Next Stop: the Hermit Kingdom of North Korea

Posted on June 4, 2012 by

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. 

About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is a professional travel writer and blogger with a special interest in off-grid destinations and adventure travel. Her mission is to visit every country in the world. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Iceland, swam with sealions in the Galapagos, built a school in Tanzania, waddled with penguins in Antarctica, crossed into North Korea and drank beer in Palestine.

13 Responses to “Next Stop: the Hermit Kingdom of North Korea”

  1. Emily in Chile June 5, 2012 1:33 am #

    Sounds fascinating, I can't wait to hear about it!

  2. Imperator June 5, 2012 2:45 pm #

    You will have an incredible experience, trust me. I've been there in 2008 and it is probably the most interesting country I ever visited as it is similar to no one. Forget about mobile phones and laptop, anyway, there is no roaming for phones or Internet (just Intranet, but I am not sure they will allow you to start a North Korea travel blog)… And send my best regards to Simon, hope to be there in September for the National Day. Enjoy !

  3. Jeremy Branham June 5, 2012 11:31 pm #

    Wow, this is pretty awesome. Getting to see North Korea will be a great experience. Can't wait to read about your adventures here!

  4. Mark Wiens June 6, 2012 11:39 pm #

    This is so cool Nellie – really fantastic opportunity which I'm sure is going to be incredibly insightful. Have a wonderful time and I'll be waiting for upcoming posts!

  5. Ruth (Tanama Tales) June 14, 2012 12:28 am #

    This is like one of the greatest opportunities ever!! Very interested in reading all about this country (and learning about it).

  6. Agarwals October 15, 2012 2:41 am #

    Actually there were many more North Koreans dieing of starvation in the North Korean famine. Most estimates are between 2 and 3 million deaths due to this famine. It's a shocking figure, really. 3 million! That's half of the amount of Jews that were exterminated during the Second World War, and yet almost nobody knows about this catastrophe that happened such a short time ago in North Korea…

  7. deepugerman October 16, 2012 9:58 am #

    It's been almost 60 years since the end of the Korean War, and for most of that time Americans had been prohibited from visiting North Korea by its government. For many years, I canvassed any contact I could ferret about securing visitation. 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.

  8. hemanth October 17, 2012 10:07 am #

    I have traveled to Korea last year. Yes there are some rules and regulations for the tourists. Even though there are some restrictions we can enjoy a lot during the travel–

  9. saritha October 30, 2012 2:11 am #

    15 travelled on a five-night tour with Koryo Tours, a well-regarded company run by UK filmmaker Nick Bronner, who has made several documentaries on the DPRK. We arrived in style via North Korea’s national airline, Air Koryo, onboard a 1970s model Soviet plane, with wallpaper-like decor and patriotic music playing in the background to set the mood. The selection of reading material included the Pyongyang Times, which unsurprisingly featured Kim Jong-un on the front page alongside articles that were unapologetic in their anti-American and -Japanese stance; in a glossy magazine centrespread highlighted a military parade showcasing nuclear missiles. We had not even taken off, and already the trip was living up to my lofty expectations.

    Read more:

  10. Joseph November 30, 2012 5:55 pm #

    My picture in this post, nice

  11. ashworldtravel July 24, 2013 6:56 pm #

    My husband has been pushing for North Korea because we already traveled to Cuba and Myanmar this year. I don't see it happening before the end of the year though. Perhaps we can go next year and couple it with a trip to Iran, or someplace equally interesting!


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