Hanoi tours offer visitors taste of summit action

HANOI (AFP) – When Lee Parry heard that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and United States (US) President Donald Trump would meet in Hanoi, he knew he wanted to be part of the action and soon booked a trip.

He joined the ‘Trump-Kim Vietnam Summit Tour’ being put on this week by a travel company whose slogan offers “destinations your mother would rather you stayed away from” – including North Korea.

The trip to the Vietnamese capital is not exactly a daring one, but a chance for visitors to be part of the flurry surrounding Trump and Kim’s second meeting this week.

“It’s a lot better than seeing it on Twitter or Facebook,” said Parry, 36, a British student living in China.

“To be at the forefront of that and to get to see it in the flesh was too good to pass up.”

On the agenda are several well-trodden stops on the Hanoi tourist trail: The Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, the war museum and the former ‘Hanoi Hilton’ jail where American prisoners of war including John McCain were held during the Vietnam War.

Also included are some summit-specific sites such as the Melia Hotel, where Kim is expected to stay.

“If it ends up being successful, if it ends up being a good summit, we’ve witnessed history in the making,” said Young Pioneer Tours (YPT) Director Gareth Johnson.

YPT is the firm that took US student Otto Warmbier to North Korea, where he was convicted of subversive activities for trying to steal a propaganda poster and detained for 18 months, dying shortly after being released.

Kim arrived in Hanoi yesterday following a marathon 4,000-kilometre journey through China on his trademark olive green armoured train.

The capital’s streets were lined with armed soldiers and military vehicles – highly unusual for a foreign leader’s visit to Vietnam.

Hanoi’s historic downtown was also packed with well-wishers who like the YPT group were eager to witness history.

For some, it was a repeat affair.

“I went to Singapore for the first summit and now I’m here because I’m just wishing for the best. I hope they make a good connection here,” said a South Korean tourist, waving the Vietnamese flag.

The city has been swarming with press in recent days with some 2,600 journalists registered to cover the summit today and tomorrow.

Joining the media frenzy was part of the appeal for Indian sales manager on the tour Neel Sapre.

“It was awesome, I’ve never seen so many press people at one location so it was fun being amongst the hype,” he told AFP in Lenin Square, beneath a statue of the Soviet revolutionary.

Vietnam’s national railway service got in on the action too, offering all journalists registered to cover the summit free train travel until the end of March.