I just couldn’t believe it.
After almost a full day and a half of travelling by train, two police stations, and getting kicked out of two different hotels in two different cities, I had finally made it to Erdaobaihezhen. I was worried about the bad omen following me so far, and I certainly didn’t want it to follow me as I went up the Changbai mountains (Changbaishan).
Yes, the road to Erdaobaihezhen had been a clusterfuck of an event (click here for details on that shit-show), but I was glad and relieved to had finally made it and to be one step closer to making it to the peak of Changbaishan and seeing Tianchi lake.
Changbai National Natural Reserve
The Changbai mountains sit atop of the Changbai National Natural Reserve in the Jilin province, at an altitude of over 2500 meters above sea level. The reserve itself is home to many small lakes, waterfalls and hot springs.
Surrounded by the Changbaishan is Tianchi lake (or Heaven lake), a volcanic crater filled with pristine blue water. Tianchi lake reportedly even has its very own monster living within its waters (I know, right?).
The Changbaishan and Tianchi lake lie on the border between China and North Korea, with each country sharing part of the lake and its surrounding mountains. As such, the lake cannot be walked around.
Sights of Changbaishan
I was pleasantly surprised by the many sights that Changbaishan offered, as I had originally only expected to see the top of Changbaishan and Heaven lake.
The eco-bus stopped and dropped everyone at the furthest end of the park, where a walking path leads to Changbai waterfalls. As I walked through the path, the smell of sulphur and burned soil was apparent thanks to the area’s hot springs. As the climate was cold and the day was clear without a cloud in the sky, the ambience created by this natural sight was somewhat surreal and otherworldly.
On the other hand, Changbai waterfalls were not as impressive as I had hoped for them to be, especially for something I walked for 30 minutes in the cold to get to see. Maybe it was because of the crowd hogging the views, or maybe it was because of the cold temperature and the lack of green vegetation around it, or maybe they are just that, unimpressive.
Because for whatever nonsense reason buses do not pick up passengers from where they left them, I had no choice than to walk through the 1.5 kilometre long path leading back to the main bus station to catch a bus to Heaven lake.
The path leads through dense forest and some rest areas in between. The main point of interest on this path is Silver lake, a small lake located about 600 meters from the main bus station in the park.
Behind the main bus station is Green lake, a beautiful lake with clear green waters fed from three separate waterfalls and mountains all around. A beautiful sight if caught on the right time of day.
Changbaishan & Heaven Lake
The eco-buses to the top of Changbaishan and Heaven lake are located behind the main bus station inside the park. This is not obvious at all due to a lack of clarity and English signage inside the park.
The ride to the top takes approximately 15 minutes on a zigzagy-as-hell road. Even though the speed limit is 30KM/hr, the buses have no problem topping that to 50 or 60KMs/hr. Bring a barf-bag if you have a weak stomach.
The views from the top were simply mesmerizing and I could simply not describe them with words. An extremely sunny day without one single cloud in the sky added to the amazing views.
Also, being so close to North Korea added the dramatic effect to what I was feeling at that very moment. Being so close to a country which many would not think of going, and even less approaching, only added to the surreal and inexplicable feeling I was having on that very moment.
Getting to Changbai National Natural Reserve
With any luck, your journey to the Changbai mountains will be much easier and less eventful than mine.
The most direct access is from Erdaobaihezhen, a small town located about 1 hour away from the North Korean border. The town is remote and very basic, not offering much to do within its limits, however it serves as the main base for those visiting the Changbai mountains.
The train station at Erdaobaihezhen is Baihe train station, located within a quick 5 minute taxi ride from the city center. Buses to the entrance of the Changbai National Natural Reserve leave from the Baihe train station as well as from the corner of Huanshan Line and Baihe Street (in front of the Baekdu mountain building).
Once Inside Changbai National Natural Reserve
Once inside the reserve things get a little bit confusing, both with the fees and getting around the park. Getting around the park is mainly done by bus, as there is no walking path available to get from one point of the park to another (with the exception of the one mentioned above).
The first bus is taken at the entrance of the park (tickets for this bus are purchased at the main gate, at the same time as the entrance fee). This first bus will take you to the first switching station inside of the park.
On the first switching station you will change buses for a small bus (eco-bus), which itself will take you to the park’s main station, where you can take a bus to either Changbai waterfalls, or another bus (this one for a fee) to the top of Changbaishan and Heaven lake.
Entrance to the park costs ¥125, and an additional fee of ¥85 is required to ride the various other buses once inside the park.
An additional ¥80 fee is needed to ride the bus from the main station of the park to the top of Changbaishan and Heaven lake. Tickets for the bus to Heaven lake are purchased on the opposite side of the road from the park’s main station, and the bus is taken from the other side of the one building on that same main station.
Changbaishan, as a destination, is a bit out of the way, but so worth seeing. Have you ever been through a hell journey to get somewhere really beautiful?