I first heard about Heaven Lake when I was looking at which obligatory tour to take in North Korea. I was looking to go as long as possible and at the time there seemed to be two types of tours that were about 11 days long.
One went to about 5 different cities and included lots of things, another started the same way, but then cut off half way and went to Mt Paekdu instead.
In the end I decided to go with the tour that saw more places and still managed to be cheaper, but I remembered Mt Paekdu.
I certainly didn’t forget it while in North Korea. On almost every street corner there was some sort of image of the two dead great leaders. More often than not – they were standing in front of a beautiful lake in the middle of a mountain – Mt Paekdu.
It is the most sacred place to North Koreans. In North Korean Lore, Kim Jung-il was born on the slopes of Mt Paekdu under a double rainbow and a shooting star that changed the season from winter to summer. The (misguided) rest of the world of course maintains that he was born in Russia, but it is still a really important place to North Korea – and it made me really want to go there.
So when I found how easy it was to visit Mt Paekdu or Changbai Shan as the Chinese call it from the Chinese side, I was ecstatic.
Changbai Shan National Park
The mountain straddles the boarder in China’s largest national park. I was worried at the beginning that it would be too foggy to see the lake. NOOOOOOoooooooo!
But thankfully, luck was on my side and it cleared up beautifully.
Heaven Lake is really beautiful; I can see why it is so special to both the Chinese and the North Koreans.
It is stunning, I recommend making the trip to Jilin province if you are anywhere near the region. I looked for the legendary lake monster guaiwu that apparently has the power to blur any photo take of it, but was unsuccessful.
There were also lots of walking tracks around the place. Back down at the bottom of the mountain, at the parking lot a bus will take you to the hot springs and waterfall. Go on that one first before you take a bus back to the National Park entrance. That one will stop part way so everyone can get off and explore the Dell Forest.
There are two main areas to visit Changbai Shan 长白山: The Northern Slope (Bei Po) and the Western Slope (Xi Po). I saw the Northern slope. When I was deciding where to go – there seemed to be more walking tracks around the Northern slope and I’d also heard that the views were better from the Northern Slope. But maybe there would be less people on the Western Slope?
Baihe 白河 is the best place to stay if you want to see the northern slope. It is about a 13 hour train trip from either Changchun or Shenyang.
I took a bus from my hostel at 7:30 am to get to Changbai Shan National Park. That cost 30 yuan for there and back to the hostel. It picked everyone up from the National Park entrance at 4:30.
Entrance was 125 yuan.
Bus transport from the entrance of the park to the main parking lot was 85 yuan. You get off here and you can take the bus from the main parking lot to the hot springs and waterfall and then transport back to the entrance of the park is included in the original 85.
From the car parking lot it is another 80 yuan for the mini bus up to Heaven Lake. You can’t walk up yourself, and it would be a rather large distance regardless.
The best time to visit is apparently from June to September.
Where I stayed.
Woodland Youth Hostel望松国际青年旅舍
Phone number 571 0800
I liked my stay here. The taxi fare from the train station to here should be 5 yuan. Don’t let the taxi drivers try to con more out of you. If they tell you that they are not using the meter and that the fare is 10 – ignore them and give them 5.