Hyundai Asan, the operator of Mt. Geumgang tour programs in North Korea, launched its new product Monday, which allows South Korean and foreign visitors to cross the border in their own cars.
A total of 15 passenger cars crossed the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between South and North Korea with tour buses operated by Hyundai Asan for a three-day tour of the mountain resort across the border, according to the company.
Hyundai Asan said earlier this month that it recently reached an agreement with North Korean authorities for the overland tour.
Currently, only 20 cars ― with up to 12 seats each ― are allowed on the three-day tours. Visitors have to reach Goseong in Gangwon Province by 11:30 a.m. to cross the border with bus tours for inspection at the North Korean CIQ office at 2:10 p.m.
“Up to 20 private vehicles are allowed in one dispatch,’’ a company spokesman said. “But today, only 15 cars crossed the border because of some technical problems related to schedules, as it was the first day of operation.’’
Hyundai Asan expects the new tour program to meet customer demand for a more convenient trip to the scenic mountain.
Once visitors arrive at their hotel, however, they have to leave their cars and use buses operated by the North because of the lack of roads and parking areas.
Initial consumer responses are quite heated. At the moment, weekend schedules have been fully booked until the end of May, according to the company. The new private-car tours cost 340,000 won ($331.4) per person, the same as the bus tour.
“There is no prohibition on the nationality of the visitors. We welcome foreign customers who want to drive their own cars to visit the beautiful mountain,’’ said a company official.
Hyundai Asan began the Mt. Geumgang tour project in 1998, using ships. North Korea allowed a land route in 2003 and is set to open the peak of Mt. Geumgang (Biro-bong), which is 1,638 meters high, from April.
Mt. Geumgang, which has long held both aesthetic and spiritual allure for Koreans, is divided into three parts: Naegeumgang (inner, western part), Oegeumgang (outer, eastern part) and Haegeumgang (coastline).
Company executives expect visitors to exceed 2 million this year, when the tour project marks its 10th anniversary.
Hyundai Asan operates another tour program to Gaeseong, an ancient city in the western part of the peninsula just north of the inter-Korean border, and is pushing for a new project to Mt. Baekdu, which lies on the border between North Korea and China, starting this spring.