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Travel To The Far Northeast Of China: Harbin And Beyond

I’m traveling to Heilongjiang province in the far northeast of China. Assist with this trip remotely and contact me with any tips or ideas about what to check out and report on.

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I was all “business as usual” until I looked down at the train ticket I’d just purchased and read the words Hā’ěrbīn that were printed upon it. Even after all these years of travel I cannot say that I’ve cultivated any sense of cool when holding a ticket in my hand that has the power to sling-shot me across a vast stretch of the earth. Some kind of receptor in my brain gets tweaked by this sight and releases the floodgates of excitement. I felt like jumping, but I’m far too much of a cultivated, tried and true, travel veteran for that — of course.

This Sunday, I will be boarding a train for the far northeast of China, I will be traveling out to Harbin and beyond. It will be one entire day — yes, 24 hours — on a train, but that only adds to the shear exhilaration of going to a place that, by all accounts, is not only conceptually but literally out there.

I have been intrigued by Harbin and this part of China ever since I first found out that it existed. This sidearm northern reach of this country which nicely rounds out a flank of Mongolia is easy to lack a conception of, as it sort of sneaks way farther north than you generally think of China extending. In fact, Harbin is farther north than Vladivostok and is just two clicks of latitude south of Ulaanbaatar. It’s up there. Because of this extreme distance away from the heart of China the place has an incredibly unique history unto itself.

At the turn of the 20th century, Harbin was founded by Russia, established by a Polish engineer, and was promptly filled with Jewish immigrants. Almost needless to say, the place prospered. The city came to life as a stop on the Chinese Eastern Railway, which was financed and built by Russia to serve as a shortcut to Vladivostok from Chitka, and was used as a Russian military base during the Russo-Japanese War. Then it was the heart of the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo. Then throughout the 20th century the place filled with Han migrants becoming what it is today.

What is it today? I’m going to find out.

I have a bunch of objectives for this journey, but I’m still looking for more. If you would like to get involved and help out with planning remotely, just read about Heilongjiang province and let me know in the comments below if you find or interesting, topics, places, or people that you will like me to check out and report on.


Filed under: China, Uncategorized

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3705 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

4 comments… add one

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  • Félix Gervais June 2, 2013, 6:46 am

    How long you have? Trains are actually real cheap up there, probably because of govt subsidies… so f you don’t mind long rides (I know you don’t) I’d say explore Harbin for a few days, then pop to Hailaer in Inner Mongolia. The grasslands will be beautiful at this time of the year, and in the vicinity of Hailaer you can go visit that crazy underground Japanese military base. Two hours north or so, there is Eerguna, which was a REAL ghost town (we walked on the über-modern streets, and left footprints in the dust as if it was virgin snow) attached to an actual, lively town with a Nestlé factory…

    Pop back to Harbin, then on the way back south you can make a detour to Yanji and Tumen, in Yanbian Korean autonomous prefecture. Yanji is a 4 million or so metropolis, but real relaxed and cool (with yummy Korean food, and lively/gritty Korean-style bars) and Tumen is super small, and right on the DPRK border. Both have a split population of 50% Han, 50% Koreans, who live together peacefully.

    Then, from Tumen, no need to backtrack, there is a train line going southwestwards towards Beijing via Shenyang (a shit city that I don’t recommend stopping at).

    Lemme know! Dongbei is awesome, you should have a great time there.

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  • Bei June 3, 2013, 8:46 am

    Had you been there in winter, there’s the really amazing ice sculpture show. Architecture in Harbin can be fairly unique with Russian influence etc. Will you visit nearby cities? I’m originally from Daqing and still have families there. If you feel like getting in touch with some locals, facebook me (I’ve messaged you before re the Chinese traveling singer)

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  • Dirty Pierre June 3, 2013, 11:07 am

    Dear Wade,

    Has this made the news in China yet?

    At least 119 killed in fire at Baoyuan poultry plant in China

    By China correspondent Stephen McDonell, wires

    Updated 4 hours 20 minutes ago

    PHOTO: Rescue workers and fire trucks are seen outside the poultry slaughterhouse in Dehui, Jilin province.(Photo: Reuters/Xinhua/Wang Haofei)

    MAP: China

    At least 119 people have been killed in a fire at a poultry processing plant in north-eastern China.

    There were more than 300 workers on site when the fire broke out at the Baoyuan poultry plant in Dehui in Jilin province.

    Emergency workers searching for survivors are uncertain as to how many people are still trapped, and many believe the death toll could rise.

    Many of the victims appear to have been killed because a crucial gate was locked and the facility had a “complicated interior structure” and narrow exits.

    At least 54 others are reported to have been injured in the blaze.

    The cause of the fire is not yet clear; however, state broadcaster CCTV has reported that eyewitnesses heard a blast and suspected a leak of liquid ammonia.

    CCTV earlier reported the fire might have started with an electric spark in the plant.

    Workplace safety standards can be poor in China, where fatal accidents happen regularly at mines and factories, with some blaming lax enforcement of rules.

    In some cases resulted in owners or company officials being arrested.

    A fire at a nightclub in Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong, killed 44 people in 2008. A senior policeman was jailed for taking bribes to allow the unlicensed venue to remain open.

    “Was this place never regularly inspected by fire safety authorities?” wrote one user on China’s popular Twitter-like service, Weibo.

    “Senior officials need to be sacked because of this,” wrote another.

    The slaughterhouse is owned by a small local feed and poultry producer called Jilin Baoyuanfeng Poultry Company, according to the government.

    It was not clear whether poor standards were to blame for the fire in Dehui.

    An investigation is underway into the incident, believed to be the country’s worst in over a decade.

    Dirty Pierre in Vietnam

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  • mitchblatt June 4, 2013, 1:13 am

    Outside of Harbin, there is a tiger habitat where you can go in a truck and see tigers and feed them meat.

    The farthest north village in China, Mohe, is supposedly picturesque.

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