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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
North Korean solider on the border with South Korea
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.
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
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.
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
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
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