Yough Pioneer Tours

Friend Or Foe: Exploring Dandong’s Broken Bridge

The Yalu River Broken Bridge (in Chinese: 鸭绿江断桥 | Yālù Jiāng Duàn Qiáo) is a former railway bridge that used to run between China and North Korea. Bombed by the US during the Korean War, the DPRK chose to leave the bridge symbolically ruined, and it remains in its broken state to this day. 

The bridge can be found in the Chinese northeastern city of Dandong, Liaoning Province. Dandong is the most popular entry point for those looking to cross from China to North Korea. Fear not — the Broken Bridge has a sister crossing these days, aptly named the Friendship Bridge. 

A Chinese tourist poses in front of a statue of PLA general Peng Dehuai on Dandong's Broken Bridge.

Dandong is well off the beaten track when it comes to tourism. For those who travel here, this is their only chance to have a glimpse into life of the Hermit Kingdom. For the vast majority this is as close as they get to North Korea. Local Chinese companies have set up DPRK-themed boat tours, photo opportunities with Korean traditional costumes, as well as ubiquitous North Korean goods such as stamps, cigarettes, alcohol, and clothing.

A view of a North Korean water park seen from the Yalu River Broken Bridge.
North Korean water park seen from the Broken Bridge

The Broken Bridge goes by a number of colourful — and often difficult-to-translate — sobriquets, including the ‘China to North Korea Bridge to Nowhere’ or, more simply, the ‘Dandong Broken Bridge’. Whatever moniker is applied to it, it nevertheless remains a potent reminder of the destruction unleashed during the Korean War, falling some hundred metres short of the North Korean bank of the Yalu River. 

A Broken Bridge piling juts out of the water in the Yalu River.
The Broken Bridge terminates less than 100 metres from North Korea

A brief history of the Broken Bridge

1909: the birth of the Yalu River Bridge

Construction begins on the Yalu River Bridge by the Japanese colonial forces in Korea. The Qing Dynasty on the Chinese side of the river does not consent to this.

1911: the world’s longest railroad network

By applying diplomatic pressure, the Japanese persuade Qing China to acquiesce to the bridge reaching over to their side of the river. When the railway is complete, South Korea’s Busan is connected all the way to Calais, France. This easily dwarfs the present-day longest uninterrupted railroad of Moscow-Pyongyang.

1937: the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge is born

The Japanese build another, parallel bridge across the Yalu and into the region known as Manchukuo (Japan’s Manchurian puppet state). The bridge, dubbed the ‘Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge’, remains the primary point of entry/exit between the DPRK and China.

1950: the Korean War and US airstrikes

US planes bomb the Yalu River Bridge during the Korean War. The USA claims that this is ‘accidental’, but was more likely an attempt to prevent Chinese reinforcements from joining the fray.

1951: the breaking of the bridge

With a wintertime pause (no point in blowing up a bridge over a frozen river) the US resume their aerial attacks on the bridges spanning the Yalu. This time they succeed, and the Broken Bridge is born.

1988: tourism becomes a thing

Dandong declares the bridge a municipal heritage site. The bridge becomes popular with tourists.

1993: refurbishment

The bridge is fully refurbished (well, not fully; it is not repaired to reach the Korean side) and is stocked with AA guns from the Korean War, merchandise booths (in the true spirit of communism) and a statue of PLA general Peng Dehuai, who led Chinese troops across the Yalu to help the North Koreans during the war.

(Moving) pictures are worth, like, a billion words

In this video, YPT North Korea Tour Manager Rowan Beard takes us along the waterfront and Dandong and for a tour of the Broken Bridge. 

Practical tips for visiting the Broken Bridge

  • Tickets onto the Broken Bridge cost approximately 30 RMB (around 4 USD).
  • To reach the bridge from the train station, simply walk to the main road outside the station, turn right and follow the road until you hit the river. You’ll clearly be able to see the Friendship and Broken Bridges.
  • If you have a little more time in Dandong, consider a boat tour. This is a fantastic way to see both bridges and get an up-close glimpse of the DPRK from your boat.
  • If you’re craving either coffee or Western food, there is a Starbucks to the left of the bridge (frustratingly not opening until 8:30am, but this is just enough time to grab a coffee before your train departs for North Korea at around 10am) and a KFC close to the station. Both of these make good early-morning options for those who have a couple hours’ time between Beijing and Pyongyang trains.
  • Avoid visiting on the weekend or holidays (always good advice in China) — the Broken Bridge will be so busy that you’ll be hard-pressed to see anything.

YPT offers Dandong City Tours as well as extensions to your North Korea tour to explore the border city of Sinuiju.