Luxury packages available for North Korean vacations

By Felicia Taylor

(CNN) - North Korea may not be topping the lists for places to travel in 2012, but that could all be about to change.

The reclusive state re-opened its borders to tourists this week after a month-long hiatus, with a new leader at the helm. Travel agencies are hoping to cash in on renewed interest in the hermit nation.

Some are even tailoring "luxury packages" for those looking for a communist experience, without the discomfort.

Tens of thousands on stage, an ocean of colors, and tightly regimented performances. These are the Mass Games, a famous international tourist attraction in North Korea that takes place between August and October. More than 1 million people from around the world travel to see the celebration.

Michael Holtz hopes North Korea's new leader makes this year's pageant even more interesting.

"Ever since the funeral in December I have been reading everything in the media that we all have and I have been all around the world. I have been to Bhutan three times and it looks like it's a fascinating destination," said Holtz.

A fascinating destination if for no other reason that its reputation as one of the world's most closed societies. North Korea requires a visa for entry, and many visitors come from the United States and other countries, whether relations are friendly or not.

Bespoke travel agent in Manhattan, Catherine Heald, has organized some 15 tours over the last three years.

"We have had a surge of interest since the death of the dear leader. So suddenly North Korea is on people's radar and they're wanting to go there. We've gotten a lot of calls people saying oh can I go to North Korea? We say absolutely. It's completely legal for an American to go to North Korea," said Heald.

Heald caters to the luxury traveler; those who can spend tens of thousands of dollars on a holiday. She'll even fly in sumptuous linens along with luxury toiletries and fine wines for the three star hotels.

Two official government guides remain with you at all times except when at your hotel, and cell phones must be checked at the airport.

"Normally if you go for say five or six nights, you would drive all over the country. You would see cities, the country side. You would go down to the DMZ at the border. You would see a lot of variety. You would go hiking in the mountains which are very beautiful. You would probably spend three nights in Pyongyang, which is the capital of course, and you would stay in a three star hotel, which we can enhance," said Heald.

For curious travelers on a budget, other agencies offer tours such as Koryo for around $1,600.

Last year thousands of western tourists made the journey via Beijing. This year celebrations are expected to mark the 100th birthday of founder Kim Il Sung, another boom for travel agents.


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