Visitors usually come to Dandong for its close vicinity to the North Korean border.
Situated at the confluence of the Yalu River and the Yellow Sea in the southeast of Liaoning Peninsula, facing the North Korean town of Sinuiju across the Yalu River, small Dandong enjoys its reputation as the largest border city in China.
The geographic setting and the rich natural resources of Dandong account for its recent development into a city characterised by the light industry, silk industry (every late May, Dandong is the venue for the Oriental Silk Festival), and also Xiu Jade is famous for sea products and special products, such as Ginseng, hawthorn and chestnut.
The quiet riverside city is most famous for the pockmarked Yalu River Bridge spanning distressingly over the river. The bridge survived the bombing during the Korean War, a time when the city still had its old name Andong. Now it is open to the public to commemorate "the defeat of the American Aggression" and is the first choice for a glimpse of North Korea.
- 1 Dandong Airport (DDG IATA) (13 miles west of town). Flights from Dandong are limited to Beijing and Shanghai; therefore, it is probably better to fly in/out of Dalian or Shenyang and then take the train or bus to/from Dandong.
Airport shuttle is available (¥10 as of May 2016).
Trains from Shenyang several times a day with night trains from Beijing, Dalian, Changchun and Qingdao. From Dalian, the train takes around 2 to 3 hours, while buses complete the journey in 4 hours. You can also take the train from Pyongyang, North Korea and Moscow, Russia.
The long-distance bus station is at 98 Shiwei Lu, near the train station.
- Beijing - takes about 10 hours
- Shenyang - takes about 3 hours
- Tonghua - takes about 5 hours
Dalian Express Buses leave from the Baoshan Shicheng on Gong'an Jie. The trip takes about 4 hours.
The Dandong International Ferry company (Dandong Office: 0415-3152666, Incheon Office: +82-32-891-3322, runs the ferry Oriental Pearl between Dandong and Incheon port in South Korea. The ferry leaves Incheon's Ferry Terminal No. 1 at 17:00 (check-in closing at 15:00) on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, arrives at Dandong at 9:00 the next day, and leaves Dandong at 16:00 on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday (check-in closing at 15:00) and arrives at Incheon at 9:00 the next day. Prices: economy (20+ people) 1010 yuans, 6-beds cabin w/ bathroom 1060 yuans. Dandong departure tax: 30 yuans to buy at the terminal.
Food available for purchase on board in South Korean won only; yuan exchange possible at very bad rate (no currency exchange at Dandong terminal). The passage takes 15 hours.
Buses to the ferry terminal leave Dandong in front of the train station at around 12:00-13:00 (ask station for details) (1 h, 20 yuan).
If you happen to stay in the original CBD area near the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge, getting around by walking is good enough if only staying for a night or two, as the city's main draw for Western visitors, the river promenade to see North Korea, is easily reachable. It's often required to walk on the bike lane as pedestrian walkways are frequently blocked by parked cars.
If you can't use public buses due to the language barrier, taxis are perhaps best for getting around. They are plentiful all over the city so waiting times should never be long. Almost all of the drivers will bring you anywhere inside the city for the price of ¥10. From downtown to the new district, it should cost between ¥30 to ¥50. When using taxis, make sure the driver activates the meter, and pay attention to it as the meter may 'accidentally' turn off, resulting in the driver demanding more money from you.
As pretty much everywhere in China, buses are an efficient and very affordable way to traverse a city – if you can read Chinese, that is. All lines have flat fares of ¥1 or ¥2 (the latter mostly for lines going to the new district approx. 14 km from the original town). Note that depending on the line, service may stop as early as 6 pm.
One useful line for those who want to see the huge, relatively new double arch bridge across the Yalu river is no. 303, which can take you from the main road at the exit of the Broken Bridge (bus stop 断桥; Duanqiao; across the street, turning right and walking a few metres) to the northern block of the new district (bus stop 国安路口; Guoanlukou), from which it's a 10-minutes walk to the river promenade and the bridge.
Bicycles are a great way to explore Dandong, but you will need to be able to read Chinese if you want to use the locally available share bikes. Unlike China's bigger cities, the seemingly all-present Mobike and Ofo companies don't operate here – instead, one is left with two choices, one of which is virtually useless for short-term visitors:
- ZXBike (智想单车; Zhixiangdanche), whose seagreen bikes are easy recognisable by the solar panel mounted behind the seat. You need their app (Chinese only) to unlock a bike; iOS users can download this from the App Store, Android users can download it directly from their website. Bikes are not nearly as easy to find as in Chinese tier 1 cities, however the app can show you a map to locate one nearby. Unfortunately, these bikes can only be used within the original town, ie they cannot be taken to the new district. Price seems to be ¥1 per 30 minutes of usage once unlocked.
- The Dandong City Government provides orange bikes, available from actual docking stations which seem to be most frequent along the river promenade. They can only be hired with the smartcard that's also used to pay local bus fares and can only be obtained from a particular government office in town – not worth the effort unless you actually live in Dandong.
- North Korean Border (北韩边界; Běihánbiānjiè). As the boundary between China and North Korea, the Yalu River flows over 300 km between the countries. Yalujiang Park is the best place to view North Korea, see the public sculptures, the swimming platforms (Warning: do not swim into North Korea), and possibly take a fast boat ride up and down the river along the border. There are remnants of an original railroad bridge across the river, bombed and destroyed by the Americans, a few km north of the Friendship Bridge, with a large stone-carved book inscribed in Chinese as a monument onshore.
- 1 Yalu River Broken Bridge (Yalu Jiang Duan Qiao). This bridge reaches only halfway across the river, the other half having been disassembled by the Koreans. The remaining half was strafed by fighter planes in the Korean War. One can walk out to the end of this half-bridge. ¥30.
- Cenotaph of the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea. A large museum and monument built on a hill overlooking central Dandong and the Yalu river. The many, well-labeled bilingual exhibits venerate the courageous Chinese Volunteers Army, and offer a Chinese perspective on the history of the Korean war. As of December 2014, this is closed for renovation.
- Hushan Great Wall (虎山长城; Hǔshānchángchéng; lit. Tiger Mountain Great Wall) (25 km northeast of Dandong). This Ming Dynasty section of the Great Wall of China, which travels parallel to river, was restored to decent condition. The section is steep so watch your footing. Buy a ticket at the long distance bus station for ¥6.5 and the trip takes about 40 minutes. The bus driver will drop you off at a T-intersection right by the Wall. You can hike along the Wall one way and then return to the beginning on a walkway along the bottom of the mountain. You can climb on top of the tower at the highest point and see the Yalu River, and look into North Korea. There is an old wire fence that separates North Korea from China. North Korean guardhouses are 300-400 metres in the distance. The actual border is a small stream-river along the base of the mountain. Don't cross the water. To return to Dandong, return to the T-intersection and wait for a bus that will take you back to the long-distance bus terminal for ¥3. Confirm with the bus driver that the bus is going to Dandong. ¥60.
- 2 Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge. The official crossing into North Korea. Passage is only by vehicle or train. Travellers are not allowed to walk across this bridge.
- 3 New Yalu River Bridge. This massive, double arch motorway bridge was built by the Chinese government for about ¥2.2 billion and was intended to replace the old Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge, as the North Koreans made promises to turn South Sinuiju into a Special Economic Zone and build a connecting road; neither has ever happened, so the bridge is ending in a dirt road among rice fields on the Korean side of the border. It's another example of a huge Chinese infrastructure project which didn't go as planned; also look for the vast, deserted immigration complex on the Northern side of the bridge.
- 4 Yalu River Park. Riverside park regarded as having some of the best views into North Korea.
- Cross into North Korea. It is possible to cross into Sinuiju, North Korea by train from Dandong, and then change trains to get to Pyongyang. Numerous local tour groups can sort out the paperwork without referring to Beijing and arrange a relatively budget-friendly visit to Pyongyang for Chinese and foreign tourists. The cheapest deals involve joining a large group and can go as low as around ¥2000 for a three night/four day package for Chinese nationals. Foreign nationals should expect to pay at least 560 euros. Bargain hard. Of course, the usual restrictions apply (see North Korea for details).
Most shops offer products at low cost and North Korean cigarettes can be purchased at many places, especially along the Yalu river.
Along with products from North Korea, many South Korean goods are sold too. If you're specifically looking for something to take home from the North, check the packaging – North Korean products use simple and/or poor packaging designs, and perhaps most strikingly, do not feature internet addresses in the smallprint, which products from the South almost always do.
Dandong is a great place to get your hands on North Korean currency, the won (which supposedly is not allowed to be taken out of the country). Street vendors sell sets of bills in different denominations, which may or may not include some additional coins; prices start at ¥25 per set.
The town, because of the location, has a lot of Korean restaurants with most congregating on the street facing the river. Give the shiguo Banfan, stonepot rice, also known as bibimbop in Korean, a try as well as the huoguo, hot pot. There are also a few North Korean restaurants in town, owned by the North Korean government and with North Korean waitresses, which are recognisable by the Chinese and North Korean flags over the entrances. There are also restaurants run by ethnic Koreans, not part of the North Korean government, that serve Korean food. A good dish to try would be ginseng chicken, which consists of a whole chicken immersed in a ginseng broth, served piping hot.
True Love Club is 2 minutes' walk away from the station. Westerners are not frequent, so they are likely to be called on stage to participate in beer races with the DJ and be interviewed in Chinese, no knowledge of the language required. This is usually very comical for the Chinese club patrons, but foreign revelers who speak little Chinese should take care. The on-stage interview portion can be very mean-spirited - on one recent visit, an English man was made to badly repeat phrases in Chinese such as "I am very poor and have no money." Of course he had no idea what he was saying and the crowd found this to be very funny.
- Dandong Yalujiang Mansion, 87 Jiuwei Road, ☏ , fax: .
- Post & Telecommunications Hotel, 78 Qiwei Road, ☏ , fax: .
- Zhonglian Dajiuian, Shangmao Lüyou Qu A Qu, ☏ , fax: . Great views and comfortable rooms with a bowling alley, cigar room and western buffet. The cafe has views of North Korea, 143 rooms.
- North Korea - If you are interested in paying a visit to North Korea, you´ll usually have to wait for weeks for your visa application to be processed. But you can still learn a lot about North Korea on the streets of Dandong, where vendors sell North Korean stamps and propaganda posters and frequently you´ll see Korean writing on boards over shops. In the hotels you can watch North Korean TV - the city is so close to North Korea, you can feel the strong influence of Korean culture everywhere. Recent reports speculate that travel restrictions have been somewhat eased, and visa processing faster for some nationalities.
- Dagu Mountain (大孤山; Dàgūshān; lit. Lonely Mountain) (90 km southwest of Dandong, access is by bus from Dandong to town of Gushan). Several Tang dynasty Taoist temples occupy the mountain site.
- Changbaishan Nature Reserve- from Dandong, you can easily get to the Changbaishan Nature Reserve in Jilin Province.
- Fenghuangshan National Park — 52 km northwest of Dandong, 840m high mountain dotted with Tang, Ming and Qing dynasty temples, monasteries and pagodas.
- The historic city of Shenyang
- The city of Dalian and its wonderful coastlines