Mount Paektu is a "majestic" thing, "with its jagged peaks surrounding a crystal-blue crater lake," writes Eric Talmadge, the AP's Pyongyang bureau chief. Though it would seem fated to be a tourist destination, few foreigners have set their eyes on its natural beauty. This is North Korea, and it's not every day two outsiders are allowed on an extensive, week-long road trip through the country en route to the revered mountain, near the border with China. And yet,Talmadge was one of two American journalists who got that chance—albeit on North Korea's terms—touching nearly 10% of North Korea's 15,000 miles of road in an effort to explore North Korean tourism "in its infancy." After all, "When North Korea opens its doors, it does so for a reason," writes Talmadge.
In this case, it was to promote North Korea's planned special foreign investment and tourism zones. The focus was Mount Paektu, the home of the North Korean revolution where "secret camp" reconstructions dot the scene and guides dress in period costume. Talmadge and a photographer were babysat the entire way by a "minder" who monitored their movements; they couldn't speak to anyone without permission and photos of checkpoints or military installations were a no-no. But it wasn't entirely boring. There was a sticky situation in which they were caught heading the wrong way down a one-way road. Overall, though, it was smooth sailing. Meanwhile, North Korea will begin banning tourists tomorrow over Ebola fears, the Guardian reports. (The country also just released an American detainee.)