Tucked away in the far northeast of China,
Harbin has long been popular with Russians and travelers on
It was a sleepy
fishing village a little more than 100 years ago, but Harbin is now
an immense metropolis that boasts an international ice festival and
high-quality ski facilities that have marked its frosty footprint
on the tourist map.
However, it's not
only snow that makes Harbin a good place to chill out.
Harbin first came
to prominence at the turn of the 20th century with the arrival of
the Chinese Eastern Railway, which brought trade and commerce as
well as thousands of Russians.
A second wave of
Russian immigration took place in the 1930s, when thousands of
"White Russians," or anti-Bolsheviks, on the run from the
government of the Soviet Union swelled Harbin's
forces occupied Harbin at the end of World War II, all but 30 of
the city's Russians were slaughtered or sent to gulags. However,
their food, customs and architecture left an indelible mark on
influence is most felt in the old market area of Daoliqu. At its
heart is Zhongyang Street, a cobblestone street lined with the
spires and domes of Russian Orthodox churches and the turreted,
baroque facades of merchant townhouses.
In summer, when
Harbin is bathed in sunshine, several European-style cafes and
teahouses offer perches for Daoliqu people-watching.
One of the best
teahouses can be found in a park dedicated to, of all people,
Joseph Stalin. The park's excellent teahouse offers a great view of
locals limbering up for tai chi.
quarter is the tourist heart of the city, and the cultural mix
conspires to make it one of the most laid-back cities in
A relaxed pace is
often lacking on China itineraries, but Harbin invites midmorning
coffees and late afternoon walks. That makes it a perfect Chinese
destination to take a foot off the accelerator pedal.
are a museum located about 12 miles outside the city center
documenting the horrors of Japanese occupation during World War II
and the Siberian Tiger Reserve, the city's most-visited, and
arguably best, attraction.
Home to nearly
100 Siberian tigers, as well as a variety of other large cats, the
park breeds and releases these animals into the wild. There are
only about 400 wild Siberian tigers left in the world.
A park visit is a
must and can be filed under "once in a lifetime experiences." Just
20 minutes north of the city, the park offers a safari-style tour
of the sanctuary, where visitors can get up close and personal with
these 700-pound cats.
five-star hotel is the Harbin Shangri-La. Other hotels in the city
claim five-star status, but it would seem the authorities awarding
them five stars are likely their owners. It did not seem likely
that they had been put through any objective screening
Harbin can be
reached by air via a connection from Beijing. On average, travelers
experience a two-hour layover in the Chinese capital.
For more on
Harbin, call the China National Tourist Office in New York at (888)
760-8218 or Los Angeles at (800) 670-2228. Or visit the CNTO at www.cnto.org.
To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail
to [email protected].