No Spontanaeity Allowed: How to Visit North Korea as a Tourist in Four (Restrictive) Steps

  • Share
  • Read Later
KNS/AFP/Getty Images

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (C) inspects a fish farm under Korean People's Army (KPA) unit 580 at undisclosed place in North Korea.

Looking for somewhere different for your next vacation? North Korea — crassly dubbed part of an “axis of evil” by President George W. Bush in 2002 — is allowing an increasing number of foreigners to visit, as ruler Kim Jong Il gets desperate for new revenue following years of biting sanctions as punishment for the country’s nuclear weapons program.

This, however, is no ordinary holiday, according to a reporter with the Washington Post, who joined a recent tour group from the Chinese city of Harbin. An excursion to this secretive northeast Asian country comes with a host of Orwellian restrictions which you breach at your own peril. So if you do make the trip to the hermit kingdom, be sure to follow NewsFeed’s essential tourist survival guide.

(PHOTOS: Chinese Tourists in North Korea)

1) Leave behind all means of communication with the outside world. A visit to North Korea will begin at a Chinese airport, where you’ll be told to dump cellphones, BlackBerrys, MP3 players and any other portable device in a clear plastic bag to be retrieved upon your return. Sneaking in your iPhone to keep up with Facebook is probably not worth the risk of being sent to a forced labor camp.

2) Do not attempt spontaneity of any kind, particularly random interactions with locals. Ever-present government minders will helpfully insist that North Koreans do not feel comfortable in the company of foreigners.

3) Limit your photography to scenic mountain and tour group shots. According to those exceptionally intuitive regime minders, average people do not appreciate being the focus of Western amateur photographers’ lenses. Same goes for taking pictures of construction sites, as you’ll undoubtedly be eager to do. Apparently they could be used for propaganda purposes.

4) Do not stray from your hotel in Pyongyang. When not being shunted between tourist sites and monuments the paranoid regime keeps visitors to the capital marooned on a river island, with all meals at the hotel buffet and shopping at the one and only gift shop. Resistance is futile, as the Chinese visitors who asked to eat noodles at a locals’ restaurant and visit a department store learned. The blunt answer: “not allowed.”

MORE: North Korea – Holidays from Hell?