Wonsan - North Korea's Summer playground.
No Summer visit to North Korea is complete without a visit to Wonsan; the country’s beautiful seaside resort city.
Situated on the East coast, about 5 hours from Pyongyang, the city is a hotspot for domestic tourism.
The drive itself from Pyongyang takes you through stunning mountains and waterfalls. One of which is the famous Ulim waterfall (pictured below). Discovered by passing soldiers the site was developed into an accessible tourist attraction in 2001. A quick picnic break here and you’re back on the road about an hour or so from Wonsan.
Just before hitting the town you’ll pass the Masikryong ski resort, North Korea’s one and only. There’s activities for all here 12 months a year but the real highlight is the stunning coastline.
Sun and Seafood
Arrive in town and check into the Tongmyong Hotel which overlooks the bay and Chok islet. Follow that with sunset BBQ clams and fresh fish on the waterfront washed down with copious amounts of Soju, the Korean liquor.
The following morning hit the beaches, have a few relaxed beers, play volleyball and dive off the 10 meter platform to the joy of the locals.
Wonsan Tourist Zone
In July of 2016, North Korean leader Kim Jong – Un announced a plan to develop the Wonsan- Kalma area into an international tourism zone. He visited the site several times in a push to promote various areas of the country for tourism. Plans were announced to construct huge hotel resorts all along the coast Wonsan.
The development of Wonsan into an international tourist resort has been a goal for the North Korean leadership for decades. Back in 1972, then President Kim Il-sung expressed his hope to develop the area into an international cultural and resort city equipped with luxury hotels and modern water parks. Since then, various development projects have been planned but never fully started.
The current leadership is clearly aiming to fulfill his grandfather’s long cherished desire by focusing his regime’s tourism push on the Wonsan – Kalma zone.
It’s easy to see why the push for Wonsan exists – As a major gateway to the east coast, Wonsan is 150 kms from Pyongyang, 85 kms from Mt. Kumgang and 180 kms from Seoul. The Masik Ryong ski resort is just 45 kilometers from Wonsan. So here we have three destinations —Wonsan, Kumgang mountain and the ski resort—all located close to each other. The area boasts a spectacular natural environment ripe for tourism.
The city is also well connected by rail and road to Pyongyang and the northern areas of Hamhung, Chongjin and eventually Russia. Theoretically trains departing from South Korea’s southernmost port city of Busan could access the Trans-Siberian Railway by way of Wonsan. Moreover, North Korea has renovated Wonsan – Kalma Airport into a modern international airport. Now all it needs is the necessary traffic to make it a success.
It’s not all Beaches
There’s also a couple of other sights on the Wonsan tourist trail. The city is home to North Korea’s largest Children’s camp; the Songdowon international Children’s Union camp to be exact. Kids from around the world come to enjoy the newly renovated camp’s impressive facilities which include an aquarium, aviary, beach and waterpark.
Also permanently docked is the Mangyongbong-92, North Korea’s only passenger ferry. It was built in 1992 by the pro-North Korean “Chongryon” in Japan as a means of transporting passengers and cargo between the two countries. The ship is sadly no longer in service.
If you are into your North Korea revolutionary history then make a stop at the old railway station. It still houses an old Japanese train and is one of the places Kim Il Sung stopped on his triumphant return following the defeat of the Japanese in 1945.
Lastly the city has recently opened its shiny new airport. As of yet there are still no flights but let’s hope one day you’ll be able to hop on a direct international Air Koryo service to Wonsan City!
If you’re looking for the ultimate North Korean beach break this summer then look no further than our Liberation day and Summer Tour every August.
Check out our full list of North Korea tours here!
When Shane is not endlessly writing award winning content for Rocky Road, he's usually kayaking to and from the beer garden along Berlin's River Spree.