North Korea is one of the most isolated and secretive countries in the world. They don’t wear blue jeans, they don’t have the internet and they’ve banned religion.

Nothing you see about the country on TV makes it look welcoming. And yet that’s exactly why thousands of people around the world want to visit it.

If you too want to give it a shot, here are the top 7 things you should know before going to North Korea:

1. No Privacy in North Korea

That’s right.

In North Korea, you’ll always be watched. The police have the right to check your bags, your clothes, and even your photos at any given time.

That’s why journalists aren’t allowed in the country. North Korea doesn’t want any pictures of the country to go out there.

That’s also why only organized tour groups with specific destinations are allowed in the country. You are not allowed to wander off on your own or take any pictures that could make the country look bad.

 

2. You can only get in through China

Most airlines don’t fly directly into North Korea, so you usually have to fly to China and then get into North Korea.

And visas can be challenging for some.  Especially if you’re American. The US has banned the use of an American Passport to get in North Korea, because of the strained relationships between the countries.

If you’re Canadian, British or Australian, you can get a visa within a month, but your government is going to warn you to think twice before visiting because it can be risky if you’re not following the rules. That’s why only 5,000 tourists from western countries travel here annually.

Although, if you’re Chinese, you can easily get in and out of the country, mainly because both governments have good relations and there are regular flights back and forth! That’s why over 120,000 Chinese people visit the country every year.

3. You cannot bring newspapers

They have strict rules about what you take in and out of the country. You cannot carry:

  • Books or media about Korea
  • Religious texts like a Bible or a Quran (religion is banned in North Korea)
  • Newspapers, current events, or political magazines.
  • No explicit images or videos (They will even go through every picture on your mobile phone to make sure)
  • Internet transmitters
  • GPS devices
  • Camera lenses over 250mm so that you can’t take any photos of far-off things you aren’t supposed to see.

And don’t think about sneaking this stuff in, because army officials are going to check every single bag and every single photo in your phone.

By doing this the government is able to control the ideologies North Korean people are exposed to. If they don’t know that the rest of the world is different, they’ll never question the government or its rules.

 

4. It’s safe but –

– only if you follow the rules. Which as you saw, they have a lot.
And not following these rules can have horrible results. Tourists have found themselves put in jail for more than a decade, for crimes as small as stealing a poster.
But things are getting better…for tourists at least. Despite their strict regime, the government is putting in the effort to welcome tourists. Mainly because they want to appear normal in front of the world.

5. Don’t mention South Korea

This country has officially been at war with South Korea for the past 70 years. But the important thing to remember is that it’s not an active war, there have been no deaths in North Korea because of it in the past 50 years. So neither the citizens or tourists are at any risk.

Both countries have been trying to sort out their difference and establish peace, but that’s something that’s yet to happen.

But as of now, the country is fully sealed from its neighbors and the rest of the world.

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un With his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-In
Photo credit: Blue House (Republic of Korea)

 

6. The electricity goes off all the time

In North Korea, people are really poor.
Even though they try to conceal it, you can see the poverty through the cracks.
There’s no stable power,  you’ll see lights that are always flickering or turning off at random hours at houses and hotels. You’ll also see no cars on the main highway of the country because people can’t afford them.
But what you will see are a lot of tanks, missiles, and army displays on a regular basis all around the country. That’s what they put all their money into – showing the world how powerful their military and weapons are.
To show inside North Korea

7. Its people are still amazing

The people of North Korea are proud, generous and polite. Like everybody else, they love getting together, watching sports, the circus or dancing. It’s a country filled with proud people with a wonderful culture that the world does not get to see.
And that’s the saddest part. These amazing people are living like prisoners in their own country. And even though your tour is designed to hide it, you can’t help but feel sorry for them.
This country is a tragedy, a man-made tragedy. But that’s exactly why you should go visit it.

Why you should visit North Korea

Even though this country has no privacy, no stable electricity, and even though you can’t go anywhere you want, North Korea is a place you should visit once in your life.

For 2 reasons :

  1. It’s fascinating – North Korea is completely isolated with empty streets and empty highways. If you want to see how a government can change the course of a country, you need to visit North Korea. It’s so different from the rest of the world, it’s almost as if you’re on Mars.
  2. It gives their people hope – Because they’re so cut off from the rest of the world, you might be the only tourist a North Korean kid sees in his life. To paraphrase Leonard Cohen’s famous line “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”. Tourism is that crack in North Korea’s wall. Who knows maybe someday that could make a difference.

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