10 May 2017

Dandong

Needing a couple of days to relax after our tour of the DPRK as both of us are a bit run down and not up to much.

After a good sleep-in, we went for a walk down to the Yalu river. Along the way we came across the “Korean” Street. This is marked by large archways over each end of the street. Here you can buy all the Korean memorabilia you want, get a hearty Korean meal, find karaoke bars and probably a lot more. Back in China we are already missing the quietness of the DPRK, as there is construction work going on in nearly every street, and we have to learn how to dodge cars, buses and bikes again, especially as there are no footpaths to speak of in a lot of places, and the rest are full of shops or parked cars. Advertising is assailing us from every direction, and the assault on our nostrils and ears will also take getting used to.

Chinese and Korean advertising

On the waterfront it is a lot more peaceful than we expected. There were people flogging their wares, offering to dress us up to take photos with the DPRK in the background. Binoculars for rent or sale so you can see the DPRK that little bit clearer, but it wasn’t in overwhelming numbers. People were feeding the doves and getting them to sit on their shoulders or heads with no thought of the washing that would be involved later and generally having fun. A few people tried to sell us boat tours along the river from some of the ferries or speedboats that cruise up and down.

Then we walked under the two bridges. There is the new bridge that connects China with the DPRK that the train and cars/buses go over, and the old bridge that was “accidentally” bombed by the USA. The DPRK cleared the ruin, and China fixed theirs up. Now you can walk over the Chinese part of the bridge and technically enter into DPRK territory at the end of the bridge, but as we had already been to the other side, we didn’t bother. This whole area is a military border zone with big signs up saying no photos, but as the Chinese tourists were snapping photos right in front of the police, we thought we would get away with one or two.

Walking a bit further then it was time to head back to the hotel via the rest of this small boarder town (otherwise referred to as the largest border city, so not sure which it is, as the city is fairly narrow with a couple of long streets running parallel to Yalu river)

The next day we headed out to Hushan or Tiger Mountain. There is the most eastern bit of the Great Wall located here.

It was surprisingly easy to get to. We rocked up at the bus station, got to the ticket office and nobody seemed surprised or confused about where we wanted to go. The bus left about 5 minutes after we got there and didn’t do any long convoluted routes to take us there! As we drove along we went through the main street of town then very quickly we were out in the country side. The river seems to have split into multiple channels and there are small islands dotted around.

On the Chinese side the navy engineers were having fun playing with pontoon bridge sections assembling them into long lines along the shore, while military speedboats were racing around like a swarm of wasps. It was a pity we couldn’t get off and watch them for a while. Although we may have wanted to watch them, it seemed as if the DPRK thought this was normal, as there wasn’t a soul to be seen on the other side. Not even professional interest.

The green side is China, the brown side is DPRK

Further on you could see the farmland on both sides of the water. The Chinese side dotted with buildings and greenhouses, and the DPRK flat open fields. Both sides of the river are now closed off with fences but there was a distinct absence of guard towers. Maybe everyone is in the DMZ and not worried around here at all.

On arriving at the Great Wall we were stunned to find that there were only two tour buses already here. No cue for tickets and we could go straight in after admiring the entrance buildings.
It was a reasonable price as well. 70 yuan each including 10 for the electric bus to take us to the wall. Turns out that we could have walked. It is only about 500m away. Still, we are being lazy.

The wall has had a complete makeover, and the original surviving sections have been spruced up to match the reconstructed bits, so it is hard for us to tell the difference. This part of the wall was built during the Ming Dynasty so before the 1600’s. Excavations and renovations started in 1989 and the wall was opened to the public in 1992. although the Koreans have a different theory that basically goes along the lines of “It never existed before 1992 and has only been built to depreciate the value of our great Korean history” Well, that’s basically what is says online anyway.

The wall snakes from the base of Hushan all the way up to the top, so at the main entrance we climbed up and started our first walk along the Great Wall. Hopefully we will climb more of it as we head west through China, so it is only fitting that we start it here.

At the top the only thing I could fault with it was the handrails. They are most of the way along both sides of the wall, but other than that it was great. You could see every hole driven into the stone to hold a standard, even though none were flying today, you can imagine rows of flags fluttering all along the wall in vibrant colours. Drainage holes and paths cut into the floor to get rid of rainwater or to relieve yourself when on duty. These drainage holes are still being used by people in places to relieve themselves the same as they would have done back in the day. Even if there are toilets at the beginning, halfway, and end of the walk.

The wall snakes around a little bit with a couple of watch towers, one of which you can climb up a steep wooden staircase, well, ladder to the second floor. There is no information here in English or Chinese, so we can only guess as to the specific purposes of these towers. Are they guard towers, garrison points, did they have signal flairs or armouries? With the sun beating down on us, this thick stone arched rooms were a nice cool respite. Then we got to the edge of Hushan. The wall here abruptly ends in a cliff face. There are very steep steps built onto the cliff that allows you to climb up to the next section and the last watch tower. This would have to be a signal tower, as you can go up a set of very narrow, very high steps to the roof of the building. Here you can see off into the distance in all directions. The DPRK to the North and East, China to the West and South. From this vantage point we worked out that we were standing on the hill that we had been looking at from the other side of the river 2 days previously. It could have been helpful if our guides had mentioned that the buildings we were looking at formed part of the great wall. We had assumed that as we were standing on a spot where a Korean fort originally stood that we were looking out over the river to the Chinese equivalent.

There is still some more of the wall to the East, and we headed that way. It is an incredibly steep descent. We were so glad that we did not have to do that at the start, as we probably wouldn’t have made it up at all. It was as if we were descending a solid stone ladder with uneven rungs and here the handrails came in handy. This went straight down the hill. In one bizarre spot the steps split in two to show you the rock, now cemented in place, that the wall had been carved into. Then down to the last building. This turned out to be a bit disappointing. It is meant to be the Dandong Museum of the Great Wall. Yet it was not open, and didn’t seem to have ever been open going from how rusty and degraded the doors are. The building was finished on the outside, and there were even two cannons on the roof, but that was it. It could be another example of things being half built then abandoned to focus on another project, or we could just have very bad timing.

Outside there is a car park. A couple of people were hanging around, with half-hearted attempts to get us to take their taxi back to the entrance or all the way to Dandong.

The original wall builders would be turning in their graves..

We were expecting to have to walk back around the hill, as we were not going to go back up those stairs under any condition. Our luck was still in however as a minivan bus turned up. Maybe that would be included in our ticket? We didnt get to try the first one as it got filled by everyone closer to it than us, but after about ten minutes he returned and we got in. Yes! Our 10 yuan ticket paid off. It was not just that first 500m, we would be able to use it to catch this bus all the way back!

Then back at the entrance. The bus back to town was waiting just outside, and then we were on our way back. The Military had given up for the day, and it was a rather uninspiring trip back. Then more walking around town as the neon lights started up, and soon everything was flashing greens and reds as we walked around at dusk.

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