A bit overdue:
Day 2: Chang Bai Shan （长白山）
The day started with some problems involving our ride to Chang Bai Shan and the fact that our guesthouse manager had gone off to Beijing but everything turned out fine. Upon arrival, we bought our tickets then waited in line to take “SUVs” to the top of Chang Bai Shan to view Tian Chi. The ride up was both beautiful and frightening. Mountains everywhere and our line of SUVs slowly toiling up narrow roads that weren’t fully paved. At the top, a snaking crowd of people slowly making their way up to see Tian Chi. More crowded than any nature reserve I’ve been to before. So obviously, we pushed and shoved to get some of these photos!
North Korea is only a little way away. If you continue on the path (there are people to guard against that but still!), you could easily wander into N. Korea. The sky began to cloud so we eventually made our way back to the SUVs so we could continue seeing the other sights.
That night, after dinner in Er Dao, B. & I had to make a decision about the next step of our vacation as N. was leaving the next day to head back to Harbin. An early 10 hour train to Ji’an, home to the Koguryo Kingdom World Heritage Site? A 20 hour train to Dalian, known for its beaches? We couldn’t decide at the train station so went to a convenience store and talked to the shop-owners who informed us that there was actually supposed to be a typhoon during the next few days! So swimming wasn’t the best idea.
Day 3: Ji’an (集安）
Early the next morning, B. & I took the train to Ji’an. Luckily, the train was mostly empty so we didn’t have to share our benches with 4 other people (3 on each side) and could sleep. Along the way, fields of corn & misty mountains & rain.
Near the end of our train ride, some native Ji’an-ers chatted with us and gave us some advice about what to see/eat in Ji’an. So, after arriving at our hotel (a real one! With complimentary toothbrushes and soap!) around 5:30pm, we went out and had some delicious korean bbq. Then wandered around the streets of Ji’an in the pouring rain before finally finding a place to play pool which was surprisingly not sketchy at all. Then, at the hotel—older men in boxers with their room doors open, a game show on tv involving exchange students filling in movie dialogue in Mandarin and finally, sleep.
Day 4: Ji’an
A day of burial mounds, entering tombs, on & off rain but plenty of sunshine. Also snakes & frogs & many cows. Was the Koguryo (高句力) kingdom part of Chinese history or Korean? Not clear on that (although could be so long ago that it doesn’t make a difference?) Wandering around the city which was much more developed and modern than Baihe or Er Dao, really clean and pretty with a beautiful park complete with water lilies and a picturesque bridge. Also, many small bridges on the corners of streets (weird?) Across one of the rivers, we could see North Korea where, apparently, the mountains are covered with fields of corn. We asked about renting a boat to go on the river but due to the incessant rain the night before and choppy waves, none were available (also, encountered the usual amazement that I’m an American who “looks chinese!”). Instead, I went down to the most amazing amusement park in the world, complete with non-working carousel.
Dinner was korean bbq again by a restaurant by the river, where apparently, one can go swimming then eat. Delicious food and we got to watch some intrepid swimmers get swept away by the current. Also, a broken plate launched into the river from one of the servers. Then a long walk back, with a stop for ice cream at KFC. What struck me most about being in Ji’an was actually how much the people from Ji’an love their city. Everyone we met seemed really proud of the city and we could definitely see why. It was really pretty and pleasant, despite the rainy weather, and the food was really good. I wouldn’t have minded staying for longer.
We caught an early morning bus the next day for a 9 hour ride to Harbin, complete with rest stops with bathrooms that progressively got better (doors? Who needs those?) and delayed our bus as we scarfed down a meal. It actually wasn’t a bad bus ride at all although apparently, there are sleeper buses in China! With beds! Also, long-distance buses are actually more expensive than trains but we didn’t really have a choice since there were no direct trains from Ji’an to Harbin. But traveling in China, in general, was easier than I expected it to be. We bought some tickets pretty much last minute and it wasn’t a problem. Communication wasn’t too bad either although I think it helps to have a friend who looks like a foreigner 😛