Harbin

Harbin International Snow and Ice Festival

Harbin (哈尔滨; Hā'ěrbīn) is the capital of Heilongjiang Province in northeast China. The city is notable for its Russian influence and the yearly Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, giving it the unofficial title Ice City.

Understand

Harbin is China's northernmost major city, with a population in excess of 10 million, and over 4 million in the city center alone. Historically, the city has been influenced a lot by neighboring Russia, in particular after the Russian Revolution of 1917, when the White Russians, Russians who supported the czarist state, escaped the newly formed Soviet Union. The influence remains clearly visible in the building styles and foods.

The city was founded in 1897 as a camp for Russian engineers surveying the Trans-Siberian Railway. Labor demands brought in a collection of outcasts from across Russia, Poland and even from within Manchuria. The city eventually was captured by the Japanese during World War II and later captured by the Chinese in 1946. Once nothing more than a Russian-built outpost of the railway line, Harbin has managed to become a major player in her own right as well as capital of Heilongjiang Province.

Recent History

Northeastern China was originally built up as an industrial center using pre-existing Soviet and Japanese factories. By the 1980s these outdated and inefficient factories could not keep up. To further complicate matters, starting in the early 1990s, large portions of China's state-owned enterprise workers were laid off. Thus, like many other cities in this region, contemporary Harbin is struggling with an aging work force and unemployment. Private enterprise is mostly centered in the service sector, retail, restaurants, etc. with most large scale enterprises still state owned. However, the province has thousands of state-owned enterprises up for sale, and many have been purchased since the late 1990s. Numerous universities in Harbin also play a vital role in the economy in education and research and through their subsidiary companies.

In 2005 there was a major pollution spill on the Songhua river.

Climate

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°C) −12 −7 3 14 21 26 28 26 21 12 0 −9
Nightly lows (°C) −24 −20 −10 1 8 15 18 16 9 0 −10 −20
Precipitation (mm) 3 5 10 18 40 84 143 121 58 26 10 6
Sunshine (hrs/day) 5.0 6.4 7.4 7.7 8.5 8.7 8.2 8.0 7.7 6.7 5.7 4.5

Harbin is known for its very cold winters: it is at the same latitude as Montreal, and winter temperatures as low as −38 °C (−36 °F) have been recorded; in January, temperatures average -24 °C to −12 °C. Bring more clothes than you will think you will need so that you can layer. Winter can become dreary if you are a long-term resident, as the entire city uses coal for heat; air quality rapidly decreases during these months. But it´s not as bad as Beijing, many locals wear their masks not for the pollution, but for the ice-cold wind and the frosty temperatures to heat up the air they breathe.

Harbin can be a great place to visit in the summer, with daytime temperatures normally in the upper 20s °C. Compared with most places in China, the weather is cool and it seems to be perpetually breezy, and most of the city's streets are lined with trees. Because the city is so cold all winter, life almost explodes and people crowd the streets until late at night eating kabobs, playing poker, and drinking Harbin Beer (哈啤 Hapi). This is a great escape from the heat of Beijing. A trip up to the border regions this time of year would be nice as well.

Get in

By plane

Harbin Taiping International Airport (哈尔滨太平国际机场 Hā'ěrbīn Tàipíng Guójì Jīchǎng, IATA: HRB) is one of the main international airports of Northeast China. The airport is located 37 km from the city centre near the town of Taiping. Domestic flights frequent this airport from all over china, including from Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Wuhan and Zhengzhou to name just a few. International flights are limited to the surrounding region, including from Hong Kong; Japan - Niigata, Osaka; Russia - Khabarovsk, Vladivostok; South Korea - Busan, Jeju, Seoul; and Taipei, Taiwan.

The airport is small, but there is a small restaurant and snack bar selling local delicacies, Chinese and western food, and a nearby hotel if you happen to get stranded. If you are flying out of Harbin most ticket agencies can arrange transportation to be included in the cost of the ticket. Another option is to take a taxi, which costs around ¥100-130. Always negotiate this price before the ride, though. Drivers will make their meters read more for the ride otherwise or try to get you to pay for the highway ticket in addition.Please ask the taxi driver for invoices and take down the car number if necessary. It is safe to take a taxi with official certification at the airport. There is also a bus service to Downtown Harbin and the rail station. Tickets cost ¥20 and take around 1 hour.

By train

Harbin Railway Station

Being a major Chinese city, Harbin is well connected by train and is a convenient way to travel. The city is served by several train stations, so the station you arrive or depart from will depend on the train you take. Be sure to confirm which station your train calls at beforehand. The major railway stations in Harbin include:

There are also several minor train stations within the city. These stations serve regional and local trains and in most cases the typical traveller will not need to use them.

By car

Harbin is connected to the rest of China via the China Highway 102 via Changchun. Harbin is also connected via road to Inner Mongolia, Russia, and Jilin.

By bus

The main long-distance bus station (Changtu Keyun Zhan) is located across the square from main train station.

The majority of cities in Heilongjiang can be reached via bus.

Traveling to Russia

One daily departure which leaves early in the morning. Buy tickets in the Russian travel agency on the second floor of the bus station. The price is basically the same as going through Mudanjiang/Suifenhe on your own.

Given that you have all your papers sorted the border crossing is straightforward. Guard(s) on the Chinese side speak fluent English and might be curious of non-Russian/Chinese passports. You are required to take all your items with you when crossing the border, do not leave bags on the bus.

Get around

Taxis are inexpensive and convenient. However, always ask them to run the meter (请打表 qĭng dă biăo) instead of attempting to negotiate a price in order avoid possible conflicts.

Taxi drivers in Harbin are known to be recklessrunning red lights, driving into oncoming traffic, etc.so buckle up! Most taxi drivers do not speak any English or read Pinyin, so unless you speak fluent Mandarin Chinese showing them the Chinese characters for your destination is often the only option that will work. Do not be surprised if the taxi stops to pick up other passengers during rush hour, and if you are picked up by a taxi with passengers, even if the meter reads ¥13 when you get in, the taxi driver will still expect you to pay the full amount on the meter when you depart the taxi!

If you plan to live in Harbin for a while, it's recommended that you figure out the basic bus routes around your home. Note that during the winter months the buses stop running earlier. Hawkers on the street will sell a map of greater Harbin including bus routes for about ¥5.

See


Architecture and buildings

Religious sites

Harbin's Famous St. Sophia Church
Harbin's Confucius Temple

Area

Nowadays, LaoDaoWai ("Lao" means old.) is an area for one to experience "local's" lives (that means the unique architectural style, and food, food, food, food, and food...). The area is vaguely defined within Shengping St 升平街 (north), Jingyang St 景阳街 (west), Nanxun St 南勋街 (south), and Nanershi St 南二十街道 (east). If you are confused for where to start with, at Jingyang St, in between Nanxun St and Jingyu St 靖宇街, there is a later-made entrance for the LaoDaoWai area. Start from there and walk to the east, and you will see all the small streets cross one another. There are many doors (locals call them "MenDong" 门洞), which from the first sight might look like private property, in between small stores. Walk through the doors and you will reach the garden inside and the next street.
There are countless snack bars and restaurants in the area, and they are a main attraction. Keep in mind the snack bars are by Chinese definition, and many are small with few tables. They are the taste of Harbin and very popular. But in case you expect western styles (air condition, waitors speak/menu in your native languages, etc.), do no bother to go. Also if you are one of those count calories for every bite, do not go either, since watching others eating while you cannot eat is unhealthy.
Some but not (far from) all of the popular nosheries are (from west to east):

Zhang's Stuffed Bun 张包铺 at the cross of Nanxun St and Naner St 南二街. Most popular dishes are rib buns 排骨包, tofu bun 豆腐包. At its busy time expect to share table with others.
Li's Grilled Meat 李家扒肉馆 at No.25 BeiDaLiuDao St 北大六道街 is for meat lover. Feel how the pork melts inside your mouth.
Nanbashun 南八顺 at Nanba St 南八街. Similar with hot pot. At Nanba St there is also a good pancake store. You can pre-schedule your next on diet period after the visit.
LaoRenYi Restaurant 清真老仁义饭店 with several branches is an old and popular halal restaurant. Must try includes steamed dumplings.
At Shiliudao St 十六道街 there is an old market, with BBQ insects.

Parks and nature

Siberian Tigers watching and waiting

Museums and monuments

With a view

Do

Festivals

International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival

By far Harbin's biggest claim to fame, the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival (哈尔滨国际冰雪节; Hā'ěrbīn Guójì Bīngxuě Jié) is held every year, running from early January until warm weather erodes the constructions (exact dates vary). Throughout the city you will find small ice and snow sculptures during the festival, however there are three major site with large ice and snow sculptures on display.

The major sites for the Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival include:

Other

Relax

Exercise and Fitness

Work

For foreigners, pretty much the only employment is teaching English, where depending on your qualifications and experience, you can make anywhere from ¥2,000 to ¥10,000 a month. There are positions at both public and private schools. If you are in the city and don't already have employment, check out the bulletin board at Hamama's Kofi House.

Learn

Harbin's most well known university, Harbin Institute of Technology

Harbin is the center for higher education in Northeast China, and has several leading universities, with the most famous being Harbin Institute of Technology. The universities make up a large portion of the cities economy and employ a large part of the population. Many of these schools were founded by the Russians and still retain the architectural charm of their predecessors. There are also several medical universities in the city that support the local hospitals.

Studying Chinese

Harbin is famous for its standard Mandarin pronunciation. It's a very good place to study Mandarin. As the saying goes, 'If you want to study Chinese language, come to China. If you want to study Mandarin, come to Beijing. If you want to study standard Mandarin, come to Harbin.' It can be a cheap alternative to Beijing for studying Mandarin, with tuition costing about half and housing one third of what it would be in Beijing or Shanghai. Most universities have lots of Korean and Russian students. There are a couple of cheap Western cafes and a small but lively foreign student social scene at the local expat hangouts on the weekends, such as Blues. Many schools in Harbin offer Chinese language programs:

Also, the city offers the opportunity to study Mandarin Chinese one to one:

Studying TESOL

Will-Excel TESOL offers a TESOL Diploma program which combines a 160 hour classroom TESOL course in Harbin with a 6-12 month paid teaching-term in Harbin or another city.

Studying other subjects

If your Chinese is good enough you can enroll in most of the schools in Harbin. Many Pakistani students study Medicine at the Heilongjiang Medical University. Tuition is cheap.

Buy

Zhongyang Dajie, Harbin's main walking and shopping street at night

Imported Russian goods of all types and qualities are available from tourist shops around town. Look out for vodka, Russian dolls, and chocolate. The local Chinese appeared to have picked up some aspects of Russian cuisine, with western style bread and sausage available around town. Beyond this, the shopping is much like any other city in China.

However in winter, the shops closed quite early due to bitter cold.

Money

Most ATM's around the city work with international cards, such as the Bank of China and the China Merchants Bank.

Unique Items

A whole family of matryoshka dolls, or Russian dolls

Clothing

Everyday Needs

Eat

This page uses the following price ranges for a typical meal for one, including soft drink:
Budget Under ¥30
Mid-range ¥30-100
Splurge Over ¥100

If there is one thing special about Harbin, it has to be the food. Taking influences from Russia, Mongolia, Korea and of course China, the food in Harbin is much "heartier" than you can find anywhere in China, and stews and other duncai are popular dishes. Because the winters are long here you'll find less exotic ingredients and heavy use of vegetables like cabbage, potatoes, cucumber and corn. Chinese BBQ or shaokao and Hot Pot is also equally popular in Harbin and is a must eat once you get into town.

One thing you will notice is that Dongbei people love to eat, and its not just for the food, but for getting all their friends together at one table and drinking/eating the night away. Thus this city is dominated by restaurants with large tables that seat groups of people. Besides small food stalls, only near the Universities and busy shopping areas will you find cozy little restaurants. In Harbin, liveliness (renao) attracts customers and much as the food; some restaurants are so loud you may need earplugs!

Budget

Street Snacks

Haws, for those with a sweet tooth

Restaurants

Western

Mid-range

Chinese

Korean

Western

Address:黑龙江省哈尔滨市南岗区汉广街1-19号。 Tel Number: 0451-86304277 .

Splurge

Western

Japanese

Thai

Chinese

Drink

Ice sculpture of the local brew, Harbin Beer

Just because Harbin is below freezing a good amount of the year, doesn't mean it's devoid of a nightlife. In fact, Harbin is one of the more "rowdier" cities in China. Just don't expect Shanghai or even Beijing "quality" establishments. Most places in Harbin have puke stains on the toilets that are months old. With a good amount of foreigners living in the city studying and working, the weekends are always bustling around 2-3 locations such as Blues, The Box, Pacers, or the small bars around the Universities. Dongbei people are reqing (热情) or very lively and seem to drink with almost every meal! Oftentimes at restaurants you'll see drunk men singing away and then lighting up their cigarettes to signal the night is coming to an end. And of course what would be better than to spend the wee hours of the night singing away to the tune of Titanic and Michael Jackson at one of the KTV's that can be found at almost every street corner!

In Harbin, people often start off the night at a cheap shaokao or Hotpot restaurant washed down with ¥1.5 bottles of Hapi. After a long dinner its usually to one of Harbin's clubs or bars to spend the rest of the night. If you are not a fan of the drinking scene, Harbin may not be for you as there isn't much else to do. That being said, there are dozens of small bars and a few cafes, so if you are not one for dancing and loud discos there are plenty of options. Some non-drinking activities include bowling, pool, or visiting a tea house.

Clubs

Many discos that cater mainly to Chinese have table minimums. That is, each table has a different minimum purchase to sit there and you must purchase at least that much as soon as you sit down. They won't trust that you will eventually purchase enough over the course of the evening. Some even have the price of the table on a tent card sitting on the table. You can try and get around this sales tactic by saying you want to just have a look around (wo yao xian kan kan) and hope that they forget about you.

Bars

Most bars in the city are clustered around the universities and tourist districts. The Development Zone has some bars as well but they are more expensive.

The campus of Harbin Institute of Technology (复华小区) is surrounded with a number of small and cozy bars. HIT itself has a number of foreign teachers and hundreds of foreign students. Some notable bars here are:

Sky Bar/Cafe: A new bar back on the scene after closing down a couple of years ago. A cosy little pub in an old Russian-style building. Widest range of imported beers in town. Amazing fish and chips, burgers and other pub food. Staff are fluent in English and good to sit around and chat too. Big screen TV for live sports....just ask them and they will put it on for you. They have Trivia every Thursday and Texas Hold'em on Tuesdays. The best place to hang and meet others in "The Bin." 南岗区砖街13号(曲线街砖街交口附近)。

At the middle portion of Guogeli Dajie (果戈里大街) near Children s Park (儿童公园) there is a small man made lake that is surrounded by 10 or so small pubs and a fountain. During the warmer months this small square is packed with people out for a night stroll and is really lively. This also seems to be a place for the trendy teens and college age kids to hang out. If you continue walking down Guogeli Dajie there are a few more small bars dotting the street. Great for people watching! For about ¥100 you can order a "beer tower" (啤酒塔 pijiuta), which is a tall plastic tube with a spigot on the bottom. At the other end of the lake there is a restaurant that resembles TGI Friday's, as besides the name being changed to DJ Friday's almost everything else has been copied. What makes this place really stand out from the real TGI Fridays are the scantily clad Russian dancers.

Near Heilongjiang University (黑龙江大学) right across from the main gate are several small bars and pubs to accommodate the huge Korean and Russian student population.

Teahouses and cafes

There are a number of very nice teahouses in the New Development Zone (开发区). Most will rent you a room and will charge by the hour, plus whatever tea you decide to drink. Some of the teahouses are located on Hengshan Lu (衡山路) such as 君如意茶楼, 雅泰茶楼.

Live music

There is a Jazz Bar on GuogeLi Dajie that often has a piano/sax duo playing, and guitar/vocalists can be found at some of the smaller bars around HIT and Hei Da.

Sleep

Budget

Almost every bath house in the city has a large room with 50-100 plush beds where you can spend up to 24 hours. You can also lock your belongings in a locker and use their shower facilities, most of them have an 'all you can eat' buffet as well. Total around ¥50 which just can't be beat. Look for signs that say 洗浴 and make sure its fairly big as the smaller ones will not provide these types of services. When you come in pack light as to not look suspicious. This is not recommended for inexperienced travelers and it is highly unlikely any of the service staff will speak English.

Other budget options include:

Mid-range

Splurge

Other 5 star hotels have been established. The New Paris Hotel is a 5 star hotel that is quickly gaining popularity. It has very luxury facilities and a very impressive lobby. Bremen Hotel is also a nice hotel, it has been said that the Bremen Hotel in Harbin, has possibly the most comfortable beds in Harbin. These two hotels are both located in central Harbin. Both on Zhongshan Road.

Stay safe

While it is unlikely that you will be a victim of a crime, as in any large city be vigilant about your personal property, exercise care if you find yourself on a lightly traveled street, and always be aware of your surroundings.

Most trouble that people run into in Harbin revolves around drinking at the clubs. Harbin is famous in China for being a "rough" city, and locals pride themselves on their machismo. Fights are common on the weekends and while this may not directly involve you, it’s best to leave at the first signs of conflict. Don’t expect bar security to come to your rescue.

Free emergency telephone numbers:

Remember these three telephone numbers. They are valid on most of the Chinese mainland.

Foreigners in Harbin

The vast majority of the foreigners living in Harbin are either Russian or Korean, with the Russians obviously being the more visible of the two. Expats should be aware that all Caucasians are automatically "Russian" as far as the local population is concerned, and that relations between said Russians and the local Chinese population are rocky at best. Much of the famous "Dongbei hospitality" has worn thin in recent years, with native Harbiners holding an increasingly negative view of foreigners in general. But that does not under any circumstances mean that they will not stare at you or take pictures of you, especially if you have fair hair and coloured eyes, and for men a beard. Some will come up to you and ask for a picture with you or if they can touch your hair, but more often than not you will just "accidentally" find yourself in the viewfinder of a mobile phone or camera.

There are also a small number of European and Brazilian professionals working in the city, as well as a number of English teachers hailing from various countries. However, the lack of foreign investment in the province as a whole means that most of the resident expats are either students or teachers. There are also a number of African and Middle Eastern students studying at the high-profile Harbin Institute of Technology.

Hospitals and Emergency Contacts

Connect

Internet

The city is littered with Net bars (网吧 wangba) that are usually very cheap and do not require I.D at the door like the ones in Beijing. The biggest Internet cafes are near the universities like Harbin Institute of Technology and Hei Da. Be forewarned that sometimes you may have to wait for a computer depending on what time of day it is (17:00-24:00 are the worst, school is out) and that the Internet connection can sometimes be down for days at time in various parts of the city. Also, these places are filled with a haze of smoke and Chinese screaming obscenties after they lost a game of Counter Strike or World of Warcraft.

All of the computers are in Chinese language, but still using windows so its relatively easy to use. You cannot print at Net bars. If you are looking to print something try going to a print or copy station look for the Chinese characters 复印 (fuyin) or 打印 (dayin).

Phones

If you are looking to refill the minutes on your China Mobile/Unicom/Telecom SIM card, you might have trouble, as very few locations in the city sell the refill cards. In Harbin, you have to go to an actual store and pay the money to a teller to have your phone refilled and oftentimes you can refill out of town numbers at China Mobile or China Unicom Branches.

Shipping

DHL and UPS both deliver to Harbin but through Chinese shipping companies.

Cope

Harbin is known for its cruel winter weather. Be sure to have adequate clothing and protect the extremities. Gloves, thick socks, scarves, and ear protections are a must.

You can also get warm patches in some stores. Try to get some of these if you are going to spend more than a few hours outside. Most patches will last between 4 and 6 hours. Wear them under the clothes but not in direct contact with the skin.

If you are in Harbin for the long haul, try to get away to somewhere warm during the winter break such as Hainan or Thailand. Also, an excursion to Beijing is a must for anyone staying in Harbin for any considerable amount of time.

Go next

Routes through Harbin

Beijing Changchun  W  E  END



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