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A North Korean holiday
Man beachte die FETT markierte Zeile.

Driving through the almost-deserted streets of downtown Pyongyang, a Chinese tourist yells out to the North Korean guide at the front of the bus, "Why are there so few cars – it's peak hour!"

The guide, who goes by his Chinese name Jin Hai Ying responds in fluent Chinese.

"Your average North Korean likes using the underground - it's more environmentally friendly."

The Chinese travellers erupt in laughter.

Every day dozens of Chinese are travelling to North Korea for short stay tours to get a taste of what life is like in the Hermit Kingdom.

"I think most Chinese come here for nostalgic reasons," says Anthony Gao, a young Chinese man who works for an international consulting firm in Shanghai.

"I wanted to experience what my parents and grandparents lived through 40 years ago," adds his travelling companion Wu Fei.

Travelling back in time to what their parents experienced growing up during the 1960's and 1970's in China, both graduates of international affairs say, "We just thought it would be funny".

The Dandong Jinhua International Travel Service is just one of a handful of small companies organising tours out of Dandong, Liaoning Province, in the north-east of China.

Dandong, a city of almost 800,000 sits on the Chinese side of the historic Yalu River bridge - which was bombed by the United States at the start of the Korean War. By night, tourists stand on the foreshore taking snaps of the renovated brightly lit bridge that connects the two countries - and the total blackout that exists on the other side.

Staff at the travel company say usually they operate tours of about 60 people per day, or 30,000 per year. But during the Chinese National Holidays, which run for 10 days in October, almost 600 tourists returned in one day alone. The mass number of China travellers highlights how North Korea - known in the West as a reclusive nuclear-armed communist country - is still an attractive tourist destination for their neighbouring comrades.

Once in the reclusive country, there are heavy restrictions on what travellers can see and do.

Photos are limited to official tourist sites and the North Korean guides constantly put the hard word on anyone caught sneaking snaps out the bus or train windows. One the way out of North Korea at Sinuiju city, one Chinese tourist had 'unsuitable' photos deleted by the guards.

Tourists are also prohibited from straying too far from the group. On top of that the itinerary is tightly managed, meaning tourists only get to see a glimpse of what Pyongyang and a few other national hotspots have on offer.

Tours have also been met with some unexpected hiccups.

"On one winter trip the train had to stay overnight at the Sinuiju stop, with all the passengers on board. Everyone was so unhappy the North Korean guides gave them a Kim Il Sung pin", says one tour organiser, adding that the national pins worn by all North Koreans are almost impossible for tourists to purchase.

Now trips are closed from November to January because there's not enough electricity to run the trains.

Following the 2011 death of the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il there were also concerns that because of potential threats to the internal security environment, international travellers into the Hermit state might be cancelled. However, another foreign travel group, Koryo Tours, said in early January planned tours would still go ahead.

A recent report by Radio Free Asia, citing a diplomatic source in Beijing says however that various restrictions are responsible for a recent decline in the number of Chinese travellers.

But despite the heavy restrictions, the enthusiasm to explore the Hermit Kingdom was evident during last year's Chinese National Holiday.

The itinerary includes a visit to the so-called International Friendship Exhibition Hall - a huge complex with collection halls jam packed with gifts to North Korea from foreign dignitaries - carved ivory tusks from Sudan, embroidered rugs from Pakistan, silver vases and tea sets from Ghana, a metal horse from former Libyan leader Moamar Gaddafi, and finally an old Armoured Train - a gift from chairman Mao Zedong. The visit ends with the group paying their respects (and bowing) to a life size wax figure of Kim Il-sung, the country's founding father.

One highlight of the tour is a show at the Children's Palace - a nostalgic trip down memory lane for the elder Chinese travellers.

"When we opened up and reformed we lost all of this. It's sad," said one guest, clearly moved by the exceptional unison singing and dancing of the socialist youth performers.

The demilitarised zone between North and South Korea is also a tour hotspot and emotional visit for many Chinese travellers - whose senior generation fought alongside their Northern allies in the 1950-1953 war that split the country at the 38th parallel.

Other travel groups also operate out of Dandong offering even more favourable prices than the Dandong Jinhua International Travel Service. Their four-day tour is 2,400 yuan ($370) and an additional 800 yuan to see the Mass Games - an enormous synchronised performing arts act, staged every summer in Pyongyang. It's 4,800 yuan ($739) for foreigners, excluding Americans.

South Korean press reported this week that a Beijing-based travel company, Young Pioneer Tours is starting trips to a scenic mountain resort in Mount Geumgang on North Korea's east coast. The five-day trip will cost 8, 500 yuan per person.

The mountain resort used to be the site of a joint North-South tour project, until a South Korean visitor was shot dead by a North Korean soldier for reportedly wandering into an off-limits military zone.

Now the site is eager to attract the booming Chinese travel market.

One foreign traveller said it is clearly designed to appeal to the interests of Chinese tourists. At the Mass Games Chinese tourists roared with excitement when a panel with the Chinese flag was erected, followed by the words, 'There wouldn't be the New China without the Communist Party.'

"Playing popular old songs like Socialism Is Great adds a special dimension for the Chinese traveller, while saying - you are our brothers," said 27-year-old Sen, a Brazilian-Chinese on the tour.

Despite the patriotic attractiveness some tourists haven't totally been sold the dream.

"I don't think the theme is about China-North Korean friendship, I think it's about making money," says Wu Fei.

"To provide some extra money for Mr Kim," adds Anthony.

As the four-day trip wraps up, travellers agree that the North Korean's have put on their best show for foreigners.

"They want to show us the brighter side of the country," says Wu Fei, "But it's not what we're looking for. We also want to see the remote countryside and engage with the people."

By the time the train pulls into Sinuiju, the last North Korean stop before China, the bright lights and tall buildings of Dandong emerge in the distance.

After a nostalgic visit to what China was like 30 or 40 years earlier, the excitement to leave North Korea suggests everyone is happy to return to the present.

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