A few Russian wood houses still stand in the center of Manzhouli, and the free flow of cash and vodka lends a certain exhilaration to the place, but most points of interest lie elsewhere. The closest attraction, only 10km (6 miles) west of town, is the Sino-Russian border crossing (Guo Men; tel. 0470/629-1562; 8am-5pm; admission ¥20). The old Guo Men built in 1989 was replaced by this new and fifth generation doorway in 2008. If you want your taxi to drive onto the premises, they'll charge you an extra ¥5. Nothing much happens here anymore, as most Russians enter China through a new border crossing farther north, but you can still watch trains pass across the border between China and Russia. There is a small exhibition that tells the history of the area inside the building. Access is by taxi only (20 min.; ¥40 round-trip). A trade market (Zhonge Hushi Maoyi Qu), is located in a pink Russian-style building beside Guo Men; it opens in the morning, and all kinds of products, from food to furs (including fakes) can be bought there On the way to the Sino-Russian border crossing, you will see the new Eluosi Taowa Guangchang (Russian Matryoshka Dolls Plaza) on the right-hand side. Opened in 2006, the plaza has a giant Russian Matryoshka doll towering 30m (90 ft) and over 200 colorful nesting dolls representing different countries. There are also several fairy-tale-like Russian-style structures built around the plaza to give the place an exotic ambience. A light and fountain show is staged at the plaza at 9pm every night. On Nanerdao Jie ★, alongside the train station, stand a number of classic Russian houses aged over 100 years. Some of these well-preserved log and stone houses are still residences, while some have transformed into restaurants and coffee shops. It's nice to have a walk along the street during late afternoon.
Dalai Hu -- Also known as Hulun Hu (Hulun Nur in Mongolian), this immense lake emerges seamlessly out of the landscape 36km (22 miles) south of Manzhouli -- a liquid equivalent to the grasslands that surround it. Dalai Hu is China's fifth-largest lake (2,399 sq. km./936 sq. miles) and a popular feeding ground for rare bird species. A small resort on the north shore offers boating, swimming, and fishing. In pleasant weather vendors sell barbecued fish and shrimp skewers fresh from the lake for ¥2 to ¥3. The lake is also open in the winter, but is much less interesting without boat access.
The only way to get to the lake from Manzhouli is by taxi (1 hr.; ¥100-¥150 round-trip). Admission at the main gate, just north of the resort, costs ¥20 for each person including the driver plus another ¥10 for taxi entrance. A boat ride on the lake costs ¥20 and a motorboat ride costs ¥10 for 10 minutes.
Hulun Buir Grasslands (Hulunbei'er Caoyuan) -- No other grasslands in Inner Mongolia can match the Hulun Buir, an emerald expanse shot through with radiant patches of wildflowers that spreads over the hills outside Manzhouli. The grass here is twice as long as anything found outside Hohhot, and people are scarce. Nothing this beautiful lasts long, though: The season for seeing the grasslands at their most vibrant runs only from late June to mid-August.
The only organization in Manzhouli officially allowed to arrange tours of the grasslands is CITS, inside the International Hotel (tel. 0470/622-4241; fax 0470/622-4540; 8:30am-5pm). They offer different types of tours around the grasslands. Three-day tours (¥700 per person) include accommodations in a yurt, horse riding, a mutton banquet, and a visit to Dalai Hu ; 2- and 5-day tours are also available. Other attractions around Manzhouli, such as Golden Shore (Jin Hai'an) and the Birds' Kingdom (Wulan Pao), may be added to your tour. If you speak Mandarin and don't mind modest facilities, a better option is to negotiate a stay with one of the local families that approach visitors at the railway station. If you decide to do this, be clear about the details and withhold final payment until your stay is over. Visit www.mzlcits.com for more information.
The Hulun Buir is the backdrop to one of China's most authentic Naadam festivals, held every summer, usually between mid-July and mid-August. Call CITS for details about the date and location.
Zhalainuo'er (Jalainur) -- The turn-of-the-20th-century Russian-built open coal mine (meikuang) is a hideous scar on an otherwise pristine landscape, but few other places in Asia can offer what it does: the chance to see 22 steam trains from the 1920s and 1930s in still-chugging order. CITS offers multiday tours that include a ride on one of the working engines; the price depends on which attractions you choose. It is possible, however, to visit on your own. The mine is 18km (11 miles) south of Manzhouli, and admission is free. The best time to visit is between October and March, when the steam from the trains is most dramatic. A bus to Zhalainuo'er (30 min.; ¥3) leaves from the intersection of Si Daojie and Xinhua Lu in Manzhouli and drops you in the center of town. From there, hire a taxi to tour the mine for ¥40 to ¥60. The easier but pricier option is to simply hire a taxi in Manzhouli for ¥70 to ¥100.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.