Not many pick North Korea as a holiday spot — the country isn’t all that tourist friendly after all. Still, a few daring people do go and visit the hermit kingdom.
The tourism industry is actually beginning to boom, generating $30.6 million to $43.6 million in revenue.
At present, 100,000 tourists a year are allowed to visit North Korea. But in June Pyongyang announced that it wants to attract 10 times as many tourists — 1 million — to the country by 2017 and 2 million by 2020.
There are just eight hotels open to foreigners in North Korea’s capital city of Pyongyang. Amongst the eight, Yanggakdo International Hotel is one of Kim Jong-un’s most favorite hotels — his showpiece.
It is the largest operating hotel and the second tallest building in North Korea, rising to an overall height of 560 ft. It boasts a slowly revolving restaurant on the 47th floor and has 1,000 rooms.
However, most reviews pouring in on TripAdvisor run along the lines of:
“It seems odd writing a review for a hotel where you probably wont have any choice about whether you'd like to stay there or not! If you are on a tour of Pyongyang chances are you will stay at this hotel. This is a quick summary of my experience staying there:
"The main entrance feels quite grand and fancy but this isn't really reflected in the rooms. The twin room I stayed in was clean and spacious but not much going on in terms of decoration - all very bland. There's a large window but it doesn't open and the windows were blurred with a kind of film so you couldn't actually see outside properly.
"In the room there's a working TV with a few channels including the propaganda channel (which is a MUST see) and much to my surprise, BBC News!”
Another one goes:
“Checking into Yanggakdo you immediately notice the television at reception with Kim Jong-Un dictating with all his might.. You sit in the bar for a drink and another television airing Kim Jong-Un.. There is no 5th floor except that for 24 hour security surveillance.. Only pre-set meals available with no restaurant for a quick meal of any type.. The only hotel Westerners stay and is on an island in river.. Therefore, if a guest decides to go 'walk-about' they will be apprehended in no time.. Rooms are average and probably only place you will not be spied upon.. At the end of the day it is all part of the experience of your off beat travel experience..”
Not very promising, is it?
One wonders how many heads will roll for these “less-than favorable” reviews — after all, the steely dictator isn’t known for his forgiving ways.
Cases of people being punished quite severely for not making their “leader” happy, or failing to fulfill their duties, are not unheard of in the hermit kingdom.
In 2001, Cheol-woong, a pianist, was caught playing the “wrong” song and found himself under hours-long interrogation, answering questions like, "Where did you hear that music first? How did you feel when you heard that music? Who have you played this song to?"
That’s not all, he was forced to submit a 10-page written apology, and he believes he would have suffered further had he not come from such a powerful family.
But he was one of the lucky ones who got off easy.
Many still fear for the fate of Olympians representing North Korea in Rio 2016 and didn’t perform well.
The hotel in question is the same one where 21-year-old U.S. student Otto Warmbier was arrested and detained for apparently “hostile acts,” including an “attempt” to steal a political banner from a staff-only section of the hotel where he had been staying.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, KCNA