Overview of Dandong
Dandong is the busiest and largest hub Chinese city to border North Korea. The city mostly focuses on trade and tourism with its communist neighbour which attracts both domestic and foreign tourists. The city is uniquely located on the lower border between China and the DPRK in the northeast Chinese province of Liaoning close to the Yellow Sea. Dandong is easily reachable by domestic trains and flights within China.
Major highlights of Dandong include the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge, the Broken Bridge, the Memorial of the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid North Korea, the Great Wall of China and Phoenix Mountain. The DPRK city adjacent to Dandong is Sinuiju with a population of approximately 400,000 Koreans making it the largest border city to China.
An Introduction by YPT Guide Rowan Beard
Table of Contents
- Why Visit Dandong
- Things to Do in Dandong
- How to get to Dandong
- What to Eat in Dandong
- Dandong New District
- New Yalu River Bridge
- When is the best time to visit Dandong
Being located so close to North Korea, this is an ideal location for those curious to glimpse North Korean life from across the river as well as sampling North Korean cuisine along the border. Many North Koreans are seen throughout the day running businesses around the city. Chinese vendors can be spotted along the river selling counterfeit Korean stamps, money and propaganda items. North Korean radio and television signals can also be picked up.
If you are planning on visiting North Korea by train you will pass through Dandong, why not make the most of your journey and spend an overnight in the city and explore the unique blend of Chinese and Korean culture? Read more below to find out.
Dandong (丹东), formally known as Andong (安東) meaning “pacifying the east” reflecting the influence China had over Korea, was under Japanese occupation from 1894 to 1945. The city was used as a hub to complete all trading done between Japanese Occupied Korea (1910 to 1945) and Manchuria (Northeast China, 1931 to 1945) which was also controlled by the Japanese.
After World War II (1945), the Korean peninsula was left divided and broken. The USSR and China backed North Korea, and the United States and the western world backed the South. The Korean War broke out in June 1950, which kicked off greater tensions between two of the most powerful nations at the time, which was the forefront to the Cold War.
During the Korean War, in October 1950, the Chinese formed the People’s Liberation Volunteer Army and marched their infantry across the Yalu River Bridge and the now known Broken Bridge to provide ground support for both the North Koreans and the Soviet soldiers.
The following month in November to February of 1951, the United States strategically flew B-29 and B-17 bombers, as well as F-80 fighter jets over North Korean airspace and bombed both Dandong bridges multiple times on the North Korean side to avoid a direct attack on the Chinese but to stop the flow of Chinese support and aid. More bridges further up the Yalu River were also destroyed as part of the greater strategic bombing campaign on North Korea
The Korean War ended in 1953 and the focus of the city was shifted from war to the coal and seafood industry which the majority was imported from North Korea. Huanghai Motors is headquartered in Dandong producing busses, trucks and vans for the Chinese and North Korean economy.
From the early 2000s, Dandong saw a rise in domestic tourism after being awarded the ‘Best Tourist City’ for 2001 and the ‘Cleanest City’ in 2005 by the National Tourism Administration of China. In 2015 trading with North Korea made up for more than 80% of Dandong’s total GDP but numbers have greatly slumped in recent years due to ongoing UN sanctions set against North Korea.
Visit North Korea
Young Pioneer Tours offers day trips to Sinuiju – the border town city of North Korea. Tours start from 1900RMB per person and include exploring Sinuiju Central Square, photos of the giant bronze statue of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, visit the Revolutionary museum, stop by a local Kindergarten and experience a traditional North Korean lunch.
For those interested in visiting Pyongyang – Ultra Budget tours start and finish in Dandong with 2 nights inclusive in the North Korean capital starting from 475 euros per person.
Broken Bridge – 断桥
The Broken Bridge was originally called the Qingcheng Bridge and was built by the Japanese between 1909 and 1911. It was the very first bridge to connect North Korea and China. The bridge spanned 944.2 meters (3,098 feet) long and had 12 arches, one of the arches was able to rotate to allow bigger ships on the Yalu River to pass.
The US bombed the bridge which was repaired multiple times during the war but was left destroyed after the war. The Chinese proposed to the North Koreans to repair the bridge but the North Koreans wanted the bridge to be left as it was as a reminder to what the Americans did during the war.
It is possible to walk on the broken bridge for spectacular views of both Dandong and Sinuiju city as well as the Yalu River. You are able to walk up to the arch that was designed to rotate the bridge open and see the remarkable mechanical structure for that era.
The Bridge opens from 8:30am to 4:30pm and requires an entrance ticket. It’s well worth standing near the bridge at night for a fantastic photo of both the Friendship and Broken bridge. The bridge is easily accessible by walking from the railway station.
Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge – 中朝友谊桥
The Friendship Bridge was built between 1937 and 1941 by the Japanese during World War II. The bridge has one railway line and one traffic lane which can be used by trucks, tourist busses and cars. The steel used to construct this 940.8 metre (3,087 feet) long structure was made in Nazi Germany and shipped to China.
Originally known as the Yalu River Bridge, it too experienced harsh bombing campaigns. However, being a modern bridge at the time both the Chinese and North Koreans agreed to repair this bridge so trade and supplies between the two nations can resume. You can see the difference between the original part of the bridge and the repaired section as the original has arches above the bridge, whilst the new section does not, to cut on cost.
When taking the train in or out of North Korea this is the bridge that is used. When partaking in a one-day tour to Sinuiju your bus will also cross this bridge. It is not possible to walk along this bridge as it is heavily monitored by both Chinese and North Korean military for immigration and custom purposes.
Tiger Mountain (Hu Shan) – Great Wall of China – 虎山长城
The Tiger Mountain section of the Great Wall of China is the most eastern part of the Great Wall. It finishes on top of Tiger Mountain which was used to intimidate Korea when the late Ming dynasty were defending China from any possible foreign invaders.
This particular section of the wall is a lot quieter than other sections found in Beijing or Hebei province, so for those who are wanting a Great Wall experience without the crowds, I couldn’t recommend this enough. Climbing to the top of the mountain via the steps can become quite physically demanding but the views of North Korea from above are spectacular.
It is located 12km north of the city, and can be reached by a twenty-minute taxi ride. Climbing up and back down the mountain takes usually around two to three hours.
Yalu River Scenic Boat Ride
Tourist Wharf #1 is located on the south side of the Broken Bridge and they offer 30-minute boat rides for tourists from the broken bridge, down to Moon Island and back. This gives you a great advantage to look at Sinuiju port and the city’s waterpark built on the river bank which is popular during summer. You may stand on the top of the boat with a capacity of 100 people for fresh air and uninterrupted photos.
Tourist Wharf #2 is located on the north side of the Broken Bridge and offer 30-minute boat rides from Broken Bridge up to Huihwa Island which belongs to North Korea. This can give you a close look at a North Korean cooperative farm and small village.
YPT Justin Martell guides on the Yalu Boat Ride taken from Tourist Wharf #2
Mt. Jinjiang is located to the west of the railway station and is easily accessible by a 10-minute walk. The park is very popular to visit by local families on the weekend and by the elderly community during the weekdays as they gather to sing Chinese revolutionary or folklore songs.
During the Korean War a giant ammunition bunker was dug into the mountain by the Chinese Military and still remains. You may find a few caged off entrances around the lower end of the mountains.
The walk to the top can be completed within 30-minutes and there are multiple paths to take which make it quite adventurous. Each path is covered with handrails. Once reaching the top you can walk up the stairs of two different pagoda towers for an impressive view of Dandong and North Korea.
Dandong Zoo – is located on the mountain and has tigers, Asian bears, monkeys and deer in their exhibits. Please note that these exhibits are quite outdated so if you’re not a fan of seeing animals in low-quality captivity you have been warned.
Dandong Funfair – is located next to the zoo and their rides have recently been refurbished. The park is great for kids under 10.
Located about 20 minutes walking distance south from Broken Bridge or a 7-minute taxi ride from the railway station – Moon Island was turned into a tourist spot during the early 2000s. The island has a few restaurants and outdoor drinking venues that are worth visiting during summer. The island is the closest you can get to North Korea without boarding a boat.
Mao Zedong Statue
Chairman Mao was a Chinese communist revolutionary who became the founding father of the People’s Republic of China and led the country from 1949 until his death in 1976. A statue was erected outside of Dandong Railway Station during the 1980s to commemorate his role in the founding of modern China.
Fenghuang (Phoenix) Mountain 凤凰山
The most famous mountain in the Dandong region and one of the four famed mountains in Liaoning province, Phoenix Mountain is separated into four scenic areas – West Mountain, East Mountain, Ancient City and Temple Valley. The mountain beholds elevated steep cliffs, deep caves, unique plants as well as stunning scenery in all four seasons.
Visiting the mountain requires an entrance ticket and you are guided on a path from the bottom of Temple Valley up to East Mountain via cable car, hiking is also an option. Scaling the top of the mountain provides incredible views of the mountain and the valley below. The highest peak of the mountain is 836.4 metres. There is a glass walking bridge available on the West Mountain for extra cost.
Phoenix Mountain can be reached by bus from the Long-Distance Bus Terminal for 8RMB and takes a little over an hour to reach, or by a 35-minute taxi.
Memorial of the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid North Korea
The Memorial of the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid North Korea or simply known as the Korean War Memorial is one of the major highlights of Dandong and is certainly worth visiting during your visit. Read more about the Memorial Hall.
Dandong is the starting point of our signature Borderlands tour which takes you through all the major border town cities within China, where North Koreans, Chinese Koreans and even South Koreans mingle. We also provide you with views into the DPRK that are impossible to see even when you’re in the DPRK. The trip includes a visit to Mt. Changbai (长白山) or known as Mt. Paektu to the Koreans which China and the DPRK share the mountain territory.
Dandong is easily reachable from most of China by rail, connecting international flights, road or by sea from South Korea.
Dandong offers a variety of accommodation depending on your needs and budget. Below is our list of recommendations when staying overnight.
Dantie Railway Hotel – a clean three-star hotel located right next to the railway station. Once exiting the railway station, you can find the statue of Mao pointing directly towards the hotel, super easy to find. There is one staff member who can speak English and if she isn’t available the front desk call her to assist. We recommend to stay here as it’s fairly cheap and has decent views of the central square, North Korea and of the railway yard.
Hilton Garden Inn Hotel – The Garden Inn is the Hilton’s 5-star mid-price little brother. Rooms are maintained well, clean and staff here speak English. It’s worth paying extra for the great views of North Korea. If you don’t opt for the riverside view, you’ll have a great view of Mt. Jinjiang. The breakfast buffet is the best in the city and is usually 100RMB extra per person.
Wanda Realm Dandong – the only 5-star experience in the city. It’s located next to Wanda Plaza, the rooms are very spacious, it has English speaking staff, and the cocktail bar here is well worth checking out. The have a western bakery in the lobby, worth buying some as snacks before you take the train to North Korea.
Bless House Youth Hostel – located on Moon Island, a decent 7-minute cab ride away from the railway station. The Youth Hostel is one of the cleanest we’ve experienced in China. Private and dorm rooms are kept very well and staff speak English. There are no direct views of North Korea from the hostel, but it is well worth a walk around the island.
Being based right on the river and the sea, this gives this little border city quite the advantage when it comes to seafood and a great mix of Chinese and Korean food.
Pyongyang Cold Noodles – the most iconic national dish of North Korea is available in Dandong. The Chinese have added their own unique style so it’s not exactly what you’d find in Pyongyang but it’s definitely worth having a try. It’s most commonly found in any North Korean restaurant or a few Chinese noodle shops.
North Korean Food – head to Korea Street (高丽街) located in the heart of the city and take your pick from rows of Korean restaurants. These restaurants are owned by ethnic Korean Chinese families. Korean BBQ is most popular with tourists and highly recommended.
For those who are conscious about dog meat, the majority of restaurants don’t offer it but it is available at some for those who are keen to try something new. The staff will repeat and remind you this is a dog dish so it isn’t something that’s accidentally ordered.
The majority of North Korean state-owned restaurants closed down in 2019 due to UN sanctions. Arirang Restaurant along the riverside is opened but is now staffed by Chinese, it will be the closest North Korean eating experience you’ll find in the border town.
Dandong Street BBQ – this defines the city’s nightlife. The street BBQ here is unique to other cities in the Northeast of China by having easy access to very fresh seafood from both the Yalu River and the Yellow Sea. Easily found on any street corner, however we highly recommend Chunwulu (春五路）for the best.
Chicken Egg Crepe Jidanguozi 鸡蛋果子 – The best way to start your morning on the go. This unique savoury crepe is incredibly quick to make, is very cheap and is the energy you need for starting a scorching hot, or a freezing morning in the city. Highly recommended if you’re passing through or on your way in or out of North Korea. Can be found on any street corner.
Iron Pot Fish 铁锅鱼 – A traditional dish found in the Northeast but it’s done right in here. A giant iron pot is built into your table and heated by wood. The heat from the pot flows into your chairs which is perfect for a winter meal. You can choose your fish from the fish tank and watch the staff bring it directly to your pot to watch it cook in front of you. A great dinner to eat for up to four.
Strawberries – Believe it or not, Dandong is most famous in China for not being a border town but for the strawberries grown in the local farms and exported to every corner of the Middle Kingdom. The strawberries are large, juicy and very cheap to buy within the city.
Dandong is considered a small quiet city where families expect their members to return back home for dinner. “Going out” for a local means going out for BBQ and having a lot of beers or Chinese baijiu. However, there are a few bars well worth checking out.
Wanda Plaza 万达广场 – is the largest and most modern shopping mall in the city. It has Uniqlo, H&M, Miniso, Burger King, Starbucks, Pizza Hut, MacDonald’s, KFC, a supermarket, a Chinese & Korean food court and an IMAX.
Xinliu Shopping Mall 新柳商 – a three level market selling items from clothing, furniture, personal care products, backpacks, electronics, stationary, and house hold items. This market is popular for North Koreans stocking up on items before returning home to North Korea.
Women’s Street 女人街 – outdated and not as popular as it used to be back in the 90s but a vintage part of the city to explore. The stores here mostly focus on China’s Northeast fashion but at night some great BBQ stalls open just outside the mall.
Dandong is a relatively sensitive city due to its proximity to North Korea. The Chinese Government enforces laws to prevent any issues with their neighbours. These laws include illegally exiting China and entering North Korea, throwing items across the border, and photography of Chinese or North Korean military personnel.
Chinese border patrol officers are regularly seen monitoring the Yalu River. If you have any concerns, they are willing to assist but please do not photograph the soldiers without permission.
Crime is incredibly low and locals are very helpful to tourists who will go out of their way to make recommendations for you. There are very little English services available in the city so be sure to come prepared with a translation app on your phone.
Northeast Chinese are famous for being heavy drinkers, and it is quite common for them to invite you to join them. It is a part of Chinese customs that the inviter covers the bill but it is still polite to offer.
North Koreans visiting or living in China keep to themselves. If you bump into a group at a restaurant or on the street it’s best to keep it to a simple wave. It’s considered impolite in North Korean custom to approach a stranger if you aren’t invited. Being abrupt with your approach or wanting to take a photo of them may result in them turning their back on you. With saying this, alcohol is a fantastic social lubricant.
Dandong New District was built 20km south of old town or 30 minutes away by car to anticipate and support the growing economic trade between China and North Korea. China had constructed tall modern residential apartments, shopping malls and Dandong’s first international school was opened by Taiwan to accommodate Chinese, Russian and North Korean students. A giant Ferris wheel was built along the river to attract tourists. North Korea had also relocated their consulate from old town to New District to provide more office space and staff.
However, due to ongoing sanctions and embargos, the new district that heavily relies on trade from their neighbours is still yet to reach its potential and remains mostly empty these days.
China began constructing a 3km (1.9 miles) long bridge spanning across the Yalu River connecting Dandong New District to south of Sinuiju which plans for a Special Economy Trade Zone were to be built. A large customs and immigration building were built on China’s side to accommodate the six-traffic lane behemoth. The project costs were estimated over $350 million dollars.
The opening date of the bridge was intended for 2014 but was met with delays on the DPRK side. Whilst the bridge looks complete it’s impossible to cross as roads are yet to be completed on the other side. In 2019 construction work on the North Korean side began with the aid of China with aims to completely open the bridge in 2021.
Dandong has four distinct seasons with plentiful sunshine during summer and a white snow experience in winter. From June to September the city can be between 25 degrees to 35 degrees, making it one of the warmest cities in the Northeast.
October to November the city receives a lot of attention as the trees turn golden brown, a picturesque Autumn. December to February can see Dandong drop to temperatures of -15 degrees, winter jackets and thermals are essential. Most of the outdoor BBQ venues move inside as the city adapts to staying warm. Spring tends to bloom from April to May and brings back a lot of city life after the winter period..