Travel to North Korea, why not?
It’s known that regarding human rights and democracy, North Korea has something to get a rap on the knuckles from neighbors. Some people might say that for this reason, traveling to this land of blood and terror is not ethical, and they have a point. But it is also understandable that the curiosity of the most reckless ones can be stirred by this communist dystopia. Therefore, here is everything you need to know to prepare yourself at best to visit North Korea.
How to get into North Korea?
To the question “can you visit North Korea”, the answer is yes. But not without preparation upstream, and a lot of cold blood. As tourism is closely controlled by the North Korean government, you first need to get approved and get a VISA; and it’s the tricky part that brings us to the question of who can travel to North Korea.
If you come from the United States, South Korea, or Malaysia, you won’t be surprised that your chances to get one are as high as the probability that tomorrow is Friday if today is Monday… in other words: zero. At all. No surprise on this. For all the other lucky ones, you have a chance to get a VISA from the DPRK after filling out the VISA application of the North Korean diplomatic missions and booking a tour operator from a travel agency registered with the State General Bureau of Tourist Guidance.
The tourist visas are delivered in the form of a tourist card, so won’t be issued in your passport but on a separate paper, so you don’t have to worry about any stamps inside your actual passport. Then, a lot of tourists reach North Korea through China as the exploitation of the North Korean airline company Air Koryo is banned in the European Union. Pyongyang is served 4 times a week with a train leaving from Pekin, counts almost 24h of a ride; we highly recommend you prepare something to eat.
North Korea visit; how does it go?
If you thought you’d have a private tour of North Korea, well… Nope. Your vacation will follow the rhythm of tour guidance that will escort you and your group every day and organize your time up-t-the-minute. Therefore, give up on getting inside the lives of the North Korean locals, and your visit will be limited only to the official guides, approved stores, and authorized sites; tourists aren’t allowed to travel with the public transportations or to drive, only the local representatives of the traveling agencies or the authorities ensure the transports of the visitors.
All along your trip, you will be asked to show full allegiance to the great leaders and to solemnly bow and dispose of flowers in front of the statues of Kim II Sung during the visits to the national monuments. Accept in advance that you won’t discover the country (or should I say, the leader) but only what the country wants you to see of it.
List of “don’ts”
As you are getting ready to step on the lands of a dictatorial country, and at the same time in an episode of Dark Mirror, there are few things you need to keep in mind before doing any mistake and, in the worst case, risking your life. As you probably understood so far, you will be observed all along with your vacations, so you better know in advance what not to do or to say to stay away from any life-threatening situations.
In this country of obedience, pronouncing the names of the past or present leaders of North Korea is considered extremely disrespectful. Instead, you’d rather mention Kim Jong-Un for example as “General”. As well, pointing at North Korean representations of leaders is extremely offending.
Unlike the common idea, taking pictures is actually tolerated as long as it’s controlled and supervised by your tour guide.
Know that before entering the country, some of your stuff might be confiscated, such as books, CDs, or images that might offend the ideology of the country. Make sure not to bring with you any material that has any sensitive content against the North Korean policy.
Keep in mind that it is considered a criminal crime to show disrespect, and even if will be so tightly escorted by the official tour guides, that your desire of being a little rebel will soon vanish, you still risk expulsion, arrest, or detention, even if you just didn’t know the rule. As well, any suspicion of espionage is taken very seriously, as taking an unauthorized picture of the poverty and the sad reality of the local can be considered as an attempt of espionage and may result in confiscation, or worst… In a country where human rights aren’t the first amendment of a nation, you’d rather be aware of the rules.