Looking for an unusual cruise destination? Are the fjords of Scandinavia, the beaches of the Caribbean and the ports of Greece too beautiful or colorful for you? Then consider a cruise to a reclusive communist state instead.
North Korea’s state tourism bureau recently inaugurated its first ever regularly scheduled cruise.
This is not the Hermit Kingdom’s first attempt to woo vacationers; Spot Cool Stuff readers may remember our post about North Korea’s inaugural golf international golf tournament. Those efforts did not exactly turn the country into a tourist mecca. So might this new cruise offering?
Um, not so much.
While North Korea’s first scheduled sailing is a new cruise offering, it is not at all a new cruise ship. Passengers set sail aboard a rusting, 40 year old former freighter. They sleep eight to a room, on single mattresses that are as likely to be on the floor as not. The lights are fluorescent. The water out of the tap runs brown. (See more in the video, below.)
As for shuffleboard, gourmet feasts and dance parties on the Lido deck—will you settle for a game of cards, bad karaoke and meals served on metal trays?
But then those looking for a Royal Caribbean-style experience in North Korea are rather missing the point. Which is the opportunity to glimpse upon a country few outsiders get to see.
Last year a mere 24,000 foreign tourists visited North Korea1. Remove Russian and Chinese visitors from the equation and the visitor count drops to 3,000. And the number of Americans in 2009 (the last year we found statistics for) who visited the “special open city” of Rason? Zero. Not one.
It is from the Pacific port of Rason (which often still goes by its old name, Rajin) that North Korea’s four night, five day sailing departs. Cruise goers spend a night at sea as their vessel travels nearly the full length of North Korea’s eastern coast to Mount Geumgang. They then have two nights at the Diamond Mountain Resort, which for a few years was a popular destination for South Korean tourists until 2008, when one of them was shot after accidentally walking into a military zone, prompting the South to put an end to the visits. The cruise then makes the overnight return to Rason.
Technically, both Rason and the Mount Geumgang area are “special zones” within North Korea that foreigners of all nationalities can theoretically visit without a visa. One does have to visit through a North Korea approved travel agency, which vets their participants in a way that’s suspiciously like a visa application process. Still, it is possible that North Korea’s cruise will provide a way for intrepid travelers to get a peak into North Korea.
For westerners contemplating a trip to North Korea, the best agency Spot Cool Stuff knows of is The Koryo Group. Koryo currently runs tours to Rason and they are expected to sell cruise tickets once they become available to the public.
Here’s wish you a 잘다녀오십시오!. Bon voyage.
1 By contrast, Syria received 5.4 million foreign tourists in 2008 (the last year we found statistics for). Cuba gets 2.4 million. Burma 200,000. About 50,000 tourist make it to Antarctica.