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Best Dandong Guide for Travelers in 2024

Dandong Guide

If you want to take the train to Pyongyang, or visit Sinuiju, then it will necessitate a trip to Dandong. Do not though let the funny name put you off, as the city is epic. Here’s the Dandong guide.

Why visit Dandong? Well there two main reasons! Firstly scared voyeurs can peer over the Yalu River into North Korea. The more adventurous though can walk to the halfway point of the Broken Bridge, or better still even take a boat trip alongside the town.

For the real trailblazers though, you come here to take the train into the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea – something I will again blog about when the time is right.

And while some of these people will simply wizz in and out, what I personally suggest is at least two days in this truly fascinating city.

What the Dandong guide?

Dandong is THE border city between China and North Korea. Yes there are others, such as Tumen and Yanji, as well other train routes, but none as important as Dandong. And it is seen and indeed visited by all of the best visitors to North Korea. This is because if you do go to North Korea, or rather Pyongyang, at least one leg should be done by train. Do not trust anyone who flies into and out of North Korea.

As for Dandong itself, the funny sounding name actually means “The east (Dong) is red (Dan). This was renamed from Andong, which meant “the east (Koreans) are savage”. A particularly important name change after the blood spilt in the Korean War. Said friendship is shown in earnest by the high statue of Chairman Mao, which looks up foreboding as you exit into Dandong train station. Mao’s son Mao Anying ( famously died during the Korean War.

Nowadays this epic city in Liaoning Province is home to just over 2 million people, many North Koreans and tons of both legal and illegal trade and traffic between the socialist neighbors.

Gatting to Dandong Guide

I am so old I can remember when there were literally no super fast trains in China. This meant slow trains with beds that you would sleep on. For the Dandong route this famously meant the K26 and K27, both of which had international carriages (4 person cabins) to escort people from Beijing all the way to Pyongyang.

An alternative to this though would be taking the Chinese train, which has soft sleeper (4 beds), hard sleeper (6 beds), as well as a hard seat) for the 12 hour journey. I love sleeping on trains, but I can confirm 12 hours on a seat here was no picnic.

If taking the Chinese train you could then jump on the Korean one and head into the DPRK and onto Pyongyang, while saving lots of money.

Nowadays they also have a fast train that takes 5 hours, as well as Dandong Airport, which is a bit useless. This gave the alternatives of Shenyang, and Dalian, where one could also fly into before traversing two hours to Dandong.

The Dandong Hotel Guide

What is the Dandong guide to hotels? Well if you stay here as part of a tour, at least with YPT you will stay at the Dante Hotel. This is also known as the train station hotel and is great socialist relic with decent food, comfy beds and a cheap price. And of course location, location, location.

There are though course many other hotels, from the good to the bad and even thievery ugly. At the top of the heap and somewhere I have stayed is The Hilton, although it is but a mere Garden Inn.

One of my favorite hotels, which only closed 6, or 7 years ago was a former Mao era hotel that was still ruled as a collective. Yes, it was shit, but the Cultural Revolution era graffiti made it pretty rad.

The Dancing Guide to eating and drinking

I will keep my Dandong guide to eating and drinking fairly short, as Street Food Dandong, as well as Dandong Korean food deserve their own articles.

The street food is found throughout the city, particularly in the Dandong street food area, as well as Dandong cuisine and Dandong BBQ restaurants, that while small are still essentially street food. Again it is all about the seafood and the BBQ.

And as for the North Korean restaurants in Dandong, these are literally everywhere, with most people not realizing when they go in that it is North Korean. We though are not normal people and can sniff these places out easily. Clues being the name badges, the cleanliness of the restaurants, as well as the pure cuteness of the waitresses.

There is no western food in Dandong, save for KFC, although this was far from always the case. Back in the day there was Peters Cafe – now known as the Russian Beer Bar, that was shut down due to the Christian activities of the Canadian owners. Fun fact, Michael Spavor, who I ran Paektu Cultural Exchange with was also arrested here. This is another subject that will get its own article.

Alas there are few other bars here, with the ones there are being very Chinese and near the waterfront. In reality our Dandong guide recommends that you drink beer, soju, or Baijiu with your BBQ. Smirnoff Soju has yet to hit Dandong.

Dancing Guide to visiting North Korea

If you want to visit North Korea from Dandong then you should first pick the best value company, which is my. Young Pioneer Tours. Their best value tour is the Ultra-Budget Tour.

This though is far from the only North Korean offering they have, with it also possible to do a day, or overnight trip to Sinuiju.. This is another place that will one day gets its own article, but for all intents is the town on the North Korean side of the border. This is your first stop when you take the train into the DPRK.

Other valid routes are going overland and taking a bus to Pyongyang, or being super baller like us and crossing the border before chartering a plane from Sinuiju to Pyongyang. We are hoping all of these are options when North Korea does finally reopen.

The Getting out of Dandong Guide

Assuming you are not going to Sinuiju, Beijing, Pyongyang, Shenyang, or flying then there is still one very cool and crazy way to get the flock out of Dandong, and that is by ferry.

There are regular ferries from Dandong to Seoul which take about 15 hours and involve going through truly great itineraries and waters, as well as a midnight fireworks display. On this ferry though not all beds are created equal, with the Korean room full of floor beds being best avoided.

And that is the Street Food Guy’s Dandong guide for 2024. My only hope is that when I next go back, it is transit to North Korea.