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The cruise ship Mangyongbong docked at the Rason port prior to a ceremony to mark the first-ever cruise to Mount Kumgang International tourist zone, from Rason in North Korea on Aug. 30, 2011.


Goh Chai Hin

A luxury cruise isn't exactly the news you'd expect to hear out of the hunger-stricken reclusive nation of North Korea.

But whatever is?

In its latest attempt to attract foreign tourists and their dollars, the Hermit Kingdom has launched a holiday cruise down its eastern shore.

The rusty Mangyongbong (which, yes, contains the word "mangy") completed its first trial run earlier this month.

It was, as the New York Times reports, a bizarre and rather un-luxurious journey:

More than 200 people were packed into dim and musty cabins, sometimes eight to a room with floor mattresses. Chinese tourists and businesspeople shared quarters with North Korean officials and foreign journalists. ...

The North Korean coastline disappeared from view for much of the 21-hour journey south. There was no shuffleboard. Chinese passengers broke out decks of cards. Mr. Hwang, the vice mayor, changed from a navy suit into a green polo shirt and drank beers with foreigners on the top deck. An American asked him whether there was any chance the ship might stray into international waters and encounter foreign naval vessels.

“You’re in North Korea here,” Mr. Hwang said. “You’re completely safe. The North Korean military is protecting you.”

Though paranoid and reclusive, tourism does actually fit the bill of a typical North Korea.

For one thing, tourism is exempt from the sanctions that have been levied on Kim Jong Il and his regime, and the nation is widely known to be desperate for foreign currency of any kind.

According to the pop culture travel guide Jaunted, the cruise left quite an impression:

Want to "cruise" on the Mangyongbong? Be prepared to board from a dirt-covered dock from a town near the border with Russia, leave your cell phone behind, bed down on bare-bones mattresses in a communal space and soak up the sun from plastic lawn chairs that'll probably be blown overboard by the wind before you can get to them. What a cruise!

More pics here from what the Daily Mail has branded the "least luxurious cruise ever."