5 Incredible Places in China You Can See into North Korea
A nation somewhat isolated from the world, North Korea is a land that's been stuck in the past, with much of the country highly under-developed and many of its people restricted to rudimentary technology.
The capital, Pyongyang, is a complete contrast yet still incredibly unique, dotted with towering odd-looking skyscrapers that seem like they were designed by someone in the 1970s trying to guess what buildings would look like in the future. While tourism is slowly increasing to the country with its highly-supervised guided tours, most are still put off by traveling under the palm of the brutal regime. The border between South Korea is like a impenetrable, heavily-guarded fortress, however the border with China is the complete opposite. Only patrolled by a few guards and towers, the border here offers an incredible insight into the life and landscape of the Hermit Kingdom, without even needing to cross the foreboding border.
Here are some places you can get a fascinating glimpse into the country from areas along the border in China.
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Sitting across the river from the North Korean city of Namyang, this small Chinese city has a wide riverside promenade that allows you to see clearly into the Hermit Kingdom. A short 30-minute train ride from the city and airport of Yanji, Tumen is easy to get to and offers a number of points which give you a fascinating view of North Korean life. Head west outside the city along the border and there are clear viewpoints of people working in the fields along with a small settlement around the train station of Kangyang.
Hunchun is unique in that you'll find viewpoints that not only offer stunning views over into North Korean but also over the neighboring country of Russia. Standing here you can see across into all three countries including the North Korean town of Tumangang. The town of Hunchun itself is fascinating, with a mix of Russian, ethnic Korean and Chinese culture all mixing and blending together influencing the town into the unique place it's become.
This beautiful volcano spans across the border of North Korea and China and is seen as a spiritual and sacred spot to the Korean people, having being worshiped by locals around there throughout history. For this reason, and the fact that it's the highest mountain in the Korean Peninsula, many North Koreans and Chinese come to visit at both sides of the border. As you get to the top of the summit you can often see groups of North Korean visitors traversing the other side of the crater. It feels somewhat surreal that just a short walk around to the other side an you'll be inside the Hermit Kingdom.
The scenery here is really somewhat breathtaking and is one of the most underrated views on the continent. Especially during the winter when the whole mountain and crater is covered in a beautifully picturesque blanket of thick white snow.
Head down the mountain to the Chinese border city of Changbai and you'll be faced with North Korea's Hyesan. As the river originates around Mount Changbai, it's still quite narrow here, allowing visitors a clear view of the opposite city. You'll often see North Koreans coming down to the river bank to wash clothes there, just several meters in front of you.
The largest city on both sides of the border, Dandong is the point where China's railway enters North Korea, with regular trains that brings goods and people between the border and the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. Looking across the river from the Chinese border has a somewhat eerie atmosphere as you compare the bright, flashing lights of Dandong with the dark, dreary buildings of the North Korean city of Sinuiju. It's often heightened by an otherworldly mist that often enshrouds the river.
From Dandong you can take boat trips along the river that often sail as close as a few meters from the shore of the Hermit Kingdom and allowing incredible views into the country. If you're feeling adventurous it's actually possible to book a day trip into Sinuiju with several tour companies in the city, however you'll need to organize it at least a few days in advance and currently US citizens are not allowed.
Opposite the North Korean mining town of Musan, there's no Chinese city here but you will find an elevated hill along the border which offers great views down into the Hermit Kingdom settlement below. The higher ground means you can easily see all around the town, a perfect spot for a picnic as you watch the daily lives of North Korean folk.
Make sure to bring binoculars with you while touring the border, some viewpoints can be a little far across the river dividing the two countries and without these handy tools, it can be a little difficult to see what's going on over the border.