Venture to Northeastern China – Harbin, Changchun and Shenyang

Autumn turns out to be a good time to be in Northeastern China. The weather is cool, and the colour of leaves in shades of red, orange and yellow are breathtaking.

Harbin was especially mind blowing. They are obsessed about cleanliness! There is an army of cleaners tending the streets endlessly. Owing to Russian influence, the architecture is quite a bit more interesting than the generally drab ones built all over China during the 70s through 2000s.

Shenyang, in Liaoning province, is where people queue up to board transportation vehicles (and I have witnessed the same in Dalian a decade ago), something not emulated in other provinces. Their driving habits are horrendous though.

Attractions to visit in Harbin are Saint Sophia Cathedral (currently under restoration and completely fenced off), Central Avenue and Laodaowai district. I avoided Sun Island as I wasn’t so keen on visiting the Russian style town, having been to Russia already. In winter though, visiting the Ice festival is a must.

Shenyang is the cradle of the Qing Dynasty, but otherwise, Shenyang is a mega modern city. Thankfully, the restoration effort is commendable, and you should definitely visit the three Qing Dynasty historical sites (UNESCO world heritage), namely the palace and the two mausoleums. Of the three,  东陵 (Eastern Mausoleum) is the most recommended, and it is especially beautiful in autumn.

Here are the highlights of my trip:

Autumn..

A walk in the woods of Jing Yue Tan in Changchun
We had time to cover only a very small section of Jing Yue Tan. It is a 5A graded tourist attraction
Enroute to Harbin. Harvesting of corn, the main crop of the entire Northeastern region was underway.
Sophia cathedral in Harbin was completely fenced off. Pity.
Central Avenue (中央大街) is pedestrianized tourist-oriented shopping street in Harbin
An underground public toilet. It is perhaps the cleanest public toilet i have ever come across, and it’s free of charge!
Stall selling the famed Madieer ice sticks, along Central Avenue
Picked Tatoc for dinner. Mostly patronized by tourists. I think it is worthwhile if you’re tired of Chinese food.
Well appointed interior
Not a Russian restaurant if Borsch soup is not on the menu. Vodka too.
Steak flambe
罐虾 (Shrimp pot), battered fried shrimp cooked in tomato sauce. A Harbin specialty dish which i would think is hardly Russian.
Madieer Restaurant and Brewery, also located along Central Avenue
There’s non-stop entertainment
Picked 更新饭店 at the Laodaowai area for brekkie
The interior is only slightly refreshed, a good thing
I do like the food, including the 烧饼 (baked pancake), 火烧 (roasted bun) 豆腐脑 (beancurd in sauce) and 酱牛肉 (braised beef)
The 火烧 is not unlike the Seremban Siew Bao of Malaysia, except it uses different spices.
The Laodaowai area has been made tourist friendly
The architecture style is called Chinese Baroque
This arch is not unlike those i have seen in Europe
All the reputable restaurants in Laodaowai have been relocated to this street. If you were looking up addresses of restaurants in Laodaowai, i’d say don’t bother, just come here and likely you will find the restaurant.
Well known dishes in Harbin 排骨包子 (pork ribs bun) and 锅包肉 (Fluffy fried battered pork). I chose 红江 instead of the more well known 张包铺 to try the 包子, owing to negative comments.
It really does enclose pork ribs
Like i told you, Harbin is obsessed with cleanliness
Baked sweet potatoes, commonly peddled all around China. The sweet potatoes don’t come close to the ones i had in Okinawa though, sorry.
Sugar coated haws
For dinner, we went back to Laodaowai area to try casserole dishes at 张氏熏酱老街砂锅居 (such a mouthful). PIctured here is the 酱骨, mostly bone but the little meat dangling on it is delicious.
I don’t know why, but despite the inclusion of the word casserole in the name of the restaurant, there was just a single page out of 20 that lists the casserole dishes. Anyway, we ordered this 坛肉豆腐 (braised pork and beancurd) casserole and it was awesome
To cap off the day, we went to Danny Beer, and they had nice imported beer for cheap. Seriously much better than the typical diluted Chinese beer.
Zipped to Shenyang on a Gaotie (high speed train), the best way for cross-province travel in China
First stop in Shenyang, 故宫 (Qing Dynasty Palace), which is accessible through this modern replication of 怀远门 (Huaiyuan gate)
Age-old muslim shop selling various kinds of pastry snack
Grand entrance to the inner palace courtyard
Small water feature at the back of the palace
老边饺子 (Laobian dumplings), located along 中街 (middle street), isn’t too far from the palace
Steamed dumplings and a fanciful snow flake crusted pan fried dumplings
中街 (Middle street) is actually the first pedestrianized shopping street in China
Friends brought us to this place – 西部酒吧 (Western Bar). Northeastern China is well known for doing comical performances. We were told the standard has dropped though. An eye-opening and ear-deafening experience.
Another age-old Muslim eatery for breakfast. Throughout Northeastern China, there is the common practice of sun-drying scallion for use during winter.
Minced mutton pancake and mutton soup. There is minimal use of herbs for the soup, so not everyone will be able to get used to it.
Autumn coloured leaves are so captivating
Willow trees
Squirrel with furry large ears
Of the three places we visited in Shenyang, 东陵 (Eastern Mausoleum) is the prettiest. Accessible only by car, it probably receives fewer visitors, which makes it all the more pleasant.
Breathtaking sight while walking these steps
The tour guide enlightened us to see this figure of a man which is actually a watermark created naturally.
The entrance to the tomb. It was sad to learn that those who were tasked to build the tomb were also all forcefully buried within.
The tomb
Well thought out layout
Among the guardian creatures flanking the route to the Mausoleum, this cat like figure (a pair of them) captured my attention. Looks rather cute and a bit like Doraemon.
The roasted duck from 原味斋 was awesome, not any less impressive than 全聚德
北陵 (Northern Mausoleum) follows the same layout as 东陵 but is perhaps slightly smaller
Like a scene from a 武侠片 (Chinese martial arts movie)
雪花 (Snow Beer) is the de-facto beer in Shenyang, and one can sample draught beer at their outlet in MixC mall. I didn’t try it, so, can’t comment.
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