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First cycling day trip to North Korea launched from China

By Hiufu Wong, CNN
May 15, 2014 -- Updated 0042 GMT (0842 HKT)
So close, and now so accessible. A new scheme allows day visas for Chinese tourists wanting to visit North Korea from Tumen.
So close, and now so accessible. A new scheme allows day visas for Chinese tourists wanting to visit North Korea from Tumen.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tumen, a Chinese city bordering North Korea, recently launched the first cycling tour to North Korea
  • The three-hour tour takes in North Korean war memorials, the former leader's portrait and local foods
  • North Korea has approved more cross-border tours in recent years, spurring tourism from China

(CNN) -- Exploring the mysterious nation of North Korea just got a lot easier -- at least if you're Chinese.

A new scheme has been announced that provides Chinese citizens with an (almost) hassle-free visa to North Korea within a day, specifically for cycling day trips.

The trip, including the visa, costs around $50.

Some 35 Chinese tourists embarked on the first short cycling tour on May 2.

They cycled across the border from Tumen, in the northeast of China, and visited Nanyang City in North Korea before returning to China the same day.

The group visited Nanyang train station, the Korean War Hero Martyrs Monument, a portrait of Kim Il Sung, The Tower of Immortality, attended a show and sampled local snacks from a small farm market behind Nanyang International Hotel.

That hotel is where Kim Il Sung reportedly met Zhou Baozhong, a famous Chinese World War II general.

The first trip took a little more than three hours.

Swedish racer Annie Thorén receives award by Chon Dong Chol, head of the Rason tourism bureau. Swedish racer Annie Thorén receives award by Chon Dong Chol, head of the Rason tourism bureau.
Bike race into North Korea
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Zhao Xin, one of the cyclists on the trip, told Xinhua, China's state news agency, "In North Korea, the food was pollution-free: vegetables, fish, eggs, they all tasted not bad. We had no worries eating there."

First look at North Korea's new luxury ski resort

Rise of North Korea tours in China

Tumen, part of Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in China's Jilin Province, is a popular border city for travel to North Korea.

Travel to North Korea from China has grown recently, with North Korea approving more tour routes from some Chinese cities.

About 10,000 Chinese tourists visit North Korea each year through organized tours, according to Xinhua.

"The biggest advantage of Tumen in cross-border travel to North Korea is the efficiency in organizing a visa," said Zhong Shi-jiu, the deputy mayor of Tumen, in an interview.

"If travelers register up front with related travel agencies in Tumen as well as Tumen City Tourism Bureau, then you can get a visa and your trip approved the same day you apply for one here."

That would make travel to North Korea easier than travel to Hong Kong, at present, for Chinese mainlanders.

The trip isn't available to non-mainland Chinese travelers.

Tumen also offers walking tours between the two countries.

It recently relaunched a train service between China and North Korea's Mount Chibo.

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