I just returned from a trip to Harbin, China. Not many people know much about this place except that it is really cold. Daily temperatures are about negative 15 degrees Celsius on average. As such, I decided to write this post to share about Harbin as an amazing Winter destination.
Zhi Hao and I decided to go to somewhere cold for our end of year holiday and to celebrate our one year anniversary. We spent most of our life in Singapore where it is summer all year round and never experienced subzero temperatures.
We chose Harbin initially because of its affordability. Other destinations like South Korea, Japan and Europe were simply too expensive for us at that point in time.
Using Expedia, we managed to get a double room and air ticket for only about $775 per person via Expedia. This was a very good rate for 5 Days 4 nights, considering it was a peak travel period.
We stayed at a simple and clean hotel which is called Jinjiang Inn Changjiang Road. The hotel was good with high speed WIFI and warm water always. There is also a convenience stall downstairs and many nice cafes around.
However, the downsides were that the reception was not 24/7 and that it was further from the city centre.
Before going to Harbin, China:
Remember to download a VPN if you want to continue accessing Facebook and Instagram. I strongly recommend ExpressVPN. It is not free but really fast.
If you don’t have VPN, make sure you download the Baidu Map app because anything related to Google isn’t going to work.
Transport in Harbin:
The best way to get around is bus. A trip only costs about 1-2 yuan (same as student price in Singapore). Do note however that the bus has no heater and service ends at 830pm during winter.
Metro is also a good alternative and only costs about 3 yuan per person. So far, there is only one line but there are 5 more lines coming up.
Taxi is also really cheap and starts at 8 yuan. From the city centre to our hotel (6km away), the trip will only cost 20 yuan (SG$4).
However, do watch out for unauthorized taxis and remember to ask the driver to “kai biao” which translates to “turn on the meter)
What to wear
As mentioned, temperatures are really cold, so please put on about 4 layers of clothes. Gloves and boots are the most important because these areas usually feel the coldest.
1) Flood Control Monument & Stalin Park
Our first stop was the Harbin Flood Control Monument. It was built in 1958 to commemorate the thousands of people who died in years past when the Songhua river overflowed its banks.
In winter, the Songhua River becomes the local sports center, with ice skating, ice hockey and ice sailing all options.
You can hire the gear you’ll need from vendors along the riverbank.
When I saw people skating there, I was reminded of The Dark Knight Rises 2012 where the rebels in Gotham were forced to walk on ice as a punishment by Bane and the surface was so brittle that they sank and died.
While you are near the river, there will be street peddlers trying to sell sparklers and floating lanterns to you.
Please do not buy the floating lanterns. They will end up in the sea and polluting it, killing innocent turtles or fish which happen to swallow them.
Next to the Flood Control Monument is Stalin Park which is beautiful but extremely cold to walk at in the night.
2) Zhongyang Dajie aka Zhongyang Pedestrian Street or Central Street
Our entire Day 2 was spent visiting Zhongyang Pedestrian Street. It is said to be the most gorgeous street in Harbin.
The architecture is really western because of Harbin’s history with Russia. In 1896, the Qing Empire granted a construction concession to Russia to construct the Chinese Eastern Railway in northern Inner Manchuria.
When the railroad was opened in 1901, railroad staff lived in the town. The residents included many Russian Jews who escaped to this area during the Russian pogroms.
After that, many thousands of other Jews settled there, and they took a leading role in building the new city’s buildings, businesses and schools.
Here are some pictures of modern day Zhongyang Pedestrian Street
We spotted some people making ice sculptures. Many of these individuals are actually farmers. During winter, it is almost impossible to grow crops so they come to the city to help make sculptures instead.
Ate Bing Tang Hulu everyday when I was in Harbin. I am holding the mixed fruit one but my favourite is actually strawberry flavour.
3) Saint Sophia Cathedral in Harbin
Unlike European churches, the Chinese try to keep the pigeons in one small corner.
It appears that these pigeons are some kind of protected species. There is a security guard to protect them and a signboard telling people how to treat them.
You can buy pigeon feed for 3 yuan here:
4) China Snow Village aka Xuexiang
On our third and fourth day, we went to the China Snow Village.
The city is surrounded by mountains. Due to the web-warm air from Sea of Japan and the cold wind from Lake Baikal, the snow period here lasts more than 7 months and the average snowfall reaches 2 meters! It snows mostly five out of seven days in a week.
When we landed in the airport, we were approached by this local tour agency which offered to take us there for about 298yuan.
This includes – shuttle bus to your hotel from the airport, trip to and from the snow village, accommodation and 3 meals.
What they don’t tell you is that
1. You are going to be squeezing into this small bed with 3 other strangers who will most likely be PRCs. Make sure you insist on a private room. It is supposed to cost 150yuan more but you can negotiate for it to be 100yuan.
2. The costs do not include the activities. There are three activities – snow bike, walking in deep snow and hiking. They cost 360 yuan each. You can choose to do only one but the rest of the time, you will be waiting for others.
3. Bus Journey is going to take 6 hours from Harbin city to the snow village and another 6 hours back.
Here are some pictures on our way up the mountain:
These are the snow bikes. You have t pay 360 yuan for someone to drive you up and down again. My 4th Uncle says it isn’t worth the money. I don’t know because I didn’t try.
The activity we opted for was walking in deep snow.
Unfortunately, I had mild frostbite. If you don’t want to end up like me, wear boots that are waterproof and tight.
The guide wasn’t very caring. She just walked in front and didn’t stop to check if people were okay. The whole time she was just flirting with a bunch of guys. I guess she wanted to get tips so its better to focus on a few warm leads rather than just treat everyone kindly.
On our way down, we came across some snow bunnies. I hope they don’t end up as food =(
And other animals too =)
If you are wondering, this is how deep the snow can be:
Finally, we reached the snow village. Here are some pictures of the village at night
I prefer the snow village in the day time:
This is the largest NATURAL ski site in the world. Skiing cost 120yuan per person
My favourite close up picture of the ice
The dogs were very aggressive and hit by the people running the sleigh business. Please don’t take these sleighs and make the poor dog pull your big fat body!
5) Unit 731 Museum (731部隊, Nana-san-ichi butai, Chinese: 731部队)
I saved the place which I was looking forward to visit the most for the last. This is Unit 731. Many of us would know that the Germans engaged in human experimentation on war victims during the second world war.
However, not many know that the Japanese were equally guilty of it. They did so in this place called Unit731.
The museum is currently going construction so only part of it is open. It will finish renovation on 8/2015
Between 3,000 and 12,000 men, women, and children died during the human experimentation conducted by Unit 731. This number does not include victims from other medical experimentation sites.
Almost 70% of the victims who died in the Pingfang camp were Chinese, including both civilian and military. Close to 30% of the victims were Russian. The minority were South East Asians and Pacific Islanders, at the time colonies of the Empire of Japan, and a small number of Allied prisoners of war
The unit received a lot of funding and support from the Japanese government up to the end of the war in 1945.
Some Japanese visitors came and offered paper cranes as a symbol of peace and apology
These are just some of the cruel experiments that the Japanese soldiers did.
At the Anda Field Experiment Ground, human targets were used to test grenades positioned at various distances and in different positions.
As illustrated in this model, they were tied to stakes and used as targets to test germ-releasing bombs, chemical weapons, and explosive bombs
Prisoners were subjected to vivisection.
Researchers performed invasive surgery on prisoners, removing organs to study the effects of disease on the human body.
These were conducted while the patients (even children and infants) were alive because it was feared that the decomposition process would affect the results.
Prisoners had limbs amputated in order to study blood loss. Those limbs that were removed were sometimes re-attached to the opposite sides of the body.
Some prisoners’ limbs were frozen and amputated, while others had limbs frozen, then thawed to study the effects of the resultant untreated gangrene and rotting.
Frost bite experiment. Ouch.
Not everyone who did this felt it was cruel though. Here is an excerpt of an interview with a japanese soldier.
Asked why he had not anesthetized the prisoner before dissecting him, the farmer explained: “Vivisection should be done under normal circumstances. If we’d used anesthesia, that might have affected the body organs and blood vessels that we were examining. So we couldn’t have used anesthetic.
When the topic of children came up, the farmer offered another justification: “Of course there were experiments on children. But probably their fathers were spies.”
“There’s a possibility this could happen again,” the old man said, smiling genially. “Because in a war, you have to win.”
Felt a chill down my spine when I read this
Anyway if you are thinking at this moment that the United States was oh-so-innocent and some angelic hero of World War 2, that is definitely not the case.
The Amercians wanted the Japanese findings about the effects of biological agents on soldiers and civilians available for its own potential military use.
They not exempted the leaders of Unit 731 from trial, but put them on the American payroll. WTF.
Gen. Shiro Ishii, the head of Unit 731, was allowed to live peacefully until his death from throat cancer in 1959.
Those around him in Unit 731 saw their careers flourish in the postwar period, rising to positions that included Governor of Tokyo, president of the Japan Medical Association and head of the Japan Olympic Committee.
This is guestbook where people leave their comments. Some people were very emotional
Here are some pictures of the spaces outside Unit 731:
Not many people know about Harbin yet. Most travelers I saw were domestic ones from other provinces in China. In fact, ZH and I were the only Singaporeans in the China Snow Village trip.
However, despite looking Chinese, many could still identify that I was a foreigner. There were some who asked if I was Japanese which made me a bit worried because of the strong anti-Japanese sentiment.
Zhi Hao said many people kept looking at my eyes. This is because small eyes are very common in Harbin. The epicanthic fold is highly prevalent among northern Chinese and an adaptation meant to protect them from the cold.
Besides the top 5 which I listed, there are several more attractions to Harbin such as the Harbin Ice Festival which I felt was way too expensive at 300 yuan. Furthermore, I had seen more than enough ice carvings over the past few days in Harbin
Another thing which caught my attention in China was the ubiquitous plastic surgery advertisements.
I am so glad Singapore doesn’t allow such ads to be around to prey on women insecurities. I will be really sad if one day plastic surgery became a norm here.
Personally all the procedures like trying to have a taller nose, double eye lids and slimmer face are just attempts to look more western. This is so disturbing. What is wrong with looking asian? Is there something embarrassing or hideous about having a flatter nose and wider face?
However, one type of advertisement was much more popular than plastic surgery ones – the ongoing campaign to encourage chinese to be courteous
They were everywhere – buses, restaurants, outside churches etc. Telling Chinese people that if they want to earn re
These are some graphics illustrating to Chinese people what they should not do while on travel:
I think the Chinese Communist Party placed this everywhere because they want to raise the social graces of their citizens and improve China’s image.
I think Harbin people are generally well-behaved. When ZH and I were the only non-PRCs in the bus, I was worried about many things like people talking loudly, being so inconsiderate, cutting queue and smoking non stop. However, they turn out to be great.
Ending off, I am happy to have come here while I am young. I think anyone who is still fit should come here once in their life. If you have kids or are old, it will be difficult to do sightseeing in Harbin due to the extremely cold weather and slippery ice which covers the floor.