The subject of what is the best hotel in North Korea does, as with any topic, elicit various opinions. But in my opinion the best hotel in the country is the also the only fully foreign-owned one – and most people have never even heard of it.
The Emperor Hotel and Casino opened its doors to Chinese gamblers in 2000. Owned by the Hong-Kong-based Emperor Group, it is by far the standout feature of the Rason SEZ. Rason is (officially, at least) the only place in North Korea that is visa-free, and technically has a mixed economy that welcomes foreign investment.
The casino has not been without a fair bit of controversy and has allegedly been closed on more than one occasion, such as on the occasion that a Chinese politician gambled away his city’s finances. There’s also a lot of anecdotal stories about gambling debts and gangsters that you would not expect from such a rigidly communist country.
As for the Emperor Hotel itself, it’s a pretty damned stunning place: deluxe rooms costing less than $150 a night, a great restaurant and cafe, nightly Moronbang-Band-type music, a private beach, swimming pools, and massage facilities.
But people don’t come here to rest and go to the beach; they come to gamble in one of the two casinos in the DPRK (the other is at the Yanggakdo Hotel). Gambling here is not cheap, however, and you will need to buy at least 500 euros’ worth of chips to even be allowed entry. Rason is not Vegas!
We do not actually stay at the Emperor Hotel on any of our Rason tours, but we always stop by for at least a coffee and maybe a walk along the beach. If you’d like to check out Rason and what might be North Korea’s best hotel, then join our next tour that visits the Rason Trade Fair..