Can I Travel to North Korea? Yes, You Actually Can & Here’s How
Travel to North Korea is not something a lot of people have done. So there’s really not much information about travel to North Korea online. But, people actually do it. (There’s not many).
So why do people travel to North Korea? HOW do you travel to North Korea? And what should you expect once you’re there…
Who Travels to North Korea?
There are generally three different types of people that travel to North Korea.
- Those glory seekers looking to tell a tale about the time they went to the ‘mysterious Hermit Kingdom’.
- Those interested in communist and socialist countries.
- Those who want to see the country for themselves instead of just through the eyes of the media.
Within these categories, you have all kinds of people. Different ages, social backgrounds, and different nationalities.
Aside from Chinese people, the most common nationality to see in North Korea are Brits, Germans, Australians, Dutch etc… And Americans – before the travel ban.
Yes, that’s right. Trump’s travel ban forbids US citizens from traveling to North Korea (sorry guys). But Biden has suggested that he may be lifting some of these bans. So let’s see!
For now, US citizens cannot go.
HOW to Travel to the DPRK?
While most people don’t even know you can travel to North Korea, let’s explore the process of how you get there in the first place.
Firstly, you need to go through a tour company. There’s no other way to get into North Korea. No tour company, no visa, no entry. You will then book a tour through the tour company, depending on how many nights you want to stay, where you want to go etc. Tours normally include everything, from travel into the country, to the accommodation and full board. Although you can of course buy anything extra once you’re in North Korea.
The path to get there is through China. You can either take a plane or a train into North Korea, depending on your time and budget. There are also sometimes flights available from Russia and South-East Asian countries.
In North Korea
Rules & Politics
Once you’re in North Korea, you will be met by your North Korean guides. From the moment you arrive, you can’t walk around by yourself. You should always be accompanied by these guides. Contrary to popular opinion, these guides are not the glamorous ‘government minders’ that the media labels them to be. They are trained tour guides who have studied and worked hard to get where they are.
There are a lot more rules for your travel to North Korea, including rules on photography and what you should and shouldn’t do. You’ll get a full briefing from your tour company before you go into North Korea.
A lot of people are concerned with the safety of the trip. Basically, if you stick to the rules, you will be fine.
Can I Bring my Mobile Phone?
Yes, no problem! (But see below)
Can I Talk to Local North Koreans?
Yes, and no. You can try, but they probably won’t want to talk to you and if you don’t know Korean that’s going to be difficult anyway.
What if I Do Something Bad?
Everyone makes mistakes. If you accidentally break the rules once or twice (depending on what it is!) then that’s fine. A guide might pull you aside and mention it to you. If you do it again and again… Mistakes can only be mistakes for so long, and at some point it must be deliberate. Depending on what you do, you could get yourself, the group, or the guides into trouble. If you’re ever unsure, ask your guides!
Check Your Phone and Electronic Devices
You can bring your phone and laptop, but make sure to check your device before you go in. It is not permitted to have any religious material, Korean material, or anything to do with North Korea on you when you go in. Make sure to delete any Korean dramas you might have downloaded!
Where Can I Go?
Foreigners can currently visit all but one province in North Korea. Aside from city life in Pyongyang, you can head out to the countryside to enjoy skiing, hiking, and even going to the beach and swimming in the sea.
In Pyongyang, your visit will mainly comprise of visits to important historical sites and revolutionary sites, as well as famous monuments such as the Juche Tower and the Mansudae Grand Monuments (the big bronze statues).
Other than that, you might even get to go to some fun places like the bowling alley, you could go ice skating, to the spa, coffee shop, or local beer bar.
Seeing is Believing
Surprisingly, it’s not actually all fake! In fact, there is pretty much northing fake about it. It functions as a country and there are people living their lives – not acting – inside. But I suppose you might need to go there before you believe me on that one.
If you’re looking for all the action you get on the media, for example, rocket launches and military parades, you might be disappointed. Military parades happy very rarely, only on special occasions, and even then it is difficult to see as a foreigner.
What’s a North Korean hotel like?
A lot will tell you that all the tourists are put into the same hotel that sits on an island in the middle of the river so you can’t walk off easily. As glitzy as this Alcatraz-like theory is, we have to bust it, unfortunately. There’s over 10 hotels in Pyongyang alone where foreigners can stay – one even with a great view of the party headquarters.
The Alcatraz hotel is called Yanggakdo, and it’s probably one of the most popular hotels to stay in. It’s big, just got refurbished, and has a lot of facilities. It’s also in a convenient location and gives killer views of Pyongyang city in the morning.
The hotels in North Korea would have all been really nice and really fancy… 30 years ago. But they haven’t really had many makeovers since they were first built and therefore sit in a weird out-dated time capsule. Things break and fall off, sometimes there’s no hot water and blackouts do happen sometimes too. But this is much more frequent in the countryside.
Go with an open mind and embrace the “traditional meets kitsch” interiors with a pinch of salt.
Everyone’s favorite topic!
If you love Korean food, you’ll have no problem. If you’re up for trying different foods, you’ll also have no problem. But, if you’re a strict ‘will-only-eat-pizza-and-chips’ kind of person, you might want to re-think your trip to North Korea, or pack a lot of food.
The food in North Korea is plentiful. You eat in traditional Chinese/Korean style, having food presented in the middle of the table and everyone just grabbing a bit of everything. Food ranges from Bibimbap (fried rice) to noodles, sushi, and everything in between! (Apart from pizza and chips).
For those with dietary requirements, they can also cater for you. Just let them know in advance!
Can I Travel To North Korea Final Thoughts
A tour to North Korea is not for the faint-hearted. It’s not a beach holiday in Barbados or a shopping trip in New York. It’s action-packed and you’ll be on the move from 7am to 7pm at night – with some days being longer. You get your most out of the money, and more. But you will be tired. And, you’ll probably leave North Korea with more questions than answers.
Ultimately, I always come back to the same quote. North Korea is pleasantly underwhelming. You may be underwhelmed, in a good way. It’s pretty normal. But sometimes we go in with such prejudice about it from the media. So go in with a good mind and you’ll learn a lot, discover a lot, and want to find out a lot more.