120 Chinese Tourists Cross Frozen River to North Korea to Celebrate New Year

By Matthew Bossons, January 3, 2019

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How did you spend the first day of 2019? We’re willing to bet you weren’t slogging across a frozen river to enter one of the world’s most isolated nations, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, aka North Korea), like a crowd of tourists in China’s Jilin province did. 

That’s right, in what is arguably the coolest possible way to spend New Year’s Day (by our estimate anyway), a 120-strong group of Chinese tourists walked across the frozen surface of the Tumen River to visit Rason, North Korea. The visit was part of a new travel program organized by the Hunchun Tourism Bureau called the ‘China-North Korea Tumen River Cross-Border Tour,’ according to Global Times

The state-run paper spoke with an unnamed official who said the visit was “the city’s first-ever North Korea tour program to travel via the Tumen River, which separates China and North Korea, as the result of an agreement reached with the bureau’s counterpart in the North Korean city of Rason.”

Admittedly, one China-based DPRK tour operator we spoke with told us that the New Year’s Day tour was definitely not the first tour group to visit Rason from China by crossing the Tumen River. (Although it could be the first to cross the frozen surface of the river). 

“This is simply tourism in a place that has seen many tens of thousands of tourists enter and exit to and from China over the years and they all have to cross the river in each direction,” the DPRK travel expert told us.  

READ MORE: I Hitchhiked Along the North Korean Border

It has not been revealed how much the tour participants were charged, but the official that spoke with Global Times said that travel arrangements were organized by “commissioned travel agencies” and that a tourist visa was needed to participate. 

Once across the Tumen River and inside the DPRK, the Chinese tourists were taken to visit the House of North Korea-Russia Friendship in Rason’s Tumangang town and were treated to renditions of traditional Chinese and Korean songs by their guide, identified as Mr. Lee. 

The New Year’s Day visit to Rason was the first of many planned trips from China as part of the ‘China-North Korea Tumen River Cross-Border Tour,’ according to Global Times, and the program will be “in full swing” by the summer months. Once the Tumen is free of ice, the tour groups will be shuttled across the river by boat. 

Rason is a special economic zone composed of the cities of Rajin and Sonbong, carved out of North Hamgyong province in the country’s northeastern frontier. The special economic zone borders both China and Russia and boasts an ice-free port, which was previously utilized by the Soviets as an alternate port to the facilities in Vladivostok.

READ MORE: Koryo Tours' Nicholas Bonner on North Korea, His New Book & DPRK Knick-Knacks

[Cover image via Global Times]

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