Exist. And they are fascinating, beautiful, depressing and creepy all at once. I wrote about them for NK News:
North Korea’s approach to marketing itself to foreign visitors has often been contradictory, the product of competing bureaucracies and the changing whims of the leadership. As in many other fields, tourism is affected by the actions of several different branches of government, with incompatible policies and changes in the composition of the leadership often appearing to create massive internal confusion.
The output of the Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) is a good example of this. It proudly and faithfully reports even the most banal signs of appreciation from the outside world (“Greetings to Kim Jong Un from Mexican Political Party Leader”, “Lao Diplomats Visit International Friendship Exhibition House”…), while regularly printing vitriol calculated to offend and alienate 99% of international public opinion — the racist and sexist articles targeting Presidents Park and Obama spring immediately to mind.
In this environment, North Korean authorities can often seem hungry for foreign visitors one minute, then going out of their way to frighten them off the next.
Soon after the showpiece Masikryong Ski Resort was completed to much fanfare in winter 2013, authorities stepped up their actions against foreign visitors in the country, detaining several who they claimed breached multiple domestic laws. Often this is what happens when the various aims and remits of different state bureaucracies compete. And of course, the functionaries who put so much effort into constructing and promoting facilities like the new Masikryong Ski Resort had no power to prevent the security services arresting several foreign visitors in quick succession.
Equally, the North Korean authorities have been working hard to reduce legal and administrative obstacles for Chinese tourists, while simultaneously making travel much more difficult for Hwagyo, or ethnic Chinese living in North Korea.
EARLY EFFORTS TO ATTRACT FOREIGNERS
This contradictory behavior can also, however, be a product of changing political circumstances. While the nation has never been open to visitors in the same way that most countries are, there have been times in North Korea’s history when it appeared less hostile to visitors than has been for the last 20 years.
At the end of the 1980s, with the Soviet Bloc collapsing and Communism looking increasingly shaky elsewhere, North Korea began preparing for existence in a post-communist world. While authorities were not prepared to compromise on the fundamentals of the regime, they were willing to consider adopting a softer position on the world stage. The readiness to contemplate normalization can be seen in a surprisingly beguiling brochure, reproduced here courtesy of Retro DPRK, which in 1991 was designed to promote tourism in the DPRK to western visitors: “A Sightseeing Guide to Korea”…