A Visit to Wonsan, North Korea’s Trendiest Seaside Destination

Cycling past, Wonsan, North Korea

It’s difficult to associate the word “beauty” with North Korea. Usually the first things that come to mind are totalitarianism, oppression, poverty, and hunger – all things that invoke a dark and dreary mental picture of this isolated nation.

Yet, North Korea’s natural beauty remains apparent in the tourist spots outside of Pyongyang and other major cities. Most questions about visiting North Korea focus on the people and human geography, and justifiably so, but during my week-long trip here I actually appreciated stopping at North Korea’s natural attractions. Besides allowing me a mental break, they also helped me connect with my guides.

The port city of Wonsan was one of those places. It sits along the coast of the uniquely bountiful Sea of Japan (aka the East Sea), making it a prime holiday destination with crystalline blue waters and fresh, plump seafood. You can even send your child to summer camp here. After 3 days in Pyongyang and Kaesong, the sea was a sight for sore eyes.

Our group arrived in Wonsan around lunchtime, so food was the first thing on the agenda. Entering the restaurant without high expectations, I was delighted to find a generous feast of scallops, prawns, fish, and baechu (whole cabbage) kimchi.

After a marvelous seafood lunch, we set off on a walk out to Changdokdo Lighthouse. Despite it being brilliantly sunny the winds were bracing and the walk to the lighthouse became a video game of sorts. The waves, frigid and furious and blue, leapt over the narrow boardwalk at whim; I dashed and paused to avoid getting splashed.

The little outcrop seemed deserted, but there were signs of life about: boats moored to shore, pelts drying in the sun. Finally one of us spied a local family on a picnic: gasoline-baked clams, fresh-caught raw needlefish, kimbap, and kimchi. I left quickly, though – not because we weren’t allowed to photograph them, but because which ordinary human being likes being ogled at like they’re a zoo exhibit?

Anyway, the wind had died down, the sun was starting to burn, and summer is best enjoyed in the shade.