Wall paintings like this, recreations of a picture Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il took at the crater lake of Baekdusan, sacred to Koreans, can be found all over the country. This particular one was located right outside the toilet.
Kim Jong Il (right) wants you to visit Mount Kumgang. (Photo Credit: CC BY/yeowatzup/Flickr)

North Korea isn’t the first tourist attraction most international travelers think of, but the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea would like to change that. The Washington Post reports that North Korea has decided to allow tourists into the country – and according to reports, it will also allow them to leave when they complete their travels in the DPRK.

A glossy backdrop

Mountains, rivers, waterfalls and pine forests abound, according to reports. In the capital city of Pyongyang, for instance, there are 70 green parks, a clean drinking water supply, wide streets monitored by attractive traffic policewomen and numerous stone monuments dedicated to various figures from North Korea‘s history, including Kim Jong Il.

Tourists interested in enjoying these things must understand that there’s a catch. No cellphones, emails, public strolls, conversations or pictures of strangers are allowed. This is North Korea’s tourism experiment, notes the Post. Tour groups will be allowed in to view non-restricted areas of the country, and tourists will be allowed to spend their money on NPR Korea’s hospitality.

U.N. and U.S. sanctions lead hospitality

Reports indicate that tourism is a concession on the part of North Korea’s government, as U.N. and U.S. economic sanctions imposed due to North Korea’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons program have made things more difficult than usual. Food shortages are among the more severe problems, and tourism may serve as at least a partial economic solution.

The goal of the NPRK’s tourism program is to draw investors, primarily from neighboring China, into such areas as the Mount Kumgang tourist resort in the eastern demilitarized zone. Beautiful parks, Buddhist temples, hiking trails and crystal-clear rivers are advertized.

Visitors allowed earlier this month

A group of 70 Chinese tourists from the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin were allowed entry into North Korea. The bulk of the tourists, who work for travel agencies, were impressed by what they saw. The fact that cellphones and MP3 players were not allowed in failed to put a damper on their fact-finding vacation.

A Washington Post correspondent and interpreter who was allowed to join the group noted that on the first night, the group was instructed to remain insider their high-rise hotel on an island in Taedong River. No photographs were allowed, for fear they’d be used for anti-NPRK propaganda purposes.

None of the subsequent tour locations were in view of common North Korean street life, noted the correspondent. Only foreign tourists were visible, and no activities were allowed outside areas pre-designated safe by the government-appointed tour guide.

Come back to Mount Kumgang

Before the 2008 shooting of a South Korean tourist at Mount Kumgang, as many as a quarter-million South Korean tourists visited the resort annually, resulting in what experts estimate as millions of dollars per year in tourism dollars. Since re-opening in October 2010, that number was considerably lower, closer to 10,000 tourists.

Kim Gwang Yun, the North Korean official in charge of the Mount Kumgang, noted that added freedom will turn things around in time.

“In the near future, it will be possible to come into this zone without visas, and with access to the Internet,” Kim said. “The main goal is to give more international tourists more freedom and convenience.”

North Korean tourism: Bringing the funk

Sources

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea: http://www.korea-dpr.com/travel.htm

North Korea Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/North_Korea

Washington Post: http://wapo.st/tS5gRV

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