Tourism in North Korea

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Foreign tourist with local people
Dinner at the Folk Customs Hotel in Kaesong
Laika Hot Springs Guesthouse
Laika Pegaebong Hotel
Soldier of the DPRK Army
Koryo Hotel Bookstore

Tourism in North Korea is organized by one of several state-owned tourism bureaus, including Korea International Travel Company (KITC), Korean International Sports Travel Company (KISTC) and Korean International Youth Travel Company (KIYTC). Tourism in North Korea is highly controlled by the government, which is one of the reasons it is not a frequently visited destination—about 1,500 Western tourists visit North Korea each year, along with thousands of Asians.[1]

Tourists must go on guided tours. As of June 2011, the northern border to China has been opened and Chinese citizens are free to drive their own vehicles to Luo, a small North Korean northeast border region where they are free to explore, mingle and photograph. This is seen as a first step towards expanded tourism and development in that region. Photography and interaction with local people has historically been tightly controlled;[1] however, from photos seen around the internet and evidence from travelers to the DPRK, those restrictions seem to have been relaxed slightly in the past few years.[2] As of January 2013, foreigners are allowed to buy SIM cards at Pyongyang airport,[3] providing access to international calling.[4]

For Westerners, there are a handful of private tour operators that help provide access to the country. Well known amongst these operators are Uri Tours (recently in the news for their role in the Dennis Rodman and Eric Schmidt trips to North Korea),[5] Koryo Tours (known for its North Korean-related films such as Comrade Kim Goes Flying and strong history in the region), Young Pioneer Tours (traditionally aimed at the budget traveler)[6] Tongil Tours (with a focus on arts and academic tours)[7] and KTG (known for their small sized groups and affordable tours).[8] Companies like these are full-service shops that will take care of visas, flights, etc. for a single fee.[9][10][11][12] Since December 2013, North Korea has been open to tourists during the winter. The Masikryong Ski Resort outside Wonsan City in Kangwon Province opened in early 2014.

Tourists can take the plane to Pyongyang from Beijing, Shenyang, Kuala Lumpur and Vladivostok, and train services to Pyongyang from Beijing, Dandong and Moscow.[13]


Further information: Visa policy of North Korea
Statue of the members of the Workers' Party of Korea, at the base of the Juche Tower.

In principle, any person is allowed to travel to North Korea; only South Koreans and journalists are routinely denied, although there have been some exceptions to the journalists. For instance, Croatian journalists had a special access in June 2012, although their phones were confiscated and returned as they departed and had a special tour guide, and after several days of touring, wrote a newspaper story of life in North Korea. Special travel agents can help potential visitors through the bureaucratic process. Visitors are not allowed to travel outside designated tour areas without their Korean guides.[1]

Before 2010,[14] tourists holding United States passports were not granted visas, except during the Arirang Festival mass games.[15] U.S. citizens, journalists and citizens from other nations have also been given special permission to enter as members of the Korean Friendship Association and Choson Exchange.[16] Citizens of South Korea require special permission from both governments to enter North Korea and are typically not granted such permission for regular tourism except in special tourist areas designated for South Koreans.

Only citizens of Iran, Malaysia and Singapore are allowed to enter North Korea without a visa.[17]

Tours from South Korea[edit]

Further information: Mount Kumgang Tourist Region

In 2002, the area around Mount Kumgang, a scenic mountain close to the South Korea border, was designated as a special tourist destination. Tours run by private companies brought thousands of South Koreans to Mount Kŭmgang every year[18] before the suspension of tours in late 2008 due to the shooting of a South Korean tourist.[19] When tours had not resumed by May 2010, North Korea unilaterally announced that it would seize South Korean real estate assets in the region.[20]

In July 2005, the South Korean company Hyundai Group came to an agreement with the North Korean government to open up more areas to tourism, including Baekdu Mountain and Kaesong. Kaesong was opened to daily tours for South Korean and foreign tourists in December 2007; North Korea charged US $180 for a one-day trip. The city received several hundred tourists each week, mostly South Koreans.[16]

The tours to Kaesong were suspended in December 2008 due to a political conflict between North and South Korean relating to propaganda balloons. The balloons, filled with information critical of Kim Jong-il and the North Korean regime, were sent into North Korea from just south of the border in South Korea. When South Korea did not respond to North Korean demands to stop the propaganda balloons, North Korea suspended the Kaesong tours.[21] The tours to Kaesong resumed in April 2010, but were again suspended in May 2010 following the ROKS Cheonan sinking.

Tours from China[edit]

In April 2010, the first tourist trains from Dandong, China brought visitors to North Korea for a four-day tour.[22] Before that, the international train from Beijing to Pyongyang was used as tourist train.

In June 2011, Chinese citizens were allowed on a self-driven tour in North Korea for the first time in history.[23]

As of January 2013, tourists are now able to bring their own mobile phones into the DPRK,[24] although without a North Korean SIM card (which became available to foreigners) the phone will not be able to make or receive calls. Previously foreigners had to surrender their phones at the border (or airport) before entering the country.

The number of Chinese tourists visiting North Korea fell 70 percent from 2010 to 2011. One Chinese travel agency cited the limited number of packages and restrictions on where foreign tourists can travel as the main reasons for the lack of interest. Only the capital Pyongyang and Mt. Kumgang are available on Chinese itineraries.[25]

Various places are accessible from the Chinese side, such as Namyang and monasteries in Chilbosan from Tumen, China. In 2011, a Tumen-Korean train service was scheduled to start.[26]

Though gambling is prohibited for North Korean citizens,[27] two casinos exist in North Korea for the Chinese tourist market - the Emperor Hotel & Casino in Rason[27] and the Pyongyang Casino in the Yanggakdo International Hotel in Pyongyang.[28]


Some experts on North such as B.R. Myers see tourism to North Korea as supporting the regime through reinforcement of its propaganda and dismiss claims of international diplomacy and the breakdown of barriers as being "nonsense" given the country's rigid control over what tourists are allowed to see and with whom they may interact.[29]

See also[edit]

Heaven Lake is on the border between China and North Korea at Baekdu Mountain.


  1. ^ a b c McGeown, Kate (2003-09-17). "On holiday in North Korea". BBC News. Retrieved 2008-01-04. 
  2. ^ "Travel Highlights - The Global Odyssey". The Global Odyssey. Retrieved 11 June 2015. 
  3. ^ "North Korea Loosens Cell Phone Restrictions For Visiting Foreigners". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 11 June 2015. 
  4. ^ Uri Tours Inc. "3G Internet and SIM Card in North Korea: Prices, Nuts and Bolts - North Korea (DPRK) Tours and Travel - Uri Tours". Retrieved 11 June 2015. 
  5. ^ "She sent Dennis Rodman to North Korea". Retrieved 11 June 2015. 
  6. ^ "". Archived from the original on November 3, 2014. Retrieved 11 June 2015. 
  7. ^ "North Korean film in perspective". Retrieved 11 June 2015. 
  8. ^ "North Korea Travel offered by KTG - budget tours to North Korea (DPRK) & North Korea Information". Retrieved 11 June 2015. 
  9. ^ Uri Tours Inc. "North Korea (DPRK) Tours and Travel - Uri Tours". Retrieved 11 June 2015. 
  10. ^ "Koryo Tours - Tours & Tour Dates". Retrieved 11 June 2015. 
  11. ^ "YOUNG PIONƎƎЯ TOUЯS". YOUNG PIONƎƎЯ TOUЯS. Retrieved 11 June 2015. 
  12. ^ "Tongil Tours - North Korea Tours". Retrieved 11 June 2015. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ Anderson, Chris (2010-01-15). "Visit anytime! North Korea lifts restrictions on U.S. tourists". CNNGo. Retrieved 2010-01-21. 
  15. ^ "US tourists can visit DPRK for mass games". People's Daily Online. 2005-09-23. Retrieved 2008-09-16. 
  16. ^ a b "Choson Exchange FAQ".  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Eager_South_Koreans" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  17. ^ "Visa Information". Timatic. IATA. Retrieved 17 December 2013. 
  18. ^ "Tourism boost to North in works". Joongang Ilbo. 2008-02-06. Retrieved 2008-09-16. 
  19. ^ "S Korea hopes DPRK to begin dialogue over S Korean tourist shot dead". Archived from the original on November 6, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-12. 
  20. ^ "The Chosun Ilbo (English Edition): Daily News from Korea - N.Korea Seizes S.Korean Property in Mt. Kumgang". Retrieved 11 June 2015. 
  21. ^ "Propaganda posted in helium balloons sparks border closure from N Korea". France24 Daily. 2008-11-24. Retrieved 2009-03-22. 
  22. ^ Mu, Xuequan (2010-04-25). "China's first tourist train to DPRK starts 4-day tour". Xinhua. 
  23. ^ Nick Rowlands, "Chinese motorists tour North Korea" Published 15 June 2011.
  24. ^ "EXCLUSIVE: Foreigners Now Permitted To Carry Mobile Phones In North Korea". Retrieved 11 June 2015. 
  25. ^ "Chinese Tourists to N.Korea Dwindling". The Chosunilbo. 2011-10-10. Retrieved 2011-10-09. 
  26. ^ "图们至朝鲜
    开通旅游线 - 京华时报·京华网"
    . Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  27. ^ a b "North Korea Opening (Gasp!) a Casino". New York Times. July 31, 1999. Retrieved October 28, 2015. 
  28. ^ "An inside look at North Korea’s luxury hotel industry". August 23, 2013. Retrieved October 28, 2015. 
  29. ^ Fisher, Max (January 7, 2014). "The Dennis Rodman problem: Is it unethical to visit North Korea?". the Washington Post. Retrieved January 9, 2014. 

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