I have never been somewhere so confusing, yet so beautiful. A country with incredible landscapes, beautiful people but with an incredibly strange and unrelatable system in which the the country is run. Yes, I have now seen the inconceivable brainwashing for myself, but I have also learned the North Korean’s are so focused their people – having the best country for their population – although they live in an oppressed society, they know no different.
Having just travelled through North Korea, I am not sure if I have answers to my many questions or simply more questions.
Thinking back to my travels through Greece and Bhutan where the mythology captivated me, here the mythology is real life to the people. Lost somewhere in a tangle between folk, ‘taught’ history and real history live the current generation of North Koreans.
Stuck living somewhere between the liberation from the Japanese in 1945 and desperate for a reunified Korea, the locals are absolutely absorbed in living their life to please their deceased leaders.
Pins of their portraits adorn every garment of clothing, cars slow down as they drive by the elaborate bronze statues.
Apparently tourists are not meant to have free time away from their guides but our guide let us roam free through a local supermarket and go off on our own strolling along the beach. For a country with no consumerism, we were surprised to see Pantene, Fanta, Colgate, Chivas Regal on the shelves. In the clothing department, there was sponge bob square pants and hello kitty children’s clothing. In the furniture section, there was a mini Ikea actually called Ikea with items like the famed Poang chair.
On the streets, the locals dress in mainly brown, black or army green. Pops of colour burst through on occasion mainly from the ladies showing they may be the ones starting to go against the state issued clothing. Perhaps we are on the brink of change?
I notice our guide has a ‘Prada’ bag. This thought deepens in my mind.
I also note the almost lack of information regarding their current leader. After what seems like they lived the lives of the former two leaders, no-one seems to know anything at all about the current leader. No-one knows where he lives, his age, if he has a son… nothing. When they speak of him they simply just say our current leader, whereas speaking of the previous two leaders, their names are always addressed with Marshall, comrade, chairman, general or dear leader. Very interesting….
Driving past the Pyongyang apartment blocks at night, as lights slowly flick on as locals return from work, the two distinct portraits of the leaders sit perfectly on the same wall in every apartment in every block.
The more time you spend here, the more you understand the socialist system. Yes it may be ‘fair’ across the board but the life these people live is way too hard and not fair compared to the freedom of the people of the rest of the world. They work 6 days a week with Sunday as their ‘holiday’ yet we did not see a decline in the amount of people working on a Sunday. Outside the capital of Pyongyang, deemed the city for the elite by books you read, (and you require a permit to get in), 99% of the population are farmers and work back breaking labour on the farms. Working from before the sun rises to well after the sunsets to earn points which covert in food rations. The elderly hobble around if they are lucky, others sit in rickety and rusty carts pulled along not by animals, but by grandchildren – or perhaps it is their children and the hard life has simply aged them well in advance.
The mind continues to boggle the more time I spent here.
Yes, there are resources available for those who want to learn more about the outside world, but only in Pyongyang. There is no way any of the farmers would have access to this or even the means to get anywhere near this sort of knowledge – most people can simply only afford a push bike as a means of transport. The number of locals hitchhiking has baffled me.
We will drive for hours through empty rural countryside and then suddenly find random people walking with huge loads of wood or corn crops on their back.
The houses of the farmers are quaint from the outside – they have a traditional Korean feel about them. But they do not have electricity. Coal is provided by the government for them to have a burning fire for warmth.
North Korea – I won’t call it weird, I’ll just call it different. It is the most fascinating country I have ever visited. Nothing else comes remotely close. Stay tuned for part two – exploring Rural North Korea.
Does travelling to North Korea interest you? Crooked Compass offers small group tours to the ‘Hermit Nation’. Click here for more information.
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.