North Korea Is Open to Tourists, but Are Tourists Open to Visiting?
I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for forbidden-fruit destinations and travel taboos. I love finding beauty in places that were no-goes for travelers not long ago; my two favorite trips of 2009 were to the charming countries of Colombia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. But one mysterious land that I’m not sure holds much mystery for me is North Korea—and its government is sending out the invitations.
North Korea’s apparent announcement that borders will open to American tourists year-round, instead of exclusively during the annual Arirang spectacle, has sparked the interest of several travelers I know. One of my colleagues even went out and bought the guidebook already (and there really is only one guidebook).
But what is there to see? And how easy is it to get there?
I flipped through the Bradt guide and found some interesting sights I don’t normally associate with the isolated country—national parks, mountains, beaches—and some things I do: lots of Kim Il Sung. In Pyongyang, you can see the Kim Il Sung Mausoleum, Kim Il Sung Square, Kim Il Sung Stadium, and Kim Il Sung University—if you can get permission to enter all of them, that is.
Then I did some Internet research and was surprised to see that the U.S. State Department doesn’t seem to discourage North Korea trips at all. In fact, the department’s web page for the country says that “foreign tourists are a means for North Korea to earn much needed foreign currency”—but also states that “an underdeveloped service sector, inadequate infrastructure, and political tensions with surrounding countries have stymied any significant tourist flow.”
Currently, U.S. travelers who do venture to North Korea must arrive via a flight from China, though one tour operator working in North Korea told USA TODAY that he expects this restriction to loosen as well.
Only time will tell if U.S. travelers start pouring into Pyongyang, but I’m curious: do other travelers have an interest in visiting North Korea, or would you skip it due to either political objections or a lack of interest?
Photo of the DMZ at Gangwon-do by IgoUgo member Miss Bels
My name: Michelle Doucette
How I earn my keep: I'm an editor at IgoUgo.com.
Favorite way to get around: Some of my favorite trips involved renting cars in foreign countries and driving through the countryside, stopping on whims. You get a feel for the culture away from the big cities and meet interesting people on the road, including, I must admit, an embarrassingly high number of local policemen. I suppose it would be prudent to learn all of the traffic laws ahead of time.
Best meal I've had while traveling: Since a succession of gelato cones probably doesn't count as a meal, my favorite must have been a fresh crabmeat lunch prepared by a St. John sailboat captain while we took a break from snorkeling in the Caribbean. Sharing baklava as the sun came up over Paros, Greece, (while, once again, not technically a meal) was also memorable.
Travel ambitions: Since climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, I've figured out that I'd like to keep trekking while traveling. I've got my eyes on epic hikes in Nepal, Bhutan, and Peru.