Model City or Tourist Trap: Hoiryeong Sparkles

The redevelopment of downtown Hoiryeong, the North Hamkyung Province former home of Kim Jong Il’s mother that was designated a model city in 2009, has been completed, and the task of extracting foreign currency from unsuspecting Chinese tourists is well underway.

A source from the city reported on the state of affairs in the border city today, saying that groups of Chinese tourists can now be spotted on daytrips to the area.

Much of the redevelopment has been directed at creating a local variant on Pyongyang’s Changjeon Street, by far the most famous construction project finished in time for this year’s celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung. The bridge linking Hoiryeong with Sanhe in China has also been repaired, as has the road from Mangyang district to the city center.

The Hoiryeong source explained, “North Hamkyung Province ‘shock troops’ and military unit construction teams have been here for three years on Kim Jong Il’s orders for the construction, and now it is finished.” Local households were asked to contribute 12,000 North Korean Won each to the construction effort, he added.

Hoiryeong used to have few buildings with five floors, but now it has a considerable number of new four and five floor apartment buildings built around the center of the city, as well as a number of newly built commercial facilities. Buildings in the downtown core have also been spruced up with external lighting, a project that began last April.

There are a number of new restaurants in the area. One, ‘Hoiryeonggwan’, has been decorated in the style of Pyongyang’s famous ‘Okryugwan’, something that Kim Jong Il is said to have ordered in December 2010 when he visited the construction site. Elsewhere, restaurants serving spicy marinated beef, duck, dog and Chinese food have also opened their doors.

However, these restaurants only currently open on the weekend or when Chinese tour groups make an advanced reservation, according to the source, who revealed that local people regard the construction effort more as an attempt to generate tourist revenue than to make it a real ‘model city’, as the official propaganda claims.

“Chinese tourists come, then they visit the statue of Kim Jong Suk and the place where she grew up, and then they are taken to one or other of the restaurants,” the source said. “They drink and make merry then go, all without visiting any scenic spots; thus, the authorities make money.”