Five Things To See in Harbin (+ Travel Tips)

Harbin City is known for its coldest weather and longest winter among major Chinese cities because of its geographical location and proximity to Siberia. It has the World’s Biggest Winter Festival with massive ice towers and creative towering displays. Just imagine being inside a freezer with rock ice formations that never melts for 6 months.

  1. Sophia Cathedral

Harbin’s Saint Sophia Cathedral is the largest orthodox building in the Far East. Formerly a Russian military base, they built this massive church in 1907 to boost their national pride after Japan won (Russo-Sino War). Japan wanted to control Korea and North China but Russia has other ideas. After the Communist Party took control of the country (1950s-60s), all Russian churches were closed including Saint Sophia. Currently, this former church is now an architectural and art museum opens daily for 15 CNY/2USD. After a century, this building still reminds the people of Russia’s pride.

2. Central Street / Zhongyang Dajie

Harbin’s Central Street has long lines of stores, restaurants and old buildings in Russian style adorned with ice sculptures. They offer Russian, French and other European food and brands including local cuisine.

Russian influence is very much evident due to its proximity and historical Russian base

3. Harbin Ice and Snow World

The Harbin Ice and Snow World is the largest in the world. Is it worth to visit? Yes but once is enough. At freezing -24, it’s too cold and maybe best to visit when you’re young(er) (hahahaha). The gigantic ice lanterns and snow sculptures light up the night sky with impressive multicolors. .

4. Unit 731 Museum

Old 731 museum

Unit 731 museum used to be the Japanese army laboratory base to conduct biological and chemical experiments warfare during the World War 2. It’s horrific how they used living humans as subject for bacterial experiments (test subjects) and many other atrocities by the Japanese to the Chinese and other nationalities taken as captives.

New museum just 100 m away

I will be posting a separate post for this museum because I was fairly disturbed and to explain why little is known about this.

5 Others: Snowtown, Bars, Food and Shopping

You may go to Snow town 1-2 hrs away from the city center or just slide/glide in the frozen Songhua river. You may also spend your time chilling in the Red Lion Bar of holiday Inn (no more live music as of Jan 2020 and limited drinks only, no food served), Russian Bar and Buffalo Bar (just a block away from St Sophia Cathedral). I did not have photos because I only bring my camera when it’s planned. For phone, it’s hard to take photos when it’s freezing.

Some tips:

  1. From airport to city center (central street / Sophia Cathedral): As of January 2020, train is not yet operational so take airport bus #3 (20CNY). Walk to the bus fare counter (inside the floor terminal of arrival floor on your right) and either tell them “SOPHIA” or show them your Chinese booking. There is only 1 bus stop nearest to the Central Street or Sophia. Go outside the terminal (fairly easy to see because the bus has a big number 3). Tell the driver SOPHIA. He would respond by saying ZHONGYANG DAJIE (meaning Central Street). One-hour bus trip.
  2. From City Center to Airport: Cheapest is go to the main railway station on the north terminal (in light caramel-colored buses), board airport bus #2 every 30 minutes. If you take a taxi to the railway station, it costs 10CNY but if direct to the airport, it costs 100CNY.
  3. Chinese names: Always ask your hotel receptionist to write down the name of the location or building that you intend to visit in Chinese.
  4. Local buses costs 1CNY when you board and another 1CNY when you alight (total 2CNY).
  5. Euro plaza Mall (Central Street) has a local supermarket on the ground floor. It has wider selections at cheaper prices rather than Mykal or Dongyang supermarkets. There’s Watson on the ground level for personal things.
  6. Best local bank to use is ICBC because they use market rates!
  7. Food court (top floor) of Dongyang mall offers affordable food prices (15-25 CNY per meal). You can have a fancy meal in Russia Cafe and Modern Coffee & Restaurant (both in Central Street). Best hotpot for us is located on the Home Inn Hotel Building at affordable price (it has no English name).
  8. Offline map: If you don’t have a local sim with data, download offline map! Even without data or sim, the GPS can track your location so you can use it as a guide (maps.me).
  9. Use of VPN: Facebook and other google-related apps are blocked in China. Download and activate the red EXPRESS VPN free trial before going to China (green VPN is already blocked). In any case without VPN, viber and whatsapp are still working and phone internet explorer must be set to BING or YANDEX (not google) so that you can still search or type the website directly (i.e. http://www.skyscanner.com).
  10. Taxi to Ice and Snow world from City Center is 50CNY but you can take local buses at 2CNY (bus #4,8,23,53,114,132,201,206).
  11. Shopping: Zara and H&M were having 50-70% sale during our time. You can buy winter essentials at cheap prices in Dongyang Mall infront of Mykal.
  12. Spring Airlines offers FREE check-in of your luggage or we were not asked to pay. haha It’s a small plane so they will not allow a luggage even if you insist it’s small.
  13. Tips about Unit 731 museum: I will cover on my next post.

5 Comments

      1. No, i haven’t, dear. Your article, though, is wonderful. Great description and pictures. Plenty of info, historical and non. If i had the chance i would visit the place. The proximity to Siberia, the geographical location makes it interesting. The place looks nice, also. I would love to live my myth for a week there ! lol ! Thank you, and take care.

        Liked by 1 person

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