ⓒ YONHAP News
You may want to travel to a faraway place, breaking out of your daily routine. But if it is inconvenient for you, a one-day trip, at the very least, could still be an attractive option.
Here in Seoul, people may take a stroll around five ancient palaces that boast 600 years of history. They may travel to Jeongdongjin along the east coast to enjoy the breeze of the sea, as it only takes two hours by a KTX train from Seoul to get to the coast. Or, they can go to the southern island of Jeju by air and climb up to the peak of Mt. Halla. These day trips, although they might be rather short, will probably make the people feel excited just at the thought of going somewhere.
People in North Korea can also travel somewhere and back in a day. Today, we’ll learn about a day trip in Pyongyang from Kang Mi-jin, chief executive officer of NK Investment Development.
The Chosun Sinbo, which is a pro-North Korean newspaper in Japan, has recently carried an interesting article.
The Chosun Sinbo reported that a day tour in Pyongyang is gaining popularity among all groups of local people, especially on Sundays and holidays, adding that the program offers a sightseeing tour of famous places in the capital.
While reading the article, I thought people living outside of Pyongyang cannot benefit from the one-day tour program, which is only for Pyongyang citizens. But even those who live in local provinces could go for a day trip to Pyongyang as long as they are rich and they can therefore get a travel certificate issued. I think North Korea is promoting tourism in a way to encourage wealthy individuals known as donju, who live in local regions, to open their wallets and contribute to keeping the economy going.
North Korea restricts the movement of residents by requiring them to receive a travel certificate when they want to visit other regions. So, it is rather unusual for the highly regimented regime to promote Pyongyang tour. Some analysts say that the day trip in Pyongyang actually targets the new class of wealthy North Koreans or donju residing in local provinces, although the tour program is officially tailored to Pyongyang citizens. So, what places are included in the one-day Pyongyang tour?
Mt. Ryongak is the first course of the one-day tour in Pyongyang.
Mt. Ryongak is unfamiliar to South Koreans, but it is known as Mt. Geumgang in Pyongyang among North Korean residents. Pyongyang citizens have traditionally said that they go to this mountain to enjoy blooming flowers in spring and see the fall foliage in autumn.
The name of the mountain comes from its shape that looks like a dragon ready to fly up to the sky. The mountain has excellent structures such as Ryonggok(룡곡) Confucian School and historical relics like Pobun(법운) Temple. It is said that regime founder Kim Il-sung often climbed the mountain with his classmates when he attended Changdok School. That’s probably why he instructed officials to turn the mountain into a recreation area. Spring water is drawn tens of meters deep underground. The quality of the spring water of the mountain is thoroughly guaranteed.
Mt. Ryongak has oddly-shaped, rugged peaks that rise high up in the sky. There, one can see Pyongyang City and the Taedong River. The spring water of the mountain, in particular, is so famous for its good taste that people believe it contributes to longevity. It was even listed as one of the natural monuments of North Korea. The day tour of Pyongyang also covers the country’s national treasure.
North Korea preserves old historical remains pretty well. Located in Ryongsan Village, the Tomb of King Tongmyong is the country’s National Treasure No.36. Legend has it that King Tongmyong was buried in Jolbon, the first capital of the Goguryeo Kingdom, as he died after ruling for 19 years. It is assumed that the tomb was moved when King Jangsu(장수) relocated the capital to Pyongyang. The tomb was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004. North Korea has carried out excavation work around the tomb site since 1974, and the work is still underway.
Pyongyang served as the capital of Goguryeo during the later years of the kingdom, which ruled over ancient Northeast Asia. Goguryeo established an enormous empire, showing its strong presence not only on the Korean Peninsula but in Manchuria. The Tomb of King Tongmyong, the founding monarch of the kingdom, shows the starting point of the powerful warrior state.
It seems cultural relics are preserved relatively well in North Korea, where things are strictly controlled. Now, an interesting tour course awaits visitors.
An ostrich farm reopened in Pyongyang on August 9, 2019, after renovations. The farm is situated on hills along a 2.5 kilometer-long stretch in the north-south direction. North Korea praises it as one of the world’s best ostrich farms and claims that it is capable of raising 10-thousand ostriches on a vast area of 550-thousand square meters. The farm offers ostrich meat cooked in the traditional Korean bulgogi style, at the request of visitors. The souvenir shop there sells ostrich products ranging from ostrich eggs to goods made of ostrich bones and feathers.
Located about six kilometers southeast of Pyongyang Sunan International Airport, the Pyongyang Ostrich Farm is definitely worth noting. When North Korea suffered from an extreme food shortage in the 1990s, then-leader Kim Jong-il ordered officials to raise ostriches, since ostrich meat is a good source of protein and its leather can be used to make daily goods.
Since then, North Koreans have become familiar with ostriches, which are widespread in Africa. The Pyongyang Ostrich Farm is equipped with ostrich pens and processing facilities. Visitors can enjoy fun activities there, such as riding an ostrich drawn cart. Without a doubt, the farm is one of the major tourist attractions in the city.
In Pyongyang, a particular place is at the center of attention during the hot summer.
The Munsu Water Park located in the Taedong River District in Pyongyang is one of the most popular summer destinations in the country.
It opened to the public in 2013. Stretching over 109-thousand square meters, the largest water park in North Korea has 27 water slides, swimming pools and indoor facilities. The entrance ticket is so expensive that ordinary North Korean citizens have to save several months of their salary to visit the place. Nevertheless, some one-point-eight million people visited the water park as of 2016. For tourists to Pyongyang, the water park is one of the places they really like to visit.
The Rungra People’s Pleasure Ground opened in 2012 on Rungra Island in the middle of the Taedong River that runs through Pyongyang City. This place is also included in the list of the one-day Pyongyang tour.
The amusement park has a dolphinarium, a 4D cinema and a mini golf course. On the occasion of the opening ceremony in 2012, leader Kim Jong-un toured the pleasure ground with his wife Ri Sol-ju and even enjoyed a ride. Local media showed the scenes, heralding the beginning of the new Kim Jong-un era. The day trip in Pyongyang also includes a restaurant, of course.
Wolhyanggak(월향각) is a large restaurant that specializes in poultry meat. Located at Moran Hill in Pyongyang, the restaurant offers some 100 different kinds of dishes using duck meat or chicken, including bulgogi, raw meat, boiled meat and fritters. The Chosun Sinbo newspaper said that the restaurant is a must for local residents who have traveled to Pyongyang. The paper added that they usually drop by the restaurant to enjoy delicious lunch after touring the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun and the Arch of Triumph. The report indicates how famous the restaurant is.
After having lunch at this renowned restaurant, tourists visit the Tongil Street Fitness Center, where hundreds of pieces of exercise equipment are installed, and then watch a cultural performance. That’s the end of the one-day Pyongyang tour. In fact, it’s not the first time that North Korea has unveiled a tourism product.
Tour programs North Korea promoted in 2012 covered the Pyongyang Peoples Outdoor Ice Rink, a roller-skating rink and the Rungra People’s Pleasure Ground. The following year, tour programs allowed tourists to visit state-designated economic development zones in different regions. Also, people were encouraged to visit the Munsu Water Park, the Mirim Horse Riding Club and the Masik Ski Resort. Tour programs from 2020 to 2022 included a visit to the Pyongyang Youth Park Open-Air Theater, which opened in 2020.
North Korea has tried to boost the tourism industry since 2012, when the Kim Jong-un regime officially started. The country built an ice rink, a roller-skating rink, a horse-riding course and a water park in the heart of the capital, while establishing special tourist zones in local provinces.
Even in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic started, North Korea opened the Yangdok Hot Spring Resort, a resort complex equipped with a hot spring, a horse-riding course and ski slopes. Why does the country continue to release new tourism products?
Under current leader Kim Jong-un’s rule, North Korea built the Wonsan-Kalma Coastal Tourist Zone along the east coast with the purpose of drawing foreign tourists. The North also put a lot of work into the Masik Ski Resort. I guess that’s because tourism would not breach international sanctions. Although North Korea has developed a number of tourist sites, the local tourism industry has not developed much, due to the global sanctions against North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations and the COVID-19 pandemic. The country’s border, in particular, has remained closed since 2020 when the pandemic broke out.
Against the backdrop, North Korea promotes the Pyongyang tour program among well-off residents, in an apparent move to reinvigorate the sluggish regional economy.
Tourism business can bring in foreign currency in a stable manner once a certain level of infrastructure is secured. Also, tourism is not subject to international sanctions. It seems North Korea has turned its eyes to tourism now, in order to overcome economic difficulties stemming from international pressure and sanctions.
North Korea has pushed for tourism projects with ambition and enthusiasm, but its tourism industry hit a snag due to the pandemic. Now, the country is trying to jumpstart the industry with “one-day Pyongyang tour.”