Debra in Dandong, China
When we first explored Dandong as a tourist in 2016 I found the city to be charming. The people are always smiling despite the long winters, the streets are aligned as grids sort of like a small Manhattan island, one of the city’s biggest attractions is a bridge that’s broken and a bridge that has cost a lot of money and has no traffic whatsoever, and BBQ is the most commo5n thing to do in the evenings.
What really puts Dandong on the map is its most unique neighbour, North Korea. Dandong is the gateway for tourism and trade for the Koreans and Chinese. Located 500 meters across the Yalu River (Amnok for Korean) is Sinuiju city, with 450,000 North Koreans. Dandong has inherited Han Chinese, Manchurian and the ethnic Korean culture.
Whilst travelling around China I’m asked where do you live by a local, their reactions are pretty much the same. “So dangerous!”. I’m even asked by some taxi drivers in Dandong if I’m scared to live here. I ask them if they’re scared. They laugh, I laugh with them. There’s one international school in Dandong with a handful North Korean students. I met with the head teacher of the campus (who’s an American) and he tells me he has major issues hiring foreign teachers because of this location. They first accept thinking, “cool, I got a job in China”. Then they must look up the location on Google Maps and then think “no way Jose”.
When it comes down to it, Dandong, just like any other city in China is relatively safe. Crime is extremely low, I’ve left my phone, gadgets, scarf, charging cables behind in cafes, restaurants, taxis and they’ve chased me down for it. The people in Dandong are very welcoming yet very intrigued why you would want to visit North Korea when nearby China has everything, and North Korea is very poor.
If you’re stopping by Dandong I recommend taking a walk along the Yalu River for a chance to mingle with the locals and to gaze upon North Korea. You can head to Tiger Mountain which is the most eastern part of the Great Wall of China and have a bird’s eye view of the DPRK from the peak. Don’t be afraid to enter a restaurant with smoke coming from the front. Dandong BBQ is the best in China.