SINGAPORE -- The historic summit in June between the leaders of North Korea and its wartime enemy US on this Southeast Asian island state has triggered people’s interest in the reclusive East Asian country.
Singapore is seeing a surge in tourists bound for Pyongyang as fall is a popular season for travelling in the country, and the huge art and dance performance known as the “Mass Games” is taking place throughout in Pyongyang in September.
Over 200 tourists, mostly Singaporeans, are expected to visit North Korea in September through Universal Travel, one of the three travel agencies that arrange trips to the totalitarian state.
Beijing-based tour agency Koryo Tours said it would take about 500 people into North Korea this month, up from about 100 in July and 40 in August, after authorities stopped issuing visas ahead of the Sept. 9 celebrations for the regime‘s 70th founding anniversary.
Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, however, advises Singaporeans not to visit North Korea.
In a travel advisory for North Korea issued in late July, the ministry said that despite the Trump-Kim summit in June, it is best to “avoid all non-essential travel” to the North.
This is mainly because Singapore has no diplomatic representation in North Korea, which limits the consular help the ministry can give to Singaporeans in the country.
The travel agencies, nonetheless, offer various tour packages such as a nine- or 10-day group tour, or a customized private tour of four to five days.
One of the agencies -- Explore North Korea – is based in Shenyang, China, and sells group and independent packages including a train ride from China’s Dandong to Pyongyang.
Tourists departing from Singapore typically take a red-eye Singapore Airlines flight to Beijing, and from Beijing, fly North Korea’s Air Koryo to Pyongyang.
Upon arrival in the capital, those on Universal Travel’s nine-day group tour proceed to Ryomyong Street, which was built this year for the professors and scientists of the Kim Il Sung University. In the following days, the tourists go sightseeing in Pyongyang, travel by coach to Mount Myohyang, where they visit the historic Pohyon Temple built in 1042, do some shopping at a supermarket in Pyongyang, and walk to the newly developed Mirae Scientists Street.
The itinerary includes travel by bus to the coastal city of Wonsan and the scenic Kumgangsan, drive to Masikryong Resort, and visit to the the Mausoleum of King Tongmyong, founder of Goguryo Kingdom in BC 277, on their way back to Pyongyang.
On the eighth day, the tourists drive to Kaesong, which was the capital of the ancient Goryeo kingdom, and t hen Panmunjom and Sariwon, where they visit a cooperative farm and a folklore street, before returning to Singapore the next day.
Four such group tours from Singapore to North Korea are scheduled in the second half of this month, following at least another four groups consisting of between 16 and 24 people that have already completed the tour in the first half, according to Universal Travel.
The cost ranges from 2,099 Singapore dollars ($1,530) to S$2,399, plus a visa fee of S$35 for Singaporean citizens, and a service fee of S$56 for local guide and driver.
Country Holidays, which has run tours to North Korea for the past 15 years, offers more expensive customized private tours – S$3,050 for four days and S$3,395 for five days.
“We have actually had more customers traveling to North Korea before the summit,” an official at Country Holidays said.
“Many tourists have also booked tours to get a firsthand look into the reclusive state – spurred by what is seen as a cooling of tensions on the Korean Peninsula after the North’s nuclear tests and missile launches sparked fears of a nuclear war the year before.”
By Kim So-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org