South Korean tour guides make a pose for photographs during a two-day tour of Diamond Mountain, eastern North Korea's major scenic attraction. Photo: AP
South Korean tour guides make a pose for photographs during a two-day tour of Diamond Mountain, eastern North Korea's major scenic attraction. Photo: AP

Undaunted by tensions, Chinese tourists flock into North Korea

By Philip Wen Time of article published Aug 13, 2017

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Undeterred by escalating

tensions between Pyongyang and Washington rattling nerves

globally, a steady stream of tourists from China each morning

passes through the immigration checkpoint at the border trading

hub of Dandong.

Greeting them on the North Korean side are dozens of tour

buses, collecting them for itineraries ranging from a day in

neighbouring Sinijiu to a week visiting North Korea's main

cities, including the capital Pyongyang.

"We're curious. We want to see how they live," Xu Juan said

on Thursday before crossing the Yalu River, which marks the

border between the two countries. Xu was travelling with friends

and family from Hangzhou, in eastern China.

"I just want the sense of nostalgia, to see a country that

is poor, like (China was) when I was young," said a man in his

early 50s, from Jilin province, declining to give his name.

Few expressed concern over the North's persistent missile

tests in recent months, which led the United Nations Security

Council on Saturday to impose tough new sanctions against

Pyongyang.

North Korea dismissed on Thursday warnings by U.S. President

Donald Trump that it would face "fire and fury" if it threatened

the United States as a "load of nonsense", and outlined plans

for a missile strike near the Pacific territory of Guam.

But tour operators said their industry remains robust.

Traffic, especially on lower-end group tours, has grown

steadily to one of the world's most isolated states over the

past few years, despite North Korea's persistent nuclear and

missile tests, which have drawn ever-tightening U.N. sanctions.

A flyer for the one-day tour to Sinijiu tout a trip to the

city’s central plaza, where you can pay respects to a bronze

statue of North Korea's founding president Kim il-Sung, as well

as visits to a cosmetics factory, a revolutionary history

museum, art history museum and a cultural park.

"You can feast on the North Korean speciality food by warm

and hospitable North Koreans," it says.

Ferries and Speedboats

China's tourism authority has not published a breakdown of

the total number of Chinese visitors to North Korea since 2012,

when it said 237,000 made the trip.

But the number travelling just from Dandong spiked to

580,000 in the second half of 2016 alone, according to the

state-run China News Service. The report said 85 percent of

Chinese tourist visits to North Korea originated from Dandong.

That's still only a fraction of the 8 million Chinese who

visited South Korea in 2016.

Tourists can take ferries or charter speedboats down the

Yalu for an up-close peek at North Korean villages and

patrolling border guards.

One tour operator targeting wealthier, more adventurous

travellers said it was receiving more inquiries in recent weeks

over whether it was safe to travel.

"But those that inquire often already have their heart set

on going," the operator, who declined to be named, told Reuters.

"The idea of a bit of danger adds to the thrill and mystery of

North Korea."

Another tour guide, Teng Yi, said that while some may be

deterred by tensions on the Korean peninsula, it was prompting

others to get to North Korea while they still can.

"There have been quite a few tourists in my groups who say

they want to see North Korea in its reclusive state while they

can," he said.

"It won't be the same if the regime collapses."

(Additional reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Tony

Munroe and Bill Tarrant)

Source: Reuters 

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