Guest Blog by Matthew Moore
Are you currently in Beijing, or visiting there soon? Eager to catch a glimpse of North Korea but without the time for a tour?
Then good news, it is (sort of) possible to do that as a ‘day trip’ from Beijing.
There are a few trains that run to Dandong from Beijing each day; the problem is that they arrive late in the afternoon, meaning the bulk of your day is gone. So if you are short on time like I was, the only viable option is the 14 hour overnight train K27, running each day from Beijing to Pyongyang at around 5:30pm, and hopping off just before the border at Dandong, where you arrive at around 7:30am the next morning. It costs around €72.
Being conscious of my budget, I opted for the “hard seat” seat option for both directions of this 28 hour return journey. This was a decision that I cannot pretend was a good idea; self-loathing toward my penny-pinching grew with every bump of the carriage over the hours of the return train journey back to Beijing. While perfectly reasonable for one night, I would recommend treating yourself to the luxury of a sleeper in at least one direction if you attempt Dandong as a day trip!
In short, to deliver on the promise of this clickbait title of taking you to the North Korean border from Beijing as a ‘day trip’, you must be willing to spend 28 hours on trains the evening before your ‘day’ and the morning after of your trip in exchange for 9 hours in Dandong… it is a no brainer to go for it, right?
Not convinced? Here is why it was/is worth the effort;
Yalu River Broken Bridge, a looming reminder of the Korean War.
Repeatedly bombed by the United States during the Korean War and rebuilt, the Yalu Broken River Bridge was intentionally left destroyed by the Koreans in the civil wars aftermath, serving as a reminder to it. Today, it also symbolises the inaccessibility of the ‘Hermit Kingdom’ and its frozen links to the outside world since the end of the war.
North Korean wedding party along the Yalu River between Sinuiju, DPRK & Dandong, China.
While you are not technically in the DPRK in Dandong, that does not mean that you cannot catch a glimpse of North Korean people going about their lives here, fisherman can be seen sailing along the Yalu River in juxtaposition to the modern skyline of Dandong behind them. If you are lucky enough not to be visiting on one of the former leader’s birthdays (February 16th and April 15th respectively) when weddings are illegal in the DPRK, you might even see a North Korean wedding party sailing down the Yalu!
Taking a boat along the Yalu River
And because 28 hours on transport was not enough, I hopped on a boat trip available along the Yalu River, offering a closer look at Sinuiju and the opportunity to view the Dandong skyline as those across the border view it.
By the Yalu River
So there you have it, from Beijing to the (edge of the) DPRK and back in a day. You may think that opting for a day trip to one of Beijing’s more popular excursions such as the Great Wall in Mutianyu or Badaling would be a better choice for your trip, but in fact, it is possible to see part of the Great Wall (The Hushan Great Wall) here in Dandong while simultaneously getting views over North Korea.
Fancy visiting Dandong but without the 28 hour return trip from Beijing?
Don’t blame you; come with Young Pioneer Tours – available as either a tour extension or as part of several DPRK itineraries.