Take a tour of the closest Chinese city to North Korea -- the nearest thing to the outside world most North Koreans will ever see

Google Maps/Business Insider

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 two 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.

“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,” wrote Reuters photographer Damir Sagolj in his description of North Korea’s borders with its neighbours.

Scroll down to learn more about Dandong and Sinuiju.

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

Google Earth/Business InsiderDandong, China, is just across the Yalu river from its much smaller neighbour, Sinuiju, North Korea.

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 last year in line with UN sanctions.

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.

Embed from GettyImages

This satellite image shows the complete bridge and the broken one from above.

Google Earth

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

Although Dandong and Sinuiju are less than a mile apart, life in the two cities seem 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.


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.

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.

Source: The Guardian

It’s also home to various KFC, McDonald’s, and citizens with BMWs and Range Rovers, The Guardian reported.

Source: The Guardian

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

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

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

Source: Bloomberg

Read more: Housing prices along China’s border with North Korea have skyrocketed since Kim Jong Un’s visit to Beijing

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

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

Business Insider produced a video last year about the stalled project, which some now hope may get back on track.

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

It also has this sprawling street market.

Google Maps

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

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

Some North Koreans, if they’re lucky, get to take vessels down the Yalu River to see Dandong as well. 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.

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

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

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

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

Kevin Frayer/Getty

Source: SBS News

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

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…

Kevin Frayer/Getty

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

… to fried crabs, which are sold as snacks.

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

Kevin Frayer/Getty

Investors hope that Kim’s March trip to Beijing means that China-North Korea trade will start growing again.

They 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 position.

Read more: Housing prices along China’s border with North Korea have skyrocketed since Kim Jong Un’s visit to Beijing

NOW WATCH: Briefing videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.