What to know about visiting North Korea

After traveling to North Korea and receiving the various reactions from people before and after I returned, I thought about writing a blog that would answer the most common questions and curiosities. For anyone that wants to go to North Korea, drop me a line since I can now hook you up with a tour and a tourist visa 🙂

  1. The food and drinks were plentiful and delicious! I met a South Korean who said North Korea has better beer, which I have to agree with, and the amount of rice wines and strange alcohol meant we were tasting something new every day… except for the strange schnapps with a whole snake inside. The food was served in cute little plates, a buffet of meat and vegetables, eaten with metal chopsticks, and their famous cold noodle soup (buckwheat noodles in a broth flavoured with mustard, vinegar and chili) was a specialty worth trying. Their “sweet” meat soup, aka dog soup, was something I skipped.
  2. You will always be isolated or somehow filtered from the public. Your lunch meal will be eaten alone in a room fit for 50 people, but it will only be the tourist(s), and a handful of servers, walking in and out of the room with enough food to feed an army. Your sightseeing will be shadowed by your appointed guide, and once you’re in the hotel you’re only surrounded by other tourists (mostly Chinese) and can’t leave the building.
  3. You are not allowed to make any transactions in their local currency, the Korean won. You must pay for things in Chinese yuan, US dollars or Euros, and keep them in small denominations – things cost very little. For example, a ride on the metro is 5 cents.
  4. There are only a couple of media channels, and all are run by the government – magazines, radio and television. Newspapers or other print material always have an image of Kimg Jong Il or Kim Il Sung, so it is not permitted to crumple, throw into the garbage, or sit on the newspapers – since this would be an act of disrespect to their leaders.
  5. Cameras and smartphones are allowed, and you are allowed to take pictures of anything you like – except labourers and military. I still managed to take photos of some construction workers (but was scolded for it) and a selfie with a soldier, but portrait photographs were discouraged and local people didn’t seem excited to be captured in the background.
  6. Koreans who do speak English will usually ask you “what is your impression” when they want to know your opinion on something. This seems like a loaded question if its about the DPRK, but they just want to know what you think of North Korea. And a hint for the wise – don’t be too honest if you have negative things to say, especially concerning politics or warfare.
  7. The roads are wide and cover the whole country, but their in terrible condition and barely any cars drive them. Be prepared for a long and bumpy ride if you leave Pyongyang, but definitely get out of Pyongyang to visit the mountains, Buddhist temples, and endless field of rice that made the country feel so green and peaceful.

If you’d like to visit North Korea, please send me a message or reply to this post with a comment. I am excited to be working directly with the North Korean tourism agency, booking private tours of groups of 2 up to 10. I think its fun to be promoting a bit of exposure both to those who want to visit the misunderstood DPRK, and for the local Koreans to have the chance to meet more of the outside world.

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