If you're looking to get off the beaten track, there's no more appropriate destination than North Korea. In line with its philosophy of "juche" -- complete self-reliance -- this communist dictatorship sealed itself off from the rest of the world in 1953 and very little has changed since.
Tourism to North Korea is possible for all nationalities (including Americans), although there are many restrictions. The main one is that all visitors must be on an organised tour and will be accompanied by North Korean tour guides at all times; independent travel is impossible. Furthermore, you must surrender your mobile phone on arrival, there are restrictions on photography and you are not permitted to interact with locals.
A typical tour to North Korea lasts five days and takes in the state-approved highlights of Pyongyang, the capital city. This generally includes a visit to the demilitarized zone (DMZ), going onboard the captured American spy ship USS Pueblo, a surreal performance by North Korean children at the School Children's Palace, a ride on the Pyongyang Metro and laying a wreath at the foot of giant statues of Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung, the country's deceased Dear Leader and Great Leader. Longer tours will allow you to see the countryside and include a trip to the Myohyangsan Mountains for hiking and visiting the historic Pohyonsa Buddhist temple.
Tours to North Korea generally operate from February through November, avoiding the coldest months of the year. Tours are often scheduled to coincide with a national holiday -- such as Liberation Day on August 15 or National Day on September 9 -- which are celebrated with Arirang Mass Games, a spectacular performance of more than 100,000 synchronised performers.
Visiting North Korea is expensive, with a standard six-day/five-night group tour costing about 1,200 euros per person. That said, it includes everything, except for souvenirs. As most countries lack a North Korean embassy, tours generally begin in Beijing where you will collect your visa then travel to Pyongyang by flight or train.
For people who are complaining about our governments all the time and are always dissatisfied, I highly recommend a trip to North Korea for a reality check. This is how things can turn out when we demand radical change! The road to hell is paved with good intentions. If you think you have bad government, take a trip to North Korea and you'll see what bad government really is - of course only what they let you see, which won't be much because you're not allowed to interact with the citiizenry.
#2 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
As Churchill said.
'Democracy is the worst form of government, except the other forms which have been tried from time to time.'
North Korea isn't a country, it's a family business.
I miss the old USSR./Soviet Bloc. We used to buy currency off the taxi drivers at 100 time the official rate and live like kings.
Is this possible in NK? If you can, I am going.
#3 sayadian has been a member since 15/1/2008. Posts: 1,557
Friend of mine went to Hungary and Rumania during the mid 80s and had a fantastic time. He got the underground exchange rate and lived good.
#4 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
I was in the Balkans during the days of Perestroika. Everything/everybody on strike. If you had dollars they'd open a whole department store for you despite the general strike. I imagine tourism in NK would be very limited. Not much chance of flashing dollars and getting lots of attention from the girls. That's the only thing I miss about Communism -the corruption the dollar brought.
Didn't some black American basketball player just visit as the head man loves basketball, weird.
#5 sayadian has been a member since 15/1/2008. Posts: 1,557
Yeah, it was weird. Not one of our finer diplomatic moments, but it made North Korea look even stranger than it already does. Let me see, I want to open dialog with the American president. Well hell, he likes basketball...
#6 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
"From this moment, the Supreme Command of the Korean People's Army will be putting in combat duty posture No 1 all field artillery units including long-range artillery units strategic rocket units that will target all enemy object in US invasionary bases on its mainland, Hawaii and Guam," Pyongyang's KCNA news agency said.
The Independent (UK) 26th March 2013
Sounds like a fun place to be at the moment. Especially for Americans.
I wonder how the Russians see North Korea since Vladivostok is just up the road?
Is this place seriously seen as a tourist destination?
#7 sayadian has been a member since 15/1/2008. Posts: 1,557
It's a tourist destination in the way antartica is a tourist destination.
And even the Russians and Chinese are no longer amused by their North Korean "allies".
#8 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
The Chinese are more interested in picking a fight with Japan. That and the Middle East situation especially Syria and Egypt I wonder how long it'll be before they call up the reservists? Don't worry about North Korea. I'm sure all this is for local consumption. I'm certain you'll get a warm welcome if you book two weeks vacation in Pyongyang. Reading here, there's a good circus. Russia has got more pressing matters with a whole heap of Putin's ill-gotten gains being taken as exceptional tax in Cyprus.
#9 sayadian has been a member since 15/1/2008. Posts: 1,557
North Korea is actually an awesome place to go, if only to see what hell is going on. Despite what you think, you will still see poverty (but then in what country don't you). Compared to many other countries North Korea actually has a hell of a lot of things to see and do, and a lot of them are basically a throw back to the 70's in terms of style. Mass games is the greatest show I have ever seen.
Most of what people know about North Korea is propaganda in the same way that what Koreans know about the US etc is propaganda. People that haven't been sound stupid when saying what it will be like.
#10 stefanw has been a member since 10/12/2010. Posts: 50
You can't go to North Korea and have free access to move around. The only reason you will just see "poverty" and not brutal, harsh, African like poverty is because you will be carefully screened from doing so. You are not allowed to move around freely. Any place where a country allows you in and then says you can't anywhere without escort - you know it's fucked up. People in North Korea are starving to death right now. The regime runs Nazi like concentration camps right now. This isn't propaganda. It's a closed society for a reason, and that reason isn't because of a nice, kind hearted, regime. There is no defense, I say again, no defense, for that government.
#11 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Not saying there is any defense for that government, but North Korea isn't the only country in the world that locks people up for ridiculous reasons.
While there is restriction, it's not actually that bad because generally you are busy the whole time. The only reason you would want free will is to go an gawp at poverty. It doesn't mean it's not fucked up but it more than likely gives the average North Korean a better opinion of foreigners than the usual anti-US propaganda. There is some small interaction with locals, but how much can you really expect if they don't speak much English?
North Korea has plenty of cool things to do and see and so what if it is like a theme park where you are guided around. Some of that stuff can't be seen anywhere else, and the propaganda videos they play are comedic gold.
By the way, you can't possibly know what actually is going on in North Korea (it is bad no doubt), but a lot of american and british media about it is hyperbole.
#12 stefanw has been a member since 10/12/2010. Posts: 50
"A lot of american and british media about it is hyperbole."
Give one concrete example of this "hyperbole", I actually don't think it's possible to overplay the extent of how messed up this regime is.
#13 chinarocks has been a member since 17/6/2011. Posts: 740
Stefan - reality check dude. Any country where it's a capital crime to leave the country, well, you know things just ain't right. And forget American and British media, pick any media from anywhere in the world. Nobody has happy things to say about North Korea.
"While there is restriction, it's not actually that bad because generally you are busy the whole time."
Obviously busy doing what someone else has decided I am going to be doing. Why am I busy all the time? What if I just want to walk around town (any town) and grab a beer, like I can in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia... etc. etc. etc.?
"The only reason you would want free will is to go an gawp at poverty."
Some people actually like to just get to know people from other countries. You know, on their own. Hang out. Most people actually like the idea of "free will". Call me radical on this one.
"There is some small interaction with locals, but how much can you really expect if they don't speak much English?"
I have two deaf kids I am teaching to dance. They can not speak any English. My written Thai is weak. Yet we find a way...
You are defending the indefensible. Give it up.
#14 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
chinarocks - What do you know about the ROKS Cheonan sinking? If you have read any western paper you would probably think that North Korea is responsible for this, right? Although I can't say that they didn't do it (because I don't actually know), but it does seem more and more ridiculous the more you know. This isn't exactly hyperbole, but probably just an out and out lie.
And madmac, why would completely disagreeing with a government mean the country is not worth seeing? North Korea has a surprisingly beautiful countryside, a number of cool things to see around Pyongyang and an increasing amount of flexibility for tourists. For example, when I was there I chose not to go an watch the Opera, and went with a few others to a cafe. No we didn't have a choice of what cafe we went to, because there aren't many around. If you find North Korea interesting and don't mind the small loss of freedom, then why wouldn't you go? I drank beer everyday while there, but I couldn't just wonder off and find a bar to sit down at, because there are none, signage to tell you what is around (restaurants, cafes, businesses) like in other countries don't seem to exist and because your on a tour, so it would be really obnoxious to just leave.
Also tourism is probably one of the most beneficial things for North Korea in terms of freedom and acceptance of the west. Russian vodka and soju is also extremely cheap.
#15 stefanw has been a member since 10/12/2010. Posts: 50
Tourism would be the most beneficial if they let people move around - I agree with that. But because they are tightly controlled, it's only benefitting those already running things, which is what it's designed to do. That would be my objection.
Overall I don't have a hard on about whether people should go or not, the numbers are so small it's not going to radically alter anything in North Korea one way or another. But I can think of a great many countries I would put higher on the list, especially when you consider the cost.
#16 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
I think this stefanw guy is a pseudonym for Kim Jong-un...
#17 chinarocks has been a member since 17/6/2011. Posts: 740
I think North Korea is like Albania during 1947-90. They had a dictator name Enver Hoxha and I think his dictatorship was worse than any country, including North Korea. You might wanna check out info on Wikipedia about Enver Hoxha's reign.
#18 tinab has been a member since 2/10/2013. Posts: 4