One of the best places to visit in Northeast China (东北 – dōng běi) is the incredible Changbai Mountain (长白山 – cháng bái shān). The “Eternally White Mountain” sits on the border between China and North Korea, and it is a very sacred place to Koreans (they call it Mt. Baekdu). Since people from South Korea can’t exactly cross through their neighbor to the north to visit the mountain, huge groups travel to China just to see this important site. Although the mountain isn’t quite as significant to Chinese, it’s still a very popular place to visit. If you don’t want to get stuck joining a tour group to check out Changbai Mountain, you’ve got to be prepared to do a little bit of leg work. It’s not exactly a walk in the park planning a trip here, but this rough guide should help you out a bit.
There are actually two areas you can visit – the northern and western sides – and they are quite far apart from each other. Your best bet is to first take a train to Shenyang (沈阳 – shěn yáng), the provincial capital of Liaoning, and then catch an overnight sleeper train bound for Baihe (白河 – bái hé) in Jilin. On our journey there, we befriended a large group of Chinese guys who were all heading to the mountain on a company outing. Many beers were consumed, shirts were taken off, and a hilarious photo shoot ensued.
Once you arrive at Baihe, there are buses waiting to take tourists up to the mountain. The trip isn’t quite over, though, as you still need to jump on one of the green buses inside the park and then take a terrifying mini-van ride up the winding road to reach the top on the north side. It’s quite the adventure, and it all pays off when you get to take in the amazing view.
A long, strange trip to get to the top of the North side.
If you’d like to see the other side of the mountain, you’ll need to get back on the train at Baihe station and head to Songjianghe (松江河 – sōng jiāng hé). The ride takes around two hours, and you can kick back and enjoy the scenery outside of your window.
Train from Baihe to Songjianghe.
Your hotel may provide a shuttle bus to the park, or you can always find someone to drive you for a small fee. Once again, you’ll have to jump on the green bus; expect a huge line of people waiting before the buses finally start running.
Just another bus line in China.
Theses buses take you all around both sides of the park, and you’ll need them since there are huge distances to cover. A ticket for the bus is 85 RMB and is valid for the entire day, but you’ll need to buy a separate ticket for each side.
There is also an airport with flights serving a few cities in China if you’ve got the extra kuai to burn.
The North Side
Both sides of the park require a separate entrance ticket (125 RMB/person), so think about whether or not you want to do them both and buy two tickets. As previously mentioned, you need to take a gut-wrenching minivan ride to reach the top of the north side (for about 80 RMB per person). It’s not possible to walk up this side, so if you’re really into getting some exercise and don’t want to spend the extra money, it might be better to just visit the west side. Should you take the ride and survive, however, you’ll be greeted with an awesome view of the Heavenly Lake (天池 – tiān chí), a crater lake atop the mountain that was created by a major eruption many years ago.
The Heavenly Lake from the north side.
After wandering around and taking in the views for a while, you can head back down and explore more of this side of the park. Pay a visit to the Changbai Waterfall, check out the natural hot springs, and order up an egg that has been boiled in the hot water.
Waterfall and hot spring eggs.
There are also some nice ponds, lakes, and trails that you can explore on this side. It’s truly a beautiful place, and you can definitely spend an entire day taking in the many natural sights.
Exploring the north side of the park.
As is usually the case in China, you’ll find plenty of hilarious Chinglish signs scattered around the park.
North side Chinglish signs.
For more on visiting the north side, check out this video:
The West Side
The main difference between the north and west sides is that you can actually hike up to the viewpoint here. Of course, it wouldn’t be China without there being a lazy way out – you can pay two guys to carry you up if you’re so inclined. It’s a nice hike up the 1,500+ stairs, and the scenery is a bit better on this side.
Visiting the Heavenly Lake from the west side.
There’s even more Chinglish on display on this side, such as the confusing sign at the top that reads, “I grwat success!” Not sure what they’re going for there…
Even more Chinglish.
After a bus ride and a nice stroll through the forest, you can stare down at the Grand Canyon (大峡谷 – dà xiá gǔ). It’s not quite as impressive as its American counterpart, but it is definitely worth seeing and makes for some good photos.
Some shots of the Grand Canyon.
There’s more to see on this side, but chances are you’ll be pretty tired by this point. Head back to your hotel, get some food, and prepare for a long journey home. Here’s a short video guide to the west side of the mountain:
Since you’ll probably be making a long journey to get out here, it’s worth it to stay a couple of nights. On the north side, you can crash at the Woodland International Youth Hostel. It’s simple, cheap, and a good place to base yourself for a visit to the north side.
The Woodland hostel around the north side.
On the west side you won’t really find any hostels, so you’ll probably have to fork over a little bit more cash for a room. When we visited, we found a good deal online for the Horizon Resort & Spa. This huge hotel has really nice rooms, a pool, plenty of games, hot tubs, a restaurant, and more.
The Horizon Resort
Food and Drink
There are plenty of stands in the park that sell drinks and snacks, and there are even a few restaurants. Outside of the park, it’s not hard to find good local restaurants. We had some great meals during our visit, including some tasty grilled fish and the local specialty – venison. Just make sure you know how to order in Chinese, because you won’t find any English on the menus!
Yummy fish and veggies at a local joint.
Trying venison at a restaurant near the Horizon hotel.
Don’t let the complicated journey turn you off from visiting this spectacular part of China. It’s well worth the effort to get out there, and after reading this guide it shouldn’t be so hard after all.