"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

Travel Report: Cool Spots Around Harbin, China.

Zhongyang Pedestrian Street Harbin Heilongjiang province China

February 2010. I clearly remember my boss’ reaction when I told her I was going to Harbin for Chinese New Year. “Oh, really? You shouldn’t go there, it’s very cold!” Of course I told her all about the city’s stupendous Ice & Snow Sculpture Festival, the atmospheric Jile Temple and the grisly Siberian Tiger Park. But it all fell on deaf ears, after all the place was “cold”. 

She certainly wasn’t wrong about the weather! After a disastrous night at one of Planet Earth’s most miserable lodgings (Little Fir Hostel), I subsequently relocated to a four star hotel on Zhongyang Street, where daily temperatures hovered around minus fifteen. This, it turned out, was an excellent place from which to discover some cool spots around Harbin.

Zhongyang Pedestrian Street Harbin China.

Zhongyang Pedestrian Street in summer mode.

Zhongyang Street is a cool place for a whole host of reasons. First up it’s fully pedestrianised, so there are no car fumes, getting honked at or having to fear for your life as you stroll. 

Sweet Chocolate Boutique Zhongyang Street Harbin China.

Cool Spots Around Harbin.

As a result, you can fully relax and just cut across the road to check out that cutesy boutique. I cannot overstate what a rarity this is in China!

USA Bucks Bar Zhongyang Pedestrian Street Harbin China

USA Bucks Bar, Harbin.

Zhongyang Street is also home to a bunch of trendy cafes and bars, which are great to duck into when it feels like your toes have stopped working. My favourite drinking spot was the bizarre USA Bucks Bar, owned by this colourful character, a local millionaire.

USA Bucks Bar Zhongyang Street Harbin China.

USA Bucks Bar, Harbin.

The owner had decked the entire place out with framed photographs of himself jetting around the world on private planes and boats. Invariably, he had a supermodel or two attached to each arm!

Cool Spots Around Harbin.

Bomele 1931 Bakery Cafe Harbin China.

Bomele 1931 Bakery Cafe, Harbin.

My favourite breakfast joint was also on Zhongyang Street. Bomele 1931 really has it all, from coffee, cakes and sandwiches, to ice cream, pizza slices and baked bread. I came here every morning during my stay and loved it, especially the comfy chairs and dependable Wifi. 

Breakfast at Bomele 1931 Bakery Cafe Harbin China.

Bomele 1931 Bakery Cafe, Harbin.

Just bear in mind that Bomele 1931 is a Chinese style bakery, so expect everything to be sweet (even the savoury stuff!) and for a lot of their products to be filled with dreaded meat floss!

Zhaolin Street Harbin Heilongjiang province China

Zhaolin Street, Harbin.

Harbin is a bustling city of five million people. Somehow though it feels way more manageable than other metropolises of its size. Maybe because a good chunk of the population hides away from the cold indoors. Nevertheless, there are still some typically chaotic roads like Zhaolin Street, where cardboard stacked bicycles like this one skid between cars, buses and pedestrians.

Matryoshka dolls Harbin China.

Matryoshka doll store, Harbin.

Positioned just an hour and a half from the Russian border, Harbin also treats visitors to scattered bursts of old time Russia, including stores selling Matryoshka dolls. 

Russia Coffee and Food Harbin China.

Russia Coffee and Food, Harbin.

There’s even a classical Soviet style restaurant, the gorgeous Russian Coffee & FoodActually it’s worth eating here just for the interior, which is stuffed full of antique furniture and framed photographs of Moscow. 

Saint Sophia Church Harbin Heilongjiang province China

Saint Sophia Church, Harbin.

The epicentre of Harbin’s Russian vibe comes with the magnificent Saint Sophia Church and its distinctive green, onion-shaped dome. Inside, it’s enchantingly run down and has a cool exhibition of photographs documenting the city’s metamorphosis through the years.

Ushanka hat stall outside Saint Sophia Cathedral Harbin China.

Trying on a Russian “ushanka’ hat outside Saint Sophia Church, Harbin.

Have you ever wanted to get your hands on a Russian ushanka hat? There’s usually a guy selling them from a little market stall directly outside Saint Sophia Church. Be warned though, they’re pretty pricy! Thankfully the dude didn’t mind me taking a photo with one of his hats and giving it my best Russian soldier pose. 

Frozen Songhua River Harbin Heilongjiang province China

The Songhua River, Harbin.

For most of the year Harbin’s wide, murky river is a predominantly unremarkable sight. However, if you time your visit for February (which you should to catch the Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival), then it’s usually completely frozen. It took me about half an hour to cross it and the views and colors from all directions were absolutely gorgeous.

The frozen Songhua River Harbin China.

Cool Spots Around Harbin.

For more on this unique city, check out my other reports from around Harbin, as well as my short story Sub Zero Adventures.

Like these? Then why not also take a look at my zillion reports from all around China.

And I’ve written a short story series called Challenged In China.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001, so why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

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