Epic China Travel Fail – Changbai Mountain

Travel Stories — By on 04/05/2011 1:02 pm

Changbai Mountain in Jilin province with mountain top lakes, cascading waterfalls, hot springs and more is an incredible natural tourist attraction. After living in Chang Chun (capital of Jilin Province) for over four years, I finally joined a local tour group and travelled to Changbai Mountain.

The trip was a disaster!

For detailed information on Changbai Mountain, please read this post http://chinatravelgo.com/changbai-mountain-jilin-province-china/


From reading up on Changbai Mountain and talking to people, I knew that at certain times of the year, some parts of the mountain such as Baiyun peak were not accessible. Before committing to the tour, I triple checked with the travel company organizing the tour that I would be able to see the Heavenly lake which is the center piece of the mountain. They assured me that yes I would be able to see the lake and no, I would not be able to climb Baiyun peak. No problem.

There would be 50 other people on the tour that was for three days with an eight hour bus trip there and another eight hours on the way back. Fine. As long as I saw the Heavenly lake, I’d be a happy little traveller.

Day One

Woke up at the ungodly hour of 4:40am to catch the bus at 5:30am. The meeting point turned out to be bus stop of every tour bus leaving Chang Chun that day and was packed full of buses. I counted over 20 before giving up. According to our friendly tour guide, seven to eight of those buses were also going to Changbai Mountain. Mass tourism!

My seat mate, companion for the trip and new friend was Xiao Yu, a cool guy from Jiangsu province and fellow travel junkie. He was the only other single person on the bus so we ended up sharing a hotel room and hanging out together. Our destination was a small town called Erdaobaihe, the closest town to Changbai Mountain.

xiao yu and I Epic China Travel Fail – Changbai Mountain

My buddy Xiao Yu and I

First stop was for quiet water rafting around an hour out of Erdaobaihe. Originally planned on getting wet and having a ball here but one look at the flat rapid less river was enough. All of the 7-8 buses stopped here and roughly 50% of the tourist went rafting. At 80rmb per person for this pitiful excuse of white water rafting, the tour guides and tour companies would be getting a decent kick back.


rafting add Epic China Travel Fail – Changbai Mountain

The advertised white water rafting

real rafting Epic China Travel Fail – Changbai Mountain

The real rafting - NO white water


Second stop was the Changbai Mountain Exhibition center just out of Erdaobaihe. Apart from an entrance fee of 40rmb that I declined (I was there to see the real thing), paper mache mountains and stuffed animals, the center was reasonably good with excellent photo displays.

The last stop was our hotel where we where shown our rooms which were reasonable and told the showers did not work, and would not work for the whole three days. We bussed to a restaurant out of town for dinner (more kickbacks) which was plentiful and tasted good. There were no activities after dinner so Xiao Yu walked from one end of the town to other in 10 minutes then retired to our room to swap travel stories and share photos.

Day Two

This was the big day, the day we’d all been waiting for. The day we’d see Changbai Mountain, the wonderful Heavenly lake and many other wonderful sights.

Woke up at 5:10am and caught the bus at 5:30am to our regular restaurant for an ordinary but adequate breakfast.

First stop was Floating Stone forest, a deep gorge near the base of the mountain that had pretty interesting rock formations. The gorge was at an altitude of almost 1000 meters and we stepped of the bus into the middle of a snow storm. Walking through the gorge in the snow surrounded by frozen trees was enjoyable and a good appetiser for the main event.

Second stop was the main entrance of Changbai Mountain where we were stuck with several thousand other tourists for several hours as the mountain management debated on whether they should open the mountain for the day. These two hours were torture where the success of the entire tour hung in balance.

Finally the potential lost revenue out weighed visitor satisfaction and safety concerns, the mountain was opened and we were on our way to see the Heavenly Lake. Or so I thought.

The mountain was set so you paid a gate fee of 100rmb , a bus fee of 70rmb to stage one half way up the mountain and another bus fee of 80rmb to the top of the mountain. Seriously. Every one is driven up the mountain and NO ONE walks. Crazy. Almost as bad as taking a chair lift up the Great Wall.

Disaster Strikes

After a mad rush in typical Chinese fashion where hundreds of people all tried to get on the first bus, we made our way to stage one where we were welcomed to Changbai Mountain, told that the access to the Heavenly Lake was closed and wished a good day. What??? They let us in the park, take our money, give us hope only to tell us we can’t see Heavenly Lake or of the other good parts of the mountain??? This had to be a joke. Unfortunately not. Our tour guide explained that for the last 11 days, there had been no access to the Heavenly lake and the rest of the upper part of the mountain.

Ok, this kind of thing happens when you travel in China so Xiao Yu and I decided to suck it up and make the most of a bad (very bad) situation. We could still see Small Heavenly Lake, the Changbai Waterfall and bathe in the hot springs. What foolish optimists we were.

Making the most of it (trying)

Small Heavenly Lake – On the way to the Small Heavenly Lake (SHL) we made a detour to see the Green Deep Pond. Very nice. As you can see from the photo below the pond is fed by a water fall that was frozen when we visited.

Green Deep Pond Epic China Travel Fail – Changbai Mountain

Frozen water fall at Green Deep Pond

The SHL turned out to be no more than a gloried frozen puddle with a width of around 50 meters. The real lake has an area of 9.2 square kilometres, is surrounded by 16 peaks and has a depth of 380 meters so calling this puddle Small Heavenly Lake is a gross insult to the real one and requires delusions of grandeur. Clearly the work of some imbecilic bureaucrat with too much time on their hands who had never left the confines of their office and would not know what a lake was if they were drowning in one.

Small Heavenly Lake Epic China Travel Fail – Changbai Mountain

Small Heavenly Lake - WTF!!!

Changbai Waterfall – All was not yet lost. There was still the Changbai waterfall to see that with a 68 meter drop, was a sight to see all year round. No such luck. Visibility was less than 100 meters and we could not see a thing.

Changbai Waterfall Epic China Travel Fail – Changbai Mountain

Waterfall? What waterfall???

Natural Springs – Ok, there were still the natural springs we were promised we could bathe in. Not a bad way to relax and unwind from the disappointment and frustration. Wrong! The natural springs turned out to be a bath house with two medium sized pools that used water piped in from the springs outside and cost 100rmb. I’ve seen much better bath houses in Chang Chun that cost a third of what these thieves and con artists charge.

hot springs mineral content Epic China Travel Fail – Changbai Mountain

Chemicals from the mountain's volcanic rock

cooking eggs in hot springs Epic China Travel Fail – Changbai Mountain

Hot springs hot enough to boil eggs

By the time we left the bath house it was snowing heavily outside so we headed for a travel service center to wait for the bus back down the mountain. The Service center provided no travel service at all and was just a front for selling tourist junk.

That even was spent in the hotel again, this time chatting online and writing emails (Xiao Yu), reading books (me) and bitching about how bad the tour was.

Day Three

6:00am wake up, breakfast and back on the bus back to Chang Chun.

Just out of town we took an unscheduled detour to a deer farm cum deer and ginseng products shop. More people wanting to rip off tourist and more kickbacks.

These people were so bad that they even chased people onto the bus to push their wares. The only redeeming feature there was a friendly half breed golden retriever who was tucked in a secluded corner of the yard.

changbai Mountain Deer Park Epic China Travel Fail – Changbai Mountain

No tourism value at all - just a waste of time and money!

Stopped at around 1pm for a lunch at a road side restaurant. Lunch was ok but at that stage, every one had enough and just wanted to get home.

Arrived aback at Chang Chun at around 4pm and went home for the first shower in three days and to detox emotionally from my worst China travel experience.

pixel Epic China Travel Fail – Changbai Mountain
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  1. R.S. says:

    Is is possible to alone traveller come to a small town Erdaobaihe by train and then hire a driver/taxi or take a bus and go to the park during convenient day time, pay all fees and see the Heavenly Lake? Or tourist group is a must?

    The story of your trip is very sad.

    • Brendon says:

      Hi R.S. That is possible. I met a pair of students at Changbai Mountain who had done that. I’ll probably do the same in June/July. I’m not sure about the trains so I’ll need to look into that.

  2. Demba says:

    Judging from other pictures I saw the Changbai mountain looked like an earthly heaven and it was spring. Maybe the timing was bad. Wonder what this place looks like in summer.

    • Brendon says:

      I’ll try to go in the next month or so, take some pics and show you how beautiful CHangbai mountain is in summer. Crazy but even now in July parts of the Heavenly Lake are covered in ice!!!

  3. Patrick says:

    Wonder what month was your first ‘epic fail’ visit? I’ll probably visit this October, hopefully the Baiyun Peak is still passable even if it takes some intrepid trekking. And hopefully this late in season, the tour groups and pushy merchants have mellowed.

    • Brendon says:

      Hi Patrick, The month was May, the 1st and the 2nd of May. I’ve heard tours finish soon so I’m going to check and hopefully go again next weekend.

  4. Tavis says:

    So it's not a park where you can go wherever you want?  Too bad, I had this idea that it would make an interesting snow climb in October or November.  Do you know if the Eastern gate is any different?  Did you ever make it up again?

    • Brendon says:

      Hi Tavis, To be honest, I know nothing about the east gate. From what I’ve heard it is rarely used. Going in November will not be too good because the whole area is likely to be covered in snow with very limited access. Even in October the temperatures off the mountain get to below zero so you may have an access problem even then. Visiting Changbaishan out of summer is hit and miss access wise so I’m going around August because I really really don’t to miss out again :)

      • Tavis says:

        Too bad.  I was actually looking for a snow climb — I live in Beijing, and the mountains around here are mostly dry in the winter — but I gather from you, and now from other sources, that access to the mountain is pretty limited.  Let us all know how it is when you do the trip again, but I think I may skip it and just go climbing in Sichuan….

  5. Brian says:

    I've hiked Jirisan and Halasan in S. Korea and want to hike up (or at least on) Baekdu. Anything improved since your disaster? I live in Italy now but return to Seoul almost every year. Please let me know whatever current info or sources may be helpful. BTW, I'm a US  citizen

    • Brendon says:

      Hi Brian, I don’t have any news on Baekdu. I’m waiting until the ideal time later this year before I’m game to try again. The best sources of information I have are local travel companies that run the trips to Baekdu. If you do a search online, you should be able to find a couple so later in the year around june/july contact them and see what the situation is. When are you thinking of doing your hiking trip?

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