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Trip Report North Korea Day Trip

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Last Sunday I visited the reclusive "Democratic" People's Republic of Korea (DPRK / North Korea). As Americans are no longer allowed to visit (though I am not sure how this can be policed as no VISA is attached to your passport and they don't stamp it either) I thought I would share my experience for anyone interested in this enigma of a country.

I had booked onto a Chinese group tour but paid extra to have an English speaking guide with me. It was a little overwhelming being the only non-Asian there and I was told we must follow a strict order throughout the day with me being last (i.e get off the bus last, enter each site last etc).

After a quick drive across the Friendship Bridge from Dandong in China we were dropped at North Korean immigration in the city of Sinuiju where are passports were collected. They would be returned at the end of the day when we were ready to go back to China.

Our first stop was at the statues to Kim Il-Sung (founding father) and his son Kim Jong-Un. I was told it is obligatory to buy flowers (20RMB/$3) and lay them at the foot of the statues before taking a bow. Those not prepared to follow the party line and do exactly as asked are strongly advised not to come to North Korea!

We then moved on to the museum behind the statues which was mainly an art gallery dedicated to the Kim dynasty (paintings of them inspecting factory production lines and wheat harvests etc).

Next we moved on to the local soap factory. A we drove out of Sinuiju and into the countryside I could see peasant farmers out in the fields harvesting by hand. There was no mechanical equipment. There were very few cars on the roads and a lot of bicycles.

After a whistle-stop tour of the factory we were then taken to a kindergarten to watch a performance put on by the children, and I must say I was impressed. The youngsters proceeded to put on a show with dancing, singing and recitals that would put many teenagers or adults to shame. It made me wonder about how strict their regime must be for them. You can see a recording I took here:

The performance lasted an hour and then we were taken to lunch. I wouldn't say it was a restaurant, it seemed more like the tourist company's headquarters but a nice spread was laid out for us including some North Korean beer. The food was very similar to Chinese (tofu, rice, meat and fish, with the addition of Korea's national dish, Kimchi (spicy cabbage). I was still tense but enjoyed the lunch nevertheless.

After lunch we were taken to the history museum which I found fascinating. It charted Korea's history (North and South) and included archaeological finds and reconstructions of stone and bronze age villages and burial chambers.

After the museum we were taken to a local park to relax and walk about (I walked a little too far on my own and my guide/government minder came running after me to bring me back to the main group). Old people were out dancing i traditional costume and looked happy, though I still wondered how scripted/staged it all was.

By now it was 4pm and we returned to the border post to cross back over China. It was this time that I felt the most nervous. Getting in was easy enough, it was the getting out again that worried me. After a nervous half an hour I was reunited with my passport and we were soon crossing the bridge back to China.

All in all it was an experience I will never forget! You can read about my trip in more detail here:

or even see a recording of the whole thing as taken by a local cameraman (like a late 80's home video, the quality, as you might expect is not great):

Maybe you think visiting such a place is a bad idea? I discuss whether it is right to visit countries with questionable governments in this article:

I hope you found my experience of interest, and if anyone has any questions I will be delighted to answer them.

Best wishes,

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