#13 Complete – Get Into North Korea!!

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Well, we did it!  And not only did we just get into North Korea, we spent a whole week there!  This one’s been on our bucket list, While We’re Alive, for a while now.  Most people thought we were crazy, and a few were genuinely concerned for our safety (like the United pilot who was certain our Russian plane would crash).  A lot of people asked us “Why?” and we just asked, “Why not?!”  Like so many others, we were curious about this place that the world seems to know so little about.  The difference is, we were willing to do something about it, and now we’re two of the just 4000 Western tourists to visit the DPRK (Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea) this year!

We did our research and learned pretty quickly that not only is North Korea an incredibly safe country for foreigners, it was going to be one of the easiest trips we’d ever been on.  Once we signed up for our independent tour with Koryo Tours, we just needed to forward some cash, pick the places and sites we wanted to visit, and they took care of the rest.  We went for a briefing at their Beijing office the day before, received our visas and flight details, and all that was next was to make it to the airport on time for our Air Koryo flight (the only 1-star Skytrax rated airline).

Before we knew it, we saw ourselves clearing immigration in Pyongyang, being greeted by our babysitters (24/7 local guides), and then whisked into a minibus to begin our action packed itinerary.  We were shuttled from monument – to restaurant – to museum – to restaurant – to park – to monument – to restaurant – to hotel, day after day by our personal driver.  During our 7 days, we went for a hike (to reach a waterfall), stayed in a luxury ski resort (minus the skiing), got drunk at a microbrewery (not that drunk), had clam BBQ on the beach (delicious!), toured a fertilizer factory (Thomas’ favourite part), ate traditional Korean food (a LOT of it), rode the 100 m deep subway (aka bomb shelter), were interviewed by local journalists (promoting the ski resort), and saw Comrade Kim go flying at the Pyongyang circus.

This trip was a long time in the making, and needless to say, we covered a lot of ground in just one week.  We did more travelling in those 7 days than we did in two weeks in Sri Lanka (Read: Traveling Sri Lanka by Bus), and we learned an immense amount about a place that is a mystery to so many people.  While we completely understand that we saw places that we were only “allowed” to see, and that many places are “off-limits” to foreigners, we wholeheartedly believe that every aspect of what we saw on our trip was authentic.  In fact, we’re a little embarrassed now to think any of it would have been “staged”, because really, we’re not that important!

We recognize that the DPRK has its issues far beyond what our tour allowed us to see.  There’s people we’re sure who will question our decision to travel to a country that is consistently in the spotlight for its human rights violations and volatile relations with many world nations.  We get that.  We’re not your typical travellers, however.  Our love for travel extends far beyond sitting on beaches and having poolside cocktails at an all inclusive.  We travel to broaden our understanding of the world, good and bad, and to suck life dry in the short time we have here on this beautiful Earth.  If we could learn and experience everything about our world simply by watching TV and surfing the web, then why would people ever leave their homes?  Can we trust everything we read and hear about from the media?  Real travellers know the answer to that question!

We have a load more to share about this incredibly fascinating country, so stay tuned!

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Categories: North Korea (DPRK), While We're Alive, Worth Sharing

Author:Thomas & Katherine

A love for travel, adventure, and photography. We just can't help but write about it!

6 Comments on “#13 Complete – Get Into North Korea!!”

  1. Joanne Hall
    September 7, 2014 at 10:19 pm #

    Wow! It sounds like quite a trip and looks like a beautiful country. Wondering how the streets are so empty??

    Like

    • September 8, 2014 at 7:41 pm #

      Great observation Joanne! The streets are definitely empty. Our guides told us that Koreans don’t generally own cars, because they’re far too expensive. Any cars that are around are either government owned or cars that have been gifted to people from family members living abroad or from government officials for various reasons.

      The empty streets were actually really strange! We drove A LOT around the country, and were almost always on 2-4 lane paved highways, with absolutely no cars on them. It was like they got all ready for an influx of cars, but it just hasn’t happened yet! :)

      Like

  2. September 8, 2014 at 12:02 am #

    Obviously my earlier comment was unacceptable to you; censorship of the truth is never a healthy option as you might have noticed on this fairy-tale trip into North Korea. Traveling and life is about engaging with people on an honest level and with ourselves. I think you should have accepted my earlier comment and let your readers make up their own minds as to the truth of you experience. Human Rights are very important to me and I feel they should be championed whenever possible.

    Like

    • September 8, 2014 at 7:35 pm #

      Hi Paul,

      We love open and honest discussion on Gate 20, and welcome personal opinions and constructive feedback by all of our readers. What we don’t appreciate nor tolerate are personal attacks. You’ve raised some valid points that we have given much thought to, both prior and after our trip to the DPRK. While it may appear that we travelled to the DPRK simply to check another item off our list, keep in mind that that was the subject of our blog post; notifying our readers that we accomplished a goal we had set out for ourselves. What the post intentionally fails to address are many of the sensitivities and issues surrounding North Korea in our present day. Part of the agreement we signed to allow us entry into the DPRK is to withhold from expressing personal opinions about human rights, religion, and politics, both while in the country and after returning home. Local guides from the Korean International Travel Company (KITC) take huge risks each day that they are responsible for guiding foreigners in their country. If tourists fail to abide by the laws they agreed to prior to entry, not only are they putting themselves at risk, but also the guides who are bestowed with the responsibility of minding them. Throughout our week in the DPRK, we formed a close friendship with our guides, and would never do anything to put their careers, and even lives for that matter, at risk. Therefore, we will not be posting any of our personal opinions about such topics on this blog, nor will we be posting any photographs or video that would have been prohibited to take.

      We appreciate you taking the time to leave feedback, and in return post some articles on your blog about our apparent censorship. Remember that you can’t judge a book by its cover, and sometimes we need to experience things for ourselves to gain a deeper understanding, rather than rely on media, blog posts, and other forms of media to inform us.

      We highly recommend you take a trip to the DPRK at some point to broaden your scope and understanding of this mysterious country. Neither you nor we know everything there is to know about North Korea, but our collective experiences can only help to develop a clearer understanding of the place.

      Warm regards,
      Thomas & Katherine

      Like

  3. September 8, 2014 at 12:33 am #

    I had no idea that traveling to North Korea was even possible. The arch leading into the city is incredible.

    Like

    • September 8, 2014 at 7:44 pm #

      Hi Chris,
      Yeah, it’s actually not too difficult at all to travel to North Korea, so long as you’re willing to pay! There are all sorts of tours you can do, from photography, architectural, and even surfing! We met the American who started the surfing tour, and it seemed to be a huge success. A bunch of Americans were there to surf themselves, but also teach some of the locals how to surf. They brought their surfboards in with them, with the intention of leaving them there on the way out.

      If you think the arch is nice, stay tuned for more pictures. We’ve got some stunning ones!

      Like

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