Only last year did North Korea begin to welcome foreign tourists in a big way.
A group of Japanese Red Army radicals, for instance (they hijacked a plane to North Korea in 1970), have been allowed to open a tour agency in Pyongyang to attract young Japanese. A more normal route is to contact some 200 travel agencies worldwide (but not in the United States) that have ties with the government-run Korean International Tourist Bureau. But the hassles of traveling inside North Korea and in obtaining visas, especially for Americans, have so far kept the number of visitors low. "We have s truggled hard to meet the needs of tourists who come," says Kim Do Jun, director of tourism promotion.
Tourism is risky for a closed country that doesn't even allow its own citizens to travel as tourists and wants to keep foreigners away from the people. And North Korea is still trying to figure out how to promote itself. One tourist brochure invites foreigners to "HONEYMOON IN KOREA." Or there is the "GOLFERS, COME TO KOREA!" package, in which you can spend a week at the country's only golf course, built in 1987 (until then, golf was branded a "bourgeois" sport).
There are tours to learn Korean martial arts or the "flawless" system of writing code for dance movements. One tempting trip is a 30-day mud treatment at Lake Sijung.
Still, to Koreans anywhere, North Korea's beauty lies in the legendary 2,744-mile-high peaks of Mt. Paektduk, with its crater lake, and of Mt. Kumgang, whose rock formations have inspired artists for centuries.