Man at His Best

Lesser known destinations in Asia: Harbin, China

Find Russian and East European culture amidst a winter wonderland in Harbin.

BY shermian lim | Apr 21, 2017 | Travel


Agoda's latest Travel Smart survey based on booking traffic on the travel reservation site indicates an increasing popularity of lesser-known destinations with potential for new experiences for travellers. Niseko in Japan caps the list as a highly sought-after ski destination, followed by many islands in Southeast Asia. Get to know about these places while you still can.

It’s a little surprising that a city in China's northernmost province of Heilongjiang, Harbin, is considered a lesser-known destination, given that the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, the largest ice festival in the world brings millions of visitors to the city every year. Temperatures dip to as low as –40C during the winter months, making it the perfect location to transform into the nice version of Niflheim. The festival’s main draw is a winter wonderland of detailed, larger-than-life sculptures made with blocks of ice sawed from the frozen Songhua River. Hundreds of sculptures are spread out in three main areas of Harbin, featuring famous buildings, types of architecture and mythical characters.

Away from the festival, Harbin’s perennial point of interest is its Russian connection. From a small rural village, the town began to grow due to an influx of Russian immigrants in 1898. The Russian empire financed the Chinese Eastern Railway (an important single track line that crosses Manchuria to Vladivostok), and used Harbin as its administration base for the tracks. In present day, Harbin’s population is mostly Chinese, but the Russian influences remain. European smoked sausages, Russian sourdough bread and kvass, a fermented Russian beverage feature heavily in the local cuisine. And while the city’s most famous Russian orthodox church, St. Sophia Cathedral is no longer used for worship, its restored exterior is a reminder of Harbin’s glorious history.