A journey like no other!
Appealing to my sense of adventure and curiosity, I visited North Korea as a solo traveller with
an open mind and a little knowledge of their history. I was told by my guides that most visitors
are Chinese or Asian with only about 1500 Western visitors a year.
North Korea is like no other that I have visited
in that you’re not free to explore or interact
with the locals nor go to any local supermarkets
or shops nor use the local currency. North
Koreans are as friendly as they are allowed to
be, but are aware that they must be positive
about their lives and their leaders. My trip was
clearly defined by their rules.
I had a briefing the day before my departure which prepared me well for my trip. The briefing
covered travel etiquette, guidelines, practicalities and safety for travel in the DPRK. I was also
given my paper visa that they had obtained for me.
Since the division in 1948 from South Korea, The Democratic People's Republic of Korea
(DPRK) has been mostly a closed state. It is possible to visit through a few government-
sanctioned tour agencies, but you’re not allowed to travel alone and you must stay on their set
itinerary (although I was allowed to change my itinerary slightly prior to my travel to
incorporate a trip north to Mount Myohyang and a visit to the Botanic Gardens in Pyongyang).
Photography must show the country and the government in a positive light and must show
the whole figure of the statues of leaders in a photo, without any crop. You must not
photograph the military, farm workers or any construction sites.
All visitors have to be accompanied by two
guides, plus there is a local guide at the historic
sites. I can’t help feeling that all of the guides
were working to a prepared script. I was a solo
traveller on a private tour so I found it quite
intense. The guides walked very close by my
side and often touched my arm when talking
which was rather uncomfortable for me as an
independent woman. The guides continually expressed their worship of the Kim family.
Although, I was able to take more photos than I expected, it was difficult sometimes as the
guides were so close by my side, obstructing me from moving to get a good angle for the
photograph. I felt that it was not welcomed to stop the vehicle to take a photo.
North Korea has a private intranet network which is not accessible to visitors. The worldwide
internet is not available. Foreign mobile phones don’t work as there is no signal.
A visit is rather unique as it gives an insight into a social system which went out of style with
the fall of the Soviet Union. However, I had to listen to much propaganda, distortion of facts
and claims to many inventions but departed having tolerated it without question for fear of
being arrested! My stock answer was “Ohh, really!”
When I returned home, I checked out a few things that had been told to me and it was
fascinating to find out the true facts and reality of the country and its history. I have probably
learned more about North Korea’s real history since I returned from the country!
Flight and customs at the
Pyongyang Sunan Airport
KoryoAir has a 5 kg hand luggage
limit which is ignored. Many people
had large, heavy suitcases which
filled the overhead storage so they
stored the excess suitcases in the
aisles at the rear, infront of the
emergency exit doors.
On takeoff, people had trays down
and they were not asked to stow
them. The plane was very hot and
my air was not working so I moved
to the seats to the rear of the
They ran out of water and only had
sweet strawberryade left. The meal
is a chicken burger on all flights.
At the Customs, visitors have to
declare all goods such as iPhones,
iPads, computers, cameras and
books. iPhones are taken and put
with your passport ready to be
claimed once luggage has been
checked. They requested to see my
2 books that I had declared and
fortunately, they were acceptable
(no travel or religious books are
allowed). I met with my 2 Korean
guides, a female and a male and a
driver. They took my passport and
visa which they retained until my
departure at the airport. My
passport was returned but they
kept the paper visa.
On exit there are 2 forms to
complete. At the customs there was
no need to take computers out of
the luggage and I was able to go
through with water in my luggage.
The airport was empty apart from
check in staff and military guards. I
had arrived about 1 hour before the
flight departure but most travellers
arrived about 30 minutes before
My route took me from Pyongyang
airport to Hyangsan, then
Pyongyang, then a day trip to the
Demilitarised Zone and Kaesong.
Strong soda turned
out to be like a
Right: I was told
this is an alcoholic
drink made from
the sap of oak
trees. It tasted like
a form of soju.
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