You may be thinking that North Korea is lesser known and is unseen. Well, yes, that is true, but there is an even lesser known side to this fascinating country which makes it, well, even more fascinating!
Did you know that North Korea receives around 4-5k travellers each year and that 70% of travellers to North Korea are male? Pretty incredible right!
Those who are keen to head to North Korea are often well travelled seeking that whats new and whats different (our favourite type of travellers), country collectors or those simply looking for bragging rights. So what is travel like in North Korea?
Put in simple terms, when you travel to North Korea, you do see the real North Korea. Just not all of the real North Korea.
Did you know that your guide is responsible for your actions? And by that we don’t mean making sure that you turn up on time to depart each day. Please do not go to North Korea if you want that photo doing a handstand in front of the Great Leader and Kim Jong-il’s bronze statue. Your guide will lose their job over such disrespect and beyond this, their family will lose face in the community. This is serious stuff.
The locals of North Korea have the same aspirations as us. The average person may not know who Beyonce is, but they want what we want – a secure and rewarding job, to have fun, be well educated and a wife who is prettier than their mates wife.
What we see through the media about North Korea is not the everyday reality. The locals are not military marching their way to work as the media would have us believe. A military march only takes place once a year. The media paint a perception using broad strokes and there is a lot missing in their narrative.
The people of North Korea are very warm, hospitable but are still unsure about foreigners. Although there are many opinions surrounding tourism in North Korea, we believe that allowing travellers to explore North Korea, it is providing further education to the locals – even if the contact with the locals whilst on a tour offers limited connections. It all helps and starts to provide the the foundations of cultural exchange and better education for both travellers and the locals alike. We are curious just like them. Let’s break down those barriers.
Tourism in North Korea operates differently to other countries. The money bought into the country does not support the government. It supports the locals, the guides and those directly involved with welcoming travellers into their country.
Did you know that Pyongyang has 13 hotels and that some of them house bowling alleys, revolving restaurants and even microbreweries? Do not expect wifi, HBO or minibars though. Internet can only be accessed using a local sim on 3G and tethering or hot spotting is not possible as unsecured connections are illegal.
You will of course face the regular challenges of travel to a region that is still developing, especially in winter, such as power cuts, limited hot water, no internet and definitely expect architecturally quirky buildings.
Venturing out of the city and into the regional reaches of North Korea, accommodation is basic but very reasonably priced. Did you know that North Korea has ski resorts and stunning coast line?
Did you know you can hike in the mountains, swim in waterfalls and experience a homestay in North Korea in a little fishing village?
Did you know that North Korea also has cherry blossom season – although most of their blossoms are almond blossoms – same, same but different. You can even teach English to students in North Korea or work in the rice paddies in the north.
What about volcanoes? Did you know that Mt Paekdusan is a volcano sitting on the border of North Korea and China and has stunning volcanic lakes?
Crooked Compass is proud to offer such incredible destinations that are often misunderstood or misinterpreted. Our mission is to educate travellers further by sharing experiences that you may not know exist.
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.