North Korea... I did it!!!
I’m not sure about the exact circumstances as to why I started to “pretend” to be Kim Jong-Un’s girl friend on Twitter, but it has proven to be one of the best decisions of my life. I vaguely knew of DPRK (Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea) from Team America and random Internet articles. I enjoyed the memes and edited photos, but I wanted to decrease the amount of time and history online, so I deleted that twitter account.
Fast forward a few years and I had the travel bug. Chernobyl, DMZ in Vietnam, Hiroshima, Auschwitz (don’t bother), Sarajevo (do bother)... I visited these unusual holiday destinations to enrich my view of the world. During my visit to The Balkans I fell over and sustained a thumb injury, surgery was needed and my hand was in a cast. I wasn’t able to travel… so I planned a trip to the DPRK.
I asked my family if I should go and apart from my mother being clueless about the country, they all gave their blessings (obviously a few brain cells missing in my family lol). It wasn’t a decision I felt completely at ease making, I did wake up a few times thinking “what the fuck am I doing” and knew I could back out before leaving China.
I meet the group in Beijing and we took the 26-hour train to Pyongyang. I will answer the most common questions in bullet form:
• The visa process is very easy, you just give the tour company fifty Euros and you receive a paper visa that sadly you can’t keep. You can get a visa in your passport if you have a consulate in your country.
• You must go on a tour, either private or with a group. You have a driver and two Korean tour guides, plus your western tour guide.
• You can’t leave the hotel or your group. This was never a problem because we wouldn’t get back until late and would head to the bar to drink. I didn’t feel like I was missing out.
• You aren’t forced to visit the two big statues of Kim Ill-sung and Kim Jong-Il as soon as you get to Pyongyang. You do have to bow and to me that was no different than any other tradition in any country. Why visit if you are going to be disrespectful?
• Don’t visit DPRK if you have a superiority complex that your way of life is bad and the Koreans needs to be told their regime is bad. They perhaps know it, they perhaps like their lives, either way, no one cares.
I think most tours visit the DMZ. I purchased a poster with “propaganda”, had a beer and went to the line. I believe the North side is also more chilled then the South, we didn’t sign a waiver and the military seemed friendly with us. Because of recent tensions the two sides weren’t allowed to visit at the same time, shame, as I wanted to wave at people who think the North is a scary place to visit!
The tour company I choose had a very relaxed vibe. I was surprised at the playful nature they had with border control, the Koreans and our behaviour in public. Our guide had been visiting the DPRK for five years and has a great rapport with all the staff. He managed to organise a cycle tour around the capital, the only group allowed. More bullet points.
The Koreans generally don’t speak English and will move away from you in public. I don’t think they are scared of us, they are being respectful and when was the last time you approached a group of Chinese tourists to have a conversation? I’m sure we were annoying, got in the way… just like you/I find most tourists. However the Korean guides are bilingual – Russian, French, Spanish, Chinese, German and English are spoken. I saw an English and German class taking part at the library, free class!
• There is no Internet in the DPRK, well there is but very expensive. The locals use an intranet system.
• The city is a lot cleaner and offers a lot of facilities for its people. Considering it’s a developing country, I was quite surprised.
• Yes the ‘elite’ live in the city and entry is controlled. We are all bound by the lifestyle we can afford. Private schools, buying or renting, suburb you can afford to live in, private health insurance…. It is what it is.
• North Koreans can’t leave the country on their own free will, but they do leave. Our tour guide lived in Switzerland with her family. To put it in perspective unless you are skilled you can’t live in whatever country you want. I’m not sure if the North Koreans really care too much and what are they missing…. ISIS beheading solders in the street, cutting throats, using cars to kill people. Social justice warrior’s bullshit, hatred and social unrest.
• Yes we only saw the “good parts” and that is true for most tourists. Visitors don’t come to Australia wanting to see the slums in Dandenong, drug users in Mount Druitt, damaging affect the government has on indigenous population or question the political system inability to make same sex marriage legal.
I had such a great time in DPRK and its safe to visit. The only people who have been detained have done something wrong. Of course there are things the country does that I don’t support, and I examine what my government has done… America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, Blair was told not to go to war in Iraq and the treatment of Australia’s indigenous population is shocking. It was fascinating being in a homogeneous society.
I don’t support the bad things the government has done, and all behaviour is caused. DPRK had sanctions that were worsened by a drought and failing crops. Trump is now forcing the Chinese government to reduce more trade with DPRK. However I’m glad that I could see with my own eyes and make my own judgements about the country. It is safe to visit and you need to follow the rules.
Feel free to email me any questions and I will answer via this blog….