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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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Wangba (联网) means internet bar in Chinese. Almost every town will have an internet bar or gaming center. The best way to spot an internet bar is to look for the 网(ba) character, which means net, and large digitized images of computer game characters. Often, there will be a sign saying Green Power in English at the entrance. Most gaming centers cost about RMB3 an hour. You prepay at the main desk and are then given a plastic card or a piece of paper. Once you are done you return the card or piece of paper and get reimbursed for the money you didn't spend. Be prepared for a place that might be dingy, basic and messy. Internet bars in China tend to get crowded starting in the late afternoon to the late evenings.
Some hotels provide access from the rooms that may or may not be free; others may provide a wireless service or a few desktops in the lounge area.
Also, quite a few cafes provide free wireless Internet service. Some cafes, even provide a machine for customer use.
See also: International Telephone Calls
The country calling code to China is 86. To make an international call from China, the code is 00.
When making international phone calls it is best to buy an IP card. They typically have a value of ¥100 but sometimes can be had for as little as ¥25. The cards have printed Chinese instructions, but after dialing the number listed on the card English-spoken instructions are available. As a general indication of price, a call from China to Europe lasts around 22 minutes with a ¥100 card. Calls to the U.S. and Canada are advertised to be another 20% cheaper. There is no warning before the card runs out of minutes.
If you already have a GSM 900/1800 cellphone, you can roam onto Chinese networks, but calls will be very expensive (¥12-35/minute is typical). If you're staying for more than a few days, it will usually be cheaper to buy a prepaid Chinese SIM card; this gives you a Chinese phone number with a certain amount of money preloaded. Chinese tend to avoid phone numbers with the bad-luck digit '4', and vendors will often be happy to offload these "unsellable" SIM-cards to foreigners at a discount. If you need a phone as well, prices start around ¥100/200 used/new. Chinese phones, unlike those sold in many Western countries, are never "locked" and will work with any SIM card you put in them. China's two big operators are China Mobile and China Unicom. Most SIMs sold by the two work nationwide, with Unicom allowing Hong Kong/Macau/Taiwan usage as well. There is usually a surcharge of about ¥1/min when roaming outside the province you bought the SIM, and there are some cards that work only in a single province, so check when buying.
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, because small town people might not know what Estonia is in English. 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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