Jilin, the smallest of the three provinces comprising China's Dongbei (northeast) region, rewards nature enthusiasts, hikers, skiers and those simply looking to get away from the increasingly packaged experience found in less remote and more crowded parts of the People's Republic.
In addition to mountains, rivers and forests, Jilin offers visitors a fascinating blend of cultures. Long-present Korean, Mongolian, Manchu, Russian and Japanese influences combine with now-dominant Han elements, creating a unique and underrated destination.
A tour of the province is bound to include Jilin City, an excellent base for exploring both the nearby mountains and Songhua Lake, whether summer hikes or winter ski runs are the objective. Jilin City also plays winter host to an annual Jilin Ice Lantern Festival, a friendly rival to Heilongjiang's Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival.
Jilin's other major city, the capital Changchun, is home to the Puppet Emperor's Palace & Exhibition Hall, where the ill-fated Puyi, last of the Qing emperors, was installed by the Japanese during World War II as ruler of Manchukuo. Beside the palace and a few attractions related to Changchun's history of film production, there's not that much to see in the capital, though it's a pleasant stopover and excellent transportation hub for further exploration of Dongbei.
Those seeking outdoor adventure should head toward the North Korean border and Tian Chi (Heavenly Lake), a remarkable high-altitude crater lake set in a stunning landscape protected by the Changbai Shan Nature Reserve. With over 800 square kilometers of dense forest perfect for hiking, bird watching and general getting-away-from-it-all, Changbai Shan provides welcome relief from the nonstop hustle of life in urban China. Don't plan on a winter visit, however, as the area is often inaccessible due to heavy snowfalls. Visitors should also be wary of wandering into North Korea, which can lead to awkward encounters with North Korean military patrols (you'll just be kicked out, but it's not a great way to spend a day or two of your vacation).
If, however, less confrontational experiences of Korean culture are on your wish list, you're in luck—Jilin is home to the Korean Autonomous Prefecture. Part of China politically but largely Korean when it comes to culture, language and cuisine, the area's bilingual capital of Yanji is about the most authentic experience you can have of Korea without actually going there.
Dongbei has seen a few mysterious happenings in its time. In the early 1900s a huge explosion in Siberia rocked the area and rumors circulated of UFO activity, meteor strikes and..
Seemingly out of place in such a small and comparatively insignificant city, the large Jilin Confucius Temple (Jílín Wénmiào, 吉林文庙) is a grand,..