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Rason, the other North Korea

Whenever you are in traveler, country collector, or worse still digital gonad company you will inevitably get into he dick shining competition that is “how many countries”, or “which countries” have you been to.

This will invariable at some point get you onto the question of North Korea, which many deem to be a bit hardcore.

In fact visiting North Korea is not all that hard, you just need to join a tour group, hell you can even do a day trip to Sinuiju. That though is the sell-out option. Yeah you get your stamp, but aside from watching some kids sing and dance, you don’t do much else.

To read about Street Food in Sinuiju click here.

Then you have your mainland tours to Pyongyang, these are a must for most and last anywhere from 3 days, to a a few weeks. This gets you to see the bright lights of Pyongyang and usually a trip to the demilitarized zone (DMZ). Ironically one of the most militarized places on earth…….

OK, so that would count as a “real” trip to North Korea, but if you want real hardcore North Korean travel then you need to get yourself to Rason.

What is Rason?

Rason is the only place in North Korea that is visa free, don’t get too excited we will get to that later, and is the main SEZ of North Korea.

What is an SEZ?

Special Economic Zones for dummies! Basically during the 1980’s and early 90’s most communist countries were experimenting with things like glasnost, perestroika, doi moi and erm, well capitalism. North Korea decided to do it in Rason an area of North Korea’s far north-east that borders China and Russia.

This was a great idea at the time and in theory at least it is the easiest place in North Korea for capitalist roaders to do business, but its not exactly easy either.

It is administered in a different way to the rest of the country, with even North Koreans needing special permission to go there. In some respects it is like North Korea’s very own Hong Kong. Except that is where the similarities very quickly end.

What about a Rason Tour?

Companies offer tours throughout the year, with highlights being changing money at black market rates at the bank and visiting a private market. In case you think that sounds dull you can only do it in Rason, OK? So this makes it cool. Other highlights are visiting factories, sleeping in really cold hotel rooms and visiting the a Hong Kong casino.

It was formerly called the Emperor Hotel and Casino. It is now called the Imperial Hotel and casino. Emperor Group e-mailed us to say they definitely did not own the casino anymore and to remove any references from our websites. Hmmmm me thinks sanctions may have played a small part in that issue.

Sadly entry into the gambling pit means changing 500 Euro worth of chips, but they have a good restaurant and foxy band that are a bit like the Moronbong band.

North Korean countryside and street food

The other highlight is that you are basically way out in the boonies here, this is the real North Korean countryside and is very different from Pyongyang. One absolute highlight is buying seafood very cheaply at the market and getting a restaurant to cook you up a storm.

Rason International Trade Fair

Except for this year they usually have a trade fair every August, mostly attended by Chinese and the odd Russian. Mostly consumer goods for North Koreans, but they also sell potato soda, which I can confirm does not mix well with vodka.

To read more about potato soda click here.

Is Rason Visa Free?

Yes, but you need a travel permit, which costs the same as a visas and is just as much hard work.

If you want a hardcore North Korean trip, then you need to get to Rason baby!

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