At a virtual reality theater in the China-Russia border city of Manzhouli, a group of tourists experience flying over the vast Hulun Buir grasslands, diving to the bottom of Lake Baikal, and escaping the roaring bears of the Greater Hinggan Mountains.
The film, which was being shown at a local theme park, visualized the combination of Chinese and Russian attractions that make border cities like Manzhouli popular for tourists from home and abroad.
Xiao Long, 26, was among the audience. "I've seen the Russian style architecture of Manzhouli, the matryoshka doll theme park, and the Mongolian style scenery like the grasslands," he said. "They are all more impressive than I expected."
With a population of around 300,000, Manzhouli is located in the northeast of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in north China. It is one of the country's largest border cities.
According to municipal tourism authority, a total of 6.82 million tourists visited Manzhouli in 2016, among whom almost 600,000 were Russians, generating a revenue of 11.6 billion yuan (about 1.74 billion U.S. dollars), almost 20 percent higher than the previous year.
"Transportation has become more convenient," said Xiao Long, who flew from Beijing to Manzhouli and then drove around in a friend's car. "This is very important given Manzhouli's location deep in Inner Mongolia."
The city now boasts over 20 domestic air routes and eight international ones, as well as railway lines and long distance bus services, linking it with dozens of major Chinese and foreign cities like Hohhot, the regional capital, Beijing and Ulan Bator, capital of Mongolia.
In front of the historic Manzhouli Hotel, three middle-aged Russian tourists cheer and dance to the performances staged on the hotel balcony. "We are very happy to be here," one of them said.
In late 2016, Manzhouli was listed by the China National Tourism Administration as a demonstration zone for "all-for-one" tourism, a term mentioned in this year's government work report, to cater to the country's growing demand for tourism products and services and facilitate economic transition.
"Tourism accounts for up to 15.6 percent of the city's economy," said Gao Wenhe, deputy mayor of Manzhouli. "We will combine all our tourism resources and integrate tourism with the city's overall development plan."
For Chinese tourists, one of the major attractions of Manzhouli is the magnificent "national gate" that stands on the border with Russia. The milk-white building, over 40 meters tall, provides visitors with birds-eye views over Russian territory.
A 35-year-old tourist, surnamed Wang, described the building as "solemn" and "majestic." Traveling with her seven-year-old daughter, Wang said they came to Manzhouli mainly to see the gate.
Right next to the gate is a special mutual-trade zone, where Russian products are sold tax-free to Chinese tourists and local residents. Russian tourists can also buy duty-free Chinese products in the zone.
Yu Jing, manager of the trade zone, said around 1,000 Chinese customers shop for Russian food and daily necessities daily during peak season. The stores are usually run by Chinese and Russian business people in partnership.
"Chinese customs have facilitated the claims and clearance processes," said Yu. "Thanks to the Belt and Road Initiative, our work has progressed more smoothly."
A 24-year-old teacher surnamed Zhou, who used a delivery service to send home the goods she had just bought, said the only thing she was not satisfied with during the trip was the accommodation. "Facilities at the hotel could be better," she said.