Dandong, located in the far east of China, has a population of a little over two million people. In many ways, it’s a lot like any other third tier Chinese city, apart from it has a rather unusual neighbour.
The comparatively cosmopolitan mix of ethnicities might give you a clue to Dandong’s unusual nature. As well as Han Chinese, the largest and most common ethnicity in China, there’s a healthy dose of Manchurians (people originally from the north east of China) and quite a few Koreans. You can also find Korean language signs and the odd shop keeper who’s fluent.
Any guesses yet?
Dandong is famous for being “hub city” for tourists coming in and out of North Korea, due to its proximity across the Yalu river from Sinuiju, a North Korean border town. After moving here recently from the hustle and bustle of Beijing, it’s become apparent that this unique city has got a lot cool things to do, aside from peeking at the Hermit Kingdom. If you have time before or after our one of our Ultra Budget tours, we’d definitely recommend checking it out!
I’ve selected five of my favourite must see and do recommendations in Dandong to help give you a better insight into this intriguing city.
Number 5 – Walk along the Yalu River (鸭绿江)
Yalu River, Dandong
The city of Dandong is separated from North Korea by the Yalu River. The Yalu River begins from the spring located at Mt. Paektu (or Mt. Changbai in Chinese) and runs all the way down to the Yellow Sea by passing cities such as Linjiang, Ji’an and Dandong.
The Chinese have taken advantage of this, building an incredible board walk that stretches from the very north of Dandong all the way down to the New Dandong District. In total, it’s about 20km.
As you walk along the board walk you’ll have opportunities to see how life on the river is, with both Chinese and North Koreans going about their daily lives as fishermen, wedding parties, tourists, patrol men and other quirky characters.
During the evening, the notorious Chinese dancing grannies will come out in huge droves to perform their stretches along with Chinese countryside dance beats. You’ll also see other interesting ways of Chinese doing their afternoon exercises; like cracking whips at spinning objects, flying kites, performing in bands or simply writing calligraphy on the ground.
Along your walk, you’ll also find signs displaying the local law of interacting with the North Koreans, such as no shouting towards the North Koreas, no throwing objects at the North Koreans, no taking photos of North Korean soldiers and no trading with the North Koreans. The Chinese military have patrols set up to march along the board walk so if you do see them give them a smile, the young lads love it!
Number 4 – Walk on the Broken Bridge and ake a boat ride along the river
The Broken Bridge and the Friendship Bridge – very easily distinguishable. Both bridges were built by the Japanese during their occupation of North East China during WWII. However, during the Korean war, the Americans bombed the two bridges to cut Chinese supply to the North Koreans. The Chinese and Koreans would rebuild the bridge and the Americans would again bomb it. Rinse and repeat.
Once the war finished both Chinese and Korean agreed to rebuild and strengthen the Friendship bridge. However, the North Koreans refused to repair the Broken Bridge and wanted it to be left as a reminder of what the Americans did during the war. The Chinese again took advantage of this, and have turned the Broken Bridge into Dandong’s most popular tourist attraction. For 35RMB you can walk on the Broken Bridge as it takes you half way out towards North Korea over the Yalu River.
Once you’ve had a peak on the bridge I’d also recommend hopping on any of the tour boats that’ll take you up or down the Yalu river for 60RMB. This will give you perfect opportunity to see Sinuiju’s port.
If you’re out looking for some North Korean goods, head under the Broken Bridge and look for local vendors selling North Korean old currency and fake pins.
Number 3 – Sinuiju Day Tour
Since you’re already in Dandong, why not visit North Korea for a day? The city of Sinuiju, North Korea’s border town which faces Dandong accepts foreign tourists (excluding Americans) for a day. Join our day group tour and you’ll be able to explore the local square where the large bronze statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, the cosmetics factory, explore the abandoned amusement park on the Yalu River banks, and watch an impressive Kindergarten performance.
Number 2 – Visit Andong Old Street (安东老街)
Dandong’s first name wasn’t actually Dandong. It used to be known as Andong meaning “peace in the east”. During the mid-20th century it was changed to Dandong. So, Andong Old Street reflects the history and culture of Dandong.
A selection of delicious foods to try!
Head to this area during the evening when the locals come out to play. There’s heaps of different dishes and restaurants to try. Each restaurant will have a speciality not just from Dandong but from other parts of China. There are locally held performances here with singing, acrobatics and other cool tricks. You might even get lucky and see actors and actresses roaming the streets dressed up in traditional attire and performing as traditional Chinese. You can even take a ride on a rickshaw! It’s an awesome spectacle, and great for photos.
Number 1 – The Great Wall of China – Tiger Mountain (虎山长城)
You might have heard of it…
This tops as my must-see attraction in Dandong. But, although it’s the one and only Great Wall of China, it also takes you closer to North Korea! Located 30 minutes north of Dandong, it can easily be reached there by taxi (about 50RMB) or by bus no. 214 (5RMB per person).
This part of the wall is the most eastern part, and was completed during the Ming Dynasty. The local government has restored the wall, making it safe to walk along and climb. The wall will take you all the way to the top of Tiger Mountain which will give you spectacular views over both Dandong and North Korea. There’s binoculars you can rent from the top for 10RMB to have an even better look into North Korea.
I’d recommend following the path down to the other side of the mountain, which takes you
The view of North Korea from the Dandong border
closer still to North Korea. Once reaching the bottom, politely refuse to accept the shuttle bus back to the front of the park for 10RMB and walk instead. Here, you’ll have an opportunity to approach the Chinese border fence where North Korea is only 5 metres away from you!
PLEASE NOTE: Do be careful with photography, and always remember not to take photos of North Korea soldiers!
If this sounds like your cup of tea, check out our Dandong Day Trip Tour!