Rason is a special economic zone (SEZ) located in the north-east of North Korea. Being an SEZ means it plays by different rules to the rest of the country, and it’s a very unique little corner of the DPRK.
One major difference is that it operates outside the socialist system of the rest of the country, and private enterprise is not only allowed, but encouraged. There is a bustling Hong-Kong-owned casino/hotel called “the Emperor Casino/Hotel” (owned, if you can imagine, by the Emperor Group).
Rason also has a trade fair in August of every year (and yes, we run tours there). It was precisely because of this trade fair that I ended up at the casino (though the casino is usually included on Rason tours anyway).
Flash cars are something of a rarity in the DPRK. In Rason, however, you do sometimes see some slick Chinese cars – especially at the casino. It was also at the casino that I saw not one, but two big black hummers. I was, as you can imagine, a bit confused by this.
I asked my Korean guide if he knew anything about it. He told me a story that, whilst potentially mired in the realms of murky half-truth and rumour, at least made for an entertaining anecdote.
We all know that casinos and Mafiosi go together like Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. One day, a gambler with an entourage and two hummers was having his wicked way with the tables, but alas he wasn’t doing all that well. Eventually he ended up running out of money, and ended up going into the red. As his losses piled up, he was left with two options: leave your cars or leave some fingers. Rather wisely, he opted for the former.
If you happen to be strolling around Rason, then, and you see some big pimping hummers rolling down the road, you’re probably in a position to confirm that there is a Chinese guy out there somewhere with all his fingers but minus a couple of cars.
Search for the Rason hummers yourself on one of our North-East tours!.