S'poreans urged to avoid travelling to North Korea

The Pyongyang city skyline on June 4, 2017.
The Pyongyang city skyline on June 4, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

Singaporeans are urged to avoid all non-essential travel to North Korea in the light of recent developments and the unpredictable situation arising from the country's actions, said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in its latest travel advisory yesterday.

MFA also said Singapore has no diplomatic representation in North Korea, which would limit its ability to extend consular assistance to travellers.

The advisory comes after North Korea conducted its sixth and biggest nuclear test on Sunday. It claimed to have the know-how to build a hydrogen bomb, prompting international condemnation, including from Singapore.

While not an outright travel ban, the advisory is a firm discouragement for travel to the secretive country for non-essential reasons.

Travel alerts against North Korea are not new - MFA last issued a notice in March this year, asking travellers to reconsider plans to visit the country.

Travel agencies that organise tours to North Korea told The Straits Times they were not surprised by the advisory given the recent tensions there.

Universal Travel Corporation managing director Khoo Boo Liat said he has stopped advertising all travel to North Korea, and those who still want to go must know the risks.

Tours are organised mainly during the spring and autumn months of April to June and September to October. A nine-day tour costs about $2,400.

Said Mr Khoo: "There is just too much going on in North Korea now. Usually, we will check with our agent, the Korea International Travel Company, on whether it is safe or not, but we have decided to stop all advertising on our own accord since July."

The Korea International Travel Company is one of several state-owned bureaus that handle tours within the country.

Since 1994, Mr Khoo's firm has taken thousands of Singaporeans into the country, though the number of interested travellers has fallen lately. He estimated fewer than 100 Singaporean tourists have been to North Korea this year so far on UTC tours, compared with around 1,000 during the peak in 2012.

Said Mr Khoo: "There are fewer inquiries now because people fear that a war may break out while they are there."

Ng Jun Sen

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2017, with the headline 'S'poreans urged to avoid travelling to North Korea'. Print Edition | Subscribe