What is Mount Paektu?
Paektusan or Baekdusan 백두산 in Korean, 长白山 Chángbái Shān in Chinese – Mount Paektu is a sacred mountain on the Korean / Chinese border.
At 2,777 meters it is the highest point on the Korean peninsula or North East China. Literally meaning “white-top mountain” in both languages, it is a volcano with a huge lake in it’s central caldera. At an average dept of 213 meters, Lake Chon (Heaven Lake) is considered to be the deepest and coldest alpine lake in the world. The lake was created following a huge eruption in AD946. The last recorded volcanic eruption was in 1903.
Lake Chon is the source for the rivers Amnok & Tumen. Both rivers form the border with China either side of Mount Paektu.
Why is it so sacred?
Sacred to all Koreans both north and south, the mountain is believed to be the mythological birthplace of the legendary founder of the Ancient Joson Dynasty – Dangun.
Fast forward 5,000 years and the mountain has been used again to etch folklore into the minds of North Koreans. It is said to also be the birthplace of Kim Jung Un’s father Kim Jong Il. He was born at the foot of the mountain while his father- Kim Il Sung fought an anti-Japanese guerrilla war from a secret camp there.
It is from this narrative where the “Mount Paektu Bloodline” phrase comes from. All North Korean leaders have a connection with the sacred site and use it to justify their leadership.
How do I get there?
The mountain is accessible on both the Chinese and Korean sides.
On the Chinese side you’ll see a much bigger commercial operation with hoards of tourists fighting for a picture. Many of these are South Korean tourists who unfortunately can only make the pilgrimage from this side.
On the North Korean side it’s accessible only by flight from the capital Pyongyang to the town of Samjiyon. This flight onboard a Soviet Antonov AN-24 is one of the highlights of the trip. We charter this aircraft for our Victory Day & Mount Paektu Tour.
When to go and what to bring?
This is the coldest part of Korea where winter typically lasts 8 months. Late July to September is the best time to visit when the skies are clearest and the weather warmest.
Even in August it can get a bit chilly up there especially with the wind chill. Bring a waterproof jacket, a jumper and sunglasses to protect from the wind as much as the sun.
Thousands of North Koreans make their way up the mountain as part of revolutionary tour groups every year. From the parking lot at the base it’s a 3km trek to the summit. You can also drive or take the funicular up (€5 extra charge payable on the spot).
Once you have enjoyed the frankly breathtaking views, take a walk down to the shores of Heaven Lake. There’s a cable car to get you back if you don’t fancy the 2,000 steps.
Then walk up to nearby Janggun Peak – the tallest peak in Korea. Be careful – the 90 degree cliff face will bring you straight back down to Lake Chon if you’re not careful!
What else is there to see?
After a picnic lunch supplied by your North Korean guides, travel back down the mountain to Rimyongsu Waterfalls. They flow direct from Lake Chon and the geothermal heat means the waterfall never freezes over in the winter. There’s also a pagoda on top that offers nice views and a chance to mingle with some North Korean tourists.
Paektusan Secret Camp
This is where Kim Jong Il is said to have been born in 1942. There were 4 secret camps which were hidden deep in the forests as a base to conduct guerrilla warfare against the Japanese colonialists.
The main secret camp number 1 consists of the birthplace, barracks, secretariat, arms repair shop and other smaller outlets. All consist of wooden log cabins. Behind the camp rises “Jong Il Peak” complete with inscription.
At the entrace sits a winter time mosaic featuring Kim Jong Il, Kim Il Sung and his wife Kim Jong Suk.
Samjiyon Town & Hotel
Home to the local airport, this is where you will be staying overnight. The picturesque alpine town borders Lake Samji and offers several revolutionary attractions.
The Samjiyon Grand Monument is the second largest monument to Kim Il Sung in North Korea. The 20 meter statue depicts a young President during the anti-colonial struggle. The main statue is surrounded by various other memorials to advancing guerrillas & a 50 meter tall Juche flame. The entire monument is flanked by the natural beauty of Mount Paektu in the distance.
The main foreigner hotel in Samjiyon is the Begaebong. The hotel is famous for its nightly potato BBQ on the front lawn. Now with a newly added restaurant and beer tent, it’s the perfect place to spend your evening after a long day’s hiking.
Let's Go To Mount Paektu
Quite possibly the most popular, infectious & overplayed North Korean song to date. “Let’s go to Mount Paektu” is an essential soundtrack for any trip up the mountain.
Released in 2015 and covered by the Slovenian avant-garde band Laibach a year later, it’s truly a banger.
If you are joining our Victory & Paektu tour then make sure you get the lyrics from us before you go, learn them by heart and stun your North Korean hosts!
Contact us for more info on travelling to North Korea & Paektusan.
When Shane is not endlessly writing award winning content for Rocky Road, he's usually kayaking to and from the beer garden along Berlin's River Spree.