Would You Visit North Korea? I Will, This Week.

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They are testing rocket engines for their nuclear warheads . The US government is sending a warship to the Korean peninsula. The newspapers are talking of an increased risk of accidental war. And I will be there this week hoping there are no major fireworks during my stay.

I was planning for a lovely Easter break in Tuscany when a friend of mine suggested to go to North Korea instead. He had been planning this trip for almost a year, and at the moment I thought that if I was ever to do such trip, better do it with people I know and trust.

North Korea is a very secluded country. The government limits the access of international media and the information that comes out through the official channels is consciously selected and highly curated. Tourism in North Korea is controlled by the government, and only about 1500 Western tourists visit the country each year.

My friend had previously used the services of Young Pioneer Tours (a China-based travel agency specialized in “budget travel to destinations your mother would rather you stayed away from”) on a previous trip to Kazakhstan. This agency is one of the handful of private tour operators that help provide access to North Korea. The agency offers tours of different duration, most of them configured around sporting events or milestone national celebrations.

The first step of the booking process was getting in touch with the agency. They have a group of English-speaking staff that act as liaison with the clients and also as tour conductors in North Korea. When we expressed our interest in one of their offerings, they sent us detailed information not only of the itinerary and costs, but also of what to expect in terms of access, guidelines on what you could or could not do once in the country and especially the red lines you are not supposed to cross during your stay.

All tour options available were priced in Euros, and all of them included accommodation and meals during the stay, as well as a return train ticket between Beijing and Pyongyang. Not amused with the idea of a 24 hour ride on a Chinese train, we opted for adding a return ticket on Air Koryo between PEK and FNJ as an add-on to the tour (mandatory for US citizens, which can only access the country via a flight). And who am I kidding? I want to ride that airline, have their infamous burger and write a review about it! The agency also deals with the visa request process (for a fee).

The payment options offered by the agency included PayPal and wire transfer, definitely being PayPal more convenient (cheaper and faster than an international bank transfer). They also offered the possibility of dividing the payment in various installments.

Two weeks ago they opened a Facebook group for all the attendants to answer the multiple questions that can arise from such trip (there have been plenty), and last week we got our visas and our Air Koryo e-tickets.

I am typing this on board a plane on my way to Beijing, and as I will lose all connectivity with the outside world for six days (there is no Internet access in North Korea), John will post this article on my behalf once I am already in the country. If I make it out of the country in one piece, I promise you will get my impressions on such a unique experience.

Conclusion

I am crazy. It is the only plausible explanation. I am at the same time excited and distressed about this trip. I am not only traveling in space to a new country, but also in time to a place stuck on the darkest moments of last century’s cold war. Wish me luck!

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  • HB861

    seriously North Korea? Why do people like you think its ok to go there and support the government by giving them hard currency as well as potentially becoming a hostage?

    • Max

      There are plenty of people who have the goal of visiting every single country on the planet. North Korea is a country as it is a UN member, so what’s the option for those folks?

    • RealBud

      Totally agree. There is a limit how low one can go just for checking an item off their bucket list. And this is way below what is morally acceptable in my books.

  • Marc Ludeke

    I spent 24 days there last september and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Until you’ve been there, you really cannot start to comprehend how they think and how little of a threat they truly pose. For those that comment that tourist dollars go straight to military expenditures, remember that the number of tourist that visit each year is miniscual and generates very little income. Other countries have much larger numbers of tourists and much larger military expenditures – the same would apply to those countries.

    I highly recommend a visit, especially tours that go outside of the capitol, I visited 8 of their 9 provinces.

    • Woo

      Just because u see poor folk.. friendly folk… a nice hotel… etc does not mean the ruling government is not a threat. One nuclear bomb to Japan or Korea or Asia is enough to kill MILLIONS.

      Don’t be a fool.

      You are the type that says “let’s download a movie.. it won’t make a difference.”

      Well guess what… it does!

  • Paul

    Why would Loyalty Lobby publish a story like this? Boasting about putting oneself at risk and unnecessary danger. What next, a story about patronizing prostitutes without using protection?
    If the US makes any moves while you are there, get ready for weight loss in the gulag.

    • Alfredo is a contributor and I believe that this is relevant information for readers.

    • Alan

      North Korea is not a dangerous place to stay. The odds of being arrested are very small; you would have to do something very much against their culture. The tour agencies provide the rules beforehand and they are easy to follow. When I was there one Brit got stone drunk and wandered out of his hotel but the guides simply brought him back to the hotel. The American who was arrested last year attempted to steal a poster that had proclamations from their president; not much different than going to a museum in the west and stealing something of cultural value. He was just plain stupid. I actually had a backpack stolen from a tour bus and within 24 hours, the pack was located with all of my belongings except for some money. The Korean tour company gave me back the money as well. As for those that speak about one nuke being able to destroy Japan, etc., then please do not visit the US, France, UK, Russia, Israel, India, Pakistan, etc. as they also have nukes capable of destroying Japan, etc. Why does North Korea not have a right to defend itself?

      • Interesting. Where your backpack was stolen?

        • Alan

          The pack was stolen from the bus as we ate dinner in the city of Hoeryŏng in the far north on the Chinese border. This is an area rarely visited by foreigners. Our group consisted of four tourists, a brit from the Beijing based tour agency, our two guides from Pyongyang, two guides from the north, our driver, and an additional individual who I believe was for security.

      • Joseph Merrick

        Thank you for posting some actual facts.

  • David

    Not sure I’d visit Seoul this coming week!

    • Woo

      Haha… nice one.. i have been to seoul restaurant too! Which part of SF are you from? Love to meet u up in Korea town when u are there This coming week!

  • Danny

    Not the best week to visit. Do you watch the news? Do you plan to visit Syria next?

    • I know that this trip was booked many moons ago. I have been to Damascus few years back and the city and citadel were nice. Stayed at the Sheraton or Le Meridien (cannot remember which one was the brand).

      • Woo

        Did you book it when Kim jong il was in power? lol what kind of excuse is that?! When have they ever been a safe place.

  • David

    Everything about this post sums up what is wrong with this blog site. A blogger saying ‘I’m going to North Korea. Look how big my c**k is!”. Then a load of stupid Americans replying because they confuse North Korea with ISIS or Russia or all the nasty places in the world they have been fed to believe might hurt them. Geez.

    • cscasi

      How come you aren’t over there? Have you ever been? Or are you just blowing smoke?

    • Joseph Merrick

      What makes you think travelling to N. Korea is relative to penis size?

    • Woo

      But Isis is a part of Korea right? It is in the northern part of korea right? That’s why it’s called north Korea… south Korea is just another name for Japan.. look it up they speak the same language.

      • HB861

        funny! David is apparenly an ISIS supporter from Northern Korea but could be Chinese.. who know with those ISIS people..

  • stacey

    i don’t think i’ll ever go there, so i’m glad i can see it through your eyes. looking forward to reading your trip report. i don’t suppose you’re traveling on a US passport …

    • I was not traveling on a US passport, but was traveling with friends that were. The only restriction for US passport holders is they can not access the country via train, only way to access is flying into FNJ.

  • Malcolm

    Your odds of getting mugged in Chicago are probably better than in N Korea. Just remember to keep your opinions to yourself and don’t nick the bar of soap from your hotel.

    • Danny

      Why have a comment section if we are to “keep your opinions to yourself”? Why did you make a comment? Shouldn’t you have kept it to yourself?

      • disqus_M4GjYh0zWA

        No, sparky, he’s offering advice to the author of the article – not to speak dissent whilst in North Korea.

      • Malcolm

        You have missed my point, the OP should be careful what he says whilst in N. Korea otherwise he will find himself in trouble with the N. Korean authorities.

  • Joseph Merrick

    To be honest, I think the conclusion is plain stupid. From a tourist point of view I wouldn’t mind going to North Korea. I think there are far more dangerous places around the world which are considered regular tourist destinations. I would never make my travels depend on the current administration of any country (Mr. T will surely not stop me from going to the US…)

    If you go there, go as a tourist with an open mind and open eyes. If you think about this as an adventure into a danger zone or as something to boast about back home (which seems to be the case the way your article is written), don’t do it.

    • Woo

      You’ll sing another tune when they kidnap u.

      You think it won’t happen?

      Has happened so many times! You are playing Korean roulette.

      Lol

      • Joseph Merrick

        Please add a reliable source to your claim. Otherwise it is just anonymous gibberish.

        • HB861

          try googling it but that may be too much effort for you…

          North Korea sees foreign prisoners as a valuable tool to exert pressure on its enemies – and none are more valuable than Americans.
          Most foreigners detained in North Korea since the 1990s have been US citizens, while a handful have been dual American-South Korean nationals.
          They are usually accused of grandiose crimes such as “plotting to overthrow the state,” and handed out harsh sentences to be served in the regime’s notorious labour camps.
          In total, 13 Americans have been detained in North Korea since 1995.
          In most cases they are subjected to show trials shortly after their arrest, where they make confessions apparently under duress.

  • aljsfhksdj

    a lot of brain wash I can see… I would like to assure you it is much higher probability one can be robbed in the US rather than North Korea