Harbin, often referred to as Little Moscow, is China's northernmost major city and capital of this most northerly Heilongjiang province. Historically, the city has had a lot of Russian influence, in particular after the Russian Civil War of 1918. The influence remains clearly visible in the building styles and foods. The world famous Harbin Snow Festival with its Snow Sculpture Park and Ice Lantern Festival is a family treat not to be missed. Siberian Tiger Park is another highlight of the visit, especially for children.
Harbin is at the same latitude as Montreal, and winter temperatures is between -10 and over -30 °C.(in the past three years the lowest is around -17 due to the influence of the global warm).
Best time to travel:
Winter from December 31 - mid February when the world famous Ice Lantern and Snow Sculpture Expo are held. The weather is between -15℃ － -25℃. Sun Island in summer is also popular for local Chinese tourists.
What to bring:
your passport, fur lined shoes, ear muffs, fur-lined leather gloves, down jacket, several layers of socks, padded pants, hat, scarf and mask
Digital camera batteries tend to use up their power quicker in the cold weather. CCC recommends that you keep your camera inside your jacket until you want to use it or have more batteries to use.
It's suitable for people of any age and is child-friendly. Siberian Park and Snow Amusement facilities (slides and others) are highlights for children.
Hard to acquire train and air tickets
Due to the popularity of the Harbin Snow and Ice festivals and the increased amount of travel associated with the winter vacation and Chinese Spring festival, you may not be able to obtain even a single train or plane ticket. It become tighter from mid-January to Feb.15.
The travel train to Harbin is the one of the best in China. All carriages are equipped with high-class soft-sleepers and washrooms. The quilt is very clean and each berth is set up with a TV with English channels (HBO, etc.).
What to See
Snow Sculpture Expo on the Sun Island Park: massive and beautifully carved sculptures of snow.
Ice Lantern Festival: where large ice buildings and statues constructed with lights inside that make them glow
Siberian Tiger Park: The park has several large caged areas where the tigers roam freely and live as they would in their natural environment. We enter these caged areas in a specially designed van with large windows to get a look at these beautiful beasts. Live pheasants are let loose (if you pay) in order show you the tigers' natural hunting skills.
Russian Architecture Blessed with grace and character, the city is renowned for its unique, Russian-influenced architecture. Remnants from the days when Harbin was a crucial stop on the Russian Manchurian Railroad, the dome-shaped structures are nostalgic throwbacks to pre-revolutionary Russia. The strong Russian flavor continues to permeate the city today due to burgeoning trade and tourism between Harbin and Russia.
The Central Avenue 中央大街: pedestrian only street, a perfect remnant of the bustling international business activities at the turn of the 20th century. The 1.4-km long street is a veritable museum of European architectural styles, including Baroque and Byzantine facades, Jewish architectural wonders, little Russian bakeries, French fashion houses, American snack food outlets, and Japanese restaurants.
Guogeli 果戈里 (Gogol) Avenue: Harbin's second biggest shopping district dotted with Russian buildings. A tram track is still preserved in the centre of the road. The street is named after Nikolay (Vasilyevich) Gogol (1809-1852), great Russian novelist, dramatist, satirist, founder of the so-called critical realism in Russian literature, best-known for his novel MERTVYE DUSHI I-II (1842, Dead Souls).
Saint Sophia Church (built in 1903):The Orthodox church is a wonderful example of Russian Architecture. We only tour the outside of the church. The inside has been turned into some painters' market and is a big disappointment to all who visit it. You are welcome to venture into the church. Entrance fees are RMB20 per person.
Zhaolin Park 兆麟公园: Harbin' s Ice Lantern Festival was firstly held here in this downtown park in1963. Though another much larger Ice Lantern Festival is held now in outlying ground for the past ten years, Zhaolin still organizes its Ice Lantern Festival each year.
Harbin Polar Aquarium: small aquarium housing penguins, whales, polar bears, seals, dolphins, and wolves and foxes. Seal and whales performance is organized every hour.
731 Japanese Germ Warfare Experimental Base
The world's largest germ warfare experimental base, which was built by Japanese troops in China during World War II. The base was opened as a historical reminder of the dark history of the Japanese aggression towards the Chinese. The base itself consists of several buildings ranging from a huge incinerator, operating rooms, testing labs, and farm houses which were used to breed rodents. The site visit does not include any gruesome photos and is not designed to scare or frighten anyone. The visit is very educational and we get a lot of good comments from our CCC guests for including this site on our tour.
A grocery market with a difference
Get up early and take a short walk near the hotel CCC selects to see how an outdoor market operates at -20 degrees Celsius. Fruit and vegetables are sold in glass cabinets and padded tents, while boxes of popsicles are laid out on the ground. Watch braised pork knuckles freeze as they are taken out of steamy pots, and admire local shoppers who are oblivious to the frost that form all over their faces.