As curious travelers, we’ve always been intrigued by forbidden territories like the Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK). Better known as North Korea, this isolated nation remains one of the least-understood and biggest unknowns in the world – having closed its doors to the outside world since its split from South Korea after World War II. Today, DPRK is the longest-lasting Stalinist dictatorship in the world and remains frozen in a state of isolation. Roughly 2,500 Western tourists visit North Korea each year – making it one of the least visited countries on Earth.
Now that small and controlled groups of tourists are slowly being allowed into North Korea, we’ve decided to seize the opportunity and make a rare visit to this hermit kingdom. But tourism in North Korea is highly controlled by the government and all visitors have to travel with two or more tour guides at all times. If there is a problem (such as leaving the hotel unescorted, taking photographs without the guides’ permission, not seen to be respecting the Korean people and their history), our guides will be the ones to receive the repercussions.
Flickr photo by Joseph A Ferris III
We’ll be traveling with Koryo Tours, a well-established company that has been promoting DPRK tourism through documentaries, art exhibitions and tours since 1993. Our Spring/Dragon Boat Festival Tour is a five-day trip that will bring us through most of the main sights of Pyongyang, the country’s capital, and give us a glimpse of life in North Korea. Tomorrow our trip will start with a flight from Beijing to Pyongyang on the North Korean airline, Air Koryo, which should be quite an experience. Upon arrival, we’ll be visiting the statue of the late President Kim Il Sung. As noted in the itinerary, when visiting the Mansudae Monument we will be expected to bow to the statue of Kim Il Sung. Quoted from the itinerary, “If you are not willing to do this then we recommend that you do not visit the DPRK, the offense given is simply too great.”
Over the following days, we will be visiting the Korean War Museum to hear and see the DPRK version of the conflict; as well as the USS Pueblo, an American espionage ship captured in the 1968. Pyongyang’s metro is the deepest in the world – so a ride is definitely essential. For a look into local life, visits to the Kaeson Youth Funfair and Kim Il Sung Square are on the itinerary. Besides Pyongyang, we’ll be venturing to Mount Ryonggak for a brief hike in the mountain. By the end of the tour, we’ll hop on a train and head back to Beijing.
So little is known about the country that we have no idea what to expect, but we’ll soon find out and share it all here with you. As laptops and mobile phones are not allowed into the country, we will be off the grid for the next few days, but be sure to read more about our travels in North Korea next week or follow our updates on Facebook and Twitter (using the hashtag #wjdprk).
Disclaimer: This experience was made possible by Koryo Tours but all opinions are my own.