Instead of getting a single day with fireworks like we do on July 4th for Independence Day. China takes a whole week off for National Holiday/Mid-Autumn Day. After messing up our plans to head into Inner Mongolia and see the grasslands and ride a camel, we decided to hit up this mountainous area in the nearby-ish province of Jilin right next to North Korea.
I mentioned before that China has a ton of different ethnicities. Well, this area is no different. Many of the people in this area are ethnically Korean. In fact, this area is call the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture. It’s a little like the Tibetan Autonomous Region except a whole lot less volatile. Everywhere we visited in Yanji City, the biggest city in the the autonomous zone, had Korean characters above all the Chinese characters. This area is often referred to as the “Third Korea”.
This area or rather the main feature of the area is called Changbaishan (长白山）aka “Ever White Mountain”. It and other landforms like it are called “calderas”, just in case you find yourself with a geologically challenged vocabulary. To the rest of us, it’s just a big ol’ volcano that has collapsed upon itself and now is filled with a beautiful pristine lake named Tianchi (天池）aka “Heaven Lake”.
We managed to really luck out here. According to the local drivers and hotels in the area, the mountain and the surrounding park areas were completely packed with tourists only a few days before we arrived. One driver even said that he had to wait in traffic for 3 hours just to get to the mountain which is only about 10km away.
On the first day, we got off the train and starting eating Korean food by the truckload. It’s definitely different than the usual northeastern Chinese cuisine we’ve been getting in Shenyang. There’s even a bunch of different restaurants dedicated to serving up dog in a lot of different ways.
Later, visited this really weird run down amusement park. Imagine some really weird county fair and abandoned creepy zone of Pripyat, Ukraine had a baby. That’s what this park was like. It had spinning rides, tiny rollercoasters, cotton candy and even baby bottle fish feeding… What? There were toys to pose for pictures with like little tanks, and creepy dolls. There were even some propaganda style statues from the Korean war dedicated to the all glorious leader himself Kim Il-Sung. Peacocks and deer with less than necessary hair/feathers but also some pretty miserable living conditions. Poor little fellas. Zoos in America bum me out, but zoos in China just make me angry. But, my anger subsided quickly because of all the other weird stuff going on. Piles of old people were lying all over the ground playing a Korean game named “Go-Stop“, an especially talented sugary candy dripping artist crafting his own renditions of the traditional Chinese zodiac.
In case you don’t follow me on Instagram, I’d like to show you something really weird.
The next day, we went to a hot spring spa resort. It cost us around 300 RMB ($48~) and a little extra for me because apparently WVU basketball shorts are a bit of a swimmers faux pas. Who knew? I scored some speedo-esque swimwear (ladies, please.) and off the pools I was. This spa was so nice! There were tea and flower infused pools, pools with hot jets, pools with cold jets and some with little fish that eat all your detritus. The Sino-fish relationship is getting out of hand, y’all.
On the last day, we walked all around the park where Changbaishan and a bunch of other little scenic spots are. This mountain is really weird for two reasons.
First, it reportedly has a mythical and ancient creature living inside of its Heaven Lake that is very similar to our other underwater ally, Nessie, despite it being a very small body of water. Some folks claim that there are estimated 20 monsters! Reports say it might look like a giant buffalo, but at the gift shops they sold lots of Disney-fied little dragons with blurry pictures, so it probably looks like that. Although, my favorite description found on while researching this beast monster says:
“More recent reports describe the monster as having a human-like head attached to a 1.5 m neck. It is said to have a white ring around the bottom of its neck, and the rest of its skin is grey and smooth.”
Secondly, on top of this mountain, according to North Korea’s propaganda, is where the Supreme leader Kim Jong-Il was miraculously born. I bet you were thinking “Wait, a minute dude wasn’t it a camp in Siberia?” Well, probably not because who in their right mind keeps track of all the sources of demagoguery in the world. The Ever White mountain is on the border of China and best Korea. When Kim Jong-Il died in 2011, nature mourned its loss apparently as the ice cracked on this lake and it shook the heavens and earth.
Changbaishan and Tianchi are really beautiful. It was also very, very cold and windy. The road to the top was incredibly steep and included gratuitous nausea-inducing switchbacks. There isn’t much to say about our friendly neighborhood caldera and the surrounding parks that I haven’t already. So I’ll just let the rest of my pictures do the talking.