North Korea, on a budget.

20-metre high bronze statue of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il at Mansudae. #North_Korea , #Pyongyang

To travel to North Korea is one thing that most people think is very expensive, time-consuming, and difficult, but those people could not be wronger.

Before I went to North Korea, I read through all the biggest travel forums in the world about how to get there. Everyone told me it was very expensive and took weeks if not months to organize.
I was in China on a tourist visa office when I was thinking of going there, so I did not have weeks or months to plan it.

I decided to just take a local train from Beijing to Dandong, the border city in China with North Korea and hope for the best.

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The bridge from China to North Korea.

After arriving in Dandong and checked into a local hotel I went around to look for a travel company that might have trips to North Korea. After walking around for a short time, I met another foreigner that was going to North Korea the next day, I went with him to his company to apply for the visa. After filling out the visa application and paid, and next day I was on my way to North Korea with the train from Dandong to Pyongyang. Less than 48 hours after I had arrived in Dandong.

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The broken bridge from the Korea war with an amusement park in North Korea in a background.
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Countryside seen from the train ride to Pyongyang
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Countryside seen from the train ride to Pyongyang

The train journey is nothing special itself. I met another European group going there too. So we ended up getting drunk with few bottle of horrible local liquor with some North Korean soldiers.

Pyongyang

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Pyongyang Train station.
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The national boxing team from North Korea
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View from the hotel room.
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View from my hotel window

Most tourists get checked into the Yanggakdo Hotel, is 47 stories tall, has several restaurants (including a revolving restaurant on the top), and a kitsch casino in the basement where you can watch Chinese gamblers going wild. It also has a bowling alley, huge swimming pool, a few small shops and a tailor (where I got a tailor who made Kim Jong-Il suit).
Pyongyang
Pyongyang

When traveling in North Korea you have to be with a guide all the time. One of the differences between going with a Chinese tour instead of an international one is you do get a lot more “freedom” with Chinese tour. In North Korea, I always free to walk wherever I wanted with the guide following me instead of you have to follow the guide as I saw all the international groups had to do. And I was free to take photos of whatever I wanted too.

Some of the things you will see in Pyongyang is:

Juche Tower -A 170-metre tall monument which dedicated to the Juche philosophy of Kim Il Sung.northkorea,north korea,asia,china,bridge,kimjong
Juche Tower in Pyongyang

Arch of Triumph-The arch was designed to commemorate Korean resistance to Japan between 1925 and 1945 and eventual liberation from Japanese rule. The arch is modeled on the Arc de Triumph in Paris. However at 60 m high and 50-m wide it is the biggest victory arch in the world.northkorea,north korea,asia,china,bridge,kimjong

Korean War Museum-Also known as the Victorious Fatherland Liberation Museum. The basement of the museum has a number of captured U.S. planes, tanks, and weaponry. I’m not a fan of museums, but this museum is amazing. It’s very modern and has a lot of art facts on display. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take photos inside.
Pyongyang War Museum

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20-metre high bronze statues of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il in Pyongyang.

Grand Monument-Two huge bronze statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. Here you will have to put down flowers and show your respect to the great leaders. Some locals will bow to the statue.

Pyongyang Metro
The local Metro -you will take the local metro with your guide around the city.

Nampho.

One of the places you get to see outside of Pyongyang is Nampho on the west coast.

Nampho is an industrial city where the West sea barrage is located system of dams, three lock chambers, and 36 sluices, allowing the passage of ships up to 50,000 tons. The dam closes the Taedong river off from the Yellow sea. This place would never have been a tourist sight anywhere else in the world, but this is North Korea.

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Kaesong

One of the other places you get to see is Kaesong located in the south close to the DMZ and South Korean border.Kaesong is a small city and former capital of Koryo Dynasty (918 A.D. – 1392 A.D.). It is the only major city that changed hands between North and South Korea as a result of the Korean War in Kaesong you will get to see the POYANG TEMPLE,

Pohyon Temple is one of the five famous Temples of Korea boasting of over 1000 years. It was built in 1042 but rebuilt between 1441 and 1765. Originally it had 24 buildings and pagodas. It was the largest temple in Phyongan area and a centre of Buddhism in the northern part of River Chongchon. It burn down in the Korean War but later on restored.

The temple did not interest me much, and since it was rebuilt after the Korean war, it basically looked like something from IKEA, with bright colours. Unfortunately, that’s the same story in South Korea, all historical temples their looks like they just came in the box from IKEA too.

DMZ (Demilitarized Zone)

Next day we are off to the DMZ, the line of border between North and South Korea, I had already been to the DMZ from the South Korean side, and it was quite interesting to see how the sides want to tell you what happened, while South will tell you their side of the story, the story that North tells you is complete opposite.

While the South Korean side was overcrowded with tourist groups from around the world, the Northside was complete opposite thereto, I was the only one there. So the soldiers were quite talkative and even happy to be taken picture off

First, you will have to go to the North Korean Peace museum, the same building that the armistice got signed the armistice was signed on July 27, 1953.

The museum is filled with photos from when the armistice got signed, and historical artefacts.
After done with the DMZ, its back to Pyongyang for more sightseeing.

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North Korean solider on the border with South Korea

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DMZ

Additional info about North Korea

How to get there

North Korea can only be visited by an organised tour, but this can be a large group or a party of one. Prices start from around  700Euro/780USD for a 5day tour with a Chinese company.
You can enter with train from Dandong(China) or you can fly in from Beijing (China)

Is it worth going?

Quite a few people would tell you, you should go, coz if going you will support the regime and the money you spend will go straight to the regime. If you don’t care about the hypocrites and is rather interested to see what’s all about, I would say yes, I would defiantly go back.

Price

1USD – 130 North Korean Won (KPW)

Even North Korea got their own currency your not allowed to use it while in North Korea, you have to pay everything in USD, Euro, Chinese renminbi (CNY)
But when you’re going on an organised tour, almost everything is included in the price already. You will not have to pay for any transportation, meals, entrance fees, accommodation etc. But you will have to pay for souvenirs, beer, and other stuff from the small convenience store in the hotel

1bottle of beer – 1USD
Tailor made Kim jong il suite – 250USD
To send postcard to Europe – 1.5USD

Saftey

North Korea is considered one of the safest tourist destinations in the world.
The only way you are likely to put yourself in any danger is by criticising the North Korean leaders or government.

BEER

Also, North Korea got their own beer, Taedonggang Brewing Company was established in 2002.
The local beer was easily available, and every evening while in North Korea was used to drink beer with other travelers in some of the bars in the hotel

They offer one light taste beer and one darker beer.

Taedonggang 2P

Taedonggang 2P

Type – American Adjunct Lager

Strength – 5.5%
Price – 1USD

Taste – Clear amber gold color, light grains, with light rice taste? The beer taste is very light and easy to drink,
Hangover? YES, one of the worst hangovers I have ever had

Score – 5/10


Taedonggang 11P

Type – Pale Lager
Strength – 3.3%
Price – 1USD

Taste – Little corn and grass on the nose. Quite dry, but no alcohol taste. very easy to drink

Hangover? YES, same as with the other North Korean beer, it gives an awful hangover

Score – 4/10

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38 Comments
    1. It was alot of fun, much much easier to get there then expected, and the worst hangover i ever had.:)

      Christian

  1. Pretty amazing stuff! I have to say I’ve never even considered traveling here or talked to anyone that has so this was really interesting for me to read. I love reading travel experiences! Have fun on your journey!

  2. This is really interesting! I have never read anything about North Korea before nor have I spoken to anyone who has been there…it has been sadly off my radar, so this was super interesting to me!:) I love reading travel experiences. Have a fantastic, exciting journey!

  3. Am crazy obsessed with the DPRK and dying to visit, but I still have a hard time justifying the expense. I’ve been a nomad for six years now and survive completely off income from my blog, but it doesn’t bring in enough money for me to consider spending 700 Euro/day on an organized tour……….yet 😉

    However this post only reminded me that I have to get my ass there and FAST, because North Korea will not remain in its current state forever. For better or worse, modern technology is making people in the DPRK aware of what life is like outside of their reclusive country, and the winds of change are stirring.

  4. This is amazing! I’ve wanted to go to North Korea for ages, but the popular tour companies cost almost double what your tour costs. I lived in the South for 4 years, so NKorea is something that holds a lot of appeal for me.

    1. Hii.
      Yeah i know the popular tours are way to expensive, i meet a few of them since i stayed at the same hotel, they looked like a group of sheep’s walking around with their guide and guards. Did´t look fun at all..

      I would recommend you to go:)

      1. Hey Chris
        I guess your view of a group tour is a bit one sided. I was one of this ,,sheeps,, as you call it and it was a very good trip. For a 7 day trip including the flight from Beijing, it cost around 1200 Euro. We were quite free to walk around also we were never told not to take pictures (only in the museum and some military)

        1. Hello Philipp.

          When did you visit? EVERY other tourist i talked to during my stay in NK, was complaining about they had so many restriction with taking photos.

          1. Was a 7 day May Day Tour. There was a big celebration on Kim Il Sung Square and it was possible to dance with people. Taking pictures wasnt a problem at all, only military was prohibited but also possible to get some (Not to good ones sadly) also our guides had some beers with us. All in all a very interesting but weird experience

  5. Amazing, I would love to hit North Korea on one of my travels. I hadn’t thought of visiting through a Chinese tour, but that sounds like the way to go. I’m curious as to whether you saw anyone travelling with children?

    1. Hello Kevin.

      Yes i did meet a family traveling with children, i briefly talked to the dad in the hotel. It was a Canadian couple with two children at 5 and 11year.
      He seemed very happy with their program, they had visit the most famous sights, but also spend some time in the Amusement park for some hours, and visited the Pyongyang Circus.

      The only thing he said was a bit problematic, was the food options.

  6. Just the other day I saw a documentary about North Korea labor camps. It’s terrible. You could literally get there for any tiny things that may be offensive to their “leader”. I feel bad for the people of this country.
    It would be interesting to visit the country one day though, but I doubt someone would like to accompany me there)))

  7. Amazing account! I don’t get to read a lot of articles about North Korea, or see pictures of it. It looks like a beautiful country and not as eerie as media portrays it to be. Thanks for sharing this. 🙂

  8. Hi Christian, may I know which company you signed up in Dandong to travel to North Korea? Appreciate if you could reply me. 🙂

  9. Hey Christian. I stumbled upon your blog by accident and your provided me the perfect info I needed on few destinations thatI will be going. Muchas gracias.
    Much appreciated. 🙂

    1. Yes everyone needs visa in advance for China, you will need a double entry Visa to China if plan to visit North Korea. The double entry visa can be hard to obtain.

  10. Hey Christian,
    wow your post looks so impressive!
    I really want to go to North Korea. Actually I was wondering if you could provide me more information about the organzisational issues? I thought about going with the Young Pioneer Travel agency, but yours seems to have more freedom. How did you find the Agency? Did they care about which passport you hold? Which agency did you go with?

    Best Regards and I really hope you can help me to go there,
    Roxana

    1. Hello Roxana.
      Im sorry for the late reply. I might have been lucky but I had a lot more freedom than the people from Young Pioneer and the other groups that I meet during my trip there. I used a local Chinese Agency that´s based in Dandong, the border city to NK. I never got asked about my passport. Im heading back to NK next year again, and I’m definitely gone use the same agency that i used the first time, Explore North Korea.

  11. Interesting to learn about your visit there. I would have a real problem going personally though because Pyongyang is basically just a show-city to perpetuate the idea that the country is more successful than it is to the rest of the world and I wouldn’t really feel like I was learning anything about the actual life in North Korea (I also feel that way about Ashgabat in Turkmenistan, but am more open to that country because it is possible to visit more than just the capital). Most of the DPRK is falling apart and the people are expected to live off of very little as the government basically gives them nothing, but expects their unwavering loyalty and for them to basically worship their leadership religiously and without question. There are a lot of horror stories from former citizens of the nation. The tide is changing, so if one did want to see the country as it presents itself at it’s most extreme levels of corruption, now is the time (but only to glimpse the facade really, which I can see being interesting as long as it isn’t taken at face value). It will be interesting to see what happens to it in the near future. The extreme famine there forced the government to give wiggle-room to private businesses to keep the country from starving to extinction and the availability to western-type media is increasing despite it’s highly illegal nature.

    1. Hello

      I do completely agree that Pyongyang is a “show off city” almost on the same level as Ashgabat, but where do you put the line as what´s show of city and not authentic to the country?
      Astana in Kazakhstan and Dubai can also be called a show of city if you compare it to the countryside in Kazhakstan and the rest of United Arab Emirates.. Tho more and more of DPRK is opening slowly up for tourists these days, I’m considering a new trip back to DPRK later this year, to new parts of the country that just last year was completely of limit for tourists. So things are slowly changing in the country, and I will be very surprised if DPRK has the same leadership in 10years time.

      1. That is a good question and perhaps I shouldn’t be so quick to judge Pyongyang as completely inauthentic as despite it’s status as a “show off city”, it does still represent an important aspect of the culture and structure of the nation as a whole and it gives insight into the psychology of the nation. Places like Astana I give a little more leeway to however because you can visit most of the country versus North Korea where you can only visit places that are allowed by the government and these are always places that typically give the impression that their nation is a great success.
        Kazakhstan is a fascinating place in a lot of ways. It has a lot of different groups of people which are often very, very different from each other and they all live together in a massive region of land. The nation is very sparsely populated and the difference between key cities can be huge. Astana is most definitely a show city and in many ways so is Almaty, but they themselves are very different from each other. Almaty is a lot more typical of a large, middle-class city, while Astana is a big, shiny, city built in the middle of nowhere filled with ridiculous looking modern buildings. Then take into account the amount of time it takes to travel between these cities by train and one realizes how huge the landmass is. Then you go somewhere like Temirtau which is basically just a huge sprawling mess of poverty and crime. Then there are the groups of nomadic people and small villages that populate the larger, sparcer areas of land in the country. And there is also the huge range of climates and topography of the land because of it’s large area coverage. It is a lot harder to restrict and control such a spread out and ethnically diverse place than it is to do so with a small, compact, and isolated nation like North Korea. A place such as Kazakhstan has also used a lot of different tools from North Korea to keep it’s people together. Their country is Authoritarian and a dictatorship, but on a somewhat more benevolent level than many other dictatorships in the world as they have actually managed to improve their situation economically after the Soviet collapse more than most other former SSRs. North Korea is kinda alone on the world stage because it is so much more extreme than even the most extreme of extremes in much of the rest of the world.
        It’s also very interesting to see your experiences in Baku and how they were so unpleasant due to the corruption of local authorities compared to your experiences in Pyongyang.
        I would be very interested to read about your experiences in Kazakhstan. I loved reading about your time in Tajikistan. It is a very beautiful country and the people are very hospitable (as is the Central Asian way one could say), despite the fact that most of the infrastructure has been falling apart for a long time, which doesn’t lend itself very well to more generic tourism (as is the Central Asian way one could say again lol).

  12. Hello, just stumbled across your blog, and I have to say your pictures are amazing !

    Could I ask you for the name of the company that you went through ? So far all I have found is at least 1000 euros for 4 days..

    Cheers !

    comerfordvincent@gmail.com

  13. Hey Christian,

    Thanks for sharing your story, I’ve read it with great pleasure.
    Naturally I don’t want to go with one of these tours as well. It would be great if you could send the name of the Chinese agency in Dandong to iljahilhorst@gmail.com.

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi there, same here haha.
      I went to dprk 3 years ago with a Chinese agency found in Dandong too but still think there must be better one, or at least with different program.
      Thanks a lot and all the best.

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