This article is part of our North Korea section: series of articles exploring everything you need to know about visiting DPRK. Head to our main North Korea (DPRK) page for more information.
A visit to North Korea isn’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea. Its political and cultural isolation from the rest of the world can make some aspects of travelling there a little difficult. But for those people who will be able to appreciate the country, the tour will no doubt be an intense and unforgettable experience. Such people will find North Korea to be a country of unparalleled fascination because there really is nowhere else in the world quite like it. In this article, we will list what kinds of people should and shouldn’t join North Korea tours, and why.
Internet Junkies shouldn’t go
People hooked on social media, online games, website browsing and all the other joys of the world wide web might want to reconsider travelling to North Korea. The reason is simple—North Korea is possibly the least connected country in the world. While it is strictly not true that it is impossible to get on the internet here, it certainly is very difficult both in financial and logistical terms.
There is no public Wi-Fi, and computers with internet access can only be rented at a handful of hotels. Domestic telecommunications company Koryolink does have cellular data package which can be purchased and used for computers and devices but is prohibitively expensive at $200 USD for 50 megabytes. To add to that, coverage can often be quite weak or non-existent in the countryside. This also means that people who are easily homesick will find that without any means to connect with loved ones back at home, touring North Korea may be a difficult experience. But the flipside of all this is that for people yearning for an opportunity to plug out and disconnect, North Korea offers the perfect opportunity!
People with an Interest in History should go
For people with an interest in history, in particular, the modern history, will find North Korea to be a fascinating place.
This is because North Korea is in many ways a living relic of the Cold War, resolutely sticking to the path of socialism (or what it calls socialism, which may be quite different to how Westerners envision it). Eschewing the path of political and economic reform that similar states such as China and Vietnam have taken, and continuing a relationship of confrontation and antagonism with the United States. Even before the collapse of Communism in Europe, North Korea was unique in that it clung to a Stalinist model while the USSR and the states under its influence become slightly more liberal under Khrushchev.
People with such an interest in history will take an interest in the country’s lack of advertising, and the ubiquitous found in its place. They will also see the uniqueness in North Korea’s veneration of its leaders, which although still exists in countries such as China with Mao Zedong, is nowhere near as central as it is in North Korea. The same can be said even comparing the China of the Cultural Revolution with North Korea. Then there’s the socialist realist art and architecture, uniform dominated dress and a whole other bunch of cultural features which make North Korea a living relic of the Cold War.
Rebellious People shouldn’t go
People who believe that “rules are made to be broken” should not visit North Korea. The reason being that tourists find themselves under a lot of rules when visiting North Korea. Tourists must follow a prescribed itinerary, cannot go anywhere outside of their hotel without local guides, and get very little freedom of movement.
Being critical of North Korea’s political system and leadership would also cause problems for visitors. While penalties for such acts rarely result in jail, you may be deported from the country. If you follow the rules, which are fairly simple, you’ll not only have a good time but the guides will be more open to you, which will mean for more interesting conversations.
People Wanting Something Different should go
In one view on the value of travel, it brings benefit through contact with different cultures which can broaden our horizons and help us learn more about the world we live in. Meeting our cultural “others” can help us better understand ourselves and what it means to be human. Due to just how different North Korea is from the rest of the world, it is perhaps the ideal place for this. Coming into contact with their radically different culture, which emphasises collective solidarity and the sharing of societal resources, makes visitors reflect on the nature of our own individualistic and materialistic world.
At the same time, meeting ordinary North Koreans and sharing a drink reminds us that we are all human and that we ultimately value many of the same things whether that be friendship, hospitality towards visitors, or having fun. People afraid to leave their comfort zone should not come to North Korea, but for those on the other end of the spectrum, North Korea offers an endlessly exotic and unique experience.
People who feel like they MUST be in Control should not go
Control freaks will find themselves having a difficult time in North Korea. This is because as touched upon above, visitors must follow a set itinerary, have relatively little freedom, and are expected to go about accompanied by guides when outside the hotel. Conversely, going with the flow and trusting in your guides, who are usually pretty nice people who want to help you and make sure you have a good time, will result in a good experience.
Going against the grain will only cause friction with them, which is perhaps not all that fair since they did not design the system, are just trying to do their jobs and could get in trouble if visitors became too headstrong about wanting to do things their way.
People who want to go “off the Beaten Path” should go
While numbers of Western tourists to North Korea have over the past few years increased to around 5,000 per year, North Korea is still relatively off the beaten path. For some people, this makes for a more interesting experience, as the country has yet to become too “touristy”, and in some ways provides a more authentic experience.
In North Korea, you will find that people are still very curious towards visitors from abroad, and when meeting them at leisure areas such as the park or the beach will offer them food and drink and ask them to join them for dance. Someone looking to go as far off the beaten path as possible can visit the northeastern region of North Hamgyong Province, which has only been open to Western tourists for a few years and still only gets very few because of its geographical isolation from the rest of the country.
North Korea: not your Relaxing Tropical Holiday
To sum up, those looking for a relaxing tropical holiday should not consider North Korea for their next trip. North Korea offers an experience that can be intense and challenging, both emotionally and intellectually. But for those who do want a trip that is stimulating and different and are prepared to obey the rules, North Korea is uniquely equipped to offer it.