North Korea still attracting western tourists

Despite the bad press that North Korea is receiving for its war rhetoric and threats against the US and South Korea, some westerners are finding it thrilling to have a holiday break in the nation, the BBC has said.

Even as the British Foreign Office is considering changing its advice for tourists travelling to North Korea, tourists from western nations are reportedly finding a trip to the nation worthwhile, despite the fact that the trip is not very cheap, as many would expect.

Tourists entering the nation have to live with constant surveillance from trained minders, suspicions of bugged hotel rooms and a repeatedly failing power supply. While suspicious eyes may be expected at all phases of one’s visit, there appears to be a certain charm to the trip for some considering the fact that more than 3,500 westerners visit the state every year, a figure which is still said to be on the rise. North Korea opened its borders to Western tourists in 1987 and since then the number of tourists to the state has been increasing.

A five-night visit to the nation costs more than £1,000, and authorities almost always confiscate mobiles and laptops at the border. Tourists are often only exposed to carefully-arranged snapshots of the republic. Obviously, there is little or no hint of poverty, food shortages and human rights abuses, and all that tourists are likely to encounter are well-fed people seemingly happy with a good life.

Visits to museums, monuments and other locations are accompanied by guides, and a driver accompanies foreigners whenever they leave designated hotels. Tour itineraries, rich in propaganda, would most likely include the world’s tallest triumphal arch, giant statues of ‘eternal president’ Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jong-il, and the palace-turned-mausoleum where both of their bodies are on display. Day trips to a demilitarised zone, a heavily-guarded buffer between north and south, are also popular.

Pyongyang has a growing number of restaurants, but the few shops do not expressly welcome tourists. There is a large central park, where visitors are taken to see residents enjoying picnics. Those who love nature can see unspoilt countryside and picturesque peaks, lagoons and ravines of the Mount Kumgang region.

Perhaps a better understanding of North Korea would drive home the fact rather forcefully that the nation cannot be expected to become a rogue state in spite of recent war rhetoric. A visitor said, ‘The country is so run down and so poor that it seems a laugh we’re worrying about them starting a war. They couldn’t keep the power running for more than half an hour.’

North Korea’s ‘Hotel of Doom’ still unfinished

North Korea’s notorious pyramid-shaped hotel, dubbed the ‘Hotel of Doom’, is still incomplete, even though work was begun on it 25 years ago.

Details of the strange-shaped hotel were not available to the outside world until now. Some details, and perhaps the first views of its interior, have now become accessible to the world through a Chinese media company that has been allowed access to it.

Beijing-based Koryo Tours was given the chance of viewing the interior of the 105-storey Ryugyong Hotel, which is located in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. Work on the hotel started in the 1980s, with the intention of making it the tallest tower in the world. However, work had to be suspended on the site because of a cash shortage, political instability, the crash of the Soviet Union and mismanagement. Work on the site was totally stalled in the 1990s when the government had to attend to immediate needs such as food shortages and internal issues. However, exterior construction resumed three years ago, and nobody has been allowed to go inside the hotel since. Koryo Tours said that the hotel would open to the public in two to three years time.

The hotel has received its fair share of ridicule from the outside world, including its ‘Hotel of Doom’ nickname, after its launch received a great deal of publicity. Esquire magazine even labelled it the ‘worst building in the history of mankind.’ No news was released regarding the progress of the hotel until reports emerged last year that it could be inaugurated by April to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the birth of the nation’s founder, Kim il-sung.

The project has also received much criticism from internal sources. Once considered to be a status symbol for North Korea, the hotel’s image was carried on its national stamps. However, as criticism against the project grew, even official members of the regime sidestepped the project and removed it from official photographs.