DANDONG, China (REUTERS) – Undeterred by escalating tensions between Pyongyang and Washington rattling nerves globally, a steady stream of tourists from China each morning passes through the immigration checkpoint at the border trading hub of Dandong.
Greeting them on the North Korean side are dozens of tour buses, collecting them for itineraries ranging from a day in neighbouring Sinijiu to a week visiting North Korea’s main cities, including the capital Pyongyang.
“We’re curious. We want to see how they live,” Ms Xu Juan said on Thursday before crossing the Yalu River, which marks the border between the two countries. Ms Xu was travelling with friends and family from Hangzhou, in eastern China.
North Korea dismissed on Thursday warnings by US President Donald Trump that it would face “fire and fury” if it threatened the United States as a “load of nonsense”, and outlined plans for a missile strike near the Pacific territory of Guam.
But tour operators said their industry remains robust.
Traffic, especially on lower-end group tours, has grown steadily to one of the world’s most isolated states over the past few years, despite North Korea’s persistent nuclear and missile tests, which have drawn ever-tightening UN sanctions.
A flyer for the one-day tour to Sinijiu tout a trip to the city’s central plaza, where you can pay respects to a bronze statue of North Korea’s founding president Kim Il Sung, as well as visits to a cosmetics factory, a revolutionary history museum, art history museum and a cultural park.
“You can feast on the North Korean speciality food by warm and hospitable North Koreans,” the flyer says.
But the number travelling just from Dandong spiked to 580,000 in the second half of 2016 alone, according to the state-run China News Service. The report said 85 per cent of Chinese tourist visits to North Korea originated from Dandong.
“But those that inquire often already have their heart set on going,” the operator, who declined to be named, told Reuters. “The idea of a bit of danger adds to the thrill and mystery of North Korea.”