Exclusive: More pics from the first Western tourist in Sinuiju

Exclusive photos show that even "man-bags" are available in Sinujiu City
May 21st, 2013
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NEW YORK CITY – Yesterday, Koryo Tours general manager Simon Cockerell was the first-ever western tourist to visit the North Korean border town of Sinuiju.

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A colorful welcome to town by the local tour office in Sinuiju

There is quite a bit of cross-border trade — Sinuiju is a mere 900 meters across the Yalu River from its Chinese neighbor, Dandong — and Chinese travelers have long been permitted to make day trips, so, as Cockerell pointed out in a telephone interview upon his return to his home base in Beijing, “It wasn’t like when Columbus landed in the New World.”

View from under the Friendship Bridge at the North Korean end. The ruins of the previous bridge destroyed by USAF bombing in the Korean war can be seen.

View from under the Friendship Bridge at the North Korean end. The ruins of the previous bridge destroyed by USAF bombing in the Korean war can be seen.

“At the same time,” he told me, “my local guide/translator, who spoke English quite well, had never met someone who wasn’t either Chinese or Korean before. When I asked her, ‘How’s it going?’ she looked at me and said, ‘You have very blue eyes…’ So, there was a bit of that, too.”

Residential buildings in Sinuiju south district

Residential buildings in Sinuiju south district

Cockerell was in Sinuiju, North Korea’s sixth-largest city, on, as he as he described it, “a reccy,” in advance of Koryo’s upcoming inaugural trip in with a group. He did, in fact, once spend an afternoon stranded in Sinuiju in 2004 when his train couldn’t get him to Pyongyang. But, until 24 hours ago, he hadn’t actually explored it himself.

“I’ve passed through Sinuiju on the train probably 100 times, but had never been out into the city before,” Cockerell told me. “It was always a little frustrating — Chinese tourists have been going there for years, so the infrastructure exists for visitors. This is something we’ve believed could happen and it’s finally paid off.”

Sinuiju railway station — usually seen only from the drabber backside, by tourists on the train waiting to cross the border back into China.


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Railway station square — not so busy in the morning, but when a train arrives it becomes much busier as local passengers line up in the square to get onto the platform


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Road leading from the railway station into the centre of town

Though certain North Koreans in the area travel back and forth between Sinuiju and Dandong for business, those who enjoy this particular luxury do so within certain parameters.

“You go because you need to, not because you wake up in the morning and fancy a trip to Dandong,” Cockerell said. However, the differences between gritty Sinuiju and booming Dandong — with its big, modern tower blocks easily visible from the riverbank — are “clear to anyone with eyes.”

View from Sinuiju southern district across rice fields to the newly built towers of Dandong new-town in the distance

Cyclists travelling from the south district to the central area pass large propaganda slogans

Cyclists travelling from the south district to the central area pass large propaganda slogans

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Family crossing the road in the centre of Sinuiju

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Pedestrians near the Sinuiju immortality tower

Ditto. The tall buildings in the background are in central Dandong, across the 900m wide Yalu (Amnok) river

Ditto. The tall buildings in the background are in central Dandong, across the 900m wide Yalu (Amnok) river

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In the foreground is Sinuiju folklore park, part of which is undergoing renovation. The building behind is the Amnokgang Hotel, used by Chinese and local businesspeople, visiting NGO staff, etc.

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A man-purse, or “murse,” Cockerell picked up in Sinuiju. “I asked the shopgirl in Chinese if this was for a woman. She looked at me like I was an idiot and said, no, it’s for a man. I’ve never owned a man-purse, but now I do. I guess as men’s purses go, it looks alright.”

Koryo Tours will be offering day trips to Sinuiju from Dandong, as well as Sinuiju add-ons to their Pyongyang tours. “We’re very excited to open Sinuiju up to tourists,” Cockerell told me. “This is a chance for people to see something quite different.”

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About the Author

Justin Rohrlich

Justin Rohrlich is an Emmy Award winning journalist with a keen interest in North Korean affairs

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