From its southern border, the Hermit Kingdom appears a fortress -- a country that has sealed itself off with check points, landmines, and razor wire.
But the view from North Korea's northern border is very different. During his July 2011 visit to the dividing line between one of the world's fastest growing economies and one of its most stagnant, photographer Tomas van Houtryve met with many who had breached the frontier: North Korean escapees, traders, Chinese tourists -- and even caught a glimpse of smugglers trafficking scrap metal across the border.
"In some places, Chinese tourists are drawn to the border out of curiosity," van Houtryve says. Many come seeking a glimpse of grim conditions on the other side. But in fact, he says, "the border landscapes are rough and often stunning in their natural beauty" -- quite different from the artificial, orchestrated scenes he was guided through on visits to Pyongyang.
Above, bright LED lights illuminate a tourist boat and the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge in Dandong along the Chinese bank of the Yalu River, which defines the border between the two communist nations. The "Las Vegas-style" lights of Dandong turn on every night, van Houtryve says, "almost taunting the North Koreans" who exist in the blackness at the far end of the bridge.
Tomas van Houtryve