Is the United States a booming travel market for North Korea?!

North KoreaInternational relations may be strained, but that’s not stopping the tourists. According to Yonhap News Agency, the number of North Koreans visiting the United States in the first half of 2011 surged more than 50 percent from the same period in 2010. The report cites data from the Department of Homeland Security, which puts the number of visitors in the first six months of the year at 139. In the first half of 2010, only 89 people visited the United States from North Korea.

Interestingly, this comes even as official contacts between the two governments fell off, not to mention a “general cooling off in bilateral relations.”

Of course, the visits weren’t strictly recreational. A delegation of scientists came over from North Korea in February, with an economic delegation following in March. In June, 17 martial arts folks visited three states on the east coast.

%Gallery-109277%

Photo by yeowatzup via Flickr

North Korea cuts Pyongyang in half because of food shortage

Pyongyang North KoreaPyongyang is North Korea’s showplace. It’s one of the few spots in the country foreigners are allowed to see, and even then under tightly controlled circumstances. The people allowed to live in the most prestigious city in the unusual nation tend to be politically reliable, favored by the regime and, quite frankly, not fat or ugly. Well, the best address in North Korea is about to get a lot more exclusive.

According to an AFP report, the North Korean government has halved its capital’s population. Food shortages drove the move. Interestingly, it wasn’t just the population that got chopped – the city itself did too. The southern districts of the city were reallocated to North Hwanghae province, which touches the capital.

Half a million people had their addresses – and social status – changed as a result of this. Also, they lose the benefits associated with living in Pyongyang, a change that will save the perpetually cash-strapped regime some more money.

%Gallery-109277%

[photo by David Stanley via Flickr]

FourSquare is everywhere … even North Korea

North Korea

Whether you tweet or not, log into Facebook or skip it, you know that social media is everywhere. You just can’t get away from it. There are references on prime-time television, news stories all over the place and special deals at stores large and small. If you think you’re surrounded by this stuff, brace yourself: it’s more pervasive than you realize.

As I was scanning my Twitter stream this week, I saw a tweet by social media company FourSquare, a service that allows people to “check in” at different locations, track their friends and, if they choose, share their locations with the world.

The tweet contained a bold claim, specifically, that the service had recorded check-ins in every country in the world in November … even the most reclusive one:

With 8 check-ins in North Korea, foursquare users visited EVERY country in November! Bouvet Island, you’re one of just 5 territories left…less than a minute ago via web

%Gallery-109277%While FourSquare has yet to accumulate the user base of Twitter (175 million) or Facebook (550 million), it has grown quickly in the past year, going from a mere 725,000 in March to 5 million only 10 days ago … and it’s adding 25,000 every day.

In addition to letting your friends and followers know where you are, FourSquare has some tools that are useful for both occasional and frequent travels, including the ability to record and share tips at each of the locations you visit. While it’s fun to get check-ins at places that are prestigious, fun or remote, nothing says “for the win” – #FTW in Twitter parlance – quite like a North Korea check-in.

So, are you on FourSquare? What’s your craziest check-in? Leave a comment below to get the ball rolling! I have to admit: mine aren’t all that adventurous, but I am the mayor of an Upper West Side bodega. Okay, that doesn’t compare to a DPRK check-in!

[photo by yeowatzup via Flickr]

North Korea goes Club Med: Visit the Majon Bathing Resort

majon north korea

Are you tired of the French Riviera? Bored with St. Barths? Well, if you’re looking for a new sand-filled destination, you aren’t stuck with the likes of Iraq. Make your next beach resort getaway Majon. Yes, that’s right: the Majon Bathing Resort in North Korea. Fortunately, you’ll be on the side of the DMZ that lobbed artillery shells yesterday, and if there’s a retaliation, you probably won’t be alive long enough to notice anyway.

Offered by the Korea International Travel Company, Majon is “The Resort in the Suburbs of Hamhung, an Industrial City,” according to the official brochure. I don’t know about you, but I’ve already packed my Speedo and sunscreen!

This summer destination has a “sandy beach [that] spreads over 1,200 m. The width is 50 m.” Sticklers for accuracy are probably getting excited already. And if your obsessive behavior stretches further, you’ll be happy to know, “You can enjoy sea-bathing in safety.” On the resort, you’ll find 4,000 trees and “41 kinds of beautiful flowers decorat[ing] the gardens.”

Is this really the same North Korea that routinely wishes the west to drown in a “sea of fire”? Majon sounds downright pleasant!The resort has 20 “lodgings” – three first class, six second class and 11 third class, ensuring that the proletariat can gain access, too (chuckle). And, they’re pimped out nicely:

Every lodgings has single and double rooms, drawing rooms, studies, a restaurant and bathrooms. Every room is equipped with an air conditioner, a fridge, a TV set, etc.

The insanity continues in the original brochure.

Unfortunately, it still isn’t easy to get to Majon, or any other place in North Korea. NK News reports:

Today, visitors to the DPRK must be accompanied by guides of the state run Korea International Travel Company (KITC), at all times. Trips must be planned weeks in advance, with detailed itineraries that oblige patrons to keep on the move as much as possible. Freedom of movement and personal time is highly limited, helping reduce the risk that overly inquisitive visitors might cause problems. Quite who the intended audience of the Majon Beach brochure is, or perhaps more accurately, was, is thus, unclear.

Perhaps the brochure is an appeal to those living in the past. NK News notes the “distinctly 1980s hue” and references to the “German Mark.” So, if you never got around to cashing in that dated currency, you still have a place to use it!

Five North Korea trips for 2011, and a “no taxation” celebration

It isn’t easy to visit North Korea. The country makes it intentionally difficult for outsiders to get in. For those of us in the United States, the distances to be traveled increase the barrier even more. Well, I just got the list of tour options from Koryo Tours, and it looks like North Korea is more open than ever!

There are several ways you can get to Pyongyang and other cities in 2011 – and not just for the Arirang event. Chartered planes, bikes and new destinations are on the itinerary, making this an exciting company to reach the most isolated nation on the face of the planet. Take a look below at five ways you can visit North Korea next year.

%Gallery-107308%

1. Arirang 2011 confirmed: if you’ve always wanted to see Arirang in Pyongyang, next year’s dates have already been confirmed. Westerners will be able to witness the spectacle from August 1, 2011 through September 9, 2011. For those short on time or cash, consider taking a Mass Games Mini Break jaunt for three days.

%Gallery-40658%

2. Second city access: don’t stop at Pyongyang! In 2011, you have the option to visit Hamhung, on the east coast of North Korea, and Rason, the country’s free trade zone. From Rason, you’ll leave the country by train to Vladivostok.

3. Take your time: visitors to North Korea who don’t want to miss anything can take advantage of a 16-day excursion into the world’s most isolated country. In addition to a deep look at Pyongyang and the surrounding areas, you’ll fly by chartered plane out to Mount Paekdu, one of the most important sites in relation to the Kim family. Chongjin, Hamhung and Mount Kumgang are also on the itinerary.

%Gallery-105693%

4. Ride a bike: for the first time, you can bike across parts of North Korea (five-day and nine-day options are available). Pyongyang, Nampo and Sariwon are on the list, as well as Kaesong, the ancient capital. For the long option, you’ll also fly to Mount Paekdu by chartered plane for even more scenic cycling. This has never been done before!

5. No taxation: visit Pyongyang in late march to celebrate Tax Abolition Day (March 21, 2010). This is the anniversary of North Korea’s abolishing what the sixteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution permitted. Maybe we’ll see some of the “Tea Party” folks on this one?

[photo by David Stanley via Flickr]