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Harbin (哈尔滨) (sometimes written as Haerbin) is the capital of Heilongjiang Province in the Northeast of China. The Songhua river runs through the north of the city and in the winter is completely frozen over. Ice from this river is used as material for the Ice and Snow Festival - one of the world's four largest ice and snow festivals. In 2005, benzene (a dangerous chemical) contaminated the river and the city's water supply had to be shutdown. The city is heavily influenced by Russian architecture as a concession was made in 1896 for the Russians to build a railway to Vladivostok. Hence it is sometimes known as the "Oriental St. Petersburg". It is a unique and beautiful city.
You can also take a horse and cart ride or a walk along the frozen Songhua river in the winter.
Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival is the highlight of events here. Usually starting in the first week of January, it lasts for one month (or until it all melts). Displays an impressive array of ice sculptures, some as big as 4 storey buildings! Ice is taken from the frozen over Songhua river. The main event takes place in Zhaolin park next to the river. The best way to get there is by taxi, which should take 20 minutes from the city center. Well worth a visit just to marvel at the industriousness and skill of the ice sculptors. Be prepared for the cold as the only shelter from the cold are cafes, which charge RMB20 for a small cup of chinese tea.
Winter here can be bitterly cold, averaging -10 °C to -13 °C during the day from December to February with nights averaging between -20 and -25 °C, dropping below -30 °C during some nights. In summer, temperatures rise to around 26 or 27 °C on average from June to August but can hit well over 30 °C as well. Late spring and early autumn are great times for a visit. But if you like the international ice festival, come here in winter. Most of the rain falls in the warmer summer, winters are relatively dry.
Harbin Taiping International Airport (HRB) serves many destinations in China. China Southern Airlines has many flights, including to Hangzhou, Shanghai Pudong International Airport, Xi'an, Qingdao and Beijing. Flights by China Southern also service Vladivostok, Seoul, Osaka and Taipei.
Other domestic and international cities with connections to Harbin, with a range of other airlines, include Guangzhou, Shenyang, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Nanjing, Khabarovsk and Yakutsk.
Harbin is a railway hub of Northeast China, with five major railways converging here. There are regular trains to Beijing and Vladivostok in Russia. Many other mainly Chinese destinations are served as well, with connection onward to Mongolia and Moscow.
Long distance and over night buses go to Beijing (13 hours).
Harbin, by chinese standards, is a very walkable city (if you can bear the freezing temperatures in winter). Roads are not as busy or polluted compared to many other Chinese cities, while the city's architecture is not an eyesore.
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See also: International Telephone Calls
China Post (中国邮政) is the official postal service of the People's Republic of China, operated by the State Postal Bureau of the People's Republic of China (website in Chinese only), and has more details about price to send letters, postcards and parcels, both domestically as well as internationally. The Chinese postal service is very good. Remember that in more remote places usually only one post office in a city can handle sending international boxes or letters. Also many times it might be worth having the name of the country you are trying to send to in Chinese characters. Post offices have a striking green logo and can easily be found everywhere in the cities. They are mostly open every day (including weekends!) from 8:00am to 6:00pm, though small offices might have shorter opening times, while the bigger ones in central and touristic areas are sometimes open during evenings as well.
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