New train tour promises to reveal North Korea’s unseen corners

North Korea train tour sunset
CNN  — 

What’s the worst reaction you could possibly get when you tell your friends you’re going to North Korea?

“You’re only going to Pyongyang? Been there. Done that.”

A Beijing-based tour company specializing in North Korea tours is giving travelers a chance to earn new bragging rights by offering a rare train journey that goes far beyond the country’s “already exposed” capital.

Koryo Tours’ 11-day train tour, dubbed “Eastern Adventure by Rail,” departs October 2 from Pyongyang and includes stops at Mt. Myohyang, Hamhung, Chongjin and the coastal city of Wonsan.

MORE: How to travel to North Korea

What tourists imagine North Korea to be like

The tour will be Koryo’s second journey-by-rail within the country.

“But this year’s tour will include more unseen places,” Simon Cockerell, general manager of Koryo Tours, tells CNN.

“It’ll be the first time we have a train ride between Pyongyang and Mountain Myohyang. It’ll also be the first time we will be taking a local tram ride in Chongjin.”

Mt. Myohyang – the Mountain of Mysterious Fragrance – is a scenic area with air so fresh that you won’t even get a hangover – no matter how much you drink.

At least according to Koryo Tours.

On the flipside, Chongjin is an industrial city in the northeast that specializes in steelwork.

“You can smell it across half of the city,” says Cockerell.

So what’s the draw?

“Pyongyang has been developing in recent years, with lots of shiny new buildings [being built],” says Cockerell.

“Chongjin plans to do the same too, but it hasn’t so it’s more like what lots of tourists would expect Pyongyang, or North Korea, to be like.”

MORE: 10 things to know before visiting Pyongyang

Vintage rides

Foreigners have been allowed to ride the international train service between Pyongyang and Beijing for years, but this will only be the second time they’ve been allowed to travel within the country by rail.

Rail journeys will mostly take place during the day but there will be one overnight train ride of about 13 hours from Chongjin to Wonsan near the end of the tour.

“The journey will be taken on a 1970s vintage diesel locomotive,” says Cockerell.

“It’s a very reliable train. There is a dining car and there are beds in the passenger car, too.”

How to visit North Korea

Tourism in North Korea is highly restricted, so booking a guided tour with one of the dozen or so companies endorsed by the state-run Korea International Travel Company is the only way in – even if you’re flying solo.

U.S. citizens still face restrictions that don’t apply to other travelers.

For instance, they can only enter the country via airplane, unlike travelers of other nationalities who can enter from China by train.

Regardless of whether you’re on your own or in a group, two Korean guides employed by the state-run Korea International Travel Company and a driver will accompany you at all times.

This means you aren’t able to get out and explore at will.

Koryo Tours’ Eastern Adventure by Rail; October 2-12; +86 10 6416 7544; 2,890 euros, or $3,190 per head, excluding the visa fee.