North Korea welcomed 650 foreigners to participate in a marathon in Pyongyang, the capital of the Hermit Kingdom. Americans were among the foreigners drawn to the peninsula for the event.
“North Korea makes such headlines and I am excited to see it,” Jeffrey Donenfeld told NBC. “I am looking forward to experiencing the true color of the people.”
It is not easy to travel to North Korea. Visitors who do make it to the peninsula are presented with an itinerary planned down to the second. Guides must stay with visitors at all times. Pictures are only allowed in certain areas.
“For my son and I doing this together was icing on the cake,” exclaimed Don Chambliss. “A trip of a lifetime for both of us.”
These runners took advantage of Kim Jong Un actually welcoming Americans into his Stalinist country.
“I’ve always been fascinated with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” said his son Brian. “When I tell people I’m visiting DPRK, I would say 3/4 think I’m crazy and the other 1/4 are excited for me… but I thought this would be a fun event.”
Runners from 30 countries participated in the Pyongyang Marathon. The 2014 race only drew 200 runners. North Korea recently dropped travel restrictions “to shield itself from the deadly Ebola virus.” The government stopped all nonessential travel.
“I was surprised how friendly people were when I was running,” said Raeanna Cranbourne, who came from the Philippines. “Everyone was cheering, clapping and smiling, and all small kids were saying ‘Welcome to Korea’ in English.”
Koryo Tours, based in Beijing, received 280 applications after North Korea lifted the ban. Uri Tours in America received 100 foreign applications, with half coming from the United States. CEO Andrea Lee claimed it was “the biggest number” the company ever processed.
“People in Pyongyang were so warm and I felt as if I were having this spacious course all to myself,” described Kenichi Okazaki, the only Japanese runner. “I think more Japanese should participate.”