Climbing Changbai Shan’s Heaven Lake in late Autumn

Nature
The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
8
Culture
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
3
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
6
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
9
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
4
unique
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
7
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
75 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
continent
Asia
country
China
Length of time
1 day or less
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 100
Time of year visited
October
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
RANKING
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
76th/334 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 30% SUMMARY RATING: Superb

Summary

On the border with North Korea, Changbai Shan is China’s largest nature reserve and by far the top attraction in the surrounding region.  The park itself is beautifully rugged with bitch trees and pine trees making way to a far more sparse other-worldly landscape once you get above 2000m / 6500ft, but it is the walk up the north slope to the Heaven Lake sitting 2,200m / 7200ft on the top of Paektu Mountain that is the highlight.  The mountain itself is little know outside of this part of the world, but it is an important mythological and cultural symbol for parts of China and certainly for Korea, for example it is in both North and South Korea’s national anthems and is on the national emblem of the North

 

We visited here at the slightly unusual time of mid October which, because the place is waiting to make its transition from summer visitors to opening up for those visiting the ski slopes later in the year, certainly made it a bit harder to reach and in particular harder to find a place open.  But the flip side was that, for China, it felt we had the walk up to the Heaven Lake almost all to ourselves, which made for a quite unique experience

 

Top tip – try to stay at the Lanjing Spa Holiday Inn which is only 500m from the north gate entrance.  It has a feeling of being secluded to very much adds to the otherworldly feel.  Most likely at this time of year you’ll be able to get a discount.  No worries if can’t get a spot there, you can stay in Baihe and just get a taxi for 40mins or so to the entrance gate

highlights

#1 Looking out over Paektu Mountain's Heaven Lake . . . and into the hermit kingdom of North Korea

#2 Walking up through the slightly bizarre walkway and past the Changbai Waterfall to reach the crater

#3 Feeling like you're in The Shinning movie as you walk through the almost deserted grounds of the village by the Lanjing Spa Holiday Inn

#4 Checking out the broader Changbai Shan Nature Reserve - China's largest

Some broad tips for travelling in China

  • China is vastboth in terms of its sheer land area, population, economy, but also its history and culture.  You could spend a lifetime travelling China and still only scrape the surface.  Very much like a continent on its own and, in recommending a book to read or movie to watch, it’s a bit like recommending a book to read on “Europe”.  However, I did find that the book Wild Swans by Jung Chang, gave me good context on modern Chinese history.  The book tells the true story of 3 generations of women living in China from 1909 to modern day and I’d highly recommend
  • The Chinese peopleit’s often difficult to interact with locals in China – there are certainly strong cultural differences that go deeper than you would experience in most other parts of the world, but the main problem is of course the language.   Get out google translate for simultaneous translation.  You’ll be surprised how keen the locals will be to speak to you, and just how interesting you may find their stories
  • Frustrationstravelling in China can often be difficult . . . scream-out-loud, pull-all-your-hair-out, call everyone a c**t, never-ever-going-back style difficult.   The language barrier, the often radically different way of doing things, the combo of an often world leading digital country mixed in with archaically manual processes can all make it feel at times like a challenge rather than a joy.  I lived in China for 2 years and experienced a lot of these frustrations.  My advice is simply to go with it, its all part of the adventure, and above all don’t lose your temper.  Shouting at someone or generally showing frustration will just be viewed by the Chinese as embarrassing and, at worst, a loss of face for them, which means you’ve got very little chance of them helping you.  Patience, politeness and a smile will often see them wanting to help you.  They’re not trying to be difficult . . . most of the time 🙂

Experiences nearby

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Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone