Harbin (a Manchu word for “a place for drying fishing nets”) was an old fishing village by Songhua River, in the Northeast of China. It is the largest city in the Northeast China and also the capital of Heilongjiang Province. It urbanized to a big city in 1898 when the Chinese Eastern Railway brought an influx of Russian immigrants. Hence the city unlike other major cities in China has a strong Russian and European influence demonstrated by the city’s architecture. Today, it is a major commerce and port city of Northeast China.
The St. Sofia Cathedral is a Russian Orthodox church, build in 1907. It was closed during the Period of “Great Leap Forward” and the “Cultural Revolution”. Now it is designated as National Heritage Cultural site and serve as a museum for the history of the city. Outside has been restored to its original beauty of Byzantine style architecture.
Stalin Park runs along the Songhua River Bank. In Stalin Park, one can find artists perform or show off their works. Along the Songhua River are fisherman and ferry boats.
Harbin is known for its yearly Ice Festival in the winter. The whole city becomes an ice city. Ice and snow sculptures everywhere, but mostly concentrated on Sun Island and the Ice and snow amusement world after dark on the north river bank of Songhai River. If you like winter sports, then winter is a good time to visit Harbin.
It is also well known for its Zhongyang Pedestrian Street (中央大街) where you can shop and find many Russian made goods or enjoy local culinary delights influenced by Russian, Japanese, and Mongolian.
Siberian Tiger Park is situated north of the Sun Island Park. It houses and breeds the near extinct Siberian Tigers. The shuttle vans bring you through the fields to see the Tigers up close. Then there is a walk area, which let you see the enclosed area where they keep Tigers for breeding or nursing sick tigers. Besides tigers, they also have lions and other big endangered cats.
This park houses around 800 Siberian Tigers and several Lions, as well as Bengal tigers, leopards, pumas. The facility, perform DNA testing to prevent inbreeding and perform selective breeding. It also have few Ligers which is a cross between a lion and a tiger.
Sapporo, the largest city on Hokkaido and also its capital. The uniqueness and convenience of its underground shopping center connected with its rail system are both clean and bright. People rarely need to go out doors unless the weather is good. We stayed at the Sapporo Park Hotel next to the Nakajima Park 中島.
Jozankei Onsen (定山溪溫泉) known for its hot spring. It is located about an hour from Sapporo by bus, in the Shikotsu-Toya National Park. There are many hotels with variations of indoor and outdoor baths. The hotels can charge admission or rooms for overnight stay. They are mostly located between the high cliffs of Toyohira River. The Park has many hiking trails and a lot of free foot baths. In autumn, the foliage sets the pace.
About 30 minutes away from Sapporo is Otaru(小樽市). It is a port city of Ishikari Bay. Its characteristic canal lined with Victorian style street lamps mystify the night. The town is well-known for fresh sushi as well as the different style of fish balls and other seafood products. It is also known for its music box museum. Besides a music box store, it also has a beautiful glass art-work store and other arts and crafts stores. There is plenty to look and purchase as the time flies by.
The neighboring town of Otaru is Yoichi. It is the home of Nikka Whiskey. The distillery was founded by Taketsuru Masataka who was the first Japanese to bring Scottish whiskey distillery technique to Japan. It is open for visitors and free tasting is available.
The new Chitose Airport is the most fun airport I have been. It has a movie theater, a place for a hot spring bath, a fun place for children and a restaurant cater only to children and best of all a chocolate making factory. Parents, be careful, your children might not want to leave when it is time to board the plane.
Hokkaido is an Island in the Northern part of the Japanese archipelago. It is Japan’s second largest island. The island is not as populated as the other southern islands of Japan, but it does offer a much-needed connection to nature. Vacation here brings out the appreciation of what mother nature can offer to our spirit and mind in a variation of spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Our trip was in October, but we shall return to reconnect with mother nature again.
From Hakodate Airport, a short train ride to the city of Hakodate and a taxi ride to our hotel, brought us to the foot of Mt. Hakodate. Mt. Hakodate offers many mountain trails for hiking. But most popular is the cable ride up the mountain to see the night view of Hakodate Bay.
At the foot of Mt. Hakodate is a Japanese Hamburger chain “Lucky Pierrot”. This one has Christmas every day. By the way, we found another one at the Bay Area, the next day, which was packed and had a whole different decoration and atmosphere. It is renowned for its huge hamburgers and egg wrapped rice.
Bay Area consists of Red Brick buildings which used to be warehouses when ships still come in with their cargoes. These old warehouses are now converted to unique shops of various goods, lining along the water front. It is still a good place for recreational boating. The openness of bay and the smoothness of the water is calming. A good place to replenish some snacks and have light breakfast.
A few feet down the street is the Morning Market. The morning market consists of shops of fresh vegetables, seafood of all sorts, and vendors of freshly prepared food. Also, there is the “Donburi Yokocho” restaurant arcade, selling Japanese style fresh seafood dishes. The most famous is “seafood rice bowl” which is a bowl of rice topped with different raw seafood. One must try it to really know how fresh raw seafood could taste so good without requiring seasoning, not even salt. Although soy sauces were provided.
The food here is both fresh and healthy. The taste is pure delicious like no others. Just for this, I shall return.
The Goryokaku is a star-shaped fort complete with a moat around it. It now serves as a park with lots of red pine trees and cherry trees. There is a Magistrate’s Office which is an example of Traditional Japanese Mastery. Nearby is the Goryokaku Tower which offers a bird’s eye view.
After breakfast, we started the day off by making our first stop, the biggest temple in HongKong, the temple of Wong Tai Sin (黃大仙) in Kowloon. Wong Tai Sin was a Taoist cultivator and later became an immortal around 328-386.
Behind the temple is a beautiful garden for visitors to stroll in and pass the day leisurely.
We wish to spend a little more time here, but our time was limited. We all agree that this place is worth spending more time at.
Next stop is the highest point in Hong Kong. We took the tram up the mountain. The slope going up is very steep. Whoever stood in the tram had to lean forward from the waist, in order to keep the body in balance. Along the way, we could see the skyscrapers slowly diminish below us. The Peak is a very popular place to go during the summer because it is usually 2 or 3 degrees lower than below. So in addition to being the highest point in Hong Kong, it is also the coolest place in Hong Kong.
The last stop was Harbour City, the largest shopping mall in Hong Kong and one of the most popular shopping center of the world. Harbour City consists of 3 shopping mall in one, situated along Victoria Harbour. All the buildings are interconnected within the building and do not have to go outdoor unless one chooses. On the fourth floor, one can see the spectacular view of Victoria Harbour and nearby islands of Hong Kong. There are also airport shuttles to and from the Harbour City Mall. If ever you find yourself having to make a stop over at Hong Kong airport, it would be an excellent time to make a quick shopping trip into the city.
Shanghai, China is a busy city, and by night it is still quite bustling as well. But along the east shore of Huangpu River on Pudong’s side, one can see the beautiful architectural style of the Bund in the night. The quiet night and the breeze from the river cool down the mind as one unwind from the day with the occasional ferry boat going up and down the river.
As you turn around, you can see the famous Pearl Tower.
Before the entrance to Taipei’s Rao Ho Street Night Market (take the Taipei Metro line #3 and get off at the Songshan station) is a Tea House name da Vinci (茶文集). This Tea House serves a variety of top quality Taiwan tea. The server would explain the special aroma of the different tea as one relax in the friendly atmosphere. With each sip of tea, eases the body and mind. This is a satisfying place to end the day after a stroll in the Rao Ho Street Night Market. Take time to relax and unwind as the tea help to digest away a wide range of good food consumed at the Roa Ho Street Night Market. Before you leave the store, don’t forget to purchase some tea to take with you.
The home of the famous Billionaire of China, Shen Wansan (1330-1379) is Zhouzhuang, Shanghai. It is also the first water town in China started around 1086 AD. This town reflects the way of life of the 14th century when stone buildings were built beside the waterways for ease of transport. There are many stone canals and bridges in this ancient town which adds to the creation of an extraordinary scenic sight.
Legend has it. Mr. Shen became so wealthy because he had a treasure bowl that attracted wealth. Even the first emperor of Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang, believed and wanted it for himself. When he didn’t get it, he confiscated Mr. Shen Wansan’s wealth and exiled him and his sons. The treasure bowl was never found. There are many treasure bowls around this town that claimed to be the one. Who knows? You could be the lucky one that finds it !!!!