Monday, June 21, 2010

More about Hailar

Located in the northern reaches of Inner Mongolia, Hailar is the largest city in the Hulunbuir Prefecture with rolling grasslands stretching for endless miles.
The city had been an oasis of action for wandering herdsmen. Plants used to line both the sides of Hailar River. Perhaps the most interesting feature of the city is the ethnic diversity. There are 25 different resident minority groups in Hailar, including Mongol, Hui and less prevalent groups such as the Manchurians, Koreans, Ewink and Daur peoples.

The outskirts holds the impressive Hulun Lake and the small border town of Manzhouli filled with Russian border traders. To the north of Hailar lies a vast expanse of some of China's most rugged areas, good for camping if allowed access.

Hailar, located in the remote reaches of northern Inner Mongolia, has a fairly mean climate. Lying at the high latitude that it does, the city and its surrounds becomes very cold in winter, reaching temperatures below -20 degrees C. The region at this time is drab, as the grasslands turn cardboard brown or are covered with an icy snow layer.

If you are here to see the grasslands or visit Manzhouli your best bet is to come between July and September, when the grasses are usually green. It is still worthwhile bringing a coat though, since even in the hottest days of summer, night temperatures drop dramatically.

Dining Overview
There is a surprisingly varied mixture of cuisines in this remote area of Inner Mongolia, along with the standard Mongolian Hotpots and lamb dishes, are others including Russian, western, Chinese, fish and local dishes. Most of the best areas for dining are in the hotels, so it is often worth checking out the area that you are staying in before going on a hunt about town. Most do not have English menus.

Within Hailar, there are a variety of good, inexpensive restaurants along Beixie jie, all of fairly similar standards. Other than this you are best trying eating in the hotels, the Friendship Hotel has a particularly good restaurant. There is also a night market on Qiaotou dajie that has basic snacks and noodles.

The Hulunbuir Prairie is considered by locals as the place to sample the most tender and delicious mutton on earth! The grassland nomads have had thousands of years practice in preparing this food and the result is hundreds of different dishes that are sometimes hard to distinguish. The best way to get a true feel for the grassland cuisine is through a mutton banquet (Zhongyang yan), which will give you the opportunity to try the traditional lamb hotpot (Yangrou huoguo), sauce-stewed lamb (Hongmen yangrou), and the simple, yet often tasty hand-held mutton (Shouba rou). These banquets will need at least four people, and usually come to about RMB100.

The nearby border town of Manzhouli is the place to come for good Russian food (if you have not the time to go to Russia itself). There are a good selection of these restaurants around town, look for the Russian signs and styled architecture. Within the Minzhu Hotel is one of the best of these, probably due to the many Russians that frequent this place. Both the International Hotel and the Friendship Hotel have good Chinese restaurants. The biggest cuisine in town is Mongolian, that can be had on most of the streets here.

The area around Hailar, is surprisingly easy to reach for such a remote corner of the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region, although it is still a long journey from most obvious destinations. Train is almost always your best option, beyond flying. Hailar itself has an airport that makes everything a lot easier.
By plane: Except for Monday, there are daily flights between Beijing and Hailar, that take about two hours. Intra-province air transport is also fairly convenient, although less frequent. It is possible to fly to Hohhot (two and a half hours) and Xilinhot (two hours and twenty minutes).

Hailar Dongshan Airport is just 7km away from the city proper (RMB20 by taxi). The airport bus departs from the CAAC booking office (on Qiantou dajie, near to the Minzu Hotel) for RMB3.

By train: Binzhou Railway line traverses the city, linking it with Beijing, Harbin, Hohhot, Baotou and Manzhouli. Train No.1301 departs Beijing at 9:52 every day and arrives at Hailar about 30 hours later at around 15:27 the following day. Other choices include the weekly train K19 from Beijing to Moscow (departing at 23:10 every Saturday, reaching Hailar at 2:20 the next day), train T439 from Harbin (departing at 19:08 and arriving at 7:15 the next morning) and train K274 from Baotou (leaving at 16:14 and arriving at 13:09 the next day). From Moscow coming the other way, there are also one train a week that stops in Manzhouli and Hailar.

The railway station lies in the northwestern part of town. Advanced tickets can be bought through CITS (0470-8224017, on the second floor of the post office building [Jianfa dasha], Shengli dajie), or in the Friendship Store (Youyi shangdian, beside the Friendship Hotel).
By bus: Bus is not recommended for traveling around, since the city boasts a good railway transport system. There is a long-distance bus station on Chezhan jie, southeast of the railway station, where you may find a buses to Manzhouli (3 hrs.).

City transport: You may find an excess of taxis and motortricyles (RMB5 for most errands) in town. Nevertheless, so long as you are not in a hurry or venturing to the outskirts, you legs should more than suffice.

No comments: