Tour to Mt. Baekdu May Begin in April

Korea Times
Ryu Jin

South Korean tourists might be able to visit Mt. Baekdu in North Korea from as early as April next year, as the top leaders from the two Koreas agreed to open a direct air route between Seoul and the auspicious mountain in their summit last week.

Hyundai Group is considering a comprehensive tour program that links Mt. Geumgang, Gaeseong City and Mt. Baekdu, even including Pyongyang, to attract more South Korean tourists, according to the company Monday.

Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun plans to visit the North Korean capital along with Hyundai Asan CEO Yoon Man-joon as early as this month for consultations of the cross-border businesses with North Koreans, a Hyundai Asan spokesman said.

“A variety of ideas are being considered for the new tour programs,’’ said the spokesman, who asked not to be named. “We cannot tell the exact time for the launch. But we are trying to get the new tour programs started as early as possible.’’

Mt. Baekdu, seated at the northern tip of the Korean Peninsula, has been a symbol of national spirit and unification along with Mt. Halla on South Korea’s southern resort island of Jeju. “From Baekdu to Halla’’ is how many people describe their fatherland.

Now on the borderline between North Korea and China, the auspicious mountain has been shared by the two states in modern times. Some 100,000 South Koreans visit what the Chinese people call “Mt. Changbai’’ every year from the Chinese side.

Industry sources expect that, once the direct tour route is developed, people could enjoy the grandiose scenery of the mountain, including the Cheongun Rocks and Baekdu Falls, which are said to be more spectacular than the Changbai Falls.

But travelers and experts say that a tour to the 2,744-meter mountain is possible only between May and September because of precarious weather conditions. On only a few days could the climbers clearly see Cheonji, a large caldera lake on top of the mountain.

“I hope that the tour program is launched as early as possible,’’ Hyun, who accompanied President Roh Moo-hyun to the summit in Pyongyang, told reporters on her way back home. “I heard that it is possible to climb the mountain in April.’’

Hyundai Asan, a Hyundai Group affiliate that operates various cross-border businesses, expects the direct air route to cut the travel time drastically from nine hours needed for trip via China to 1-2 hours, not to mention the reductions in travel expenses.

“Domestic travel agencies sell five-day tour programs to Mt. Baekdu, or Changbai, via China for prices from 800,000 won ($874) to two million won ($2,185),’’ a private tour agency said. “A direct tour would cut the travel expenses by almost half.’’

However, Hyundai Asan admitted that there are a number of tasks to be done before the launch of the direct tour program, including the establishment of infrastructure such as an airport, hotels and other facilities for travelers.

Billions of won would be required to develop the Samjiyeon Airport, the nearest airport from Mt. Baekdu, according to recent surveys.

Hyundai Asan will dispatch an on-site inspection team to the area next month to check the accommodation capacity and other necessary facilities. It has already given five billion won to North Korea for the arrangements of the airport.


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