All aboard for cruising, North Korean style

Wed Aug 31, 2011 9:51am EDT
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By Jeremy Laurence

ABOARD THE MANGYONGBYONG, North Korea (Reuters) - 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.

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 aging 9,700 tonne vessel which once plied the waters off the east coast of the divided peninsula shuttling passengers between North Korea and Japan.

The ship was later used to transport cargo before Tokyo blocked its entry as part of economic sanctions over Pyongyang's missile and nuclear tests in 2006.

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 Koreans 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.

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 what his city's rule which allows any nationality to visit the area visa-free. They must, however, arrange the trip through a designated tour companies.   Continued...

<p>Local residents attend the departure ceremony of a cruise ship with visitors in the North Korean especial economic zone of Razon, northeast of Pyongyang August 30, 2011. REUTERS/Carlos Barria</p>