Thursday, January 20, 2011

US Citizens Now Free to Visit North Korea Anytime

I frequently wonder if I will ever be able to see North Korea.  In my life time, will the Koreas ever be reunited?  Many young Koreans say it will never happen, but never is a long time to keep two groups of people apart who share so much in common.

In the meantime, North Korea's bipolar tendencies have kicked in again and tourism visas to visit North Korea as part of package, guided tours are being allowed again for United States citizens.  At the rate North Korea is escalating militarily with its neighbors, it only makes sense that they should decide they might want a few Americans citizens at any given time staying in some state run equivalent of a Holiday Inn in central Pyongyang.

CNNGO has the story:
North Korea has eased travel restrictions on U.S. tourists, hoping to boost its coffers and also improve the cash-strapped country's image.
U.S. citizens had previously only been allowed access during the spectacular mass games, held last year in August through October. Now, travelers from the United States will be allowed to visit North Korea on official guided tours any time of the year. [...]
Pyongyang's overture to the United States coincided with a request to discuss resuming tours with South Korea. 
Last year, Koryo Tours took 282 U.S. tourists to North Korea compared to about 700 to 800 non-U.S. Westerners. Less than 2,500 U.S. citizens have visited North Korea since 1953.
According to Bonner, the real game-changer is that "Americans will be allowed to join with other Western tourists in exploring the rest of the country and not just areas just across the border." 
"We don't think this would have occurred under the last American administration." [...]
Despite the easing of restrictions, the same main rule still applies -- any tourist to North Korea must be accompanied by official guides. 
"They're not 'guards' but 'guides', and they're trained," Bonner said. "They're not there to rip you off, but to inform you about their country. The guides are the closest contact tourists are going to have with the North Korean people."
Bonner said the locals like to drink, so if they like you and get a chance to share a drink with them "then you can really get to know them."
Along with getting to know the North Korean people and guides, a trip to North Korea provides a chance to see some interesting museums, like the War Museum in Pyongyang with its 360 degree, 10-meter high wall painting showing a fight during the 'Victorious Fatherland Liberation War.' The scene shows the Korean People's Army retaking a village from the U.S. Army. [...]
Under the new travel regulations, U.S. citizens can now come during the spring and autumn, with April and May being a typically popular period. In April, the country celebrates the birthday of Kim Il Sung, who founded North Korea in 1948 and was its first leader.
August through October, tourists can catch the extravagant Mass Games in Pyongyang.
The Mass Games is a performing arts and gymnastics event featuring tens of thousands of performers participating in a spectacle of colorful, intricately-choreographed shows. [...]
North Korea's new openness is not without caveats, interlopers with agendas will not be tolerated and tougher restrictions are placed on journalists. 
Recent examples of unapproved excursions include the case of the two American journalists from CurrentTV who were detained in 2009, and more recently, a missionary crossed the DMZ (which divides North and South Korea) to allegedly "bring a message of Christ's love and forgiveness" to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. [...]
I edited a lot out, but you get the idea.  I would be interested in going... but I still do not see how the risk of being permanently detained by North Korea goes away if they for whatever reason decide they are having a bad day.
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