Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How to Get to Changbai Mountain (长白山)

In my recent effort to gather information on getting from Dandong to the Changbai Shan nature reserve on the border of China and North Korea, I was shocked by how scant and uninformative the online information currently is. Such a famous tourist location deserves better coverage!

Below is my attempt to rectify the situation

Take a train headed for Helong in Jilin Province – Get off at Songjianghe or Baihe

There is currently an old train leaving Dandong every afternoon at 3:10. It is very slow but the good news is that you will be sleeping for a most of the trip. In addition, this train does NOT have a dining car. So you will probably want to bring some food with you.

You will arrive in the Changbaishan area of Jilin the following morning around 6 am. If you choose the western entrance to the park which offers the better view (in my expert opinion) of the volcanic lake on top of the mountain you should get off at Songjianghe.

This town still has an off-the-beaten-track feel and is really in bad shape – though there is lots of construction underway. Once you get away from the dirty little town and head into the park the scenery is idyllic.

Changbai Shan is very heavily regulated. It is virtually impossible to get anywhere without tagging along with a tourist group. My tour was prearranged but you should be able to pull something together on arrival near the train station, as long as you have someone who can speak some Chinese (more than “nihao” and “zaijian”). I have heard that it is possible to hike in the park, though when I spoke to tour guides they denied this, perhaps to protect their business.

You can spend a good part of the day riding around on the park buses, seeing the lake, taking a photo standing just over the border in North Korea and viewing some relatively boring “sites.” There are lots of gorges with strange rock formations. I found this somewhat interesting.

There really isn’t as much to see, over all, at the western entrance to the park (as compared with the Northern entrance). If you get bored in the afternoon you might want to ask a tour guide, taxi driver or someone at a local hotel about white water rafting. Although its really much more like drifting than rafting, it’s a lovely way to spend a couple of hours passing through some fabulous country side (if you don’t get enough of that where you come from).

During my trip to Changbai Shan, I didn’t stay over night in Songjianghe, but instead got on the 10:30 train to Baihe, which took a bit over an hour. There may be other trains running to Baihe earlier in the day. You can check the schedule at the station if this time doesn’t suit you. Also, it must be possible to get a taxi or bus, since the road looks far more direct on the map than the train line.

Upon arrival in Baihe, there are many cheap hotels very close the station

When you walk out of the train station you enter a shabby square surrounded by restaurants (including one that specializes in dog). There is a dismal looking hotel on the right side of the square. However, if you walk ahead about 50 meters, you will pass some trees and come to a road. Just across the road on your left and right are two hotels. The one on your left is cheaper – with dorm rooms for 30 or 40 RMB.

Prices are no doubt constantly changing so if you want to reserve in advance contact the hotel at:

Tel. 0433-5758000

Mobile. 13500919023

Email. cbslyw@hotmail.com

Website. www.cbslyw.com

The women at the front desk of the hotel gave me this contact information under the name of Jihe Vacation (Changbaishan Jihe Tourism Company ltd. – in Chinese). However, the website doesn’t appear to be working at this time.

Of course, there are also hotels inside the park if you want to pay the price (I am guessing at least 700 RMB per night)

Once you are situated you can catch buses and taxis heading into the park right in front of the train station. It’s really that simple.

They will take you to the park entrance and once you have purchased your ticket, you’ll be able to take the buses all around the park and see the various sites. I recommend the water fall, the lake of course, and the underground forest. However, there are a few other sites which you may enjoy

Things to watch out for:

Altitude! It is hard to climb at the top of the mountain, unless you are in great shape.

Insane SUV drivers - the northern path to Tianchi Lake is only accessible via a life threatening (though thrilling SUV ride! China is a strange country!)

Room with a bath - my trip was arranged by a tour guide and they booked a room for me that did not have a bath! After a day of hiking and getting into the hotel at 11 o’clock at night you will want to shower.

Breakfast – it’s Chinese style – get over it and stop whining! If millions of people can eat that strange stuff for breakfast everyday, so can you.

Heading home? Just catch the train at Baihe Station

Really not much to say here – just be sure bring a book for the long ride home.

The best time to visit this incredibly beautiful mountain is late spring or early fall.

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