JILIN (吉林, jílín) must go down as one of China’s least-visited provinces, and its two main cities have an air of neglect about them (as even locals will confess). The region bore the brunt of Japanese, Russian and Chinese communist planning more than anywhere in China: during the twentieth century, Jilin’s vast deposits of coal and iron ore transformed the area into a network of sprawling industrial hubs.
Today, things are on the up: roads have been improved, the rail network is thorough and easy to use, most hotels are delighted to see foreigners, and winter brings low-cost skiing and sledding. The provincial capital, Changchun, boasts the Puppet Emperor’s Palace memorializing Puyi’s reign as “emperor” of the Japanese state Manchukuo; while Jilin city is famed for the ice-coated trees that line its riverfront in winter, and ski resorts on the outskirts of town. Popular with both domestic and South Korean tourists is the Changbai Shan Nature Reserve, a swath of mountain and forest scenery along the North Korean border in the far east of the province; for independent foreign travellers, however, the area is a little tricky (and costly) to get around.