With an unexpected weekend free, we hopped on a bullet train to Dandong, one hour North of Dalian, to explore this river-facing town bordering North Korea.
Dandong lies on one side of the Yalu River and on the other side is North Korea. And with such a compelling location comes a ton of interesting, unexpected, and even relaxing things to do.
Here are our top things to do in Dandong:
1. Visit the Hushan Great Wall
No trip to Dandong would be complete without a visit to the Hushan Great Wall.
No, it doesn’t come with the iconic views you get from the Mutianyu Great Wall closer to Beijing, but this lesser-known site has it’s upsides too. The crowds are much smaller, you can get a section of the Wall to yourself (important for the obligatory Instagram photoshoot), and you even get a glimpse into the North Korean countryside.
Walking along the entire section of the Hushan Great Wall will take about three hours to complete, so enjoy the scenery and take in the experience.
At the end of the trek, you can turn left to follow a very narrow and occasionally treacherous path running along the face of Hushan Mountain while getting a glimpse into North Korea and visit ‘One Step Too Close’, the closest point between the two countries, or go right, and head to a small museum about this Great Wall section. An additional ten kwai entrance fee applies.
We chose to go left:
We took a taxi to get there and back for about forty kwai ($8 CAD) each way, which avoided us maneuvering any shuttle buses from the train station and gave us more flexibility to come and go whenever we wanted.
But if you do fancy the shuttle bus, they leave once or twice and hour from the train station in Dandong with tickets costing five kwai. If you think you will be there later in the day, make sure to check the last bus back from the Wall so you don’t find yourself stranded. Taxis seldom make their way up there after the park closes. Happy climbing!
2. Find Yourself Some Korean Food
Being so close to the Korean border, Dandong is full of amazing Korean restaurants. We lucked out on both our nights finding some great spots. With a little sleuthing, we found a reasonably priced restaurant ten minutes from our hostel called Zenzu. The food was delicious and seemed authentic enough. While they weren’t used to many foreign visitors, they seemed happy to have us.
There are also plenty of Korean restaurants available along the riverfront. Pick one that appeals to you and head on in.
Tip For This Spot: You may find when ordering a soup dish that it is served cold. If that’s not your thing, then just know to never assume the broth you see in the picture is hot.
3. Walk Along the Yalu River (Day and Night)
Taking in the Yalu river, the border between China and North Korea, at any time of day is definitely something to see. You can marvel at the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge, which connects the two cities, and the Broken Bridge, only reaching halfway across the river because it was blown up during the Korean war. At night, these two impressive structures light up with always-changing colours, making them a focal point along the boardwalk.
And while Dandong is full of lights at night, just across the river in North Korea is total darkness, giving a slightly eerie effect. If we hadn’t seen it in the day time, we wouldn’t have any idea there was land on the other side, or just how close it was.
Once you’re done pondering over the bridges, there are lots of opportunities to take in some buskers and dancing ‘aunties’ in any of the squares along the river. The highlight for us was a group of men intensely drumming for a captivated crowd. The whole riverfront was a hub of activity and definitely had a party-like feel.
4. Find a Café and Do Some Work
We were more than happy to take advantage of the slower and quieter vibe of the city to catch up on some work. Without a busy itinerary of attractions and sites, we had enough time to laze around in little cafés like SPR Coffee. It was quaint and had all the necessities for an afternoon work sesh: power outlets, a trendy interior design, and of course, coffee.
Dandong definitely had a unique atmosphere and it was great to see a different kind of China, and get a tiny taste (pun intended) of North Korean culture and food.
You probably don’t need to spend too much time here to experience it, but if you’re looking to take things in at a slower place, then Dandong is a good place for that. Have some reset time for yourself and unwind!