The subject of North Korea’s best hotel is often speculated.
Pyongyang’s Koryo and Yanggakdo hotels usually take trumps, however, typical discourse tends to ignore but one very interesting place. One you would only know about by stepping a little further off the beaten track.
Rason Special Economic Zone, in the north-east of North Korea, is home to the only five-star hotel (by Western standards) in the DPRK: The aptly named Emperor Hotel and Casino.
The Rason SEZ was the original special economic zone of North Korea. Although others have now been added, it is for all intents and purposes the most functioning one, and therefore the place most likely to receive a foreign investment.
The Emperor Hotel and Casino was opened in the early 2000’s by a Macau based Casino and hotel group. It was made to accommodate Chinese gamblers in the north-east of China who wanted a quick splurge but didn’t fancy going all the way down to Macau. This leads to one of the more interesting rumours about the casino; that China allegedly ordered it to be closed due to a government official squandering the year’s budget here. But, despite these rumours, it’s still going strong.
The hotel itself is situated along some of the most beautiful beachside real estate in Rason, just opposite Pipha Island. Rooms go for upwards of RMB 750 per night. Whilst astronomically expensive for the region is fairly standard for the level of luxury in the west. The Emperor Hotel has a decent range of facilities including a great buffet restaurant, a private beach, a swimming pool, massage services, and even a place where you can get cash advances with a Chinese UnionPay card.
But this ignores the main reason for the hotels’ existence: the casino. When the hotel was built, its owners were allegedly given 50 year exclusively on casinos in the zone. The casino is taken extremely seriously with a minimum buy-in of Euro 500 even to enter the games area, with pictures strictly forbidden.