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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.