Kŭmgangsan or Mount Kŭmgang is the best-known mountain in North Korea. It has a height of 1638 metres and is located on the east coast of the country, in Kŭmgangsan Tourist Region, formerly part of Kangwŏn Province (38.58N, 128.17E). Kŭmgangsan is part of the Taebaek mountain range which runs along the east of the Korean peninsula. The name means Diamond Mountain.
Kŭmgangsan has been known for its scenic beauty, since antiquity. It is covered in forest; the area around Kŭmgangsan has one of the wettest in Korea.
The mountain consists almost entirely of Granite and diorite, weathered over centuries into a wide variety of shapes, including over 12,000 picturesque stone formations, ravines, cliffs, stone pillars and peaks.
Kŭmgangsan is commonly divided into three areas: Inner Kŭmgang, Outer Kŭmgang, and Sea Kŭmgang, each with different geological and topographical features.
There are many old temples around Kŭmgangsan, some in poor condition. Among the best known are Changan-sa and Maha-yon. Other features include: Sea Manmulsang, Kŭmgang Gate, Samil Lagoon, Piro Peak, the Manpok ravine, Myongyong rock, the Paektap ravine, Manmulsang, Kuryong pond, the pools of Upper Pal, Sujong Peak, Ongnyu ravine, the Hanha Stream, and the Sibi waterfalls.
In 1998 there were 15,500 tourists in November and December, in 1999 there were 148,000, and in 2000 213,000. In 2001 tourist numbers dropped to 58,000 amidst disagreements over the access over land. By 2002 almost 500,000 have visited the Kŭmgangsan Tourist Region. Tourist numbers have since established themselves at about 240,000 a year. In June 2005 Hyundai Asan announced the 1 millionth South Korean visit to the area
The Kŭmgangsan Tourist Region is thought to be one way for the North Korean government to receive hard currency from abroad. Therefore the official currency of the tour is neither the South Korean won nor the North Korean won, but the US Dollar. Since 2003 food and services to South Korean tourists are provided by some North Koreans. But most of the staff in the hotels are, surprisingly, Chinese citizens with some Korean heritage and Korean language skills. The area is developed by Hyundai Asan, who have plans to expand the site with a proper ski resort to complement the current sleigh course, and complete golf courses. Many plans for expansion, however, are in their earliest stages.
On the morning of July 11, 2008, a 53 year old South-Korean tourist was shot and killed while walking on the resort's beach. The woman entered a military area by crossing over a sand dune and was shot twice by North Korean soldiers. North Korea claimed that sentries had no choice but to shoot her because, despite their order to stop, she ran away. South Korea demanded on-the-spot survey but North Korea declined it, saying all the facts were clear and all responsibilities were the victim's and South Korea's. Due to the shooting, South Korea has suspended all trips to Kŭmgangsan.