The number of Chinese tourists taking the short trip to North Korea keeps on increasing, notably since Pyongyang embraced a handful of partner agencies to offer a range of tour packages as a means of earning foreign currency. Employing all the normal tools of the trade, the authorities have opened up many parts of the east coast of the country, letting groups of cyclists and golfers pass through.
Chosun Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on the subject earlier this week in a piece entitled ‘The new specialist tour itineraries of Chosun.’ In it, a reporter waxed lyrical about a tour of Mt. Baekdu via Air Koryo and a second specialist tour by bicycle, declaring, “The newly created tour schedules are attracting international attention.” The piece also noted that a mini golf tour is to start next year.
At the same time, resourceful Chinese travel agencies are working together with the North Korean state travel authorities to create other new tour packages by air, sea and road, including but not limited to a route from Shenyang to Pyongyang and Dalian to Mt. Geumgang.
The whole edifice rests firmly on the enjoyment certain Chinese age groups get from visiting North Korea. Many older people remember it as a place that used to be just like China, indeed at one time was considered a better place to live. In modern China with its breakneck growth rates, North Korea harks back to a different, and to some people a better, age.
In the words of a Daily NK source from Dandong, “Many Chinese people just want to go to North Korea to see the primitive methods they still use; farming with oxen and that kind of thing.”
Another source, a trader from Dandong, commented, “You can see Shinuiju really easily from the banks of the Yalu River, and unlike the vibrancy of China it is pitch black over there. Obviously, this generates curiosity in a lot of Chinese people.”
"North Korea is actively employing the image of a ‘hermit kingdom’ or a ‘closed country’ to attract curious Chinese tourists,” the trader added.
The fact that Chinese citizens can enter North Korea on only a passport is another reason why more and more are making the journey.
It's not that much fun in reality, but that doesn't seem to matter. “The tourists come home saying that ‘they do not ever want to go back’,” the source commented. However, “A good many people who want to go haven’t been yet, so I don’t see the numbers dropping any time soon.”