VIDEO: Cruising in North Korean Style
North Korea Unveils Its New Cruise Ship
The MANGYONGBONG is a 39-year-old cargo ship with stained, water deprived bathrooms, cramped cabins and plastic lawn chairs on deck- and as of last month its North Korea’s “new” cruise ship.
North Korea, desperate for foreign currency, is trying to boost tourism in the country by offering cruises along its east coast aboard the Mangyongbong. Earlier this month North Korean officials and foreign journalists took part in a five day sea trial aboard the cruise ship. In some cases journalists and North Korean officials shared cabins with up to 8 people to a room sleeping on dusty floor mattresses.
This latest venture is receiving strong support from the North Korean government with Taepung international Investment Group acting as the organizer, a group that reports to the National Defense Commission who answers directly to Kim Jong-il.
Income from tourism falls outside of the sanctions imposed by the UN to put an end to Jong-il’s nuclear weapons program, prompting this latest attempt to draw foreign visitors. In the last few years tourism has increased in the country, attracting mostly Chinese visitors.
Earlier this month a dozen journalists were invited to take part in the ship’s first cruise. Journalists, who are normally banned from entering the country, got a rare look at the impoverished nation and shared close quarters with some of its officials. The Journalists were escorted across the border to the port town of Rason where they were made to walk in sing file lines to avoid any contact with the locals. Members of the press were also banned from taking photos, filming or note taking on their journey to the ship.
Guides stopped to point out a portrait of Kim Il-sung, and led the visitors to a theatre to watch children sing patriotic songs. The night before departure, visitors attended a banquet to celebrate the new cruise. Mayor of Rason, Hwang Chol-Nam, thanked Mr. Park , president of Taepung, for organizing the cruise just before the two broke out in a karaoke number praising Kim Il-sung.
At the harbor the next day, officials gave speeches, music honoring Kim Il-sung was played, and 500 students and workers in uniforms waved flags and flowers as the ship set sail.
On board passengers played cards, and drank beers with officials, as the North Korean Navy patrolled nearby. Dinner onboard included diced chicken and cucumbers on metal trays, served up in a fluorescent lit room resembling a military mess hall. After dinner servers toss the leftovers overboard. Passengers were treated to a lot of karaoke performance by officials and stewardesses, and watch as the wait staff occasionally broke out in an impromptu dance.
After the all the fun, passengers retired to dusty foul smelling cabins, small and cramped with up to eight in a room. Bathrooms onboard were dirty and stained and brown water drizzled out of faucets.
After a stay at Mount Kumgang, the Mangyongbong began its 21 hour journey back to Rason, while passengers enjoyed a lunch of instant noodles and more karaoke.