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Can you believe it? There is talkno, more than just talkabout Ukraine opening up the Chernobyl nuclear power plant area to tourism as soon as January. Talk about dangerous tourism; the explosion that contributed to the deaths, deformities and radiation-related health problems of millions and millions of people may have occurred back in 1986, but that's still very recent in the memory of the people, not to mention that the site is still totally radioactive. (Here's a 1996 map showing levels ten years later).
When we were in school, we recall opening our textbook to a page on the Chernobyl explosion, and there was a haunting image of the plant. It piqued our curiosity greatly, and we'd be lying if we said we aren't at all intrigued at the possibility of visiting. On the other hand, it's pretty understood that Chernobyl is a no-go zone.
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Call us champions of the underdog, but we’ve got an overall affinity for places that are often overlooked in the travel world. Some have had rough pasts or are a tad slow on the tourist track, but they just want a little love. Here’s the lowdown on five cities eager for the chance to win you over.
City 1 of 5: Kiev, Ukraine.
Why Go to Kiev: While most people head to Moscow for slice of Soviet cake, Kiev (pronounced Keev locally), is the little Eastern European engine that could. And while there’s an air of pride stemming from their 1991 independence from Russia, most people still speak Russian and the art of smiling is a challenge at best. But, despite the Ukraine’s complexity—expect to be crazy confused and turned around if you don’t read Cyrillic—it’s still a fun city filled with museums, verdant gardens and more. There’s even a budding entertainment scene that intrepid travelers will dig, and the drinking and dumplings are plentiful and awesome.
While the first family has enjoyed several unique vacation locations, we think that they really want to go to Cuba this winter. President Obama seems eager to open up the travel channels between the United States and the island nation, and it might just happen before the summer is over.
Rumors suggest that Obama could ease travel restrictions to Cuba through a change in US policy without necessarily getting approval from Congress. However, the new rules won’t really apply to everyone, so once again, we’ll have to hold off on getting our tickets and transportation booked. The changes would allow more Americans to head to Castro-country for cultural and educational trips. That sounds kind of vague, so maybe checking out an art museum or two would suffice for cultural experience.
This just might be the year where we can finally put that flight to Cuba on our holiday wish list. Lawmakers have talked about lifting travel restrictions before, but it seems that the Cuba travel movement picks up a little bit more support with every passing day.
The latest news comes out of the House Agriculture Committee, as they voted to eliminate the ban on United States citizens traveling to Cuba as well as the sale of American goods there. Don’t start looking for vintage-1950s rental car deals just yet, as there is still a lot of voting and arguing left before you’ll be filling your suitcase full of cigars in the the heart of Havana.
One Florida Mayor has more on her mind than where all that oil in the Gulf is eventually headed, but it does seem that tourism is something that she’s considering. Mayor Pam Iorio of Tampa sent a letter to President Obama last week asking for a little bit of help, because she wants her city to start air service to Cuba.
Specifically, she wants Tampa to get the government seal of approval to start authorized flights between Castro-country and Tampa. Right now only Miami, New York, and Los Angeles are authorized to fly nonstop routes to Havana, but remember that doesn’t mean that any American can just hop on board to check out Cuba. There’s still all kinds of rules and regulations that leave most of us out of the fun, or at least force Americans to head to Canada before they can enjoy freshly rolled cigars and too many Cuba Libres.
North Korean leaders, for all that they've justifiably earned a reputation for insane paranoia, seem to be opening up their country to tourism. Very slowly opening up their country to tourism. Having lifted some restrictions on Americans last January, they've now taken the next step and inaugurated what might become a regular tourist train from neighboring China.
The train is part of a larger itinerary that will take 400 tourists on what we have to assume is an exquisitely planned, government-sanitized four day trip. Heavy restrictions still exist on where any foreigner can go in the country. Travelers can still expect to be corralled into specific foreigner hotels and taken on specific foreigner tours, and under no circumstances should they wander around alone. So much is this the case that the State Department's DPRK page tells US citizens to secure escorts before going to the Swedish Embassywhich is how Americans obtain consular services in North Koreaeven for time-sensitive medical emergencies. It's true that even small delays can be devastating in those circumstances. But finding a guide takes substantially less time than, say, getting out of a Pyongyang jail. Or a rural gulag. Or, most likely, both.
"Hey, let's go to China and visit a nuclear plant!" These are words which the more adventurous travelers might be hearing soon, as China has indeed opened up one of their old nuclear plants as a tourist attraction, complete with tours of the facilities and a look around the mountain cave in which it is housed, a cave designed to "withstand thousands of tons of explosives and 8-magnitude earthquakes." That's one impressive cave!
The plant, called 816, was active from 1966 to 1984 and was finally declassified in 2002. The Chinese are working to make it a tourist site for the purposes of "national defense education" (whatever that means) and for a general hands-on look at nuclear energy. For now, the 816 Nuclear Military Facility in Chongqing is open only to domestic tour groups, so you'd have to sign up for a tour once you got to China.
There are many travelers out there attracted to such dangerous sites, and we're thinking that visiting 816 would be a far safer alternative than trying to head up to Russia's Chernobyl.
· Chongqing Opens Former Nuclear Plant as Tourist Attraction [CRI]
· Korea's DMZ Border to Become World's Most Dangerous Bike Path? [Jaunted]
· Dangerous Travel [Jaunted]
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A North Korean underwater mine just blew up a South Korean naval vessel a few days ago, and at the same time as all this tension mounts and the border between Kim Jong-il's communist North Korea and the rest of the world starts to shake, we hear that South Korea is turning some of the Demilitarized Zone into an ecotourism hotspot.
The DMZ has been around since 1953, keeping the two Koreas separated by an untouched area of land 155 miles long and 2 miles wide. Any person setting foot into the area, outside of specified paths and heavily-guarded roads, can be considered to be invading the other side and can be shot on sight. Nonetheless, the UN joint security area at Panmunjom, just north of Seoul and manned by both US and Republic of Korea soldiers, has been bringing tourists to the DMZ for years. We've been there ourselves recently and can say that although more ecotourism is great, we're not so sure about exploiting this controversial area further.
DMZ photos and more, after the jump!
As Congress mulls over lifting the 47-year-old travel ban against Cuba, the Caribbean country is already planning for the influx of U.S. tourists and for the possibility of being the hot new spring break destination for 2011.
Cuba isn't waiting for the ban to be officially lifted before readying itself for the impending tourism boom. At least nine hotels are slated to be built this year, and the country's looking to add about 200,000 rooms. Cuba's also searching for investors to create 10 golf courses and luxury hotels aimed at American tourists. But what about a Copa Cabana club?
The recession is hitting everyone and every tourist destination quite hard, so much so that North Korea is trying make nice with the United States to get some tourism dollars back into its struggling economy.
Sure, there's that little nuclear weapons issue and that whole 200,000 political prisoners matter, but North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is willing to let bygones be bygones and allow more Americans into the country. Kim is asking South Korea's Hyundai Group to restart its tours, which crossed over through the North, in an effort to lure in more tourists. But don't expect to do any exploring on your own during these trips. Such tours, which would begin in China and probably go for about about $1,000 to $2,175, would carefully rein in US travelers.
With the 60th anniversary of China becoming a communist republic approaching October 1, Claire Duffett took a jaunt around the country for the month of September, starting with Beijing. Nowhere does old and new China collide than in its Capital, and for the next five days, we'll share with you the most up-to-date tidbits on what to see and do, and how many yuan it will set you back.
Tiananmen Square. For most in the West, it evokes images of a peace-loving student offering a daisy to oncoming tanks. For Chinese, at least outwardly, it’s a combo of Trafalgar Square and the Lincoln Memorial.
Every morning, thousands of pilgrims line up, white carnations in hand, to see the body of Chairman Mao Tse Tung, which lies in preservation in a mausoleum in the center of the cement-tile square, the largest of its kind in the world. The atmosphere is austere though a bit frantic, with armed police monitoring the seemingly-endless line and kicking out cutters.
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Who's game for a nice little package trip to North Korea? Anyone? Bueller?
It was announced yesterday that Kim Jong-il is feeling a little neighborly lately and less bomby, and wants to restart family reunion trips from South Korea. Although South Korea hasn't yet said yes to allowing their people to venture over the border, North Korea is re-opening an enclave for reunions at Mount Kumgang, which was once a major money generator for the poor country.