• North Korea
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North Korea

By Dmitry Petrounin Dmitry Petrounin Section editor Profile

Every difference this country has from its southern neighbour comes from its political regime (dictatorship of the proletariat). There is not a great deal of interest in travel to North Korea, however, western tourists are not prevented from going. As long as they are in a group, everything will be alright. If not, hello, red tape. Students of political science and curious people "nostalgic" for the great era of communism will be looking out for the next departure of a trip organised by a tour operator that is a specialist in the destination. To discover Korea, the others will first of all go to the southern neighbour.

Travel guide

The DMZ

The DMZ stands for the Korean Demilitarized Zone and marks the border between North and South Korea. It's the most heavily fortified border in the world and both South Korean and North Korean military officials stand at either end not saying a word to each other. If you are keen on plunging yourself into the atmosphere of the country, it's interesting to visit the DMZ but be warned that it can be quite dangerous as it does form a border between two countries where tensions do run very high.

International Friendship Exhibition

This exhibition is located in the museum positioned in the Mount Myohyang reserve and holds all the gifts that have been presented to Kim II Sung and his son Kim Jon II over the years by several communist, terrorist and despotic regimes. The museum has been open for over 30 years and has a total of 150 room's worth of gifts displayed. It is estimated that there are between 60,000 and 220,000 gifts in total. It is thought that the museum is a propaganda act that alludes to worldwide support for the North Korean government. Upon entry visitors are told that the collection of gifts is representative of the 'proof of the endless love and respect toward the Great Leader (Kim Il-sung).'

The Juche Tower

The tower was built in 1982 in order to mark the birthday of North Korean president Kim Sung, it has a total of 25,550 granite blocks each one representing a day of his life up until his 70th birthday. It is positioned on the eastern bank of the River Taedong in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. The tower is 170m high and a trip to the top for 5 Euros is definitely recommended for the views. It is the second tallest monumental column in the world to the San Jacinto Monument which is 2.9 metres taller.

Geumgangsan Diamond Mountains

These are a popular tourist attraction in North Korean since they offer a beautiful and stunning backdrop and, as the name suggests, the hard rocks on the mountains sparkle in the sunlight. Mount Geumgangsan, seeing as it stretches over 40 km on each side, can be split up into three different sections. For example, Oeugeumgang on the East, Naegeumgang on the West, and Haeguemgang on the seashore area. The mountains are most sparkly during springtime.

Our Editorial team's advice

Headstrong people and solitary souls please note: individual trips are not authorised. Stays vary from two to forty days, and are rigorously supervised. You have to bend to the instructions from your guide and not leave the beaten path. According to world organizations, the population is threatened with famine and has no liberty.

Despite recurring tensions with South Korea, North Korea doesn't pose a high security risk as its supervised at all times. However,individual trips are not advised, if you decide to travel on your own you do so at your own risk and peril. In any case, you should listen to advice from your guide, who will be watching if you lose your way. Only certain travel agencies recognized by the North Korean government are authorized to organized trips in the country. Be warned that you are always being closely watched whether it be in your hotel room, on the telephone and even via a fax machine. Even if you're taking photos you must ask the guide for permission.

Wrap up warm if you're coming in winter, the climate is similar to Siberia. The best time to come is in the autumn, from September to October. In summer it's very hot and humid. Monsoon season goes on from the end of June until August with risks of typhoon.

In order to communicate with the locals, you have to speak Korean; English isn't even understood by North Koreans. North Korean authorities want the Koreans to avoid all contact with tourists. You're not allowed to bring phones, tablets or computers with you.

pros

  • +The considerable natural beauty and richness is particularly attractive to travellers.
  • +The opening-up of the country to tourism.

cons

  • -Fifty years of authoritarian nationalism have made this a reclusive country.
  • -No individual tourism: visiting in a group is compulsory with the support of attentive guides.
  • -There is frequent political tension with South Korea.

Traditions

The development of art and culture is limited due to the nature of the North Korean political regime. North Koreas tradition is a subtle mix between Confucianism and communism. Music, dance and gymnastics are favored most by the authorities. These three disciplines are given pride of place in the Arirang festival, a huge show where the North Korean population are strongly advised encouraged to participate. The piri, which resembles a flute, is a greatly prized traditional musical instrument. You can bring back in your luggage traditional paintings representing a tiger and sacred mountains. Like its Chinese neighbor, North Korea has a long lasting tradition with the circus. North Korean acrobats are world renowned. The fight against the Japanese in the 1930's, the Second World War, and the Korean War are popular themes when it comes to artistic, literary, musical and cinematographic creation. The president Kim Sung II has even composed lyrical opera in 1971.

Food

The local cuisine is based on cooked rice. The main dishes are cakes, mash, biscuits and jelly mixed with other ingredients. Rice cakes can be made in fifty different ways. The accompanying dishes include soup (djidjigai), tang and Kimtchi, a type of hot and fermented salad consisting of cabbage and turnips, seasoned with garlic. Pastries and sweets are based on cereals and mixtures of walnuts, soya, pine nuts, and peanuts, etc. The cold Pyongyang vermicelli, a local speciality, consists of Korean sarazin flour pastas and potato starch, served with a refreshing soup of pheasant, chicken, and mince. Another speciality: sinseunro, a type of "pot au feu" including more than 30 different ingredients. Locals also enjoy starch noodles made from sweet potato and served in a cold beef broth, there are also several seafood specialties like dried stuffed merlin or stuffed calamari with sticky rice.

Souvenirs

You can buy souvenirs in Mandousai centre for artistic creation or in Daiseung jewellery factory. There is also an embroidery institute in Pyongyang. The most typical souvenirs to bring back are paintings, the famous pottery from Kaesong, embroidery, and shells. Shops are open from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM on week days.