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What to Expect on a Holiday to North Korea

Heard a lot about North Korea in the news recently? It’s been a hot topic of conversation amid fears of a breakdown in already tattered relations between DPRK and a host of countries, notably the USA. But where is it, what is it like and can you go on holiday there? Read on to find out more…

Where is North Korea?

North Korea is located in East Asia and borders both China and South Korea, whilst Japan is situated roughly 1,000km further east.

North Korea on Map

How long does it take to get there?

Flight time from London to Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, is approximately 13 hours direct, though usually departures from the UK tend to include connections which would see this increase.

What currency do they use?

The North Korean Won. At the time of writing, one British pound converts to around 1,170 KPW.

What’s the weather like?

With four distinct seasons, long winters bring cold and clear weather and sometimes snow storms as a result of northern winds that blow from Siberia. Summer on the other hand is usually hot and humid but also rainy as a result of the southern monsoon winds that bring moist air from the Pacific Ocean.

Is it a popular tourist destination?

When compared to popular tourist spots closer to home such as Spain, no it isn’t. However, North Korea stated in 2015 that it wants to attract 2 million tourists a year by 2020, which is some way higher the current figure of just over 100,000, having pinpointed this as a good source of income. Most arrive from neighbouring China, whilst it is estimated that 3,500 westerners visit each year.

Are there any entry limitations?

Obtaining tourist visas for North Korea is simpler than perhaps you’d think. The only requirement to consider is that you must be booked on a pre-planned tour, of which a handful of operators offer, with North Korean guides for company. You must also register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs if your visit is for more than 24 hours.

What type of food should I expect to eat?

Rice and kimchi are staple Korean cuisine and accompany side dishes such as banchan and main courses including bulgogi and noodles in a traditional meal.

Noodles

What can I do there?

Amongst the popular attractions include Mansudae Grand Monument (two 22-metre tall statues of North Korean leaders Kim II-sung and Kim Jong-il), Pyongyang Metro (the deepest Metro system in the world at 110 metres) and the Masikryong Ski Resort. It is worth noting however that you are not free to roam – guides and a driver accompany foreigners whenever they leave designated hotels.

Mansudae Grand Monument

Can I book a tour from the UK?

Yes. Though not everybody’s cup of tea, tours are aimed at pioneering tourists looking for a unique holiday experience. Some of the cheapest however can still be over £1,000, excluding flights, so be prepared to part with a fair bit of money.

Are there any local laws I should be particularly aware of?

Unauthorised activities can be seen as espionage and you should never travel anywhere in the country unescorted. You should follow the advice of your tour group and the local authorities, failure to do so could put your personal safety at risk, and note that offences which would be considered trivial in other countries can incur very severe penalties in North Korea. It is advised not to take photos unless you are told you can, to avoid being accused of espionage.

What else should I expect?

Freedom to roam is surrendered at the border, along with technology such as laptops or phones. It’s reasonable to assume that you will be under surveillance at all times and you are expected to remain respectful towards the country, its attractions, monuments and leaders at all times.

The British Embassy in Pyongyang can provide some consular assistance to British nationals visiting Pyongyang, but only limited assistance to those visiting other parts of North Korea, due to restricted access.

What’s the latest FCO North Korea travel advice?

Tensions are high on the Korean peninsula following a series of North Korea ballistic missile tests in 2016 and 2017, two intercontinental ballistic missile tests in July 2017 as well as 2 nuclear tests in 2016. There remains a threat of further missile or nuclear tests, which could lead to further instability in the region.

Despite the current tensions, daily life in Pyongyang remains calm. However, the security situation on the Korean peninsula can change with little notice.

Civil unrest, internal instability and/or an escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula could arise rapidly and you may get little or no information about this from the local media or authorities.

You should follow the political and security situation very closely and stay in touch with your host organisation or tour operator.

Would you go on holiday to North Korea?