North Korea is still open to tourists, but for some strange reason it’s not getting many

The 105-story Ryugyong Hotel has been under construction for 30 years.
The 105-story Ryugyong Hotel has been under construction for 30 years.
Image: AP Photo/Ng Han Guan
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Reports that North Korea may have closed off access to Chinese tourists on Wednesday are drawing intense attention. That’s because the small trickle of foreign visitors is one of the few remaining signs that Kim Jong-il’s war talk is all for show (Another favorite contra-indicator of war—the Kaesong factory complex staying open—came to an end on April 9.)

NKNews reported late on Tuesday that a Chinese tour company called “Explore North Korea,” based in Dandong near the Sino-Korean border, had stopped organizing trips after a lengthy meeting with North Korean officials.  It’s possible the cessation of tours from China highlights Beijing’s displeasure with its ally rather than a precursor to hostilities by North Korea, or simply that Chinese travelers are worried about entering a potential war zone. Several tour companies that cater to Western tourists subsequently reported that they remained open despite the spiraling tensions on the Korean peninsula.

That’s not to say visiting Pyongyang will become a tourist magnet any time soon, as much as some companies might wish it were so. North Korea has warned that it’s “unable to guarantee the safety of embassies and international organisations in the country in the event of conflict from April 10.” Still, adventure-minded American visitors might want to consider a visit: Unlike a trip to Cuba, supporting the repressive Kim regime with tourist dollars is 100% legal. Jay-Z and Beyonce take note—your sixth wedding anniversary is a mere 12 months away.