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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

Dystopian Tourism

by | July 9th, 2014 | 05:12 am

I’ve gotten a slew of earnest inquiries from journalists asking for my views on the ethics of visiting North Korea as a tourist, so I admit that I feel a little bad about this post.  Honestly, I’d be less concerned about the ethics than the likelihood of getting arrested. But if the proliferating travel packages on offer are any indication, there are clearly people in the world less risk averse than I am.

Feeling rustic? Koryo Tours is offering what it bills as the first camping trip to North Korea. Pitch your tent in the scenic mountains of Myohyang and Kumgang, and visit Kumgang Waterfall and Lake Sam Il Po. Not to be outdone, Uri Tours is also entering the North Korean camping niche.

Wanna party? “Nobody parties like the Workers Party of Korea!” according to New Korea Tours of Connecticut. And with the stories emerging from the Rodman trips, maybe they’re on to something. Or just on something.

More seriously, according to a Chosun Sinbo story relayed via Voice of America, North Korean authorities have begun to recognize the advantages of differentiated packages and are offering opportunities such as “fruit-picking activities at local farms and orchards, traveling via train, and even one where visitors can compete with North Korean athletes in the traditional martial arts of Taekwondo.”

And if you can’t afford Chongjin, how about Buffalo? Jonathan Cheng had an absolutely bizarre story in the Wall Street Journal last month on Christopher Graper. When he isn’t showing visitors the Kim Il-sun mausoleum for Koryo Tours, Mr. Graper offers the “Buffalo: City of No Illusions” tour featuring a visit to Love Canal, the infamous toxic waste dump which remains a no-trespassing zone.  Cheng’s piece goes on to mention that Koryo Tours has expanded beyond camping visits to offer tours of former Soviet gulags.

Why stop there? At some point someone will offer an actual North Korean gulag immersion tour. Be a guard for a day.  Or maybe an inmate. Who knows, you might run into Kenneth Bae.


Comments (3)

Thanks for this. Given the current American need to go on costly vacations that are justified because they are promoted as “educational,” your idea about gulag-immersion is sadly not too far off, but of course the regime seemingly has a long way to go. I guess it’s heartening (?) to know that at least one tour service in Russia includes a visit to the former Camp Perm-36 (now a museum) in Siberia….(http://www.acris.ru/english/gulag.htm).

Les March July 9, 2014 | 2:40 pm


Hilarious blog…I was a tourist in December (see my blog at cherylpetty.com) and was not fearful of detention since I wasn’t evangelizing or re-living my war days. I’d go back in a minute…beautiful beaches like California

cheryl petty July 9, 2014 | 11:17 am


If you want to see North Korea “as it was”, you may have to hurry. Last year round about 100.000 Chinese tourists visited North Korea and that number unfortunately is increasing very fast – too fast.

Roland July 9, 2014 | 10:36 am


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