How to travel to North Korea

On August 29th, 2017, I took an Air Koryo flight from Beijing to Pyongyang, capital of North Korea. Yes, exactly the day the media announced North Korea had launched a missile on Japan, more specifically the one that flew over Japanese land after eight years.

Nothing from the news that were appearing in the media made me change my mind about travelling to this country, an idea I had been planning for two years.

Visiting North Korea in an independent way is not possible. You would need to go with a group. There are various agencies that offer these tours.

We were 25 people. We were divided into two groups with a western guide and two North Korean guides for each group. When we arrived at the airport, there were two buses waiting for us and that is how the best trip of my life began.

The truth is that I was feeling a bit strange and I did not know what to expect. I thought that the airport controls would be much stricter, but we just arrived, went through Migrations with a VISA we were provided in Beijing before boarding, we went through Customs and that’s it… we were in North Korea.

We visited a lot of places such as “Kumsusan Palace of the Sun”, Kim Il-Sung’s and his son Kim Jong-il’s mausoleum, Juche Tower, made up of 25550 blocks that represent the number of days Kim Il-sung lived.

We went to a show from children at school age, where they sang, danced and played instruments. We flew over Pyongyang in a Russian helicopter, model Air Koryo Mil-17 chopper and then we enjoyed an excellent lunch, with more than seven varieties of different dishes. We tasted local food, we got to know the city of Pyongsong, we went to DMZ, which is the demilitarized area, in the border with South Korea, where we learned a lot about the Korean Armistice Agreement in the 38th parallel… and we even threw a “pool party” at the hotel. Nothing was missing from this trip. All meals were included, and we could even buy souvenirs, books and the local newspaper in English “The Pyongyang Times”, which is published every Saturday. Strangers cannot use local currency, only USD or EUR.

We visited a school and we saw how children study and play sports. I even played ping pong with one of the students! And he beat me!

Local guides were always with us, at all times, explaining about the history of their country.

We took the metro and could visit six stations, each one with its style. Long stairs that reminded me of the ones in Moscow’s subway. The metro or subway is prepared to serve as a shelter or bunker in case of war.

There were two options: going back to Beijing by plane or taking a train of approximately 24 hours. “The” adventure was to choose the second option. I boarded that train that offered the basic amenities. We were two hours in the border from the North Korean side and then we crossed over to the Chinese side and we were there for another hour and a half.

I know that for many people it was strange that I was there, because, due to ignorance, many people don’t even know it’s possible. I don’t regret having gone there for a second and I’m even thinking of running a marathon in Pyongyang! Yes, as you read… You can choose the distance you want to run. My goal is 10 KM, although I know that that is not considered a marathon. However, for me it’s enough to just be there, get to know the culture and breathe a bit from the country.

Passport and visa

Propaganda
DMZ

 

The Arch of Reunification
North Korean food
Air Koryo
Train back to Beijing
Soviet helicopter

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