With my job as an English Teacher I’ve had rather little time to travel, which kind of acts to defeat one of the main points of coming to China. I came here to experience Chinese life and to travel.
Lots of people wax poetic about the cute kiddies and having a call to teach.
Nope. Not me.
That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy teaching – I do. I’d have hightailed out after the end of my first six month contract if I didn’t. The children are cute (although you are always sure to find at least one little monster in a child’s clothing), but for me the main point was to get out of my pretty but small home country and see the world.
With my job however I only got one day a week off, and I was only completely sure which day I’d have off on Sunday afternoon when the office emailed out the schedules.
So that didn’t leave me much time for planning or travelling, although I did travel (Mohe, Qiqihar, Wudalian Chi, Jilin city, Beijing, Hong Kong, Daqing, North Korea), I read other expat blogs and know that overall I didn’t really travel that much. 🙁
Although that meant I did well in the savings department. 🙂
One place I did manage to get away to was Mundanjiang.
Mundanjiang is a quick (er in China terms quick) 5 hour train ride from Harbin. The places to see were so beautiful – honestly I thought it was the most naturally beautiful place I visited near Harbin. There are two main things to see here: the Underground Forest and Mirror Lake.
It is one of the many overlooked places in Heilongjiang province.
The Underground Forest
I think that the Underground Forest is probably the most beautiful place in Heilongjiang province. The trees are green, the forest is thick and the light even seems to filter greenly through the leaves. I loved walking through the thick luscious forest after being in the city for so long. It is a really beautiful place.
Despite its name, the forest is not in fact underground. It is inside craters of 10,000 year old volcanoes, which leads to some interesting rock formations. When you walk to the bottom of the deeper craters, it does have a sort of subterranean feel at times.
It is an old forest, and has that sort of established beauty that new replanted forests will take another couple of centuries to acquire.
This is a really pretty lake about 50km away from the Underground Forest. The best way to see it is to take a boat trip around the lake, but if you have time you can walk around the edge as well. It’s not as picturesque as the Underground Forest, but is still a pretty place to visit.
Diaoshuilou Waterfall is also a cool place to explore. It was summer when I went, so the ‘waterfall’ part didn’t really exist (I’ve heard it’s huge in winter), but it is still pretty and it is well worth exploring the area.
There are two ways to handle a trip to Mundanjiang.
Group or solo.
I did it the group way despite hating tours in general because I had only one day to escape work, and the public transport doesn’t really allow you to see both sights in one day. You’d need two.
Transport to both Mirror Lake and the Underground Forest is 80 yuan with the group, but it is more practical to pay the full 390 yuan that covers transport to both places, entrance fees, transport inside both places and a boat trip around the lake.
You can ask about tours in your accommodation, or find the little square building outside outside the train station and go from there.
I took a late train to Mundanjiang the day before, stayed overnight and joined a tour at 6:30 in the morning. We were back by six that evening.
You can experiment with local buses and ditch the tour, but you would need two days. There is not any transportation between the two sights and you need to transfer buses to get to either from Mundanjiang.
Where I stayed
Mǔdānjiāng Fàndiàn 牡丹江饭店
128 Guanghua Jie 光 花街128号
When I stayed there the phone number was 0453 692 5833
I thought it was a good budget hotel. Turn left from the railway station and walk about two blocks. Excellent location.