Aside from Young Pioneer Tours regularly blogging about our budget tours to North Korea and the many new North Korean Tourist attractions that pop up in Pyongyang and other cities, we also try and do the odd (dare we say interesting) piece about the wider issues and interests of the DPRK.
We carry on the Borderlands Series with the most well-known crossing between China and North Korea:Dandong.
For most people, Dandong is the border city of North Korea, with more tourists passing through the border with Sinuiju than at any other point (including by air). The city has a very North Korean theme, with hawkers selling contraband and most of the waterfront littered with shops selling legitimately imported DPRK goods, and there are more variations of the North Korean franchise restaurant than any other place in the world. Scratch beneath the surface of Dandong, and you will also find a very interesting less than legal underbelly to trading that has featured a few scandals of the last few years. Dandong is also a nice place to hang out; having parts of the Great Wall and numerous ways of looking at North Korea make Dandong more than just a transit point. It’s more than worth spending an extra night, or two before or after your trip to the DPRK. (We are happy to arrange this for you)
Dandong has a small airport with daily links to Beijing, lesser ones to Shanghai and now a new service from Seoul in the Republic of Korea.
Dandong recently has a new fast train service, linking it to Beijing and other big hot spots like Shenyang. It has two very famous daily services, the K27 and K28, which also double up as the Beijing – Pyongyang, and Pyongyang – Beijing train services.
The long distance bus station is opposite the train station, on the same road as KFC. There are buses and shared taxis to Shenyang, and Dalian, as well as a daily service to Beijing. With the opening of the new fast train, buses are now somewhat overpriced and redundant.
It is also possible to join an organized tour and pass by bus into Sinuiju in North Korea.
Most of the “old town” is walkable, but getting to the new empty ghost town it is worth taking a bus for RMB 2. Taxis start at RMB 5, although there is some that start at 6. Don’t take the 3 wheeled taxis unless you speak Chinese and can negotiate. Insist on the meter.
Being so close to Korea, there are plenty of Korean restaurants and influences. However, generally speaking, it is a Han area with the locals speaking Mandarin with their own little regional tint. Due to there being so many North Korean businessman and shops here, many locals will have at least an understanding of Korean.
Dandong, Liaoning Province
This is extreme borderlands! Lots and lots to see and do here for both Korean watchers and general tourists. Our DPRK Borderlands Tour stops here.
- Boat Trips – It is possible to take a boat trip along the Yalu to peer into North Korea, interesting if you never
plan to visit the country but redundant if you do.
- Bombed bridge – The old friendship bridge that was bombed at the halfway point during the Korean war. You can now pay RMB 30 to walk to the halfway point and look at North Korea.
- Dandong Great Wall – About half an hour from town, this part of the wall was actually rebuilt after western forces bombed it to pieces at the beginning of the 20th Century. Still pleasant enough to visit and also features 2 step pass, one of the closest parts of the border with North Korea.
- Go to North Korea! A majority of tourists enter the DPRK through the bridge between China and Korea. It is possible to join a Young Pioneer Tours Ultra Budget Tour that starts and finishes in Dandong throughout the year.
- Sinuiju Day Trip – It is possible to either join a Chinese group, or take an independent day trip to Sinuiju in North Korea from Dandong
- Sinuiju Overnight Trip – It is possible to join an independent, or group trip to Sinuiju in North Korea from Dandong.
Dandong has more North Korean owned and operated restaurants than any other city in the world, (except Pyongyang) although they vary greatly in both quality and price.
- Pyongyang Restaurant – Opposite the train station on the road opposite KFC. This small unassuming restaurant that looks almost like a living room is the secret unknown gem of the North Korean restaurant scene. No crowds, no tourists, but great food.
- The Koryo Hotel Restaurant – Further down the river, this restaurant owned and operated by the Koryo Hotel in Pyongyang offers the grandest North Korean restaurant experience with the best views, perfect if you want to splurge a little.
- Yalu riverside restaurants – There’s a large selection of restaurants, both Chinese and Korean, along the river Yalu and opposite North Korea. They are all of similar quality with nothing standing out particularly. Most of the North Koreans restaurants have the waitresses performing a show at around 6 pm, but it is worth checking the times beforehand.
- Peters Cafe – This used to be the best place in Dandong for western food until the owner was arrested in China and exposed as committing crimes in both China and North Korea as an opportunistic evangelical Christian. Despite the owners not really being missed, the restaurant is certainly is. There is talk of it reopening as King Coffee, but no one knows who the owners will be, or if it will be any good, or happen at all.
- Street Barbecue – During the summer, Dandong offers street BBQ of meat and fish to rival anywhere else in China.
- Duck Head Restaurants – A kind of delicacy in Dandong. Serving, you guessed it, duck heads. This is a lot better than it actually sounds.
- Moon Island – During the summer, Moon Island offers great BBQ overlooking North Korea.
- KFC – We feel a little ashamed adding this in, but if you have a two-hour layover before your train to Pyongyang, then the KFC opposite the train station is a godsend.
Dandong, despite its size and importance to tourism, is sadly lacking when it comes to decent bars and nighttime entertainment.
- Moon Island – Famous Chinese side island to the east side of Dandong and the Yalu river, full of decent riverside bars offering views of North Korea as well as BBQ options. This is definitely a summer destination.
- Hipster Beer Bar – The kind of closest thing Dandong has to a western bar. They play sports and have a decent beer selection, as well as having these magical dart boards that let you play with people all over the world. Opposite the water near the pink lady street. Keep in the mind the owner is known to change the name of the bar at will.
- Real Love – This famous Chinese chain nightclub certainly has a twist to it in Dandong. Regularly hosts shows including transvestites, transsexuals and performing dwarfs. Western patrons are fairly infrequent, so don’t be surprised if you’re called up on stage to participate in a beer race.
Whilst not having anything of the hostel variety, there are still a decent range of hotel options here from budget to high end. There are no actual hostels in Dandong.
- Dandong Railway Station Hotel – Unsurprisingly situated next to the train station, this tried and tested staple
offers decent clean rooms from between RMB 128 – 188 depending on the season. WiFi here is pretty much non-existent, and the service is disgracefully bad, but it does a job. They also rent rooms by the hour, obviously for those who love to power nap.
- Dandong Garden Inn by Hilton – The Hilton isn’t the usual kind of hotel we would feature, but it is surprisingly good value for a Hilton. Sometimes offering their deluxe rooms for as little as RMB 350 per night, but with the quality that you get from staying in a Hilton. Towards the riverfront, simply look into the sky for a sign saying Hilton.
- LiaoDong Hotel – Known as the Maoist hotel as after China began opening up, the staff kept it open as a workers cooperative. There are still Maoist slogans on the back of the property. The rooms and corridors are reminiscent of The Shining and there is no WiFi. It might sound bad, but for the kitsch value, it is amazing. On our last visit it was closed for renovation, so make sure you have alternative options if you’re planning to check it out.
- Yalu River International Hotel – Situated next to the Maoist one that we like, decent enough quality and quasi 5 stars, but horrendously overpriced for what you actually receive.
- Beijing – Takes 6 hours by fast train, or 14 hours by the trusted K28 overnight train.
- Kuandian – Small Manchu town under 2 hours from Dandong. RMB 10 by bus
- Huanren – Another small Manchu county under 2 hours by bus. RMB 10
- Shenyang – The regional hub is just over an hour away by fast train – RMB 70
- Dalian – 3 hours away by car, or bus (shared taxis leave from the bus station almost 24 hours a day)
- Incheon/Seoul (Republic of Korea) – It is possible to take the 15 hour ferry every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday from Dandong to Incheon in south Korea. Price depends on type of ticket which range from two to a cabin, to Korean style sleeping on the floor with 100 people. RMB 1200 – 2000