Situated in the heart of China’s best-preserved prairie, the mystically beautiful border town of Manzhouli comprises an eclectic mix of Chinese, Mongolian and Russian cultures.
Under the pristine blue sky, you can stroll along the tranquil grassland and admire nature at its finest – daisies, a lush meadow and timid passing lambs
China has many border crossings on land and sea, but none has the romance and distinctive history of Manzhouli. This intriguing northeast town in the heart of a vast grassland is also China’s busiest land port entry to date. A mere two-hour flight from Beijing, it is where cultural influences from China, Russia and Inner Mongolia mingle, and is home to more than 20 ethnic minorities, making it the perfect place to experience an intriguing mix of heritages. Manzhouli is also a great starting point for exploring the surrounding Hulunbuir Prairie – one of the most well-preserved grasslands in China, fed by hundreds of rivers and a popular habitat of Mongolian nomads.
The name “Manzhouli” originates from a treaty signed in 1896 to create the China Far East Railway, which opened up train tracks between China and Russia, making it the first point of entry into China from the Russian bloc. Established as a small railway town linking Eastern Russia to Northern China, the remote city quickly grew into an important Russian–Chinese trade hub between the two countries and was booming during the 1980s. Today, trains still run along the Trans-Siberian railway network from Beijing to Moscow, passing through this popular trade stop that shares a 54-kilometre border with Russia.
Recall the early days of Sino-Russian relations with a ramble in the Guomen (National Gate) – an arch-shaped monumental building on the Russian border overlooking the town of Krasnokamensk. Within the complex are exhibition halls documenting Manzhouli’s strategic location, where Chinese-Russian Communist revolutionaries regularly travelled between Moscow and Beijing.
Another main attraction, Matryoshka Square, is just a few minutes’ drive from Guomen. As you arrive, a 30-metre-high matryoshka (Russian doll) is bound to catch your eye. The three panels of the iconic structure are painted with girls from China, Russia and Mongolia to represent the cultural demographics. Matryoshka dolls, originally a folk art, have become popular gifts from Russian to foreign leaders since the 1990s. The classic gift remains one of the city’s most beloved souvenirs.
Manzhouli’s unique urban landscape features an eclectic mix of architectural influences ranging from Classical to Baroque and Gothic. Visitors can also admire gigantic stand-alone pieces amidst open fields and the low-rises scattered along the city’s wide streets. Among the colourful, fairy tale-like castles are the blue walls and golden dome of the Russia Art Museum, housing more than 2,000 artefacts from various Russian eras. As the sun sets, enjoy stunning night views downtown – where these amazing structures glow against the fading light – with a beer in hand, savouring barbecue skewers at street stalls just as the locals do.
Nomads, Yurts and Nature
The city is located in the middle of the Hulunbuir Prairie. If you rent a car and drive in any direction for an hour or so, you will find yourself surrounded by boundless stretches of lush greenery on your way through the Inner Mongolian grassland.
Hulun Lake, the biggest freshwater lake in Inner Mongolia, is just 36 kilometres south of the city. Reputed as a haven for rare species, the wetlands in the lake region is home to a fifth of the total bird species in China, including white cranes, black storks and golden eagles. Autumn is the best time to appreciate these fascinating creatures. Aside from birdwatching, other popular activities include boating, horse and camel riding, hiking and fishing.
Experience the nomadic lifestyle of the Mongolian people by sampling local dishes inside yurts, a traditional Mongolian dwelling, in the serene Bayanhushuo area. Under the pristine blue sky, you can stroll along the tranquil grassland and admire nature at its finest – daisies, a lush meadow and timid passing lambs.
Known for its warm, inviting atmosphere, Shangri-La Hotel, Manzhouli is the perfect base from which to discover the Prairie and its scrumptious local delights. Opened in 2011 as Manzhouli’s only luxury hotel, the premier retreat features Mongolian and Russian furnishings to celebrate the city’s unique identity.
The Mongolian feast at Shang Palace will delight meat-lovers, with a whole lamb dish as a signature highlight. Every part of the lamb is used to create a number of delicacies – including the heart, intestines and liver, each tantalisingly varied in texture and flavour. Adventurous gourmands should try the beef nose, while the renowned freshwater fish from the crystal-clear Hulun Lake takes culinary pleasure to new heights.