Common questions about visiting North Korea, part 1

October 24, 2011 by Joshua
in Freedom, NorthKorea

People ask me a lot of the same questions about visiting North Korea. Maybe if I answer them here I can save us all time and point them here.

Well, people tend to ask me at parties and social events, so I know that solution won’t work, but here are answers to common questions anyway.

How hard is it to get to North Korea?

Going to North Korea is easy. We went through Koryo tours. If you go through them, you only need to go to Beijing with a double-entry visa to China, send them a copy of your passport (North Korea doesn’t stamp your actual passport, recognizing that immigration officials elsewhere probably don’t look favorably on people who visit their country), and pay their fee. In our case, our fee of fifteen hundred euros included all necessary costs, including the flights in and out, all hotels, and three full meals a day for a week.

We chose to go to the Arirang Mass Games (you’d be crazy not to) and to pay extra for one meal at an Italian style restaurant. Everyone had the choice to buy souvenirs and extra food and drinks beyond the three meals.

Once inside North Korea, the North Korean tour company guides you everywhere and the Koryo people help. Our tour went without a hitch. In fact, Koryo even spotted me cab fare in Beijing when I missed the bus to the airport. I recommend Koryo without hesitation.

Why did you go?

A post to come will describe the details, but my friend Jordan Harbinger invited me to go. He’s a baller and North Korea could only be an adventure so only a fool would pass on going. I may be a fool, but not that kind of fool, so I took him up on it.

Only after we arrived and his knowledge of North Korea revealed itself to be beyond the typical person’s did I find he had planned the trip for three years, learning about the country in the process.

I haven’t asked his original motivations, but he does stuff like that. I didn’t need to ask why.

What were the best parts of North Korea?

You’d have to read all my North Korea blog entries for the full answer, but the main best parts for me were

  • The place is a frontier like none other on Earth, meaning you can learn more about people and yourself than most other places, or at least I could. North Koreans live in a system like no other, but are people just like you and me.
  • The Ultimate Frisbee tournament was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Andray, who organized it through Koryo, reported it wasn’t that difficult to organize. You could do something similar.
  • The people in my group were awesome — intelligent, thoughtful people, savvy travelers, fun, funny, etc.
  • The Arirang Mass Games — the largest choreographed spectacle of its kind — is amazing. I can’t describe it except to say you won’t regret going.

Other sites and experiences were great too, but not life events like the above.

You’ll notice I couldn’t have predicted any of the best parts. I chose to go based on experience with Jordan.

What was North Korea like?

First, visiting North Korea is like visiting Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm. Reading them tells you more about North Korea than I could.

Next, I can only answer based on my experience, which the North Korean government heavily controlled. You can only go places they allow you and guides chaperone you everywhere, telling you scripted information about the sites.

The people do not resemble the expectations of anyone I spoke to before going, including myself. We saw no parades with soldiers goose-stepping around.

You have no internet or phone access there, which affects everyone differently. For me, I considered pointing this out as one of the best parts of visiting North Korea for a week.

I wrote more here, “What’s touring North Korea like?“.

Tomorrow, more answers to common questions.


EDIT: I included much of this post (edited and polished) in my ebook, Understanding North Korea: Demystifying the World’s Most Misunderstood Country. I wrote the book to help increase understanding, communication, and freedom.

Joshua Spodek Understanding North Korea cover

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3 responses on “Common questions about visiting North Korea, part 1

  1. Pingback: Common questions about visiting North Korea, part 2 | Joshua Spodek

  2. Pingback: The Vice Guide to North Korea teaches little and perpetuates pre-conceived notions | Joshua Spodek

  3. Pingback: Bringing peace sooner: videos of North Korea » Joshua Spodek

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