Kumgangsan is the second-tallest mountain in North Korea, its highest peak Pirobong is 1638 meters. The area is famed for its scenic beauty, and 1998 became the first part of North Korea that could be visited on organized tours from the South. The millionth visitor arrived in July 2005.
From South Korea
Until 2009, visa-free (or, rather, special group visa) tours were possible to Kumgangsan and Kaesong in North Korea — however, at time of writing, these have been suspended until further notice.
Independent travel to Kumgangsan is not allowed, so you will have to join a tour group. Non-Korean visitors are rare but welcome, although the great majority of tours are not set up for visitors with no Korean ability. Reservations should be made 7 days in advance. Tour operators include:
There are two main ways to visit: either by bus from Goseong, in which case it's even possible to daytrip, or by cruise ship from Sokcho, in which case the tour takes a minimum of three days. Prices start at around W400,000 but vary greatly depending on day of departure, the hotel you stay in, etc. A typical 3-day tour from Seoul (Friday 9 am until Sunday about 6:30pm) would cost around $610-660.
Laptops, PDAs, cell phones, cameras with 160mm or longer lenses, binoculars with 10x zoom or higher are not allowed. Video cameras may be confiscated at the border - unless the zoom is less than 24x. Anything taken will be stored, and returned to you upon exit from North Korea.
Foreigners do not seem to need a re-entry permit if leaving from South Korea to the North. Before going through customs you will receive a temporary passport (a small booklet with passport information written on it, a debit card to be used in tourist zones, a filled embarkment card. These will be in a plastic sheath, to be worn around the neck at all times while in the North.
South Korean exit procedures are performed at the Goseong Observatory. There is a special line for Foreigners,(labelled "Foreigner"). You will receive a South Korean exit stamp. On the other side, you will be assigned a bus, that you will stay with for the duration of the tour. Remember your bus number, or you will most likely face hassle from North Korean border guards.
Independent travel is not allowed. You will be bused around with your tour group at all times.
The Diamond Mountains are considered the most dramatic scenery in all of North Korea. It includes waterfalls, lagoons, mineral springs and Buddhist temples and hermitages. Park officials provide maps that help you choose between the many attractive sites. The area is divided into Inner, Outer and Sea Kumgangsan.
Make sure you listen to your guides, if they have not told you where you can photograph then ask. It will save you any uncomfortable moments.
There are many stores and shops selling a wide range of goods from international duty free items to North Korean products which allow the visitors to bring home a little bit of North Korea back South. Jewellry and liquor and cosmetics are sold at high quality standards. Also, there is a shop selling health care supplements and functional cosmetics which do quite well. They carry a variety of vitamins as well as other outstanding health foods designed to enhance your well-being. Souvenirs are also available and they are quite popular as well. Finally, it seems there are an array of small item stores which allow you to spend your money wisely.
On July 11 2008, a South Korean woman was shot dead by North Korean guards — after she walked into a restricted military area at 4:30 in the morning. Because there's no clear boundary between a restricted zone and a tourist zone, follow your tour leader's instructions.