On the shores of the Sea of Japan, waves crash on the wide sandy beaches of Wonsan. This North Korean resort has been popular with tourists from the upper classes for many years. People sunbathe and play ball games as small sailing boats stamped with the country’s flag float in the distance. You can also rent out an air mattress or enjoy a drink or some ice cream from the restaurants on the beach.
Wonsan, North Korea’s 5th largest city, used to be a well-kept secret: even citizens of the isolated the country require an official travel permit to leave their town of residency. But North Korea today is on a mission to expand its tourism industry. After the much-publicized launch of its first luxury ski resort, the country announced it would start surf tours along its coastline.
Though the country does not publish official statistics, travel agencies estimate around 6,000 Westerners visit North Korea every year. In Pyongyang, their movements are monitored at all times. In Wonsan, it’s a little different: the beach is fenced in but Westerners are allowed to walk around freely within that perimeter. It’s perhaps the closest a visitor can get to ordinary North Korean people, since any other direct contact is virtually impossible.
A group of Western tourists plays football against a North Korean team, apparently students. Sometimes, it’s difficult to know if things are really what they seem. Some claim it’s all staged, but none of the people look like actors.