Taiwan Museum of Art
National Museum of Natural Science
The city that will be your home for the next few months is located in Central Taiwan, on the west coast. Check out the following sites for more information.
Taichung Tourism Bureau
TISC, Taichung Branch 4/F, #216 Min-quan Rd., Taichung
Taichung is regarded as the Cultural Capital of Taiwan and has two interesting museums, the Taiwan Museum of Art at #2, Wu-quan West Road and the National Museum of Natural Science on Xi-tun Road (second entrance on Guan-qian Road). The first is a big place with 24 exhibition rooms and it's worth it to check regularly if there isn't any interesting being shown. You'll find sculptures, Western as well as Chinese paintings and once in a while even 'installations' on exhibit. The gift shop has interesting publications and artefacts at normal prices. Open from 09:00 to 17:00.
The Science Museum, a place where amusement and museum meet, is divided into three parts with separate admission fees: the Science Center, with experimental equipment and an audio-visual room costs only NT$ 10; the Space Theater costs NT$ 100 (NT$ 70 with student card); tickets for the Life Science Hall and the other exhibitions cost NT$ 100. A ticket for the 3-D Theater has to be bought separately, but it is worth its NT$ 70 and the (generally short) waiting line; they show really impressive stuff there. A handy English brochure of 56 pages costs only NT$ 25. There are other English publications available and the staff is very friendly and helpful. Open from 09:00 to 17:00, but you may indeed need an entire day to stroll through the whole place. Jam-packed on Sundays and official holidays. To be avoided then.
Not too far from the Museum of Art, on Ying-cai Road, you can find the Taichung Municipal Cultural Center. It regularly features good exhibitions about a variety of subjects (bonsai trees, woodcarving, the graduating art department of Tunghai University, . . .). The library seems to be very well documented, but is mainly interesting for the local residents due to the lack of foreign language publications. Admission is normally free. All three are closed on Mondays as most museums worldwide.
As in every Chinese community there is a wide variety of temples to be found in Taichung. The most renowned are the unadorned Confucius Temple on Shuang-shi Road and the Bao Jue Temple on Jian-xing Road with its famous pot-belly Buddha, the only Zen-temple in the city. Strewn all over the city are numerous examples of heavily ornamented Tao-temples or less decorated Buddhist temples and shrines.
There are several big and small parks to enjoy in Taichung. Probably the most famous is Taichung Park downtown with its lagoon for rowing boats. There also is a stage towards the back that always features some form of entertainment albeit a woman singing with a Karaoke machine. All types of Chinese society pass through the park's gates so it's a good people watching place. On Sundays, especially, it gets crowded with families taking a stroll or old men playing mahjong, but toward nightfall it gets a little seamy. Best to head out by then.
Calligraphy Greenwaycomes in 3.6 kilometers, ranging north from National Museum of Natural Science to National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts in the south. It’s an urban space structure shaped in a kind of long and wide stripe. Along the stripped space, National Museum of Natural Science, Civil Square, Park Lane by CMP, gallery space, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, and food court are gathered here to offer a variety of merry events, activities, etc., upbeat spirits, fun in all forms. That’s why this urban space is named Calligraphy Greenway owing to that the atmosphere, tempo, and movement of those events within it are free, flexible that’s just like the cursive writing of Chinese calligraphy.
The Taichung Folklore Park (#73, Section 2, Lu-shun Rd.), close to the intersection of Wen-xin Rd. and Cong-de Rd., is a nice re-creation of a traditional Chinese village of years ago with some craftsmen present and working. There's a rudimentary folklore museum in the basement of the traditional Chinese house in the right corner. The Arts and Crafts shops sell typical souvenirs. Your student ID from Feng Chia University can qualify you for a student discount (only NT$ 20), so bring it with you here as well as when you go to other cultural places. Open Tuesday through Friday from 09:00 to 17:30 and the weekends from 09:00 to 19:00.
On the outskirts of town to the east, where the hills meet the plain, is Da-keng Park with its challenging hiking trails (eight all together now) and interesting playground with barbecue facilities, an amusement park and water world, and Encore Gardens, which features nightly sound and light shows. If you like to see water dancing to traditional Chinese ballads and pop hits, then this is your place. Avoid the Da-keng trails on Sundays (unless at the break of dawn) if you don't want to walk and climb in an endless line.
The Feng-le Sculpture Park is a relatively addition to the city's tourist attractions. With its arched bridges, waterfall, artificial lake, kids' playground, activity center, walking paths and of course the 52 pieces of statues, the result from previous outdoors competition, this area is a nice oasis of green and calm. (intersection of Wen-xin South Road and Yong-chun E. 1st Road).
As said before, if you really want to stay in touch with what goes on in and around Taichung, your best bet is to get a copy of the Compass magazine or to log on to the website, which now also has started to cover almost all of Taiwan.
There are many gorgeous towns and areas to visit in Taiwan, and you'll have many opportunities to get out of Taichung on the weekends. Traveling is easy, cheap and convenient. Take advantage of the free weekends and holidays because there are so many incredible sights to see.
Taipei is the largest city in Taiwan and easily accessible from Taichung. Though the city has a bad reputation for being an overcrowded and seriously polluted place with miserable rain most of the times, it has a few good sides too. A real highlight is the National Palace Museum, which features some of the most magnificent cultural treasures including artifacts from ancient times to modern, calligraphy works, paintings, an outstanding jade collection, bronze statues, etc. The list goes on, but the point is that you've got to visit this place. It will be a day or an afternoon well spent, guaranteed. The exhibited items are regularly rotated, so you may find different artefacts the next time you go. We visit the museum on one of our cultural trips.
Taipei 101, the tallest building until 2007, is a must see especially on New Years' Eve where the largest, most extravagant fireworks show is displayed. Imagine a 101 floor building setting off thousands of fireworks at once for a minute!
There are also a lot of well known hot springs in the outskirts of Taipei, primarily in the Yangmingshan, Peitou, and Wulai areas
Living in Taichung provides easy access to a number of worthwhile places you can visit for either overnight or just for the day. The travel guides provide information about the scenic spots in the area and give details about getting there and away. Just to mention a few:
The Cross Island Highway begins outside of Taichung, and winds its way through the central mountain range ending up in Hualian, a fairly small, easygoing city (in comparison with Taichung) on the East coast. Along this highway are many places to visit including:
You could consider to combine your stay here with some travel throughout South-east Asia, either for a visa trip after six months or after you finish your studies. Here are a few suggestions about places to visit.
These are just a few places. Talking to your classmates and referring to a reliable guide such as the Lonely Planet guide is a good bet.
It is advisable to book a ticket early enough, because more and more Taiwanese discover the pleasures of traveling abroad and take off for example for the Chinese New Year holiday and during July and August.
Traveling to China is a great way to practice the Chinese you have been studying at the Feng Chia Chinese Language Center. It is a very inexpensive place to travel (outside cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou – though even in these cities, bargains can be found) and is generally safe. Unfortunately, due to the political situation between Taipei and Beijing, there are no direct flights between the two sides of the Taiwan Straits. With the KMT returning to the office after a landslide victory in the 2008 presidential election, President Ma Yin-jiu vows to establish direct air links between Taiwan and China to boost both economic and social ties. We'll just have to wait and see.
As it is right now, to get to China, the best way is to fly either through Hong Kong or Macau. From there, you can either take a plane to nearly anywhere in the Mainland (except Tibet) or you can take a train from Kowloon in Hong Kong to Guangdong Province.
In China itself, you can get around on a very comprehensive train system. Problem is that purchasing tickets is easier in some places than others. Shanghai has a special ticket office for foreigners where they speak English and reserve hard to get tickets for their ‘foreign friends’. You had better have your foreign passport with you or they won’t sell you the tickets. In Ji’nan, on the other hand, even if you speak fluent Chinese, unless you want to go to other places in Shandong Province or to Bejing, it is almost impossible to get tickets unless you have connections or use a travel agent to get the tickets.
Once you get your tickets, two things are highly recommended to bring along with you on the train. First, a mug. Hot water is available on every train, and when I say hot, I mean hot! It is free. Second, tea. It is a wonderful way to make acquaintances among your neighbors on the train (and give you increased opportunities to practice your Chinese). It will also put you in their good graces for the entire trip. Almost invariably, as a foreigner who speaks Chinese, the people will clamor to ask you questions. Quite often, Chinese passengers consider themselves fortunate to be near a Chinese-speaking foreigner because, for many, it is their only contact with the outside world.
Long distance busses are also an option, but unless the trip is a short one (i.e. Changchun to Jilin) or trains are not an option, this is not recommended. The ride will almost certainly be one of the roughest you have ever been on. In addition, if you don’t like cigarette smoke (most Chinese men are heavy smokers), ‘no smoking’ rules are almost never enforced. Even on trains, you may have to ask an attendant to enforce the rules, but they generally will once you point it out to them.
Of course, planes are an option. However, besides their steep price tag, you also miss out on the opportunities for interaction with ordinary Chinese that you will have on the train. You won’t see too many peasants taking a plane from place to place, they generally take the train.
Beijing is the capital of Mainland China and has been so off and on (mostly on) since the Yuan Dynasty. As a result, Beijing contains many of China’s national treasures. The Palace Museum (gugong) is a must see, especially if you were as enraptured by the film “The Last Emperor” as many others were. Better known as the Forbidden City, many parts were in the process of restoration just a few years ago and should be even more spectacular than it was then.
Another must see is Tian’anmen and Tian’anmen Square (Tian’anmen Guangchang). Tian’anmen means “Gate of Heavenly Peace”, though as we all know, it wasn’t so peaceful during the spring of 1989. The Square itself, across the street from the Palace Museum, is the largest public square in the world. You will also find the tomb of Mao Zedong, though if you visit it, I wouldn’t brag about it to the Kuomintang old-timers when you return to Taiwan.
An oft overlook gem in the city is Beihai Park (Beihai Gongyuan). Through the gentle climb to the summit where you will see a traditional Chinese temple, you will be met with traditional Chinese architecture and nice shady areas. It is a nice, relaxing stroll, especially if you go during the week and the top offers a spectacular view of the city as well as the Palace Museum. It isn’t mobbed with foreign tourists like many other landmarks in Beijing are.
Of course, if you are in Bejing, you must visit the Great Wall (chang cheng). There are at least three sections that have been restored and are easily accessible from the city by bus. There are many other sections that have not been restored. Generally, the best way to get to these areas is by taxi (though it can be a bit on the expensive side because the wall goes through the northern outskirts of the city).
If you only eat once in Beijing, you must eat Beijing Duck (Beijing kaoya). Ask locals were you can get good Beijing Duck, because there is a wide variance in the quality of the duck.
Shanghai has replaced Shenzhen as the economic capital of China (not counting Hong Kong of course). Shanghai has enjoyed an incredible transformation over the past thirteen years from a sleepy metropolis to a bustling city beginning to relive its rather seedy past. If you are looking for Chinese culture, you may want to pass this city by or only spend one or two days there. Unfortunately, the city is rapidly losing its soul.
If you do make a stop in the city, make sure you visit the Bund (waitan). It is along the west bank of the Huangpu River on Sun Yatsen East Road (Zhongshan Dong Lu). You will be astounded by the mixture of modern neon lights and colonial-era European buildings from the days when Shanghai was the playground of the British, French, and other Europeans. From there, talk a walk along Nanjing Road. Sample more colonial-era architecture and take a look at the shops along the road. Foreigners and non-local Chinese (waidiren as they are known, rather derogatively in Shanghai) love to shop on this street, but the locals will tell you that Huaihai Road is the place to shop in Shanghai. Better yet, save your shopping for Hong Kong, as many Shanghainese do. When you get to Tibet Road (Xizang Lu), take a left and walk a couple of blocks to the People’s Square (Remin Guangchang). People’s Square is the hangout spot in Shanghai. The Shanghai museum is there. Across the street is the building for the Shanghai government, a rather ugly structure, especially compared to the beautiful, albeit ultra-modern, performing arts center right next door on the left.
Shanghai food is nothing to write home about. However, the best fare can be found on Yellow River Road (Huanghe Lu) and Yunnan South Road (Yunnan Nan Lu). The one Shanghai dish that is recommended is called Xiaolongbao. You will find it at Xiaochidian throughout the city. You will also find some quality Uyghur restaurants in the city if you want to try some delicious lamb without traveling to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
Shanghai’s nightlife is unrivaled in the Mainland and is quickly re-establishing itself as one of the most seedy cities in Asia (though it is still quite far behind Bangkok). There are many discos and bars throughout the city, though the most popular with foreigners are along Maoming Road. Prostitution has also become visible in many of the higher-class establishments in the city.
Many countries maintain consulates in the city, so if you are in the area (Nanjing, Hangzhou among others) and you need consular services, Shanghai would be the place to visit for many nationalities.
Guangzhou is the capital of the southern province of Guangdong. It has been for centuries one of China’s most open cities and has long been exposed to the outside world. This will explain their sophistication in their dealings with foreigners (though even they haven’t fully recovered from the decades where China was closed to most of the Western world).
Take a stroll along the Pearl River (Zhu Jiang). Sections of it offer surprising serenity in an otherwise bustling city. Take a bus or a taxi to White Cloud Mountain (Baiyunshan). Every Guangdongese knows it, one of their soccer teams is named after it, and it offers beautiful views of the city (except during the summer when the city is shrouded in smog.) Without a doubt, the winter is the best time to visit this city with temperatures in the mid to high 20s, common even at Christmas.
Guangzhou has some wonderful night markets, though be prepared to haggle for prices. Knowledge of Cantonese would help here, but Mandarin should suffice for the overwhelming majority of shops. This would also be a good place to try some local desserts, famous throughout China.
A large number of countries have consulates in Guangzhou.
Most recently the capital of China until 1949 (unless you consult certain maps in Taiwan which still list it as the capital), Nanjing offers a wealth of places to visit. If you are interested in Chinese culture and history, this is a far better place to visit than nearby Shanghai.
Surprisingly, most of the city wall from the Ming Dynasty still stands. This is a highly recommended sight, though the part that overlooks the lake is the most beautiful section to behold. You will also want to visit Zhonghua Gate facing to the south of the city. It is actually a fort built into the wall. It offers a great insight into Ming-era city defense as well as a birds-eye view of the south of the city. If heights make you feel a little queasy, don’t do this right after lunch.
No visit to Nanjing would be complete without a visit to the Nanjing Massacre Memorial and Museum. As you enter the memorial, one can’t help but be struck by the number 300,000. This is the number of people who died during the Rape of Nanjing in 1937. Many more were tortured and raped. Personal accounts from people who survived the Massacre are inscribed in stone tablets. Inside the museum itself, the course of events leading up to the Japanese conquest of Nanjing is outlined, with special emphasis on what the Japanese did to the local inhabitants in other cities. Pictures of the massacre (their authenticity is still questioned by many Japanese) are on display as well as maps depicting the battle tactics used by the Japanese to conquer the city (though one wonders how important they were because the KMT abandoned the city without much of a fight). About four hours is recommended to completely take in everything there. It will forever leave an impression with you at the inhumanity man is capable of inflicting on itself.
This is one of the most beautiful cities in eastern China. It is famous for West Lake (Xi Hu). Spend an afternoon taking a boat through the lake. There are a few temples on islands in the lake where most tour boats will stop and let you off to stroll and take a look.
Walk along the lake and you will see shops. Two things to buy in Hangzhou are silk and tea. Hangzhou craftsmen produce some of the most beautiful silk articles in the world. The amazing thing about this is that they aren’t really that expensive (a fraction of what you would pay in Western countries, Japan, or even Hong Kong).
You must also get some of the local West Lake Longjing Tea (Xihu Longjing Cha). It is one of the most famous teas in China and some varieties of it are very hard to find overseas because it is illegal to export them. Find a tea shop (you will find a sign with the character cha hanging from most of them), sit back and enjoy the tea while you decide which tea you would like to purchase. This alone could take two or three hours, so sit back, relax and enjoy.
One piece of advice about Hangzhou: don’t visit on weekends or holidays!!! Shanghainese love to take one or two-day trips to Hangzhou so it is incredibly crowded during these periods. Pick a two or three days during the week to truly enjoy and relax in the city.
In Shandong Province, this is the hometown of Confucius. He was a Chinese philosopher and master teacher who lived during the Warring States Period about twenty-five hundred years ago. His teachings still profoundly affect many today in Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Vietnam, and his ideas are even enjoying a resurgence in the Mainland. He lived during a war torn period of Chinese history (his own area being contested for constantly by the Qi and Lu states), and his writings are certainly influenced by this.
The family homestead is a popular tourist attraction. It is not known where exactly he is buried, but many of his family members as well as some of his students are known to be buried on the grounds.
Located by the Shandong city of Tai’an, Taishan is one of the holiest mountains to the Chinese. Seemingly hundreds of traditional temples (sadly, many are still in disrepair from the Cultural Revolution) are found on all parts of the mountain. Many Chinese like to take a night train to Taishan, climb the mountain and see the sunrise from the summit of Taishan. If you begin your climb by midnight, you should have a good chance to make it in time. Do not do this during the summer. Your chances of an ideal sunrise are close to zero. The best time to get a good sunrise is the winter, but it will feel like Siberia when you do it. Early spring and late autumn offer a reasonable chance of seeing a beautiful sunrise without feeling like you left polar bear training school when you return.
This is the capital of China’s most populous province, Shandong. It is on the southern banks of the Yellow River (Huang He). See if bus #4 still runs up there and take a look. You will be surprised by the large earthen walls that separate the river from the city. In normal conditions (especially during the winter and spring), the level of the river will be above that of the city itself. This is because over the course of thousands of years, Ji’nanese have built up the earthen levees to separate their city from the river as the silt carried from the Loess Valley upstream has caused the river bottom to rise. Now, the river is regularly dredged to prevent its continued rise.
Ji’nan is often called “The City of Springs”. Unfortunately, many of the springs in the city are dry or drying due to increased desertification in northern China. Still, two worth visiting are Baotuquan and Heilongquan. Try the local beer if you are into that sort of thing. Baotuquan Pijiu is considered by many to be better than its Qingdao counterpart.
During Imperial times the lake near the center of the city was strictly off-limits to anyone not affiliated with the royal family. Today, it is the most popular place in Ji’nan. Many festivals are held here throughout the year (especially on National Day – 1 October – as well as Chinese New Year).
In the city, you must try the dumplings. Some consider them the best in China. The local mantou (steamed bread) is also widely known.
Ji’nan is easily accessible by rail from Beijing, but try getting your onward ticket at the same time (unfortunately, not always possible because as of my last experience traveling in China, there was no central ticketing system – hopefully this has changed) because getting tickets in Ji’nan is difficult (or at least was as of a few years ago).
Qingdao is easily the most beautiful city in Shandong Province. It was first a German outpost, then suffered under virtual Japanese occupation. The interesting thing is that while the German influence is still easily seen, there is almost no evidence of a previous Japanese presence.
Qingdao is most famous for Tsingdao Beer (Qingdao Pijiu). It is the most exported Chinese brew and can be found around the world. They will soon build a brewery right here in Taiwan.
Talk a walk along the coast. During the summer, it is a pleasant walk with a summer breeze (especially in the afternoon). Take a boat ride into the ocean and observe the old German section of the city. Afterward, take a stroll through it. Also take a look at Chiang Kai Shek’s Qingdao residence, still rather well preserved, in the city.
This city is a gem in the Northeast region of China sometimes known in the West as Manchuria (a term most Mainlanders despise by the way). Dalian is easily the most developed city in the region that has become known as China’s “rust belt”. It is located on the Liaodong Peninsula and provides some breathtaking views of the Yellow Sea. On a very clear day, you can even see the Korean Peninsula.
Stroll around the old city and experience colonial-era Russian architecture. Much of it has been restored.
Dalian has several nice parks, including one with a giant soccer ball in it. This is a city that takes pride in its soccer team (Dalian Shide), who have just won their seventh Chinese championship in nine years and are constantly in the running for the Asian club championship (the closest they have ever come was a controversial loss in pk’s to Suwon in the finals back in 1998).
During the summer, the city puts on musical and artistic performances near Victory Square, located near the train station. They are popular and well attended by locals of all ages.
If you enjoy Chinese history, this is the place in the Northeast to visit. You will first be struck by how dirty this city is (in the late 90s, it had surpassed Mexico City as the world’s dirtiest city, though Mexico City has since regained that title). However, there are some incredible gems here, especially as this was the capital of the Manchu Kingdom before it conquered China in 1644.
Shenyang has its own Palace Museum (gugong). Though smaller, it is better preserved and represents more architectural diversity than its counterpart in Beijing. Manchu, Han, Mongolian, and Tibetan influences are all evident throughout the structure. You will note the statue of Emperor Taiji on horseback, symbolic of the nomadic nature of the Manchu people at this time. Walk along Shenyang Road outside the Palace Museum to see traditional Chinese architecture, and enjoy the comfortable pedestrian walkways.
Be sure to visit the Northern Tomb (Beiling). It is an impressive structure, and home to numerous deceased (one hopes) Manchu kings and emperors.
Try the beef noodles (niu rou mian) in Shenyang. They are very inexpensive and very good.
A handful of countries, including the United States have consulates in Shenyang.
Shanhaiguan is actually in Hebei Province, but it is just as easily reached from Shenyang as from Beijing. This city is noteworthy because this is where the Great Wall meets this sea. This is also the location where a Ming traitor opened the gates of the Great Wall, allowing the Manchus to come through and establish the Qing Dynasty.
The entire city wall is still standing. In fact, the Great Wall itself is the eastern wall of the city. Take a stroll along the First Gate Under Heaven (Tianxia Diyiguan), best known as where the Manchus came through.
Also visit the naval fortress constructed where the wall reaches the sea itself. An impressive structure. You can also take a motorboat ride into the Yellow Sea.
Be warned: This is a small town, and the locals become vultures when they see foreigners, especially on slow days. They will try to rip you off at every turn. This is the only city in China where I have ever had problems getting taxi drivers to use their meters. If you didn’t bring too many bags, walk to the city if they won’t use it, it isn’t very far. Being stalked during virtually my entire stay there made what should have been a very pleasant stay into a nuisance. Unless you have a strong dose of patience, you may want to avoid this city.
Dandong is a small city right on the North Korean border. Really, the only reason to go there is to get a glimpse of one of the world’s most secretive regimes. You can also purchase North Korean stamps, coins, and even paper currency on the cheap. A must for collectors everywhere.
Visit the park right on the border of the river. Get your picture taken with North Korea in the background and a sign noting that this is the Chinese-North Korean border (with the flags of both countries included). This can be a great conversation piece with your friends back home, especially in many Western countries. You can also take a speedboat ride on the Yalu River. You will be on the North Korean side for most of the trip, but don’t worry, nothing on the North Korean side looks like it can even be propelled, and China still has reasonably good relations with North Korea.
You will see that a new “Friendship Bridge” has replaced an older bridge built by the Japanese (more on this later). There is actually very little traffic on this bridge, and most of it seems to be Chinese.
The first bridge across the Yalu River was built by the Japanese in 1911 to connect their Japanese colony in Korea with their growing economic interests in northeastern China. The United States “accidently” bombed it in 1950 (by an interesting coincidence, I was there less than two months after the United States “accidently” bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade). The North Koreans have dismantled their side of the bridge, but the Chinese side remains as a memorial to the U.S. bombing in 1950. In fact, when I identified myself as an American, they were eager to point out to me where the U.S. missiles hit.
If you like Korean food, this is one of the best places to get authentic Korean food in China due to the large ethnic Korean population in this area. Numerous restaurants (many of the small, family-run variety) serve excellent Korean food.
Like Shanhaiguan, this is a small town. Unlike Shanhaiguan, some of the nicest people you will ever meet in your China travels will be here in Dandong.
This is the capital of Jilin Province and was the capital of the Japanese puppet state of Manzhouguo during the 1930s. It was renamed Xinjin (New Capital) during this period. Changchun means ‘long spring’ in Chinese, but in reality, it should be named Changdong (for long winter) because its winters are long and cold. In the summer, however, Changchun has absolutely delightful weather.
The main reason to make a stop in this city is to see the Puppet Emperor’s Palace (Weihuanggong). If you have seen the movie The Last Emperor, you will know that Puyi became the puppet of the Japanese and this is where he set up shop. Today, it has been converted into a museum to display the various crimes perpetrated by the Japanese on Manchuria during the occupation. Interestingly enough, there where a large number of Japanese tourists visiting the place when I visited.
If you have some time to kill while waiting for the train, take a stroll through one of Changchun’s many parks. They are very pleasant during Changchun’s warm (but generally not hot) summer afternoons.
If you can tolerate arctic weather, go to see their Winter Festival. While not as famous (and therefore not as crowded) as its counterpart in Harbin, you will see a fascinating array of ice sculptures.
Jilin is a rather nondescript city in the heart of China’s rust belt. Industrialized in the 1950s, it has long since been passed over by more modern development in the south. If you are interested in history, some interesting temples will be found here, as it is the historic capital of Jilin Province. However, this city can just as easily be passed over for more interesting Harbin if you are short on time.
There is a Confucian cultural temple that is worth visiting. It is surprisingly well preserved. Sadly, when I visited, there were only a handful of others there. During Imperial times, candidates would pray and prepare here prior to taking the provincial level exams.
This city is one of the best kept secrets in Northeastern China. Rapidly transforming from a rust belt city to a modern international city, modernization is evident throughout the city.
Looking back to the city’s past first, along the Songhua River is Stalin Park (Sidalin Gongyuan). There is a monument to a flood that was beaten back in the 1950s. You will also find souvenirs in small roadside stalls that you will find through the park along the shore of the river. A delightful place to take a stroll and sit on a park bench, as long as the namesake of the park doesn’t stir any unpleasant thoughts.
One of the main roads in downtown Harbin has been completely closed off to motorized traffic (though you may see an occasional motor scooter try to get through, before being nabbed by the local police). It has been beautifully rebuilt into a pedestrian walkway. Take a stroll. This is another good place to pick up some souvenirs, as well as see any number of street-side performances that are being offered up for the evening. You will find some fabulous snack foods as well, and some wonderful opportunities to chat with locals and practice your Chinese. If you are a Westerner (especially with blond hair), don’t be surprised if they call you a Russian and try to speak to you in Russian. Just tell them politely that you are not Russian and don’t speak it (unless you actually are or you speak the language).
You must check out the Church of Saint Sophia. It is a beautiful Russian Orthodox Church. It has been completely restored and has become an art center in Dalian. You must visit it both during the day as well as during the night. During the day, enjoy the architectural beauty of the building as well as any art exhibit being presented at the time you are there. Make another visit during the evening, because it takes on a completely different character with the building outlined in green and red lights, lit water fountains in the front of the building, young couples holding each other in the square in front of the church, and street performers entertaining anyone willing to watch. It really takes on a street festival atmosphere and you can easily spend an entire evening there.
Another must visit is the Siberian/Manchurian Tiger Park (Dongbei Laohu Senlin Gongyuan). You will take a bus or an SUV through the park. Through the vehicle won’t necessarily have the protective metal meshing, don’t worry as the tigers will be to busy either sleeping or munching on the live cow that had just been provided for them. It is quite a site to see the tigers stalk and pounce on the helpless cow. It is quite a sound to hear the cow squeal as it is being eaten alive. Not recommended for small children.
Heihe is a small city in far northern Heilongjiang Province. It lies on the Russian border on the Heilong (Black Dragon) River, known to the Russians as the Amur River. It is a very pleasant small city, and definitely worth a visit if you want to see the Russian border and enjoy the Heilongjiang countryside.
Of course, the main draw to the city is the Heilong River and the Russian border. You can take a boat ride on the river. The ride takes roughly 45 minutes to an hour. You will be on the Russian side much of the time. If you are white and you see Russians swimming in the river, they may yell to you in Russian. Just wave and smile. While on the boat ride, you will see that there is considerably more traffic between the Chinese and Russian borders here (despite the lack of a bridge) than you would see in Dandong between China and North Korea. Russian-Chinese trade has really flourished with the demise of the Soviet Union and the increasing economic development in China’s northeast.
Check out the open market in the city. You will find many Russian goods there for far less than you will find them in Western countries. You can even find books of old Soviet stamps (at least you could as of a couple of years ago) in excellent to mint condition. They will cost a fraction of what they will run for in other countries.
Heihe is an eight hour train ride from Harbin. You would take an overnight train to Heihe, stay there a day (all you really need), sleep in Heihe that night. Then, you should take a day train to return to Harbin. The forests and rolling hills of the northern Heilongjiang countryside are breathtakingly beautiful.
Here's a list of recommended travel agencies people have used before and had good experiences with. You can also check the ads in the China Post, Taipei Times and the Taiwan News and then compare their prices.