North Korea Travel Guide
The ultimate hermit state, you’ll be one up on all your pals if you managed to visit this off-limits country. A land where time stands still and Kim Jong-Il rules supreme, visitors are only allowed in on state-sanctioned package tours. Be prepared to be bugged, bow to all statues and keep in mind that ignorance is bliss.
In spite of severe food shortages, visitors are not likely to face any problems finding food. All your food will be ordered by your guide, and you will mostly eat in hard currency-only restaurants. Remember that your rations are way better than those of 95 percent of the population, even if that may seem hard to believe at times. Accommodation is likely to be your main expense and you will only be allowed to stay at designated ‘tourist hotels’. There is at least one of these in all the cities that you’ll be visiting.
When to Go
Spring (April to June) is a pleasant season, with generally mild temperatures.
Late spring droughts are often followed by severe flooding.
June to September is not the driest season, but offer relief from North Korea’s icy winters, with average temperature highs ranging between 74°F and 84°F.
Winter (December to March) is dry but often bitterly cold, above all in the northern parts.
Getting There & Away
You can reach Pyongyang by direct flight or by train from Beijing, China. North Koreans are not allowed to travel around their own country without authorization, and you’ll mainly travel by bus or car with your driver and guide. Surprisingly, bicycles are virtually nonexistent, and if there were any, you probably wouldn’t be allowed to ride one anyway.
Health & Safety
No need to worry about crime here. Be careful not to say anything which could be perceived as insulting to Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il, communism or the North Korean people. Do not go anywhere without your guide. Do not take pictures of anything without asking your guide first. Assume that you are under constant surveillance. Your hotel room, bathrooms, telephones, faxes, emails and even modes of transportation are likely to be bugged. In fact, to be on the safe side, do not do anything without your guide’s explicit approval.
Two days in the capital Pyongyang
A night in Kaesong
A daytrip to Panmunjeom
A day at Kumgangsan National Park
Pyongyang: is the showcase capital, with wide avenues and gigantic marble buildings. The Palace of Culture, Grand Theater, Juche Tower and the Ongrui Restaurant all symbolize the Korean version of communist architecture.
Kaesong: has many ancient buildings testifying to Korea’s 500-year imperial history. Beautiful pine-clad hills surround this pretty town.
Mount Myohyang: and the unspoiled surrounding hilly area offer contrasting scenery of waterfalls, woods and Buddhist pagodas.
Panmunjeom: is the weird border village facing South Korea, and your guides will insist on visiting this site to show off what they consider the consequence of American imperialism.
Kumgangsan: is the country’s largest national park. Its unspoiled diverse environment attracts many birdwatchers, photographers and botanists.
Mass gymnastics: performances pay tribute to the Dear Leader and are spectacular displays of uniformity.
Acrobatic shows: will dazzle you with the performers’ skills, dexterity and convolutions.
TV-watching: is an experience in itself. Be dumbstruck by the ramblings, the presenter’s total lack of facial expressions and the complete focus on Kim Jong-Il’s every little move.
Bowing: is something you’ll do a lot of every time you see an image of the Dear Leader.
Meeting people: of the ordinary kind is something your hosts will do their utmost to prevent you from doing. Don’t push it, or your guides may feel the wrath of their spying superiors once you’ve left.