Yes, you read that right. While there are still a lot of people visiting South Korea because of the Kpop craze, more Singaporeans than ever have signed on to tour North Korea on the heels of the historic Trump-Kim summit in June.
To date, 150 people from Singapore have visited North Korea this year, which is a bigger number than it’s been in the last 6 years. They are availing of packages to the Hermit Kingdom which last for several days.
This year’s Winter Olympics held in Pyeongchang undoubtedly burnished North Korea’s image internationally as well, making it attractive to more and more tourists and visitors.
Some Singaporeans have been able to witness the country’s 70th founding anniversary parade held earlier this month on September 9.
The country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, however, has not exactly been encouraging travel to North Korea, except when it is absolutely essential. In a July 29 advisory, the Ministry cautioned the public that despite the peaceful summit between the US and North Korean leaders, it still advised only necessary trips to the country, due to the lack of diplomatic representation of Singapore in North Korea.
This means that there is no Singaporean embassy in North Korea, though North Korea does have one here. Therefore, if a Singaporean got into trouble in North Korea, it would be difficult for him or her to get find help.
In spite of their powerful passports, Singaporeans who wish to visit the Hermit Kingdom must pay S$ 80 for a visa. They can avail of tours from four to nine days and ranging from S$ 2,399 to S$ 3,395. Travel is via Shenyang, Dandong or Beijing in China, before proceeding to Pyongyang. No visa is required for China, where Singaporeans can stay for a maximum of 15 days.
There is only one hotel for tourists who come to Pyongyang, the Yanggakdo International Hotel, which is officially rated as a 5-star hotel but which mostly gets a visitor rating of 3.5 stars. Three years ago Otto Wambier, an student from the US, received a sentence of 15 years of hard labor, reportedly for removing a propaganda poster at this hotel. Mr. Wambier passed away this June under mysterious circumstances.
Tour groups to North Korea are accompanied by two guides who impose restrictions concerning forbidden areas to visit, unflattering photographs or even critical comments or questions, and who are legally allowed to keep the passports of those in the tour group.
Visiting North Korea has long been deemed controversial, with some saying that international exposure is necessary to bring in more freedom for the country, while others argue that this kind of tourism only encourages more political repression.