Dandong, China – The Gateway to North Korea


My adventure in Dandong, China started with a train ride from the capital of North Korea, Pyonyang. It took approximately three hours in the train to arrive to the border of China. It took another two hours at the border of China for the North Korean authorities to allow the train to leave the country.

The delay was due to the North Korean military searching luggage for unauthorized USB sticks. They also scrolled through cameras to find unauthorized pictures, and lastly, they flipped through books to search for notes were being stored between pages.

I had pre-planned for this by deleting all my pictures from my camera, and storing these pictures on a hidden folder on my computer. The computer was not searched, and it’s doubtful any of the custom agents knew how to use computers.

In the meantime, the Chinese border guards were very dismissive of the passengers on the train. I showed them my passport, they looked for my Chinese Visa, and then waved us through.

Once in China it was a shock at how developed China is compared to North Korea. On one side of the river tall skyscrapers, and on the other side of the river that we left behind, farmers who are subsistence living.

Dandong is a large city when it comes to North American standards, but with a population of 2 million it’s tiny by Chinese standards. Dandong itself was not an amazing city, I just wanted to go there to view North Korea from the outside-in.

When we talked to the Chinese, it was clear that while North Korea was their neighbor, they were very dismissive of their neighbors, and for the most part the plight of the average North Korean never crossed their minds. To them it was a backwards country that was best to be forgotten.

The city of Dandong did not have anything special going for it. What I was more interested in was the section of the Great Wall of China that separates the two countries, as well as navigating the river that separates the two.

This was my first time seeing the Great Wall of China, and it was a sight to behold. I was excited about hiking on the wall and from this vantage I could spot military installations on the North Korean side.

After this glorious hike, we took a boat down the river where the contrast between both countries was even more evident. At one point, I watched an overcrowded boat of North Koreans who were crossing the river from their tiny river island, towards the mainland. I could also watch farmers and people living in small towns.

This enabled me to take pictures freely, which was a difficult task while in North Korea. While visiting this repressive regime, you are not allowed to take pictures of soldiers or of any scene which might be deemed to devalue the image of North Korea.

I enjoyed my two days in Dandong, it was a valuable educational experience and a great addition to the week I stayed in North Korea. Visiting Dandong is more for travelers who want to get an inside look at North Korea, other visitors might be slightly disappointed with the offerings. While they have a section of the Great Wall of China, this section is small and not nearly as nice as the sections a few hours outside of Beijing.

Either way, this was by far one of my most memorable trips, and it was two days that I will never forget. This ended an amazing trip inside the hermit kingdom.