Tanchon is a small city located on the coast of South Hamgyong Province near the provincial border with North Hamgyong. As with many northern cities in the DPRK, the mountainous terrain means the region is predominantly focused on heavy industry and mining.
The city was originally founded along the route of the old coast road towards the Tumen river. Tanchon served as a rest stop before travellers crossed over the Machon-ryong mountain pass.
The city is an important centre for the national mining industry as well as other heavy industries such as smelting and chemical production.
Initially, the city relied on the North Hamgyong city of Kimchaek (previously Songjin city) to serve as a port; this cooperation meant Tanchon was dependent on Kimchaek's port for the import of materials needed for mining. Between 2009 and 2012 however, a new port was constructed at Tanchon on the East Sea.