Adventuring Beyond Northeast China’s Border
Nowhere else can you travel to the Great Wall and North Korea
China is filled with historical sites and borders that neighbor countries on most sides. For most people, the top five sites to visit in China include the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Terra Cotta Soldiers, Shanghai’s skyline, and most likely the cuddly pandas in Sichuan.
However, if you are one who wants to venture off from the main tourist traps and even get a glimpse of a neighboring country, then Dandong, China should be on your list. After all, it only borders the Hermit Kingdom of North Korea. Plus, where else can you see the most eastern part of the Great Wall in China? It’s included in the top 5 sites in Dandong that I’ll shortly share with you.
Located in the eastern part Liaoning province, the city of Dandong is a mysterious city with a ton of history. Being the major trading city between the two countries, Dandong has a heavy influence of North Korean culture. You will probably even come across some North Koreans in the city and see tons of North Korean trinkets sprinkled throughout. By high-speed bullet train you can get to Dandong from Dalian of Shenyang within a few hours. If you have a free weekend in Northeast China, then I’ll share with you why this strategic city is worth a visit. In this article, I’ll unveil the top 5 sites in Dandong that deserve a spot on your travel itinerary.
My Top 5 Sites in Dandong
- Yalu River Broken Bridge (鸭绿江断桥）
- Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge (宗朝友谊桥）
- The North Korean Border
- Tiger Mountain Wall (虎山长城）
- Andong Street (安东街）
Yalu River Broken Bridge
When you step into Dandong, you’ll undoubtedly receive recommendations to explore its historic bridges. Among these, the Yalu Broken Bridge stands out. Constructed in 1911 as the first bridge connecting China and North Korea, it bears the scars of the Korean War when it was bombed by the Americans. The remnants of this bridge now offer a unique experience for visitors. With a mere 30 RMB ticket, you can stroll around the bridge, examining bullet holes and gazing across at the tranquil North Korean city of Sinuiju. It shouldn’t take you more than 20 minutes.
Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge
Situated next to the Yalu River Broken Bridge, the Friendship Bridge remains operational and serves as a significant link between the two nations. It’s rumored that Mr. Kim Jong-un himself uses this bridge when visiting China. Another fun fact is Mao Zedong’ son, Mao Anying also crossed this bridge into North Korea during the Korean war. The Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge plays a crucial role, facilitating 70% of trade between the two countries and symbolizing Dandong’s vital role in supporting North Korea’s economy. In a way Dandong is basically a lifeline for North Korea’s economy dependency on China.
Tourists aren’t able to actually able to walk over and cross the bridge itself. However, you can still take a minute to soak it in from the river banks. Trains actually still operate across the bridge. If you really want to head on over across the border you can look into train ticket options. Otherwise, the Yalu River Scenic area is worth spending some time strolling around in.
The North Korean Border
As you are strolling around the Yalu River Scenic Area, you will definitely come across guides selling boat tickets to visit the North Korean border. After all, this is probably the closest and only option you’ll get at waving to North Korean border security. I took up one of the guides on this option.
I had to wait around just a bit for the guide to fill up his bus with tourists. Once boarded, the bus ride is an hour-long ride North to the boat docks. Along the way, you can witness some of the numerous bombed up bridges. You can also witness the vastly different landscapes between the two countries. Eventually, we got to the docks around 3:30, which was a great time to see the sun starting to set. Get ready for a 30 minute break for photoshoots with Chinese tourist before boarding the boats. After getting some selfies, get on board for the roughly 45 minute tour up and down the Yalu River.
Dandong’s Yalu River Boat Ride
As I was visiting in the middle of winter, you’ll get both the cold temperature and wind breeze coming at you. For the good pics and memorable views of North Korea, you’ll have to soldier up and brave through it on the open top of the boat. I was able to snap a good amount of photos and see for myself the turquoise watch towers of the North Korean border. If you’ve got binoculars bring them, as you can get a real up-close view of the civilians and soldiers rummaging around. My tour didn’t get too close to the border as it stayed mostly in the middle of the river. Head on down below if you need to warm up, but be prepared to walk into a smoke-fest of Chinese men trying to warm themselves up.
Eventually the boat hit a point and turned around. At this point it was getting dark and waited a bit for the bus to come back. On the rather quiet trip back, I listened to the guide who multitasked by driving and selling us “exquisite” cigarettes from throughout China. As with most Chinese tours, get expected to be sold to or walked through a shop with a variety of local products.
Tiger Mountain Wall
You haven’t been to the Great Wall yet? Well you’re in luck. The Tiger Mountain Wall in Dandong is also considered part of the Great Wall. Though the Tiger Mountain Wall isn’t as dramatic as the main part of the Great Wall, you can still get a scaled-down experience of climbing the stone walls. From Dandong you can take a taxi that will cost around 35-40RMB or a bus for 4RMB. The round trip bus stop has one location outside the gate and runs till 6.
There are a couple entrances you can visit from depending on the season you visit. I went through the farthest north entrance as the main entrance wasn’t open. After buying the ticket and picking an entrance, you will eventually come to a fork at the top. If you follow the main route you’ll eventually go through a museum and find the main exit.
I decided to take the hilly, back-route instead. Maps will list a scenic spot on the hill if you follow this path, however it’s really not that scenic. If you follow the dirt path around eventually you’ll come across some railings that will guide you around. You actually bump right up next to a river that borders with North Korea. From this route I was even closer to the turquoise border towers and could hear the guards yelling at each other. It was an interesting moment, since I was literally the only person hiking that route.
After the slightly thrilling side route hike, I came back through the same entrance and found a quick bite outside the entrance. The bus route back is a bit slow and takes around 45 mins to downtown. However, who can argue with 4RMB a ticket?
Everybody is a foodie when traveling. Who doesn’t want to try out the local delicacies and be surrounded by scrumptious snacks. Andong, which was Dandong’s name long ago, is the vibrant food market not too far from the Yalu River. You’ll find a sitting statue and an elaborate, traditional entrance to get in the main door of the market. Immediately you’ll smell the strong aromas and the rowdy atmosphere. Hopefully, you have gotten a little more familiar with China at this point. As you explore the market, don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy classical Chinese performances at the on-site theater while indulging in delicious local snacks.
Wrapping Up the Top 5 Sites in Dandong
There are a ton of fun things to do in China. However, as mentioned if you want to visit somewhere that many others haven’t or see a unique, historical site then Dandong, China is a good site to start at. From the Tiger Wall and North Korean border, Dandong will you have even to fill up a whole weekend. If you are able to visit the top 5 sites in Dandong that I listed, I’d love to hear your experiences!