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All aboard for cruising, North Korean style

Jeremy Laurence of Reuters reports from aboard the Mangyongbyong, North Korea:

When you think of taking a cruise, usually it's the Bahamas, Fiji or the Maldives that generally come to mind. How about North Korea?

On Tuesday, the mysterious state launched itself into the glitzy world of cruise tourism when about 130 passengers set sail from the rundown port of Rajin, near the China-Russia border, for the scenic Mount Kumgang resort near the South Korean border.


Carlos Barria / Reuters

A visitor posses with a cruise ship at the port of Rason, in the North Korean special economic zone northeast of Pyongyang on August 30.

Carlos Barria / Reuters

Local residents wave as a cruise ship with visitors leaves the port of Rason on August 30.


Isolated North Korea's "state tourism bureau" has teamed up with a Chinese travel company to run the country's first ever cruise aboard an ageing 9,700 tonne vessel which once plied the waters off the east coast of the divided peninsula shuttling passengers between North Korea and Japan.

Some 500 North Koreans, about half dressed in dark workers clothes and the others in office and traditional attire, waved off the ship in a strictly choreographed performance on the potholed dock. The spectators waved North Korean flags and fake flowers, and let off a blast of paper fireworks to mark the occasion. Carnival music blared from two minivans with speakers on their roofs.


Ng Han Guan / AP

North Koreans and Chinese travel agents eat at a buffet during the trial cruise of the North Korean leisure boat the "Mangyongbyong" on its way to Mount Kumgang in North Korea on Aug. 30. Since South Korean tourists have been barred from the luxury resort, known abroad as Diamond Mountain, North Korea has begun courting Chinese and other international tourists.

Ng Han Guan / AP

Visitors enjoy the view along the coastline in Mount Kumgang in North Korea on Aug. 31.


Before the setting off, the vice mayor Hwang Chol-nam of Rason City, of which Rajin port is a part, gave a speech lauding the venture as part of the region's push to attract tourism.

Hwang hailed a local rule that allows people of any nationality to visit the area visa-free. They must, however, arrange the trip through a designated tour company.

"Any country, people from America, Japanese, Singaporean can come to Rason, that's the reality today, and that's the same for the Kumgang special economic zone," he told reporters aboard the vessel.

See more pictures of North Korea on PhotoBlog.