are many different hotels in Harbin to choose from. There are various youth hostels for those on a strict budget, comfortable hotels for those wanting a little extra comfort at night and even magnificent and expensive hotels for those desiring the utmost luxury.
Harbin is a fantastic destination for tourists no matter where you are from. The people are friendly, the food delicious and the atmosphere both vibrant and serene, making it a part of China that is truly different.