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#FreezingHarbin Part 1: Zhongyang Street and The Songhua River

It has been 3 months since I came back from this trip and I’m guilty for not writing about it earlier. Nonetheless I still think it’s worth to share a few posts the trip so that it could be a reference point for any other Malaysians wanting to check out this awesome winter wonderland destination.

The trip to Harbin, China was totally an ad-hoc trip. In the year 2015 alone, we had travelled to London, Oslo, Svalbard, Paris, Tokyo and Singapore so we thought a nice and relaxing year-end break at home would make lots of sense. That was the case until I started to see some nice last-minute deals on Malaysia Airlines website and within minutes we decided to complete the year with a trip to Harbin via Beijing.

Just 7 days after making all the bookings and visa arrangements, we were at KLIA ready for yet another travel adventure.

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On board MH360. I would be lying if I say thoughts on the missing MH370 plane did not cross my mind during the flight. After all this is the same sector, almost same flight path. Only that one remains a mystery.

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Malaysia Airlines never fail to disappoint us. It was slightly pass midnight when we landed in Beijing Capital Airport in thick smog and low visibility condition. I had a chat with the tech crew and the Captain confirmed that we nearly had to divert to alternate airport (Pudong Shanghai or Incheon Seoul) but things got better a bit enabling us to land in Beijing.

Thank God for that as we had a connection to catch a few hours later. Our first Chinese airline experience was with China Southern Airlines Boeing 737-800. A good flight with the exception of lack of English signage at the domestic terminal.

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Within 15 hours, we went from hot and sunny 34 degrees Celsius Kuala Lumpur to slightly cold Beijing to freezing Harbin’s temperature of -25 degrees Celsius.

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Millions of visitors come to Harbin to enjoy one thing – the annual Ice and Snow Festival. Frankly, it was the festival that made us wanting to visit Harbin as well. But there is more to Harbin than just visiting the Ice and Snow Festival attractions. I’ll still write more about the Ice and snow Festival in my next post but allow me to start by highlighting the beauty of Harbin city especially Zhongyang Street itself in this post.

Due to the fact that Harbin shares a large border with Russia’s Siberia, at times you would feel that you’re more in Russia than China. It is no surprise that Harbin has the nickname of “Moscow of the East” and “Oriental Moscow”.

The buildings for example, still show a strong influence of Russian architecture.

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We stayed at a hotel along Zhongyang Pedestrian Street. This is the main street so it is best to stay around here. Especially when at night the temperature can drop until as low as -35 degrees Celcius in which a metre of walking is like 1km. I’m not kidding.

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While the street is 20 minutes away by car from the Ice and Snow festival main sites, you will still be able to enjoy random ice and snow sculptures around.

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What would you eat in this kind of freezing temperature?  Famous street food would be the “strawberry coated with sugar syrup”, vanilla flavoured ice Popsicle and a nice warm coke.

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Yes, up till today I’m not sure whether that “warm coke” is real Coca-Cola. It was sold right in front of a Coca-Cola polar bear snow sculpture, so that means it is authentic right? RIGHT?

The longer that we walk along Zhongyang Street the more we noticed its similarity to a European-style pedestrian street. The street led us to one of Harbin’s iconic landmark – the Saint Sophia Cathedral.

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Designed by a Russian designer, this Greece Orthodox style was destroyed during the great cultural revolution and rebuilt from 1923 – 1932.

East meets west. And in between KFC.

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On the other end of the main street is another set of attractions. Walk all the way until you see Harbin Flood Control Memorial Tower.

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Don’t be fooled by the simple-looking tower. It has its historical story but what is interesting here is beyond the tower. The Songhua River.

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Or should I say the frozen Songhua River! During most of the cold months, the river turns into a huge ice activity area. From ice-skating to snow-mobile, dog-sled and slides, the attractions were a hit especially among local tourists.

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As usual, we would simply wander randomly beyond the crowded sites looking for some random surprise and I was indeed really surprised by what I saw.

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Thinking that my eyes had played tricks on me, we decided to stalk the “lone guy in speedo” to find out where he is heading to.

That’s how we found this cool (and cold) swimming experience attraction. Yes, at the temperature of -25 degrees Celsius, they spent a few minutes swimming in a natural pool that the ice-top was removed.

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Amazing.

As we continued walking further away from crowd, we saw a nice small park where the ladies get together and perform their morning exercise dance to a Russian tune. It is just so cool watching it. Next to it a group of guys performing some circus/acrobatic routines.

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Despite the language barrier, the locals were friendly and willing to show-off their skills to us.

Speaking of skills, I thought I could show some of mine, in a game of table tennis. When we saw a group of locals enjoying a game of table tennis at the park, we went on to watch. Only to be invited for a round of friendly strokes.

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Of course, friendly game to them is like Olympics for me. I remember winning 1 point over the few minutes. Still it was a fun experience. Table tennis in China – checked!

Cool job.

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Need something warm to wear? You could hop into one of those local fashion stores, or more international brands like Uniqlo or be like me and buy from one of these street shops which I got mine super comfy headgear.

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As we have made this far up north of China, we thought it would be nice to check out the Muslim community here as well. A short cab ride brought us to this beautiful mosque.

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Daowai Mosque or Harbin Mosque is the largest mosque in Heilongjiang. I had some difficulty finding the wudhuk place but with the help of the friendly locals and sign language, I was directed to the indoor wudhuk and toilet area in a separate building from the main prayer hall.

The main prayer hall.

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A row of halal bakery and butchers behind the mosque.

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The main street of Zhongyang Street gave us a great glimpse of what Harbin has to offer. In my next post I will be sharing about the main attraction of Harbin, the Ice and snow Festival as well as the Siberian Tiger park which in my opinion the highlight of the trip.

Thanks for reading!

2 Comments

  1. Jea March 22, 2016 at 11:21 am

    My friend and I was here at harbin last Jan too. Super cold!

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