NORTH KOREA – Tour guide: To bow or not to bow; Pyongyang explored [part 1]

DPR (North) Korea - Pyongyang
DPR (North) Korea - Pyongyang

I bow in North Korea

to the great leader and eternal president Kim Il-sung as I would respect anywhere any local customs. So also, during this North Korea tour.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) for many brings up the thought “do I survive?”. From many friends I got questions like “Are you sure?”, “Let’s have a goodbye party we won’t see you again”, “Are you not afraid of getting imprisoned?” etc. etc. It’s not the first choice to travel to for many.

Why do a North Korea tour?

So why in the hell would I go there? It started long ago but got itchy some years back with a documentary about a North Korea tour on television in the Netherlands. My goal is to travel the world and not miss any country and due to the political situation, I put North Korea at the top of my bucket list as the country is changing fast. Better go now than never.

 

There was however one problem: I prefer control over my travels and plan them myself: NOT POSSIBLE. After searching the internet and finding the tour operators that offer the trips (there are not that many) I came in contact with Your Planet Travel which was even located in my own country. I met with them later at a conference about special travel. They offered me kind of what I normally do myself and the option to (semi) plan the trip myself. All professional and very personal; I can really recommend booking your trip to North Korea through them! My North Korea tour was great.

Flying to North Korea on Air Koryo

I arrived in Pyongyang from Beijing (check my Beijing guide to see what to do there!) on the 4th October in the year 103; yes the year 103! The years in North Korea are counted from the birth year of Kim Il-Sung which was 103 years ago at the time of my visit.

At Beijing Capital Airport, I upgraded my flight for a few USD to business class: who doesn’t want to fly business on Air Koryo? This gave me direct access to the VIP lounge but before going there I had to pick up chocolate, liquor, and cigarettes as gifts for the guides and others. As for cigarettes it was the first time, I ever bought those in my life. After a relaxing two hours in the VIP lounge I headed towards the gate and boarded smoothly to seat 2A with Korean officials sitting on the other seats. They did not like to have photos taken on the plane, so only a few in the following gallery.

Show respect on a North Korea tour

During the flight I made my first bow to the eternal president Kim Il-Sung. Flying over the Taedong river the plane made a rolling maneuver as a bow to the great leader after which it was a few more minutes to land at Pyongyang airport. The airport during my trip was under construction. This was ready during my second visit 5 years later. Lots of labor was done by hand by a lot of people with loud music and tunes to make them work harder.

 

North Korea immigration

As a new terminal was under construction the immigration was in a small building next to the new one. Immigration was a matter of giving passport, getting a stamp and to the next hurdle: customs. Customs was also easy to go through. They check your camera shortly, check your phone and x-ray your luggage to check for illegal books and other electronics not allowed in the country. I always carry a MiFi device in which I put a local sim data card, but it was not allowed to enter the country. It was registered, sealed and with the receipt I would be able to pick it up when I would exit the country.

During a North Korea tour two guides will join you (or your party) and a third person will drive you and your guides around. So basically I was with three people all the time when I was not in my hotel room. What I did and saw in Pyongyang you will read in in future posts. Do make sure to read my North Korea itinerary to get a complete impression what you will do and see during a trip.

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Did you visit North Korea too or do you have questions? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Love to hear from you!

Gallery North Korea tour

Check the gallery for more photos taken during this trip. If you like to use any photo for commercial, private or editorial use please contact first for permission and/or pricing.