North Korea is a country with an unsavoury reputation across the world – a country ruled by a dictator long departed from reality; espionage, famine and nuclear armament. This dark legacy may put off most visitors but for the most die-hard travellers North Korea is a welcome challenge. Visiting this securely Communist country is only possible if you purchase it as part of a package, but most visitors consider it one of the most interesting and fascinating experiences of their lives.
Tomb of King Tongmyong, Pyongyang, North Korea (photo by yeowatzup via Flickr)
North Korea’s unique history and its current political status makes it a country well worth visiting for those willing to make a little bit of effort. No matter whether you are sampling traditional cuisine in your hotel or just looking out the window admiring the hauntingly beautiful barren landscape, it will be an impressive feat simply because you are in one of the most inaccessible countries. But it is the local people who are the highlight to any trip to the DPRK – remember that these people lead restricted lives that can be unimaginable to Westerners. Most are overjoyed to see foreigners and will be incredibly friendly.
Beach Near Lake Sijung, North Korea (photo by yeowatzup via Flickr)
The capital of North Korea, Pyongyang is the stronghold of North Korean strength and power. Indeed, its concrete and marble skyscrapers, towers, buildings and other monuments could be a testament to the idolization of its leaders. When you look closer, however, you will be aware of the fact that the people are strictly controlled and the buildings crumbling and dirty.
Pyongyang Grand Theater At Night (photo by Baron Reznik via Flickr)
People who live in the capital are considered extremely lucky to do so and have been vetted. Although there are signs of poverty still, life in Pyongyang is far better than in the countryside. Do not expect vibrant city life found elsewhere in Asia; there is no flashing neon or busy commerce. You will be taken on a tour of officially sanctioned sights on a guided bus.
Kumsusan Memorial Palace (photo by David Stanley via Flickr)
These sites include the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, where the body of Kim Il-sung lies in state; Mansudae, the gigantic statue of their beloved deceased leader; the characteristic granite Juche Tower which gives beautiful views of the Taedong River; and the Pyongyang metro, a deceptively enigmatic subway system. No matter where you are taken, you will be experiencing the authentic Pyongyang atmosphere, which is truly unique.
Taedong River (photo by Stefan Krasowski via Flickr)
Although you will spend most of your trip to North Korea in the capital, you will get the chance to explore at least one sight outside the city. Most of the country is closed off to foreigners but there are some interesting places which can be included on your itinerary. Panmunjom, the defector border between the north and south where the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement was signed, thus ending the war is a popular destination as is Paekdusan, the mythical birthplace where Korea was founded.
Panmunjom – South Korea Viewed from the North (photo by John Pavelka via Flickr)
North Korea is a strictly controlled country, there is no doubting this, but there is equally no doubt that it oozes an intriguing reputation in the eyes of travelers. Its relative unapproachable demeanour may put off most, but it offers travelers the experience that few could ever compare.