Sino-Korean Border Road Trip

The day after our long detour from Ji’an we set off back to Dandong. We had planned to start driving down the Sino-Korean border from Linjiang. Unfortunately we ended up 90km off course so we would only get to do it from Ji’an.

This is a drive I would recommend anyone. The border is essentially a river going through a mountain range. There are few cities, especially on the Korean side. This means it’s a great route to see the natural side of China.

Along the way you can see North Korean villages and rice farms dotted along the river. Often they’d have mountains behind them. I wondered how much contact they had with the outside world. I saw a lot of bicycles in the countryside in the DPRK. There were some vehicles most of which seemed to be transporting goods or military. I imagine a lot of people riding between villages on bicycles. Perhaps to get to the nearest small town where there might be a school or a market. It would be interesting to see what country life is like in the DPRK. Unfortunately this seems to be one of the things the country wants to keep secret for now.

At one point during our drive we had to drive through a check point. Two soldiers carrying Chinese rifles signalled us to stop. These weren’t policemen; this was a military checkpoint. There wasn’t any trouble – they just checked our passports and let us through.

I guess there must be several checkpoints along this border on both sides. I thought about people who had fled North Korea. Would they avoid civilisation? This area had wide rivers and heavily forested mountains. You could take a boat at night but then you would have to destroy it so patrols wouldn’t find it. Then you would be faced with the prospect of difficult and uncharted terrain. Walking through one of the largest countries in the world and living off the land. It would be an impossible feat.

This is why they would need help from the Chinese side. Fake documents and long distance bus travel seems to be the way they do it. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why travel inside China is made so difficult.

Shortly after the checkpoint we came across one of China’s many “scenic spots”. A small area for parking was provided, allowing people to stop to take pictures. On seeing how impressed we were with the view our driver pulled in to park.

On the way I saw the Great Wall of China for the second time. Dandong has a tourist area where you can see more of the wall. I still haven’t been on the wall – I need to get this off my bucket list before I leave China.

We made it back to Dandong and needed to sort out our hotel. Unfortunately the communist style hotel we stayed at last time was fully booked. We booked into a nice hotel instead. Our driver took us there and left.

The hotel looked nice. Unfortunately appearances were deceiving. The rooms were tiny and the beds felt like rough cardboard. The shower didn’t have hot water. Somehow this fancy hotel was worse than the cheap communist one.

Well we were back in Dandong. And we had a beer festival to go to. At least we’d be able to drink ourselves to sleep.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Ji’an

We were in Linjiang having just rode a boat along the border. A friend’s uncle had offered to take us out to dinner since he lives in the area. Our plan was to join him for dinner and then go on to Ji’an. I hadn’t eaten that day so I was looking forward to trying out some local cuisine.

This is always a small risk as there’s a good chance I may not like the food on offer. But being in a city it’s always easy to find something you can eat: fast food or street noodles.

Our friend’s uncle was waiting for us on the bridge to Huandao Island. He took us to his van and told us to get in. Our driver was nearby so we had to figure out what to with him and his van. We said we could come back but our friend’s uncle said it would be better if we followed him.

So we set off following him along the road. He drove us out-of-town. Huh. Guess he lives in one of the outlying villages. We passed the first village. Guess it’s not that one. Then we passed the next one. When we passed a third we started wondering where he was taking us. We were driving in the opposite direction to Ji’an.

Our driver asked seemed to be getting frustrated. We understood why – we hadn’t paid him to drive us out here. He asked us where we were going. We told him we had no idea. He signalled our friend’s uncle with the lights and stopped the van. Our friend’s uncle stopped his van and the driver called him over. He asked him where he was taking us. The driver seemed to get angry at the response. Our friend’s uncle insisted that it wasn’t that far, and the driver disagreed. They went back and forth shouting at each other while we sat in the van waiting. At one point our friend’s uncle fetched a map. They carried on arguing over the map. I suggested we head back. My friend got out and lit up a cigarette. Eventually our friend’s uncle agreed to pay the driver extra money to take us to his place. He really wanted us to try the local food.

The rest of the drive took 2 hours. It turned out the place he wanted to take us was over 90km away. And in the wrong direction. I was starving by the time we got there.

We got out at Fusongzhen. We invited our driver to join us but he wasn’t interested. I don’t think he liked this guy. Our friend’s uncle took us to show us the local delicacy that we were about to eat. It was river lobster. Which I’m intolerant of . If I ate this I would spend the rest of the road trip running back and forth from the toilet. Or the bushes depending on where we were. I watched as they poured the still-living lobster into a grinder. They would make soup out of the resulting mince. My stomach grumbled.

What followed was an awkward dinner with his family. I had to decline all the food offered to me for fear of having a reaction. We were annoyed at being 90km away from where we were supposed to be. Yet we were totally British about not wanting to insult their hospitality. We had a few small conversations, but we just wanted to get out of there and back on our way. We had been delayed 2 hours already. We were also looking forward to another 2 hour delay to get back where we started.

After dinner we took some group pictures and then headed on our way. Our driver threw away the cigarette he was smoking as we returned. We now had a 4 hour drive to Ji’an which would be our next chance to eat. We said our goodbyes as we drove off then apologised to the driver once again. We then asked if there was anywhere we could stop for food.

We couldn’t, but we did drive past someone selling honey. A lot of people in the Chinese countryside do this. They run small hives and sell the honey to passers-by. We got out to negotiate the price of some honey. When we figured out what we wanted our driver sent us back saying he’s got this one. He bartered a really good price for us. It was an amazing thing for him to do for us completely out of the blue. It put us at ease because we knew now he wasn’t angry at us.

We didn’t get to Ji’an until after dark. We didn’t do much as we didn’t have any time left. We got ourselves booked into a hostel and went looking for food. The KFC round the corner was tempting. But then we found a Korean barbecue place closer to the river.

There was a weird ginseng based spirit for sale here. My friend decided that we were both going to do a shot. By shot he meant a full half-liter glass of it. Being the pushover I am I couldn’t say no. I was instantly drunk after downing that disgusting beverage.

We stopped at an import beer store on the way back to the hostel. It sold several imported beers from places like Belgium and Germany. The store had a little seating area in the back where we could sit and drink. After a few more beers we were done and headed back to the hostel. I fell asleep with a beer in my hand and covered the bed sheets in beer. This was why my girlfriend slept in the other bed. It was also why I had to pay a 1000 RMB fine the next day to cover the cost of cleaning the bed sheets.

The KFC was impossible to resist that morning so we ate breakfast there. Then we set off to do what we had missed out on the previous day. We would drive along the Sino-Korean border.