This unique opportunity to explore the areas of North Korea that have only just opened to international tourism in the last few years is absolutely unmissable. Cross the border from China into the northern provinces of the DPRK and discover the land of Juche philosophy. Visit revolutionary sites and monuments to the country’s illustrious leaders, explore an ancient Buddhist temple and plunge into the stunning mountainous scenery for a chance to see rural life and even stay with a local family. Chat in English with school children, be treated to traditional performances and enjoy authentic North Korean dishes. Enter the middle ground of Rason’s Special Economic Zone to see foreign trade ships and to pick up souvenirs in the only market open to foreign tourists before heading back to China with a new impression of the DPRK.
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The adventure begins at Tumen in China, the crossing point into the DPRK. Walk across the footbridge, through immigration and into Namyang in North Korea. From here, take a drive through the small and beautiful Onsong Country to reach Wanjae and its monument to Kim Il Sung and his Juche philosophy. Finally, head to Hoeryong, a city only open to international visitors since 2013 and the birthplace of Kim Jong Il’s mother, Kim Jong Suk. Bed down for the night after some local food and entertainment at the Hoeryong Hotel.
Explore Hoeryong and visit the park and monument erected in honor of Kim Jong Suk. There’s the chance to take a tour of a local school and talk with students enthusiastic to practice their English. In the afternoon, drive to the DPRK’s third-largest city, Chongjin, on the coast. Explore this important industrial port city: see the statue of Kim Il Sung and the revolutionary museum. Check out the DPRK’s intranet system at the library and be treated to a traditional performance by the children at the Steelworks Kindergarten before checking into the Chongjin Tourist Hotel. In the evening, there’s dinner at the hotel followed by drinks and billiards with the locals at the Chongjin Seaman’s Club.
Enjoy breakfast at the hotel before heading up into the stunning Chilbo mountain range, a protected nature reserve previously so inaccessible that even Kim Il Sung never ventured there. Take a hike and picnic amidst the gorgeous scenery and then it’s down to the coastal area to enjoy swimming or sailing in the crystal waters. In the evening, meet the local families who open their homes to host visitors for the night; this is the only homestay in all of the DPRK and an amazing opportunity to live, cook and share with the locals. Enjoy a traditional dinner and play games in the village before a peaceful and unique night’s sleep.
Continue exploring the inner and outer areas of Mount Chilbo with some relaxed hiking; experience the seldom glimpsed vistas from the mountain viewpoints and visit a rare example of ancient North Korean history, a Buddhist temple before lunch at the Outer Chilbo Hotel. In the afternoon, take a drive down to the natural spas of Kyongsong, stopping off at Kyongsong Fort on the way. Enjoy the benefits of the waters at Kyongsong and visit the house where the Kim family once stayed before getting a well-earned night’s sleep at the simple but comfortable Kyongsong Hot Spa Guesthouse.
In the morning, head back to Chongjin via the revolutionary sites at Jipsam and Yombun, to see the production lines of a foodstuffs factory in action; try the foods and be entertained by the award-winning musicians of the factory band. In the afternoon, head into the Special Economic Zone of Rason in the northeast. Get your bearings in the city and see the statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, and share dinner and drinks in town before calling it a night at the Namsan Hotel.
The first stop of the day is at the Golden Triangle Bank, the only place in the DPRK where foreign currency can be exchanged, for a talk about what makes the area an SEZ. See some local art at the gallery and the Kimilsungia flowers at the local hothouse, before sitting down to a lunch overlooking the city’s stadium. In the afternoon, explore the city’s coveted warm water port, where Chinese and Russian ships dock for trading, take a tour of a local school and spend time chatting in English with the students. Before heading back to the hotel, take a relaxing stroll in the pretty Hae’an seaside park.
Start the day with a charming performance from the children at the local kindergarten, and then stock up on souvenirs and postcards from the gift shop and the local market; this is the only North Korean market open to international shoppers and a great place to shop and barter with the locals and pick up unique mementos. After lunch, take a tour around some local shoe and textile factories to see the production process.
For your last morning in Rason, you’ll head to the coast to see the birds and seals on Pipha Island nature reserve. Explore the faded grandeur of the impressive Emperor Hotel - one of the only two casinos in the DPRK, a seafood processing plant and a revolutionary site. After lunch, it’s time to begin the two-hour drive back to the border and return through into China to check in for the last night at your hotel.
This is the final day of an unforgettable and unique adventure in the unexplored areas of the DPRK, and from here, you’ll be transported to the airport and assisted with check-in for your onward travel, or return journey back home.
On a once-in-a-lifetime visit to Chong Jin, the third-largest city in North Korea, guests can enjoy a stay at Chong Jin Tourist Hotel. While this hotel is very basic, offering limited running water within each room, it is in close proximity to a local bathhouse, complete with a traditional Korean sauna. The hotel restaurant serves meals throughout the day and the hotel shop can provide necessary amenities as well as snacks and alcoholic beverages.
The Hoeryong Hotel is one of the few quality accommodation options in the North Korean city of Hoeryong, situated opposite China’s Jilin Province. This no-thrills hotel isn’t particularly modern or luxurious, but these kinds of adjectives aren’t exactly synonymous with this uncharted country. The rooms, however, are perfectly comfortable for a few nights, and the twin or double room options come with comfortable beds, clean en-suite bathrooms and a limited range of mod-cons. Besides its wide selection of rooms, Hoeryong Hotel features a sizeable dining area on the ground floor, complete with a stage for live entertainment and some interesting 1950s-style red curtains. The small city of Hoeryong is part of the country’s ‘North Hamgyong’ province. It’s so close to China that all you need to do is walk up to the city’s ‘Tumen River’ and peer across; this body of water acts as a natural border between both countries.
The area around Mt. Chilbo in North Korea is one of the most beautiful regions in the country - while also being home to the country’s only Homestay Village, where a local family welcomes tourists in to sleep, eat and live with them. Guests have the rare opportunity to experience true Korean life, from cooking and enjoying traditional cuisine, hiking the area or playing sports with the kids or simply chatting with their host families. While guests should expect basic accommodation, they will experience exceptional hospitality.
One of the most luxurious accommodation options in North Korea, the Hot Springs Hotel provides each group a private to share with their guide, each with private bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms. Guests may bathe in hot spring waters, though there is a limit to the amount of hot water each guest may use. At request, the hotel may set up a clam barbeque for a group, and in the evening guests may play billiards games in the lobby bar, and test their skills at karaoke.
Tourists who come to the Rason area in the warmer months may opt to take a short drive down the coast to enjoy a stay at the Chujin Hotel, which is popular with international guests for its excellent location right on the beach, in a pretty, calm cove at Chujin. The area is perfect for visitors in search of a break from sightseeing and exploring, who would like to simply kick back and enjoy some beach time, relaxing on the sandy shore or swimming in the pleasant, clean waters, all within walking distance from this well-equipped hotel, featuring a distinct turquoise and pink painted facade. The hotel can accommodate up to one hundred guests and its restaurant is famous in the area for its fresh seafood and barbecue food. The rooms are clean and though not sumptuous or luxurious, after a day of beachcombing, guests are sure to have a good night’s sleep in the comfortable beds. Hotel entertainment is provided by way of a billiards room and also, guests are encouraged to join in with that classic Korean favorite: karaoke in the hotel bar.
The five-star Emperor Hotel and Casino stands on a long stretch of beach, with views out to beautiful Pipha Island and the clear waters of the Sea of Japan, surrounded by peaceful farmland, tilled using traditional methods. Opened by the Macau-based Emperor group, this multi-million dollar hotel and casino has proven especially popular with Chinese tourists looking for a little luxury, and one of only a few chances to get in some gambling in the DPRK. Though some of its original sparkle has perhaps faded, its retro grandeur and charm makes a stay at the Emperor a fun and quirky experience, including the chance to use the country’s only five-star bathroom. The spacious lobby with its marble floors is still in good condition and signs remind guests and visitors not to spit as they make their way onto the neon-lit gambling floor or to the on-site massage parlor to wind down. The hotel boasts a number of facilities including restaurant, bar with billiards tables, a fleet of Hummer Trucks to shuttle guests to their destinations and, perhaps most convenient of all, an affiliated pawn shop catering to any gamblers who finds themselves down on their luck.
This hotel is popular with many foreign tourists and groups for its great location in the center of the city. Standing right on the city square, it is within walking distance of many of the interesting sites in Rason, including the Golden Triangle Bank, the Rajin Art Gallery, and the Taehung Trading Corporation, while being just down the hill from a huge mosaic of Kim Il Sung. The hotel was originally built for Japanese officers during their occupation in the first half of the 20th century and the rooms are, while perhaps a little sparse for luxurious tastes, certainly clean, comfortable, well-maintained and of historical interest. The hotel staff are very friendly and accommodating and all the amenities are available to guests including a cosy bar, and a popular restaurant serving up authentic North Korean dishes. Guests can entertain themselves in the evenings, after a long day of sightseeing, with karaoke or a game of billiards; there are also a number of local bars within walking distance for guests seeking a night on the town.