One Step Away From North Korea, Dandong

China shares border with North Korea by a famous river called Yalu River (鸭绿江), and there are a few cities and towns of China situates along that river. Dandong (丹东) is, probably the biggest one of them, a bit up north than Dalian, 5 or 6 hours away by bus, there was not any high speed train when I visited, these days, I heard it's possible to travel from Dalian to Dandong by high speed train within 2 hours or so, what a development! Dandong is an old industrial city in northeast part of China, it plays an important role in economic and cultural exchange with North Korea, also, because of its location, the city offers the best and most convenient tours to North Korea, from 1 day round-trip tours to 7-day deep tours. Most of the tourists who want to pay a visit to North Korea enter the country from Dandong either by train or by plane. Train is the most used way. And signing up with tour group is the only way you can visit North Korea, many tour agencies in Dandong offer that service, but you have to have your visa applied a week before the tour. I have always wanted to sign up a deep tour to North Korea, but I didn't get my visa before I got into Dandong, and I didn't want be stuck in Dandong for like a week, so I ditched my idea of going to North Korea this time, however, I would definitely come back to Dandong again and pay a visit to North Korea. Dandong was still one of my highlights in northeast part of China even though I left it with regret.

Arrived Dandong late at night on a bus from Dalian, first thing I saw was Chairman Mao reaching out his hand to me and second thing I felt was that the temperature was lower than Dalian...My hostel was by the Yula River near a bridge to North Korea and at the side of that bridge lied a historical site, The broken Bridge (断桥), two bridges were only a few 20 meters apart. I had to walk down to the Yalu River and along the river a bit before I got picked up by one of the staffs from the hostel, and the walk was fun even though I didn't get to see much because of the darkness.

Yalu River at night, the bridge served as trail way and bus way from Dandong to a North Korean city, Xinyi Zhou (新义州) across the river, well guarded by both Chinese soldiers and better guarded by North Korean soldiers on the other side, even a fly from China couldn't fly over. On China's bank of Yalu River, there were lights on big buildings all over the place, on the other side of the bank in North Korea, there were only few lights and they might have been fire lights, I didn't know, what was going on there but it seemed like a ghost town. Even the bridge only half way lit up.

A tank covered in tarp beneath the bridge. Felt a bit intense then and there.

Woke up the next morning only to see heavy snow and the "unvisitable" North Korea across the Yalu River, so excited that I couldn't wait to explore.

The 2 bridges in snow.

A friend I met at the hostel, we went to explore the city together and ended up going to a local park, Jinjiangshan Park (锦江山公园).

Korean food, cigarettes and bills sold by vendors on the street. They were everywhere.

Most of the street signs were both in Chinese and Korean. Fortunately, I learned a bit Korean in my college as one of my hobbies, I could read and have some basic conversations with either North Koreans or South Koreans. The differences in between North and South Koreans are just like British English and American English. In Dandong, the bigger population is still Chinese, that's why I didn't hear Korean spoken very often when I was there. Things were a bit different in Yanji (延吉), I will get there in a few posts.

I was told by the staffs from the hostel that 20 Km away from downtown there was a historical site, "Great Wall", which made me want to visit. As the day went on the snow got heavier, some public buses were forced to stop running, but it didn't stop me from getting there. I took one of the few public buses and ended up in a village covered in white snow, didn't know where I was, a bit scary, then I figured since there were people there was nothing to worry about. Checked my map, and I walked straight up to the site, the bus driver told me to come back no later than 8:30 for it was the last one, otherwise, I had to sleep in the middle of nowhere.

The map on my phone told me to get on a main road. Yalu River and North Korea on my right hand side.

Snow stacked up thick on the ground.

The Yalu River got narrower at certain spots.

This "Great Wall" was built in Ming Dynasty, different from the one in Beijing. And it was the easternmost Great Wall, keeping outsiders from entering China.

Nobody was there because of the snow, which was very spooky. The landscape there reminded me of the scenes from "Game of Thrones" when John Snow takes charge in Night Watch at the wall.

War towers lied every 20 meters or so.

These war towers were well designed, hard for enemies to attack, easy for defense.

Vision range was great on top of these war towers. In the picture, Yalu River in the middle, separating China to the left and North Korea to the right.

This Great Wall was about 6 or 7 Km long, my hike ended on the other end, and at the very end, I saw some words read "The Eastern Starting Point of All the Great Wall". I checked the time again, it was kind of late, I had to head back before the light and last bus ran out.

The road back on to the main road I took on my way to the Wall was probably the trickiest road I have ever taken, why? I was very close to North Korea and because of the snow and frozen Yalu River, I didn't know where the border was and I couldn't see very clearly, moreover, the narrowest part of the Yalu River was only about 1 meter apart, also, I was told that on the other side of Yalu River, there were many Korean Soldiers, guarding the border. Obviously, I didn't want to mess with them, not even by my mistake or a wrong step.

Fortunately, I escaped and didn't get shot.

It was dark already back on the main road and I was half an hour early before the last bus, saved by the bell. Some villagers from the grocery store asked me to wait inside the store, what great people!

The fire wood bed of the store's owner was broken, however, they were all happy and they even asked me to take pictures of it because they thought it was funny. And they invited me to another room and warmed up a bed for me, I was so touched by these warmhearted people. In the meantime I was also worried about the last bus left without me. They noticed my concerns, and told me not to worry, they would inform me when the bus was here, and if I missed it, I could also CRASH their fire wood bed for the night...Had a Yalu River Beer there, before long, the bus was here, and took me back to downtown. What an amazing day.

Sun came out the next day, had a best weather for the first time in a long time. I heard that the "Broken Bridge" was one of the attractions in Dandong, so I figured I'd check it out. Bridge on the left is the new bridge for communications in between China and North Korea, which is not open for tourists and the one on the left is the broken one, only half on China's side left, the other half was bombed during wars, only bridge feet left.

On the "Broken Bridge".

North Korea and China comparison.

Half way at the "Broken Bridge" The ruined part of the bridge and some bombs left from war times.

Half way on the "Broken Bridge" in the middle of Yalu River, I could see the bridge's feet in North Korea, where I stood was exactly the line that separated China and North Korea.

I zoomed in my phone camera and found out that city in North Korea across the river had pretty nice setup, later, I was told that the city was nicely built only because they knew a lot of tourists would come to Dandong to see it. Well, on the bridge, vendors offer binocular for tourists to get a better look on the city, too. And I did it because the vendors told me I could get to see beautiful Korean women, and I stupidly bought her story.

From time to time, big trucks drove by over the bridge next to the broken one.

Got off the bridge, I didn't want to waste the good weather, so I went explore the city again. Vendors sold traditional Korean costumes on the river bank.

Fisherman fishing with his net in the afternoon before sun set. Another comparison of China and North Korea.

Sunset by Yalu River in Dandong.

My trip in Dandong was over, and I had a pretty good time there. I regretted for not being able to enter North Korea, I had to come back again and be well prepared next time. But my trip in northeast China and the search of traditional Chinese Korean villages were just getting started...More to come, thanks for reading.

#2015NortheasternChinaBackpacking #ChinaCities #Korean #LiaoningProvince #Culture

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