> Secretive ‘rogue’ state begins discussions of cross-border tourism: is this the start of the new era?

Last month, North Korea, known for its secret and evasive nature, urged neighboring South Korea to agree upon establishing a working dialogue between the two nations over cross-border tourism projects.

With independent travel not permitted in North Korea, the financial benefits of such tour and travel packages are sizeable for both sides of the heavily-militarily enforced border. However South Korean officials believe that such opening of negotiations may apply pressure upon capital Seoul to engage in further exchanges with their northerly communist neighbor.

Discussions between the two nations may have taken a step closer to commencing last month. Communication between North and South Korean airports opened up once again for the first time, since the North was accused of torpedoing a South Korean war ship on March 26th this year, claiming the lives of 46 sailors on board. While the North still wholly denies this, North Korean missiles were found at the scene of the ships submergence.

Until 2008, guided tours of the North Korean capital of Pyongyang and its surrounding area brought in millions of pounds each year for the dictator-led country. However, the activities were suspended indefinitely in 2008, following the murder of a South Korean tourist at the hands of a North Korean soldier.

The man supposedly wandered into an off-limits zone near the border line between the two states, which have been in place since the former Japanese occupation resided, and the country was split into two.

It would seem the North has sounded its intention to welcome in tourists from all corners of the globe, even the United States (though they will of course be informed of how evil their government really is).  So, will we soon be able to add the world’s most unrevealing state to the long list of bargain-bin Ryanair trips?

Alongside current favorites such as; red-faced stag weekends in Benidorm, ‘cultural’ visits to Amsterdam, Dublin for the ‘craic’ or even a few days in Krakow, for the vodka, and Auschwitz and that.  What should we expect if boss Michael O’Leary begins to offer us £1 return flight tickets (no tax, but an unfortunate, yet very necessary, £10 card charge) from Bradford International to Pyongyang Sunan International?

Well upon arrival to the country, guests can expect to be greeted by a very enthusiastic, friendly tour ‘government minder’, who will remain by your side for the duration of your stay.

Upon ascertaining confidence amongst the minders that you are not a foreign journalist, you will then be politely requested to hand over your mobile phone and passport, which will be looked after for you until you leave.

Almost straight away the minders, with straight faces, will begin to open your eyes to the true facts about North Korea.  The people are much happier than most of the world’s population and North Korea is a lot more advanced than may have been wrongly purveyed by the outside world’s mass media.

When current leader of the one party system’s ruling Worker’s Party; Kim Jung-Il was born, a double rainbow appeared in the sky, alongside new stars that had never been seen before, and that the whole extra-astrological ordeal was foretold…by a swallow no less.

Indeed, the Korean Civil War between Northern and Southern forces following the end of World War II and Japanese occupation, was began by the sworn enemy of the North Korean people, the US imperialist aggressors, who only wish to drain the country dry of its great wealth and culture. Despite overwhelming historical evidence attesting that the conflict in fact began following North Korean advances into the South.

Visitors are driven along wide, eerily empty roads to a perfect, self-sustaining North Korean farm, supposedly typical of all North Korean farms ever since the now deceased Kim Il-Sung, whose apotheosis sees him, remain in the position of President to this day nearly 17 years after his death.

The images of vast famine in North Korea that shocked the world during the 1990’s and reportedly claimed up to 3 million lives, no longer exists, yet don’t ask to see other such farms, there just is not enough time.

Wherever you happen to conveniently stop en route to the next carefully matriculated destination, there appears to have gathered large groups of ordinary citizens singing and dancing to traditional North Korean music (some of which just so happens to sound like western hits with Korean lyrics) in praise of the great, benevolent Fatherly Leader.

When you reach the city, you can use the underground metro system, which lies over 100 metres below street level, and doubles up as a nuclear bunker. Each station holds an inspiring name such as ‘War Victory’, ‘Revival’ and ‘Triumph’. In the capital, you are kindly expected to buy a wreath of flowers to lay at the feet of a 132 foot tall, bronze statue of Kim Il-Sung, who can boast amongst his many superhuman achievements. These include writing nearly all the books available to buy in North Korea. Those that he didn’t write were written about him or his son and current ruler, Kim Jung-Il, the Dear Leader.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrAQ7MZVzIk&feature=related[/youtube]

Other mandatory stops on the completely inflexible tour include; a full meal in a typical North Korean restaurant, in which you are the only customer, yet all the table places of the large dining hall are piled high with readily available, hearty North Korean delicacies.  Dinner could maybe be preceded by that age-old North Korean sport of golf, on an 18-hole course which, legend has it – and in this case, legend is always hard fact to be learnt through class repetition from as early an age possible, the Fatherly Leader himself often completed in just 18 shots (or less I say).

Strangely enough, gaining entrance to the country also know as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the past has been almost enticingly easy. Simply use Google search and you will find numerous travel agents offering visa advice and tour packages across the border. None offer prices to compete with a beer-guzzling getaway to Prague for the weekend.

As for now, entrance to the country is off limits from the south, and near impossible from neighbouring China to the north.  Although the official DPRK website encourages that visitors to the country will be able to “experience North Korea outside of the tourist trail and have interaction with North Korean citizens first hand”, I believe there is a fair few years left until Pyongyang becomes the Marbella of the east.

Alec Herron