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My Visit to North Korea. A Look Inside the DPRK.

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Manny:
Sometime ago we had a topic discussing travel to North Korea which you can find >>here<<.

I recently decided to go and visit the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) after mulling it over for some time (You'll find I use 'North Korea', 'NK', 'Korea' and 'DPRK' interchangeably throughout my text).

The above linked topic discusses the various routes and companies one can use to visit North Korea, so I won't rehash that here. I'll give my recommendation of agent at the end. One cannot simply turn up as a tourist, one must book through an approved travel company/agent and the booking you make will be typically be all inclusive of travel in and out, hotel/s and several meals a day. It will also include the company of at least one guide at all times during your visit.

I chose the option of flying on Air Koryo, the DPRK's national airline, from Beijing to Pyongyang. As I have a Chinese multi entry business visa anyway, being in China was no problem and required no further expense or documents other than turning up. Those just passing through can get a 144 hour transit visa (info on that >>here<<). I was able to spend a couple of days beforehand in Beijing so got to visit Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.

The travel company you use will arrange your North Korean visa. The North Korean visa isn’t attached into your passport as a standard visa, it comes as a separate card like this.



I suppose this prevents countries that are hostile to the DPRK - like the USA - creating problems for people who may wish to visit the USA afterwards for example. Also I gather the US government has banned its citizens from visiting the DPRK, so for those from the US that want to go there, there will be no trace in their passport of the visit.

The Air Koryo plane was a perfectly normal plane in decent condition. The air hostesses were my first introduction to the DPRK. A cynic may suggest that they were all chosen because they were rather easy on the eye. Noteworthy were their very nice well-tailored uniforms and white gloves, reminiscent of photographs I’ve seen of American air hostesses from the 50s and 60s. Google will yield many images if you are interested.

Fellow travellers included some tourists, mainly Chinese and Russian, Chinese people who looked to be on business, and maybe 40% of North Koreans (easily identifiable by their party badges). You know how the media tells us that North Korean people are all unable to travel abroad? Not true. I eyeballed them using DPRK international passports at passport control with the RFID chip symbol on. Some people can travel in and out. I found out about that later in country.

So I arrived at Pyongyang airport. It is a perfectly standard clean and modern airport as you will find in any European city. Fill in the landing slip, answer a few questions about what money you are carrying, and if you have any publications, etc., and you're good to go. The customs tried to ask me a few questions about my iPad (which is allowed in), but his English wasn't up to it, and just as it was becoming tedious, a woman in a smart red suit appeared, introduced herself as one of my guides, dispatched the guard with a quick sentence, and out I trundled into the airport.

Group tours are the norm here, private tours can be arranged. I booked a group but lucked out as the group ended up being just three of us. So just three of us with two guides and a driver. This means I got to dig deep in conversation over the next six days and learn a lot.

So off in our minibus from the airport heading towards Pyongyang. It's late afternoon by now and its dusk.



You may have heard there are "no cars on the road", also not true.



There are fewer cars than in the west, that is true. But the way cars are owned differs - which I'll discuss later.

We are staying at the Hotel Koryo, Pyongyang's best hotel. It is delightfully 1980s in its decor. I loved it!





There is a chap on Youtube who has done a good video tour of it below.

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIhJ7CLygcs
In the evening we are fed in the hotel's famous revolving restaurant at the top of one of the towers. Nice to watch the city drift by as you eat. The food was quite agreeable and the local beer quite decent. Given a choice though, I prefer white wine. I assumed that may be unlikely in the DPRK, given what we read about shortages and sanctions. No harm in asking though. I was surprised to be asked if I wanted Italian or German wine, and soon after, a nice Italian Pinot Grigio arrived, an ice bucket appeared, and all was well. The wine was same money as in China, around £15-20 a bottle. I'll cover payments, currencies and purchases in another post.

andrewfi:
Glad you got back safe and sound. Did you manage to get bring back any posters? ;)
Looking forward to the next parts of your travelogue.

Manny:

--- Quote from: andrewfi on November 10, 2019, 08:48:05 AM ---Did you manage to get bring back any posters? ;)

--- End quote ---

I sure did (and lots of other stuff too), but I bought one rather than pilfering it as the American chap did.

Manny:
About money and spending.

In general terms, foreigners are not allowed to use the North Korean Won.



The only places foreigners can use them is the The Kwangbok Department Store and Supermarket and a market over in Rason. I got mine in the Kwangbok store.

In the Kwangbok store, you can ONLY use Korean Won to pay for your goods. This is because it is a local supermarket for local people. For this reason, there is a money exchange booth located within the supermarket.

The NK Won is pretty useless to foreigners outside that store. I used a few tipping guys who carried my cases in hotels, but in most circumstances, foreigners will use foreign currency for purchases.

Chinese RMB seems to be the most popular currency, followed by Euros and then US dollars. I am told you can also use Russian Roubles, Japanese Yen, Swiss Francs and British Pounds, but not everywhere.

Prices are typically quoted in Euros, and 10 RMB is the same as US$1 or €1. Notes should be in decent condition. Everything seems to cost €1/$1/10RMB or €5/$5/50RMB. Using a larger note like a €50 may mean you get your change in a mix of US dollars and Chinese RMB. I ended up with a pocket full of numerous currencies. You get used to it.

 

Dogsoldier:
Interesting read. look forward to the next instalments.

What other airline options are there to fly into Pyongyang?

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