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Wonsan, long a popular destination of North Korean vacationers, becomes focus of tourism push

North Korea Hitting The Beaches-1.jpg

North Koreans cook their dinner over burning charcoal on a pier leading to Jangdok Island, Monday, July 28, 2014 in Wonsan, North Korea. North Korea has been creating special zones across the country to try to boost tourism and Wonsan, long a favorite of North Korean vacationers, is being pushed as a prime destination for international travelers. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E) (The Associated Press)

Where do you go in North Korea if you're in the mood for a barbecue by the beach, maybe some pier-side fishing, or a dip in the ocean?

For many North Korean vacationers, that place has long been the sleepy port city of Wonsan, which is now the focus of one of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's most talked-about pet projects — a campaign to transform the country into a haven for tourism.

That may seem far-fetched, since international sanctions over North Korea's nuclear weapons program have severely limited trade, and infrastructure and security restrictions make travel in the country difficult. For now, most beachgoers in Wonsan are locals — honeymooners, families with small children or college students taking a break from their studies.

But North Korea is targeting places like Wonsan for development projects — its new luxury ski resort at Masik Pass is just a short drive away — by creating special tourism zones across the country to accommodate foreign guests.

If that plan succeeds, Wonsan could see busier days.

With the summer season just beginning, Chinese tourists, who because of their countries' generally friendly relations are the main target of North Korea's campaign, are already starting to flow in. And although Japanese tourism is still probably a long way off, relations with Japan, once a major source of trade and tourism via a ferry link with Wonsan, have also recently started to improve.