July 25th-27th; 371km/276km/0km; Tonghua-Changchun-Harbin
Pretty easy and relatively uneventful couple of days into Harbin where we had a rest day planned to see some sights and clean our clothes (also picking up a maildrop with all of our camping gear!)
The roads from Tonghua to Changchun were really quite nice and we were able to make some great time. Even though they weren’t expressways, we were still able to average about 100-120km/h particularly since they had lane dividers most of the way which meant that I didn’t have to worry about random vehicles (cars, scooters, trucks, buses, oh my!) serving into my lane. The only tough part of the day was getting into Changchun where none of the hotels we found on our maps app were where they were supposed to be and the roads being dusty and chaotic didn’t help either.
Are You Sure Motorcycles Aren’t Allowed Here?
Because the roads were so nice the day before, I barely noticed when we accidentally got onto the expressway. What happened was that when we entered our destination into Baidu Maps, I forgot to choose the option to avoid expressways. When you’re on provincial roads, there are usually tollbooths dotted around in various places but they have a space on the right where they let motorcycles go through (since that is typically for local farmers, etc.). So when I got to the entrance to the expressway and the right barrier looked broken and blocked off, I thought it was just the motorcycle entrance.
It wasn’t until about 15 minutes in when I was thinking that this road was REALLY nice that I started seeing signs indicating we were on (or near?) the expressway that I started to realize what happened. Later Amy told me too that she thought she heard someone yelling after us after I had gone around the barrier. Oh well!
The only problem with getting on the expressway is that getting off the attendants will give you trouble. Mostly they just don’t know what to do with you and tell you you’re just not allowed to be on. At one toll as we crossed into Heilongjiang (our 5th province!) they even asked for my driver’s license and registration!
Easy- Just play the dumb foreigner!
Our solution for these situations was simple though- pretend not to speak a word of Chinese. This pretty much worked flawlessly. Though both stations we passed through had a superior called over and it took a few minutes of sign language and shrugging, we eventually just got shrugged through both times with us going on our merry way and the guards being none the wiser.
Holiday in Harbin
We had a lot to catch up on while we were in Harbin, including posts, laundry, organizing our new stuff from the maildrop, as well as a checkup for the bike at the local CFMOTO dealer. We dropped the bike off after arriving in Harbin, which was good because our hotel didn’t have parking anyway, and then started organizing all the “chores” we had.
We were able to leave ourselves an afternoon on Day 9 to go out and look at the various types architecture around the city. Harbin has had a lot of Russian influence through it’s history due to it being an economic hub in the North East of China and its close proximity to Russia towards the north. This meant that there is quite a bit of European style architecture in the city. There was also a period of large Jewish migration to the city, also from Russia, and so some of their influence is also apparent (though unfortunately much has also either been poorly preserved or knocked down).
It was nice to take an afternoon off though and just be normal tourists. We got some nice pictures of the old town pedestrian street and the St. Sophia church.
Change of Plans
Originally we were planning on starting to head West from Harbin, but the Chinese motorcycle traveler we met in Dandong had suggested we head North first towards the Russian border, about 1,000km away. So we looked over the map a bit during our time off and decided we’d give the detour a shot! So tomorrow, we turn North West towards the border town of Manzhouli and see what happens.