The principal gateway to North Korea (Cháoxiǎn) from China, Dāndōng (丹东) has a buzz that’s unusual for a Chinese city of its size. Separated from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) by the Yālù River (Yālù Jiāng), Dāndōng thrives on trade, both illegal and legal, with North Korea. It handles more than 50% of the DPRK's imports/exports and its increasing wealth means that there are now flashy malls stocking luxury brands and even a fast rail connection under construction.
For most visitors to Dāndōng, this is as close as they will get to the DPRK. While you can’t see much, the contrast between Dāndōng’s lively, built-up riverfront and the desolate stretch of land on the other side of the Yālù River speaks volumes about the dire state of the North Korean economy and the restrictions under which its people live.