One thing about Harbin – despite being a place that seems to rely solely on tourism during the winter months, we found it quite unfriendly/difficult to be a tourist. Sure, by researching and speaking to friends, we knew where to go and what to do. But when you’re actually there, it’s way harder than expected!
1) Everyone speaks either Chinese or Russian. Really difficult to read shop signs to figure out what’s inside, menus (if they don’t have a (broken) English version), asking for help, etc.
2) The cold. Well, that’s a given and you guys already know that, but it’s worth mentioning again because it was so bitterly cold. That said, that’s the beauty of the place – it wouldn’t be as gorgeous and white and fantastical without the freezing chill.
3) The rip-off tourist traps. I don’t know if they’re actually that rampant, but we were caught. It was a meal in a run-down restaurant that looked like it’d be utterly cheap, but turned out to be almost $200. Dollars. We could’ve gone fine-dining for that amount! More about that in another post.
4) The entry tickets to attractions. They range between 100 – 200元, which is what you’d pay for attractions in Australia! However, I appreciate these attractions are amazing and are practically a miracle of humankind that they exist (more on that in a later post), so not complaining that it’s expensive, but rather acknowledging that it really does add up.
5) The taxis. Wow….. Shanghai taxis are a doozy by comparison! Harbin taxis don’t like going by the meter, so you ALWAYS have to remember to ask them to “da biao”, whilst frantically indicating that you want them to push down the meter so it starts. And they’ll only do it if you’re in the main city and travelling within the city. Thing is, ALL the attractions are OUTSIDE the city. So once you’re done and want to go home, you are HUSTLED like crazy by all these cabbies, that won’t go by the meter so you have to negotiate a price (entirely in Chinese). It’s stressful and something you DO NOT want to do when you’re standing in the freezing cold.
We were very very very lucky to have a nice hotel conceirge, who gave me his phone number so I could call him (I did, at all kinds of weird hours, and he bailed us out of sticky situations multiple times – we would’ve have been totally lost without him). He not only planned our entire itinerary of what to do, but gave us tips of all these tucked away places that locals go to and foreigners aren’t that aware of. Plus he helped tell us when/where it’s hard to get a legit cab and also arranged a cheap driver + tour guide for us for a full day. Better yet, the tour guide was a university student, and so would run out to buy the tickets for us (so we didn’t have to queue in the cold) and use her student card to get us discounted rates! Score!
Anyway, I’ve started rambling.
We decided to take a cable car across the Song Hua River. The river is a HUGE river, dividing the main Harbin city on one side, and all the attractions on the other side. The river is completely frozen solid. It was a breath-taking site to see, as since I only live in pretty tropical climates, I’ve never seen this in my life – not even when we used to travel to USA lots and saw snow there. This was on an entirely different level – white everywhere, a massive solid river, and freezing cold.
Hilariously, after much frantic charades, we figured out that for the cable car tickets – I was charged 30元 for having a Chinese-looking face, and Chris charged 50元 for being a white guy. ROFL!!!!!!!!!! Only in China you could charge separately by race, and get away with it. Was highly amused, and Chris a bit miffed since he always declares “Wo shi zhong guo ren” (I am a Chinese) to random people, so he couldn’t quite fathom why he was charged foreigner rates ;)
All rugged up, with 3 layers of socks!
See those cable cars up there? That’s where we’re going, baby!
30元 ticket for me, and 50元 for Chris THE FOREIGNER… hahaha
Up up and away
All that white? It used to be a river.
A river turned into solid ice. How cool..
A santa sticker.. despite it being over a month after Christmas, lol
Dinner was a Moscow cabaret show. We heard from Chris’ colleague that there was this particular show that had topless Russian dancers (!), random Chinese comedians, etc, all intermixed into one show. We asked our fantastic concierge and he smirked, then arranged it for us – even taking us personally to the theatre in a cab! We were treated to a Russian dinner during the show, and could sit back and relax whilst watching the 1.5 – 2 hour extravaganza.
It was a totally random show, so hilarious! First, the hot Russian girls came out bearing painting after painting, and it was a live auction. Then, we had dancing/performances, intermixed with comedians, intermixed with topless dancing. Hilarious! It was like a schizophrenic’s show or something. Strangely, there were children and also old women there… quite odd considering these show girls were parading around and we even got glimpses of *ahem* down-there parts.
Was a really fun performance and show though, and also good food. Except the bottles of beer were 28元 which is daylight robbery!!!! So annoyed. They cost only 4元 in the supermarkets – harumph. I hate places that blatantly overcharge like that.. shame on ’em.
The Moscow cabaret show
Outside the theatre, at a little shop selling tons of vodka :P
Russian borscht soup, potato salad – part of our dinner served during the show
The cabaret, was tres fun
The Russian dancing girls… who later took off their clothes. w00t!