Frequently Asked Questions: Travelling to North Korea
There are many questions that come to mind when considering or planning a trip to communist North Korea. The first question usually is: can I get in the country and if so how? How do I get a visa for North Korea? What money do I use in North Korea? Is travelling to North Korea save? Will I get problems entering the USA, Japan or South Korea after a trip to North Korea? These and other questions we usually get about spending a holiday in North Korea are answered below in the Frequently Asked Question section. Also some words from the editor to conclude this Comtourist travel journey for North Korea.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can anybody visit North Korea as a tourist?
Yes anybody except US, Japanese and South Korean citizens can visit North Korea as a tourist. You do need to be part of an organized tour. During periods of political unrest the country is often closed for tourism.
How do I get a Visa for North Korea?
The easiest way is to have a specialized travel agent arrange it for you, we used VNC in the Netherlands. Korea Konsult from Sweden are also an organisation specialized in North Korea. You can also book a tour with Koreo tours in Beijing.
Is it obligatory to travel in a group?
Officially only group travel is allowed, but the minimum group size is 1 person.
Can I move freely in North Korea?
You can’t move freely, you will be accompanied by 2 guides and a driver during your stay in North Korea. It is not allowed to undertake unaccompanied trips or leave the hotel where you are staying.
Is North Korea a dangerous country for tourist?
Certainly not, you are watched 24/7 by government officials who’s job is to see to it that nothing happens to you
How is the food in North Korea?
The taste of food is a personal, we found the Korean cuisine the least of the Asian kitchens we have tasted. It must be noted that one probably should try Korean dishes in the South before a final judgment can be made. The quality and freshness of ingredients in North Korea is of much lower quality compared to the South. Usually a meal exists of a large numbers of small bowls with cold dishes. Quit good is the food that is grilled on a stove on the table. Hot pot is good as well, here meet and vegetables are cooked in a bouillon. A big problem in North Korea (especially outside Pyongyang) is the lack of electricity and clean water. Ingredients are often not refrigerated and prepared with water from a stream. We still has stomach problems 2 weeks after we left the country!
Is a trip to North Korea expensive?
A trip to North Korea is very expensive, we paid around ?1600,- for a 1 week trip including flight and train tickets from en to Beijing. The main reason that the North Korean government allows tourist in is the hard currency it generates.
What kind off currency do I use in North Korea?
Basically any hard currency (Euro, USD, GBP and Yen) are accepted. Chinese renmimbi or Russian rubble are also accepted but lower valued. It is smart to bring 1 and 2 Euro coins or 1 dollar bills to pay for small things like souvenirs or beverages. The North Korean currency is Won, in the past tourist could buy special "tourist" Won. This was not the case during our visit. We did buy some normal Won to bring home!
Do I get a North Korean stamp in my passport after a visit?
The visa is usually a separate document, there customs only stamp this document. You can ask for a visa and stamp in your passport. This can be a problem later however especially if you travel to the US.
Is travelling to North Korea the right thing to do?
This is a very hard and personal question. We decided to go because we wanted to see what live in a country with a Stalinist regime is like. The experience has made us very aware of how important personal freedom is. Also did we start reading about the human tragedy that takes place in North Korea after our journey. This is also a reason why we will bring attention to the structural violation of human rights by the North Korean government on this web site. So one could argue that a trip to North Korea does help creating awareness about the atrocities committed against the North Korean people. On the other hand will the money spend flow straight to the countries leaders helping to keep the regime in place. Personally I can say that it was every deep whish to go and it lived up to my expectation for more then 100%. But I doubt if I still would have gone knowing what I know now after reading books and viewing documentaries about North Korea.
What are the most important do’s and don’ts in North Korea?
Do prepare your journey well by reading about North Korea so you understand what kind country you are going to visit. You do need to adapt to a very unusual environment which can be very difficult!
Do behave like you respect the regime and more important its leaders, this is very hard but it is crucial for a good relation with the guides.
Do win the trust of your guides the first days, by asking what you can film and be respectfully. The guides then will give you more room to film and visit places during your trip.
Do bring about 50 Euro/USD in coins or small bills plus around 300 Euro/USD in 20 notes to buy souvenirs.
Do take some luxury goods (cigarettes, shampoo, tooth paste etc.) to hand to the guides after visiting tourist attractions
Don’t insult the leaders, this won’t get you in trouble but it will ruin your relation with the guides who are the key to an interesting trip.
Don’t abuse the rules frequently, one needs to understand that the guides are punished when tourist frequently brake the countries rules!
Where can I find more information about North Korea?
The Bradt guide for North Korea: A good guide book to use (there is no Lonely planet for North Korea), officially it is forbidden in North Korea so don’t wave around with it.
Rogue State, "How a nuclear North Korea threatens America" by William C. Triplett II: The author is a hawkish senator from the Republican party in the US. This does give the reader the feeling he is reading the justification for which country to bomb when Uncle Sam is done with the terrorist in Iraq and Afghanistan. The most important theme in the book is the relation between China and North Korea. The author basically states that China can pull the plug if it wants but it doesn’t. China uses Kim to play dirty games to blackmail the US and earn fast amounts with Weapon trade to other Rogue countries such as Syria, Libya and Iran. A very political book but a good read.
Rogue Regime, "Kim Jong Il and the looming threat of North Korea" by Jasper Becker. This book mainly describes the live and politics of Kim Yung Il North Korea’s leader. According the writer Kim will do anything to stay in power, the book even suggest that he killed his father Kim Il Sung to strengthen his own position. The atrocities against the Korean people (murder, starvation, torture on massive scale) are also described in detail. This book is recommended to read before a visit to North Korea.
Naenara: Official North Korean web site with tourist, political and cultural information
Koreo Tours: The official Korean Travel bureau, you can book a trip to North Korea here
Korean news: Web site of the Korean Central News Agency of the DPRK
korea-dpr.com: An other official North Korean web site
VNC: A travel guide from VNC a Dutch travel agent
Korea Konsult: A Swedish travel agent specialized in North Korea
North Korea Zone: An independent web site collection information about North Korea
Note from the editor: Final thoughts and thanks
A week in North Korea was an experience that we will never forget. It is probably the weirdest and most extreme holiday destination on the planet. It is very hard to advice anybody if they should or should not go there (as mentioned in the FAQ!). The answer is probably don’t go, but I can’t help to say that I would not like to have missed out on it. Anyway finally I would like to thank Sebastian my travel companion and our guide Mr. Lee. I hope he will be able to travel to the Netherlands some day so we can meet him here! And thanks to everybody reading this web site please come back soon!
The future of North Korea
The dream off all Koreans both in the North and the South is the reunification of the country. It is not very likely that the leaders in the North even have the smallest intention for reunification. Their main concern is maintaining their current position and thus the status quo. There is the very urgent need to reform the economy to escape from total economic collapse. The problem is that economic reforms require more openness which will impose a direct thread to their power. The DPRK government will probably try to apply the Chinese model (moving to a free market economy, while keeping the communist party in power). Our impression is that it is not very likely that the DPRK citizens will revolt against the government. The country is sealed of from the outside world and 50 years off propaganda and brainwashing has left many people to believe that all their problems are caused by US aggression. So it seems that eventual regime change and freedom for the North Korean people can only be reached by outside intervention. One solution might be a total boycott of North Korea, the country depends on foreign aid for its food supply. A boycott will result in a feminine and thousands maybe millions will die. Already more than 50% of North Korean Children suffer from malnutrition at the moment. The current president of the ROK has chosen for a reconciliation strategy called Sunshine policy. His aim is to keep talking to the DPRK and avoid further escalation of the relationship between the two Koreas. The other two major players determining the future of Korea are the USA and China. It is not likely that Bush will start bombing Pyongyang in the near future although it’s also not unimaginable. This will result in the next violent guerrilla war making live for the Koreans much worse then it is right now. China seems to hold the key to the DPRK’s future. It supports Kim Jung Il’s regime with goods, money and political and military support. For now China does not show the intention to put pressure on the DPRK regime. China does not want to lose its current influence in the region and can use the political tension to strengthen their position in world politics. In conclusion it can be said that not much is expected to change in the coming years. Economic reforms are slowly taking place however, hopefully will these reforms and political pressure from China bring improvements for the Korean people.