After our time in North Korea, myself and a few others from the tour group decided to spend the day in the Chinese city of Dandong before heading our separate ways. Dandong is a city which lies right on the border of North Korea, with the two countries being separated only by the Yalu river. This is the main draw of tourists to the city; to be able to catch a small glimpse into the hermit state. Our Chinese guide Michelle who accompanied us in North Korea offered to show us around Dandong and take us to a few sights- this was also our chance to ask some deeper questions about North Korea that we didn’t feel were appropriate while we were in the country itself.
The Great Wall of China at Hushan
The first attraction on our Dandong itinerary was The Great Wall. After my unsuccessful attempt at climbing The Great Wall in Beijing a couple of weeks previously (heavy rainfall meant the wall was closed), I was eager to have a second attempt. Luckily, Dandong is home to the most easterly section of the wall, and runs for about 1200 metres over Hushan (also known as Tiger Mountain). The surrounding scenery was really beautiful and this section of the wall was a lot quieter and less busy than the sections accessed from Beijing.
On arrival at the Great Wall site, Michelle first took us to a large stretch of fencing, and informed us that North Korea was on the other side. There was a set of binoculars which pointed directly at a North Korean watchtower, where we could see a guard inside keeping watch. It was still quite surreal to be this close to North Korea, even though we had been inside the country for the past few days.
Next, we headed back to the entrance of The Great Wall and began to climb up. This was a moderately challenging hike in the heat, and we reached the top dripping with sweat. We treated ourselves to an ice-cream and sat and admired the view for a while before heading back down.
Yalu River Cruise
After The Great Wall, we jumped back into the mini-van and headed to a dock where we boarded a speed boat. The boat revved across the river, getting closer and closer to North Korea. Legally, we obviously could not moor up or set foot on North Korean soil, but we slowed down near the bank and skirted along the shoreline. It was very quiet, with barely any signs of life, except for one or two military who kept a very close eye on us. Our captain placed a towel over his head as we got closer- I was unsure whether he did this because the sun was hot, or to hide his identity from the North Korean military.
The contrast between Dandong and this part of North Korea (Sinuiju) was astounding. Dandong was busy and full of life, with high rise buildings for miles, whereas Sinuiji was deserted, with no buildings in sight except for a few shabby watchtowers.
New Yalu River Bridge
After lunch, we headed to The New Yalu River Bridge, which runs from Dandong to Sinuiju in North Korea. The construction of the bridge has been stalled indefinitely, as it ends in a field outside of Sinuiju, and North Korea has not built any roads connecting to the bridge. The bridge reportedly cost China £250m to build and was supposed to strengthen the allegiance between China and Noth Korea. However, it seems that this allegiance has soured. China had hoped the bridge would encourage more trade and friendship, but unfortunately this did not occur, and the bridge remains unused.
Yalu River Broken Bridge
The Yalu River Broken Bridge ran from Dandong to Sinuiji and was built by the Japanese in 1905, but destroyed during the Korean War. The Chinese restored their side of the bridge, but the North Korean side remains destroyed. This means you can walk halfway across the Yalu River towards North Korea, and you can also see the US bombs which were dropped on the bridge.
Little activity in North Korea can be seen from the bridge, but the most eye-catching object is a white Ferris wheel which stands motionless. Michelle said that locals have never seen the wheel being used; it just appeared one day for seemingly no reason other than for fake prosperity.
And that concludes my tour of Dandong!
Other than visiting the Demilitarised Zone in South Korea, this is the closest you can get to North Korea without actually venturing into the country itself. For those interested in North Korea, I highly recommend a visit to Dandong to catch a glimpse into the mysterious, closed-off nation.
Thank you Errol for letting me use some of your photos!