Dandong, gateway to North Korea

Friday’s anticipated four hour bus trip to Dandong turned into more than five when it took an hour and a half for the bus to wend it’s way through congested holiday traffic and get out of Dalian! We were riding on a modern long distance bus, however, so it wasn’t too gruelling. Once outside the city, the four lane highway was in great shape all the way so it was a comfortable ride. Signs along the highway were posted in both Chinese characters and Pinyin (the system used to transcribe Chinese characters into Roman script) with occasional signs in English as well. I found it cute that the right hand lane was labelled Carriage Way and the left, Overtaking Lane but the sign that we enjoyed the most was the one warning drivers Do not drive tiredly!

Liaoning Province is largely agricultural so we rode by many orchards, fields, rice paddies and a vast number of greenhouses. Work has just begun in the fields and everything that we saw happening was being done by hand. With the exception of one donkey and two horse-drawn carts, we didn’t see any livestock.

When we arrived in Dandong, it took awhile to figure out where and how to purchase our return tickets. It’s a good thing we did that right away though as many of yesterday’s buses were already sold out and the earliest one we could get on didn’t depart until 3:15 in the afternoon. The language barrier was a hindrance, of course, but as always, people were extremely helpful, particularly the young security guard at the bus station who, when we asked for directions to our hotel, walked us all the way there, a distance of 3 or 4 blocks!

After settling in and having a late lunch in the hotel restaurant, we set off on foot for the Yalu River which separates Dandong’s lively riverfront promenade from the more desolate looking city of Sinuiju, North Korea on the other side.

China is North Korea’s only major economic supporter and Dandong, a city of about 750 000 people and the principal gateway between the two countries, thrives on trade with North Korea. We watched trucks rumble slowly across the Sino-Korean Friendship bridge which is the official border crossing.

Pedestrians are not allowed on the bridge and we actually saw Chinese soldiers escort a couple back to the Chinese side of the bridge. Perhaps they were simply on the wrong bridge. In 1950, during the Korean War, American troops bombed the older bridge between the two countries in an attempt to cut off Chinese supplies to North Korea. The North Koreans dismantled the mangled end of the bridge leaving only a row of support columns standing in the river. The Broken Bridge stands next to the Friendship Bridge and is open to the public who want a closer view of North Korea. Admission to the bridge is normally 27 yuan but when we noticed that seniors over the age of 60 with an ID card qualify for a lower price, I decided that we should show the ticket agent our resident permits to see if they would give us the reduced rate. Sure enough, we were admitted for only 10 yuan each or approximately $1.60 Canadian!

The Broken Bridge wasn’t the nearest that we got to North Korea nor was Dandong itself our main reason for heading north on our three day break from school. Rather than making this post too long, however, I’ll be breaking it into a series. Come back tomorrow to find out the biggest reason we chose Dandong as our destination. For the moment though, let’s just say that it was Great and truly unforgettable!


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