HF Crewon July 23, 2014 at 4:10 am

North Korea, Kumgangsan
Kumgangsan (Diamond Mountains)
Photo via

‘Would you like to go on a tour to North Korea?’

This is what my father said one day, when I returned back home from school. Shortly after, I was on my way to Kumgangsan, also known as Diamond Mountains, in North Korea.

Mt. Kumgang is one of the most scenic areas of the Korean peninsula. Located along the southeast coast of North Korea, it was designated as a special administrative tourist region, being one of the few places accessible to tourists from the outside world. Mostly South Koreans and Westerns would come to this area for its scenic beauty led by a narrow single road along the rural areas of the demilitarized zone. Due to a joint tourism program run by the North Korean government and the South Korean conglomerate Hyundai Asan, Mt. Kumgang was an attractive tourist place, until a South Korean tourist was shot dead on the beaches of the tourist zone by a North Korean soldier. Since then, the tour was suspended. Luckily, I had a chance to visit that area while the tour was still on.

Considering the tourist area as a part of North Korea, security was strict the whole time. While crossing the borders from South Korea to North Korea, the tour guides took away our cell phones and digital cameras, warning us that we could only use analog cameras and that we’re not allowed to take photos of rural North Koreans. The immigration office somewhat resembled an immense tank container. We had to wait a long time to pass the security, and the guards there were so strict, all armed with forces.

After an hour ride of the demilitarized zone, our group was led to Okrukwan, one of the North Korean restaurants in the tourist area. North Korea is famous for its cold noodles, ‘nangmyeon.’ South Korea has a lot of cold noodle restaurants too, but North Korea’s cold noodles were somewhat different in taste- less spices. All the clerks were dressed in traditional Korean costume, “hanbok.” They were indeed real North Korean women who spoke Korean in a North Korean accent.

Photo via

Next day was the actual hike. During the hike, I could see several selected North Korean guides located along the trail. Interestingly, I made a long conversation with one of the guides, and she told me that she got her plastic surgery done on her nose and that North Koreans are not that poor as they are shown on the media, believe it or not. Along the trail, I saw numerous North Korean propagandas carved in big stones in red cursive letters. Most of them were monuments dedicated to Kim Il Sung. There were many historical temples along the way just like any other mountains in South Korea.

North Korea
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Apart from the hike, our group got to do other activities to the different areas of Kumgang, including a session at the Kumgang hot springs where the waters hover around 100 degrees celcius for a warm relaxing bath, an afternoon at the nearby beach, and an amazing acrobatic show performed daily by the famous North Korean Moranbang Acrobatic group where the show ends by all the performers singing a Korean folk song ‘Arirang,’ known to both South and North Koreans, in hopes for reunification.

North Korea
Photo via

Although the trip was short, the impact was large. Kumgang Mountains were indeed beautiful, as their name suggests, “Diamond.” North Korea was strict and conservative as expected, but people were the same, just Koreans speaking in another accent. For those who want to have a quick peek at how North Korea’s like, this tour might be the best for you- not too much, but good enough.



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