There is beauty in everything and every place. Supposedly. Sometimes that’s really hard to believe, though. Take North Korea. The government plans your experience, watches your every move, and doesn’t allow any freedom of expression. And that’s just how visitors are treated. But even this oppressive dictatorship can’t hide a beautiful spot on its northern border. They can just make it really hard for you to see it.
Paektu Mountain, an active volcano, is the highest mountain on the Korean Peninsula. The sacred mountain—both the Koreans and the Manchus believe their ancestors originated here—sits in the Changbai and Baekdudaegan ranges along the Chinese border. Virgin birch and pine forests cover the mountain. Gorgeous waterfalls and fresh springs gush down the hillside. Leopards, tigers, bears, and scaly-sided mergansers call the area home. The few tourists hiking the Chinese side of the mountain come from South Korea. While a breathtaking lake fills the caldera atop the mountain.
Heaven Lake—yes, this is really its name—was created during a volcanic eruption around 969 AD. At three miles wide and an average of 700-feet deep, it’s huge. According to one legend, Kim Jong-il, the country’s first Supreme Leader, was born near the lake. Another claims the lake is home to the Lake Tianchi Monster, a Loch Ness Monster-type creature. Regardless of whether either is true, the lake is beautiful with bright blue water, snow-capped mountains, crisp air, and complete silence. It certainly lives up to its name.
Unfortunately, very few of us will ever have the chance to see this stunning spot. As tension continues to mount daily, if not hourly, with North Korea, no one should be planning a trip to this isolated country. But at least there’s another—a better, more beautiful—picture you can imagine the next time the country is mentioned.