Where the swan has a bear for a friendWilson Jone ▼ | November 1, 2014
The most northeast part of China, Heilongjiang Province, shaped as a swan, is the home of one of the most interesting Chinese cities. Welcome to "My God, it's cold!" city of Harbin.
Ice City Harbin China, Heilongjiang Province
Thanks to its positions near the Russian bear, Harbin was under different cultural influences. It was a point through which Russian companies were going on their way to the rest of Asia and it attracted a lot of foreign investments that brought different habits to the city. That way, the city in which Jin and Qing Dynasties were born, became the home of the great buildings built in a European style. That's why Harbin is sometimes called Western Moscow.
The most visited attraction is with no doubts the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival. The happy festival usually begins in January and last for over one month and it is a beautiful collection of art, Ice Lantern Garden Party, Sun Island Scenic Area, Yabuli International Ski Resort, Zhaolin Park. Harbin is an ideal place for such an event because in January the average high temperature is -13C (8F) - yes, high! - and the average low is -25C (-13F). On the other hand, summers are warm and more inviting for visitors. But, there's no ice art in the summer! Tough choice...
Under the influence of neighboring Russia, a number of western food restaurants have been opened in Harbin and exactly that mix of Chinese and Western flavors is something that every food fan will appreciate very much. There is also a number of very good hotels, so no worries that your stay will be affected by bad rooms so far north in China. Since the city in on meandering Songhua River, you can arrive there by a boat or you can use the river to explore the nature around it. If you are going outside, be sure to visit the Yabuli Ski Resort, some three hours by train to the southeast.
In the town itself, St. Sofia Orthodox Church, also known as Harbin Construction Arts Gallery, is the largest Orthodox Church building in the Far East. Built in the early 20th century, it looks like it has been transferred directly from the Moscow's Red Square. It is one of Harbin’s most magnificent buildings.
Another building you can't miss is the Dragon Tower. Well, there's no dragon inside, it is a broadcast and TV tower, but it is still interesting: It is the highest in Asia and second highest in the world. And have 50 yuan per person (slightly over $8) if you wanna go in.
The Central Street, Zhongyang Dajie, is, well, the central street in the city. Originally built for carts, it was converted into a pedestrian zone and shopping paradise: Russian leather, French perfume, British wool, German products... You name it, they have it.
There you will find many hotels and bars and European style buildings. Some of them are replicas reflecting the European style of architecture and you will see examples of the Renaissance through to the Baroque Period as well as the Eclecticism to the Modern School. By the way, it's one of the longest pedestrian streets in Asia.
The Volga Manor on the banks of the Ashi River is a tourist resort themed on Russian culture. Covering 60 hectares, the rivers, bridges, country views, and the glorious classical Russian-style architecture, will take you into a fairy-tale world. It will also make you short for 100 yuan. At the north bank of the Songhua River there is the Siberian Tiger Park, the largest natural park for wild Siberian tigers. White tigers, lions, lynxes, leopards and several other big cat types you can also see there. 90 yuan you won't see anymore.
The Erlong Mountain Scenic Spot is 50 kilometers from the city center. That lakeside area is surrounded by mountains which makes it an ideal place for all fans of skiing, rock climbing, bungee jumping, biking, paragliding.... Nearly one million visitors leave 50 yuan per person every year here. And there is the Sun Island Scenic Area. A famous resort surrounded with blue water, crystal lakes, beautiful flowers, and exotic buildings. In summer, this is the first choice to escape from the heat. In winter, this is a snow paradise. In any time, this is a perfect place to leave your 30 yuan. ■