June 27, 2018 11:57
Chinese tour groups are pouring into North Korea again as relations between the two countries warm. Chinese travel agencies selling packages to the North are inundated with requests, and video clips posted online show the lobby of a Pyongyang hotel packed with Chinese tourists.
"Train tickets to Pyongyang have sold out. You can travel there only after July 10, even if you make reservations now," a travel agent in the border town of Dandong said Tuesday.
"Getting train tickets is like asking for the moon, as there's been a surge in the number of tourists going to the North this month," the agent added. "It's getting difficult to sell train tours to Pyongyang because numbers are still growing."
Asked about security in the North, another travel agent in Dandong said, "As many as 1,000 to 2,000 Chinese tourists are arriving in Pyongyang each day. Each travel destination in the North is crowded with Chinese people. What's the worry?"
Last November, China banned package tours to North Korea except from Liaoning and Jilin provinces, which are home to a lot of ethnic Koreans. Air China also stopped direct flights between Beijing and Pyongyang. The travel ban was not mandated by the UN but China took the initiative under pressure from the U.S.
But now the ban has been virtually lifted after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un made his third trip to China this year. Air China resumed direct Beijing-Pyongyang flights on June 6, and Qunar, a leading Chinese online travel agency, is promoting package tours.
A travel agent told NK News that a 15-car train has been launched between Dandong and Pyongyang recently, the longest he has ever seen.
Still train tickets are sold out for at least 15 days, so Chinese tourists take minibuses from Dandong, where each travel agency sends about 300 tourists a day.
But Beijing seems slightly wary of publicizing the surge. Online promotions have disappeared since the South Korean press reported Qunar's promotion of package tours to the North.
Air Koryo's direct flights to Chengdu were to open on Thursday and to Xian in July, but they have reportedly been canceled or postponed.
"It's unclear whether it's because of political reasons or technical problems," an aviation industry insider said.
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