Take a tour of the closest Chinese city to North Korea, which Kim Jong Un recently passed to meet Trump — the nearest thing to the outside world most North Koreans will ever see

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Google Maps/Business Insider

  • North Korea and China are separated by the Yalu River, which is so narrow that people on both sides can see each other.
  • It’s the only glimpse of the outside world many North Koreans will ever get, as it’s illegal in North Korea to leave the country without the government’s permission.
  • The two cities bordering the Yalu River – Dandong, China, and Sinuiju, North Korea – are vastly different.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un likely passed by both of them during his train journey from North Korea to Vietnam to see US President Donald Trump earlier this year.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The Chinese city of Dandong is located less than a mile away from the North Korean settlement of Sinuiju – but the two cities could hardly be more different.

The cities – divided only by the narrow Yalu River – are so close that people can easily see over the border, and into each others’ lives.

Dandong is usually the first port of call for trucks crossing over from North Korea to China, and the only part of China, or the outside world, many North Koreans will ever see.

Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s leader, recently crossed into the northeastern Chinese city as part of his laborious two-and-a-half day train journey to Hanoi, Vietnam, where he met US President Donald Trump for the second time.

Scroll down to learn more about Dandong and Sinuiju.


The cities of Dandong and Sinuiju are located next to each along the China-North Korea border.

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Dandong, China, is across the Yalu river from its much smaller neighbor, Sinuiju, North Korea.
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Google Maps/Business Insider

They’re separated by the Yalu river, which is less than a mile wide. This photo shows Sinuiju on the left, and Dandong on the right.


They’re connected by the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge, on the left of this photo, which serves as the two countries’ main trading route.

China, North Korea’s largest trading partner, cut down on trade with North Korea in 2017 to abide by international sanctions.

Kim Jong Un has been trying to get those sanctions lifted.

Source: South China Morning Post, China Internet News Center


There used to be a second bridge connecting the two countries, but it was bombed by the US Air Force in 1950 and never repaired. Its remains, which only go halfway across, are now known as the Yalu River Broken Bridge. This satellite image shows both bridges.

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Google Earth

The Broken Bridge is a tourist attraction on the Chinese side, and visitors can use telescopes to see off the end.

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Damir Sagolj/Reuters

Although Dandong and Sinuiju are less than a mile apart, life in the two cities is vastly different — while Dandong is a sprawling urban centre, Sinuiju remains a sleepy industrial space. Here’s what you might see from the Broken Bridge.

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A view of Sinuiju, North Korea, from the Broken Bridge that once connected it to China.
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South China Morning Post/YouTube

Lu Mingyang, the tourist behind the binoculars, said: “I feel their economy is not very developed, but it looks like they’re doing their best to build it up.”

Source: South China Morning Post


In Sinuiju you can see an array of what appear to be multiple dilapidated factories.

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Aly Song/Reuters

Meanwhile, Dandong is buzzing — as of 2016 it was home to some 1.8 million people. Here are some of them cooking and eating clams, a local delicacy.

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Reuters

Source: The Guardian


It’s also home to outlets for KFC and McDonald’s, and citizens drive BMWs and Range Rovers, according to The Guardian.

Damir Sagolj, a Reuters photographer, wrote in 2018: “Nowhere in the world is there such a difference between what life looks like on opposite sides of the river or the fences that separate the two countries.”

Source: The Guardian


Dandong is also home to a large ethnic Korean population, who have opened restaurants serving North Korean food. This one in Dandong is playing a North Korean propaganda program as customers enjoy their meal.


There’s also a China-North Korea Cultural Centre, which exhibited paintings by North Korean artists in September 2017.

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Aly Song/Reuters

Since Kim Jong Un pledged to create a “favorable environment” for foreign investment in his country in 2018, property prices in Dandong have shot up.

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A model plan for the Dandong New Zone, one of the most popular areas for property buyers.
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Philip Wen/Reuters

Source: Bloomberg, Business Insider


The New Zone is one of the most popular areas for property buyers. It’s home to various multi-storied residential blocks and this massive coffee shop, named One Cafe.

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Philip Wen/Reuters

The New Zone was meant to have its own connection to North Korea, named the New Yalu River Bridge, by now. A massive new road bridge had been constructed, but never opened. The North Korean end finishes in a field.

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The New Yalu River “bridge to nowhere”, as seen in September 2016.
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Reuters

Business Insider produced a video in 2017 about the stalled project, which some hoped would get back on track.

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Business Insider/YouTube

Watch the full video here.


Seafood is a big part of the Dandong diet — which is not surprising, considering its proximity to the Yellow Sea. Here’s a wet market in the city.

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Philip Wen/Reuters

It also has this sprawling street market.

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Google Maps

Meanwhile, life in Sinuiju, the neighboring North Korean city, seems vastly different.

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Aly Song/Reuters

This North Korean woman and child are washing vegetables in river water along the Yalu bank.

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Aly Song/Reuters

Some North Koreans, if they’re lucky, get to take vessels down the Yalu to see Dandong. They’re unlikely to get too close to China, though, as it is illegal in North Korea to leave the country without the government’s permission.

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Jacky Chen/Reuters

North Korea also deploys military personnel to keep watch over its borders. These soldiers are patrolling the embankment on Hwanggumpyong Island in the middle of the Yalu.

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Jacky Chen/Reuters

Kim likely saw the contrast between these cities when he traveled into Dandong this February en route to Vietnam, where he met President Donald Trump.

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Kim leaves his train at Dong Dang station, Vietnam, after his multi-day journey from North Korea to Vietnam on February 26, 2019.
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Nhan Sang/VNA via REUTERS

Read more: Kim Jong Un took a laborious 2.5-day train ride to meet Trump in Vietnam, and it could be because he’s too embarrassed to borrow a plane from China


Dandong is clearly aware of its unique position as a neighboring city to North Korea, and capitalizes on it by operating tours along its side of the Yalu River.

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Chinese tourists disembark from a boat on the Yalu River near Dandong.
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Kevin Frayer/Getty

Tourists can take a boat from China to get closer to North Korea. Some tour operators sell bags of bread and biscuits, which tourists can throw onto the North Korean shore for guards and children, Australia’s SBS News reported.

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Kevin Frayer/Getty

Source: SBS News


This couple even hired a boat to take their wedding photos.

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Damir Sagolj/Reuters

Some Dandong locals have also set up stalls by the Yalu River boardwalk, where people can buy souvenirs. They range from Chinese and North Korean flags…

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Kevin Frayer/Getty

… to books about former North Korean leader Kim Il Sung …

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Damir Sagolj/Reuters

… to fried crabs, which are sold as snacks.

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Damir Sagolj/Reuters

And as night falls, residents hang out on the boardwalk against the lit-up Friendship Bridge. Across the river, Sinuiju is completely dark.

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Kevin Frayer/Getty

Kim has been working hard to foster North Korea’s relationship with China, and has visited the country at least four times since March 2018. Investors hope that improved China-North Korea relations will improve trade.

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Kim toasts with Chinese President Xi Jinping during his first state visit to China in March 2018.
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KCNA/via Reuters

Investors hope Dandong could eventually become the next Shenzhen – a southeastern border city between Hong Kong and mainland China that thrived in recent years because of its unique geography.