Welcome to Beautiful Downtown Pyongyang!

June 26, 2011

I have always been fascinated by North Korea, because it is just so, well, weird. It is a giant country of miserable, starving people, led by one fat, wealthy dictator, Kim Jong-Il, who spends more each year on importing fine French Bordeaux than the average North Korean will make in a lifetime. And the capital, Pyongyang, is more of a fake, staged tribute to Stalin than a real city. So I was naturally delighted to learn about traveling to North Korea and seeing the sites! When you tour North Korea, you cannot leave your government tour guide (read: minder) at any time. You may only go where they have scheduled you to go, in and around Pyongyang. And you only get to see the false fronts of mostly empty buildings, and people staged to pretend to be walking around and conducting business. Weird. Here is some information about traveling to North Korea, from http://wikitravel.org/en/North_Korea.

“Tourist travel to North Korea is only possible as part of a guided tour. Independent travel is not permitted. If you are not prepared to accept limitations on your movements and behavior, you should not travel to the DPRK at the present time. On the other hand, travel in the DPRK is, if nothing else, a unique experience.

“North Korea can only be visited by an organized tour, but this can be a large group or a party of one. Prices start from around $1000/€700 for a 5-day group tour including accommodation, meals and transport from Beijing, but can go up considerably if you want to travel around the country or “independently” (as your own one-person escorted group).

“Despite severe food shortages in North Korea which have left millions dead, you will not have any problems getting food. Your guide will order all your food for you, and you will eat in hard-currency only restaurants. Vegetarians, and people with food allergies/dislikes of common foods such as seafood or eggs will need to make arrangements in advance. A visit to a “real” local restaurant may be possible; enquire with your guide. Note that although your food is better than what the majority of the population eats, it’s still not necessarily great. Shortages combined with the typical use of Korean cooking styles mean that there is a relatively limited variety of food, which can get wearying on tours of more than a few days.

WARNING: Under no circumstances whatsoever are you to say something that could be perceived as an insult to Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-Il, Juche, or the North Korean people or government. Simply avoid the topic if you can. Keep in mind that anyone can be an undercover police officer or an informant. You and your guide are likely to face serious trouble but assume that your guide will bear the worst of it. “In trouble” does not mean a slap on the wrist. North Korea is known for extremely harsh punishments which range (for the guides) from lengthy prison sentences to a lifetime of torture and forced hard labour in the gulags, while you will most probably be sentenced to a short stay in a local prison or labour camp, deported, and banned from re-entering. Assume that you will be under surveillance at all times during your trip. ”

Well, that sounds lovely. I am booking my trip today! Anyone care to join me in the People’s Paradise?

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