Maybe one day you find yourself in Northern China with a few days to kill.
Or, you’re keen to go where few others go on holiday.
Here are 10 must-do things to enjoy in Jiamusi, in China’s Heilongjiang Province.
We’ve lived here for 18 months and had time to explore, experience and enjoy.
1. Walk or Cycle the Shongua River Park: The city is stretched along the bank of the Shongua River which forms the longest Park in Northern China, with beautiful walkways, gardens, Memorials and Statues. During the day the Park is filled with old people playing board games, playing traditional instruments and taking slow walks. There is music playing and there are vendors selling balloons, ice-cream and snacks. At night it lights up with energy, large groups of people doing ‘Zombie-dancing’, a kind of co-ordinated slow exercise dance-thing, which is quite something to see. In summer we loved cycling the park at night, feeling the energy of this vibrant place.
2. Take the Ferry to Willow Island: from the tall Memorial Monument at the River Park, near the RiverSky Hotel, you can take a ferry to Willow Island across the river for 2¥. On the Island you are greeted by a minority group who are the last remnants of a Gypsey like people who first lived int his area, hunting and fishing like Eskimo’s. Now they entertain you with a little Amusement Park, restaurants, horse riding, bicycles for rent and carraige rides. If you walk past the noise and buzz of the organized amusement, you hit the gravel road and experience a little bit of rural China with 2 little villages, a forrest and large farmlands, cattle and sheep grazing along the way. Whenever we had time, we would take our bicycles across on the ferry and cycle from one side of the island to picnic and swim on the other side of it. This is a great day-trip.
3. Enjoy a Picnic at TsiFung Mountain: TsiFung Mountain has a massive reservoir at its feet and pristine forrest with little paths to picnic spots. There are boats to rent and restaurants, a wooden walkway on the edge of the water and an old Temple set slightly up its side. You can take a bus or taxi here. We’ve even cycled there one sunny summers day. A large Buddha greets you, as you arrive and at his feet are statues of all the animals of the different Chinese birth-years. In winter you can ride a snowmobile, tube down a slide, ice skate or even go sledding on the reservoir. We loved walking in the forest. Hearing the birds. Breathing solitude, always amazed that even though this is a densely populated city, none of the places ever feel over-crowded.
4. Play in the Children’s Park: As you arrive at the Children’s Park, you are greeted by the chairman, or rather a statue of him and then you walk past playgrounds, canals with peddle boats, pagodas and food-vendors. The Parks in Jiamusi are many and all of them are well kept, clean and safe. They are beautiful havens where you see children play, couples whisper sweet nothings and others practicing traditional arts. TaiKwonDo, Kung Fu, TaiChi. Music. Games. It is in the Parks that we always tasted China’s wealth. In winter the Children’s Park is transformed into a playground with every imaginable activity you can do on ice, on offer.
5. Visit the Heroes Park: this Park is slightly aside from the city centre, near Jiamusi’s number 16 middle school. A Park dedicated to a brave Jiamusian who fought during wars with Russians and Japanese. There are memorial stones, an old tank, an old river boat and along with the Park’s surroundings, we tasted something here, which we did not taste anywhere else. Not so many people. No music. A quieter place, as if remembering isn’t always pleasant.
6. Enjoy the Public Art at the Memorial Park: The Memorial Park is riddled with monuments and beautiful statues. It is a stones throw from the very large, very modern New Mart Shopping Mall rising 16 storeys into the air and it remembers the Russians for emancipating this little part of China from the Japanese and their puppet Emperor. If you’re there, look for the massive ant sculpture and the beautiful woman with the peacock. In summer fountains dramatically spray into the air and children find relief from the season’s heat.
7. Eat beautiful Food: Hot-Pot, Dumplings, Barbecue, Beijing Duck and Fabulous Breads. In Jiamusi you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to food and restaurants. You’ll see the big multi-storey restaurants,with private rooms where you are served by a dedicated team of waiters at no extra charge, from the main streets and when you head down alleys and little roads you’ll stumble onto exquisite family-owned restaurants, each offering something special. You can try threm. The food is stunning. Noodles. Korean food. Russian food. There is even a French Restaurant and a selection of coffee restaurants. “Summer” is our favorite place for coffee, cake and sandwiches. Exceptional coffee. And after dinner Jiamusi offers an Theatre, Cinema and Bowling Lanes for late night entertainment.
8. Shop at the Markets: The Markets in Jiamusi is something to explore. At the big shopping malls you’ll find all the Western Brands you’ve desired, but at the markets you find treasures at robbery prices. Be sure to haggle. If they say it costs 100¥ you should bargain them down to 50¥, they expect you to do that. There is a massive underground market, built in what I imagine serves as a bomb shelter, stretching kilometres and many streets under the city. Then there is also the Flea-Market where you’ll find anything from food to household items, around the corner streets with furniture and behind it an 8 storey market filled with clothes and shoes and curtains. Here you can get a pair of Lee or Tommy Hilfigger Jeans for 100¥ and shoes for even less.
9. See the past at the Museum: The museum doesn’t look like much from the outside, but inside you’ll find pictures and artifacts giving you a feel for the long history of this area, from the time of little fishing villages spotted along the Shongua River, through the revolution, Japanese Occupation, Russian Occupation into more recent days. The museum is dedicated to a local teacher who lost her legs saving students, her story dipicted as you enter the museum.
10. Amuse yourself at the Zoo: The zoo is right next to a massive Temple and is also host to Jiamusi’s Amusement Park with a fair sized Roller Coaster and pretty big Ferris Wheel as major attractions among all the other Amusement Park kind of stuff. The zoo itself is forest-like with not too many animals, but enough to make for an interesting afternoon of leisurely walking and playing.
In addition to all of this Jiamusi has interesting architecture. Two diverse temples. A little Roman Catholic Church, a larger Evangelical Church and a Mosque.
Just walking the streets is interesting, as old and new and rich and poor exists and lives amongst each other, knit together by the smells and sounds of a hearty people who embrace their bit of world.