You've read about the tour... here is some additional information
if you are thinking of coming...
1) TRAVEL ADVICE
1) TRAVEL ADVICE FAQ
If you have a read through our section 'tour articles and
testimonies' you will see just what can be got out of a
to North Korea. We follow with some answers to questions
you might have:
Is it Safe?
The DPRK does not appear on any lists
of countries where it is dangerous to visit and is probably
one of the safest countries in the world you can visit.
over fifteen years' experience and nearly 1000 tours we have
never felt that our groups were in any danger. We have never
any problems with the Korean authorities, experienced any
thefts or felt in any way threatened. All of Europe (apart
from France) and countries such as Canada, Australia etc.
have diplomatic relations with North Korea and they support
tourism. We are always welcomed by the Korean people and
are seen as guests in their country. Certainly if you are
to smile and be courteous you will receive a very positive
response. It is one of the last places on the world where
there are very few visitors and you can have a big impact
on whom you meet. No specific vaccinations are required
visiting the DPRK but we ask you to check with your doctor
for advice before you travel.
Group travel is not for me - can I travel there independently?
do offer independent tours for yourselves or group of friends
travel is just not possible in North Korea, your Korean guides
are obliged to be with you all day. In North Korea travelling
in a group is often much more fun and relaxing than being
on your own for several days with just two Korean guides
your driver, so in this case group tourism makes sense. Koryo
has the choice of the best guides (male and female) and
are always very good company and add a great deal to your
visit. It is not unusual for tourists and guides to remain
in contact by letter long after the trip. A typical tour
consist of between 8 and 15 tourists, most are made up of
individual travellers and perhaps one or two friends. About
a quarter of our tourists are female. During the day the
itinerary is often fairly packed so you are
busy but you get a good lunch break. There is plenty of time
to be on your own, if you wish, in the evenings and we also
offer a single room supplement at cost price if you prefer
How much will the tour cost?
tours are extremely good value for money because they are
the best guides and pack the itineraries with exciting places
to visit and things to see. The price includes travel from
Beijing to Pyongyang, accommodation, meals and guides and
are in relative luxury. We provide the best possible tour
itinerary and our experience tells us that if you cut any
corners you end up missing the best sites and get a second
grade trip. We are aware that tours are expensive but the
basic reason for this is that tourists to the DPRK are obliged
to have a full service package; there is currently only one
airline (although Air China are
so no competition
to keep prices down, only 4 trains a week with
and there is a limited choice of hotels that are available
to foreigners, all expensive ones. It should be noted however
that the tours we sell are all inclusive from Beijing to
DPRK and back to Beijing, covered in the price are plane
tickets, hotel accommodation, meals, guides, transport around
DPRK and entrance fees to the places visited, extra money
is only required for extra drinks with your
meals, tips and souvenirs/general spending money. Therefore
the tour cost is not as unreasonable as you may think. We
also offer discounts to students and to groups of people
Should I travel to North Korea?
Travel broadens the
mind and no more so than in North Korea. There are no restrictions
for you to visit and the United Nations, European Union
other agencies see tourism as a positive way of engagement.
Very few journalists are allowed into North Korea so the
experiences you will embrace there are rarely publicised.
It is not a country that many people visit, and there is
no information available about it. Koryo Tours has been responsible
for opening up destination such as Wonsan to tourism but
the greatest impact is that which we have on the Koreans.
Any contact we have with the Korean people has to be beneficial
in breaking down barriers, particularly as many people outside
Pyongyang have not seen let alone interacted with foreigners.
On our tours amazing things happen such as tourists
joining in folk celebrations with the Koreans on their
off. Tourists have experienced the most magical times such
as impromptu football matches with workers, playing with
children, being approached by Koreans who practice broken
English on them. In the West we portray the Koreans as a
humourless and robotic people, however this stereotype is
soon broken if you travel there, they are a very proud people
and although their life is a struggle their humour and warmth
What is the difference between a group tour and an independent
Group tours are on set dates that we have scheduled
in advance, usually to coincide with a major holiday or event
in DPRK, see our tours page for details of forthcoming group
tours. The prices for these are set although discounts are
available. Independent tours are tours for which you choose
the dates and have more control over the itinerary (although
it still has to be arranged in advance), the downside of this
is that independent tours tend to cost more as there are less
people in the group, if you have a group of friends or colleagues
who would like to travel with you then the more people in
the group the lower the price will be. All tours, whether
group or independent, are accompanied by two Korean guides
and a driver, even if the 'group' consists of just one person.
How long does it take to get a visa?
We ask you to complete
application for the tours one month before the departure
date, in some cases (if you live in Beijing for example)
be reduced but one month is the optimum time. The visa can
be issued in Beijing just before the tour or in your home
country (if you have a DPRK Embassy there), you should let
us know when you intend to leave your home country so that
we can arrange the best place to have the visa issued.
Can I take pictures/video?
There are many restriction on photography that have to be
obeyed in DPRK, however you can take pictures of most things
and everyone who visits always takes many more pictures than
they think they will (extra digital memory cards and sticks
are NOT available in DPRK so be sure to take plenty of those).
The Koreans do not examine your film or force you to develop
the films you have taken (although the customs officials
at Sinuiju may ask to see your pictures). Video cameras are
generally prohibited but can be taken on
to their use do apply but nothing that prevents the trip
to DPRK being accurately recorded in film
What is the food like
and how is the food situation
in North Korea?
DPRK is a country that has suffered severe food shortages
over the last decade and western NGOs have been operating
in the DPRK for many years. Although the famine situation
has been largely relieved it
is far from a culinary land of plenty. However as a visitor
and guest in the DPRK you will be well fed with 3 meals a
day including meat and fish. The food in DPRK is far from
fantastic but is not too bad, some meals are very good and
some are just good enough. Vegetarians can be catered for
and Vegans also to an extent although it cannot be guaranteed
that utensils used to touch food will not have touched meat,
or that cooking oil does not contain animal fats.
Fruit and chocolate is scarce in the DPRK so if you need this
while you are on the tour then you should take it with you
The food situation for the normal people of North Korea is
still in a critical state, the mass starvation of the
90s has abated but the supply of food still barely reaches
the demand so the situation is still tenuous and malnutrition
is a serious problem. We have contacts in the major and minor
NGOs involved in helping with the problems so if you were
interested in more information or making a donation we can
assist you in any way you need.
Can we go anywhere we want?
There are many restrictions on the movements of foreign visitors
to DPRK. You basically have to be accompanied wherever you
go (apart from if you just have a stroll around near the hotel)
and much of the country is off limits even to NGOs and diplomats.
The standard locations we take in on our tours include; Pyongyang,
Nampo, Mount Myohyang area, Kaesong and surrounding area,
Panmunjom/DMZ, Wonsan and surrounding area, Kumgangsan and
area, Paekdusan, Samjiyon, Sinchon, Mount Kuwol and area,
among other places. We can also arrange for tours to visit
other less common places such as Hamhung, Mount Chilbo, Sinuiju,
and Rajin-Sonbong free trade zone.
Can we talk to local people?
Contact with local people is possible but is difficult for
several reasons; the main reason is the language barrier (foreign
languages are not widely spoken in DPRK) and other reasons
are that the people are generally very wary of foreigners
and also are very shy (and careful with drawing attention
to themselves). You are free to attempt a dialogue with a
local but do not be surprised if they are not interested in
talking to you, however it can be very rewarding when you
do manage to make some human contact and your guides and Nick
, Simon and Hannah will make every effort to enable it.
What happens if I need medical attention?
has a foreigners hospital which is of higher quality than
the other hospitals in the country, if you need any medical
treatment above the order of a few aspirin or a plaster/band-aid
then you would be sent here (Note that Koryo Tours cannot
be held responsible for any medical costs). In dire emergencies
you should check that your insurance company has a provision
to have you airlifted back to Beijing and a western standard
of hospital eg SOS Beijing.
Will there be a parade, Mass Games, etc?
parades and Mass Games happen a lot less frequently than
people think; less than once a year on major anniversaries.
tourists are not allowed to attend the military parades but
we do get invited to other celebratory events such as Mass
Dancing on Kim Il Sung Square, Mass Games and occasional
public festivities. We cannot guarantee what celebrations
place until quite close to the dates and in some cases only
on the day. We expect Mass Games to run from August to October.
Mass Dancing events on Kim Il Sung square and around
the city can take
place in February, April, May, July, and
September. Please contact us and we can update you with what
activities are expected. May Day (workers' day off) is often
a great time to attend festive celebrations with the people,
such as tug of war competitions in the park) and mid April
is the Pyongyang festival for Peace and Friendship where
from around the world (mainly the socialist countries) come
and perform. There is also the Pyongyang Film Festival once
every two years - held in September. We always manage to
attend the best event that it is possible to attend on festival
What are the hotels like?
The hotels we use in Pyongyang
are the deluxe class hotels; the Yanggakdo Hotel (usually)
and the Koryo Hotel (occasionally) these hotels are western
3 star (Chinese 4 star) equivalent and are equipped with
shops, swimming pool, bowling, casino, and other entertainment
facilities (including Karaoke of course). The hotels in
always have reliable electricity, heating, air conditioning,
hot water, and now have foreign TV channels including BBC
World and Japanese and Chinese TV. The hotels we use outside
of Pyongyang are less well developed and have temperamental
supplies of electricity and hot water, however there are
some spectacular hotels in other places in DPRK such as
Korean style Minsok (Folk) Hotel in Kaesong and the Pyramidal
Hyangsan Hotel near Mount Myohyang
How many tourists go to North Korea every year?
estimated that less than 2000 western tourists visit DPRK
every year and although this number is rising it is still
an exclusive club to be a member of. There are around 20
- 30,000 Chinese visitors a year and large numbers of Japanese
Korean groups (Koreans living in Japan). Since 2005 US tourists
have been allowed into DPRK during the mass games period
Is there an expat community in North Korea?
now around 100 resident foreigners in Pyongyang excluding
Russians and Chinese. Most are Embassy staff, NGO workers
UN, World Food Programme, etc staff and assorted others including
3 English teachers at Kim Il Sung University, a Bank Manager,
and even the one remaining US defector to DPRK, Pyongyang's
longest serving foreign resident and the subject of our
latest documentary film 'Crossing the Line'.
Have there been any changes in recent years?
In 2002 some
economic reforms took place moving the Won (DPRK currency)
to a more market oriented valuing system; as a result of this
people are now expected to pay for many services and in return
they are paid money for working. This has meant that things
like small kiosks along the streets selling items such as
bread and drinks have started popping up and North Korea's
first official market has opened in Pyongyang with more planned.
These changes may not seem like much from the outside but
they are fairly radical when viewed in the context of the
DPRK. It is difficult to know how far these reforms will be
continued if at all.
Will I be spied on?
Despite claims in various newspapers it seems to us (although
we don't know for sure) very unlikely indeed that the Koreans
would bug the hotel rooms of western visitors. Paranoid fantasies
aside, what can the average visitor possibly have to say
would be of interest to the Korean authorities? if they want
to hear a foreign viewpoint on something they can watch BBC
World News in the hotel! Nevertheless as in all places in
DPRK it is best to restrain your criticisms until having
Will the guides try to brainwash me?
The guides, like
all North Koreans, have very strong beliefs which probably
differ quite starkly from most tourists, however they will
not try to brainwash you for perhaps the simple reason that
their system of 'Juche' socialism is intended for those of
Korean blood only. They are not into spreading world revolution
through the mouths of their handful of western visitors. They
express their beliefs and faiths very strongly and these are
held universally throughout the DPRK so it is both impolite
and futile to argue certain points with the Koreans. Something
to remember when visiting is that they will not try to brainwash
you, so don't try to 'liberate' their minds in return, it
would only breed resentment and cause irritation.
What are the guides like?
We work with a small core
of the best guides available, they are employees of KITC
(Korea International Travel Company) and range in age from
20's to late 40's. They are all fluent English speakers
(we can also provide guides who speak French, German, Italian,
Russian, Japanese, Chinese, and other languages) and have
a lot of experience in dealing with foreigners. We can say
honestly that they are good people, great fun and as normal
as you can get
. not the robotic 'minders' you may be
What are the trains and planes like? Are they safe?
the trains; there are 4 international trains a week between
Beijing and Pyongyang and back again, 2 are Chinese and 2
are Korean, they are more or less the same. There is only
one class of accommodation available for the 24 hour journey
and that is soft sleeper class meaning 4 beds to each berth,
12 berths to each carriage. Each carriage has 2 western style
toilets and a samovar for boiling water available for the
whole trip. The trains are safe and although the 2 international
carriages are attached to a very large local train when in
China only the international passengers can get into the international
carriages so there is nobody wandering around who shouldn't
Note that there is not a passenger train to Vladivostok at
the time of writing, this service has been suspended
The Air Koryo fleet are 1960s Russian models, usually an
Ilyushin but occasionally a Tupolev (for the charter flight
a small Antonov 12 is used). Although these are not the newest
planes available they are
well maintained and the western diplomatic staff in Pyongyang
use them and so do various pilots we have taken in and they
love them! The seats are not the most comfortable with not
a lot of space in economy class but it is possible to upgrade
to business class and after all the longest flight you can
take with Air Koryo is only one and a half hours. Food is
served on the flights and magazines and newspapers and handed
out for free. Air Koryo have 3 flights a week to Beijing,
Shenyang (in North East China) and one to Vladivostok in
Eastern Russia. In the past there were 2 flights a week to
also in Russia but at this time this route is not in use.
Occasionally there are flights also to Macau and to Bangkok
but not as often as Air Koryo's timetable claims them to
Can I write about my trip?
North Korea does not issue
visas to journalists except in special circumstances where
they are invited by the authorities. Occasionally this restriction
is relaxed and we are able to take journalists, if you are
a journalist wanting to go then please contact us and we
try on your behalf or we can add your name to a list to be
informed as and when you are permitted to go. In the past
some journalists have tried to sneak in to DPRK by submitting
false details, when this happens the company they travel
is held responsible and there are grave consequences; in
1997 we were shut down for 9 months when a British Channel
came on a tour with fake details - this not only causes us
and our Korean guides problems it also created problems
two aid agencies we had introduced to the country. Please
do not compromise our work in North Korea. We require each
of our tourists to sign a form stating that they will not
publish any articles about the tours without our express
we are required to insist upon this by DPRK law.
If you are interested in writing a travelogue or report on
the tour for a personal website or something similar then
we have no problem with this as long as you discuss it with
us beforehand and have our written agreement.
Please be aware that whilst we do the utmost for our tourists
are under very strict regulations as to what you can and
cannot do and this is not negotiable. For example; you are
not free to wander around on your own, there are photographic
restrictions and video cameras are generally prohibited.
The main problem is with journalists who have tried to enter
but without informing us of their
status. This has led to two serious instances which has got
our guides into trouble. WE CANNOT TAKE JOURNALISTS INTO
THE DPRK. We therefore ask all journalists to notify
us of their position so we can suggest other alternatives.
It is therefore only advisable visiting the DPRK if
you can tolerate the following points:
- In the DPRK you will be under close scrutiny from the
guides and security. Use of cameras causes the majority
of problems. You can only take a photograph of what the
guides allow. The public are obliged to report all photography.
Taking photos of soldiers, at check points, poverty, sneaked
photos and close ups of people without their express permission
will cause serious problems. Photography when being driven
around is also restricted. Even what we would interpret
as 'day to day' harmless scenes may cause problems. It
is too easy to get carried away and think that it is not
offence or would not put the guides in danger. This is
not the case and therefore we ask our tourists to take
responsible attitude even though it may mean missing the
photographic opportunity. If the group gets the confidence
of the guides you will have amazing opportunities for photography
and you will miss out on very little. DPRK regulations
state that you cannot take a lens
over 150 mm into the country.
- Leaving the hotel without the guides or the guides' express
permission is not possible. If you are feeling the need
for 'a breath of air' then a casual stroll along the river
is possible but only if accompanied with a guide. It is
possible to stroll in the grounds of the hotel but please
ask the guide and do not take your camera.
- We are 'invited' to the DPRK and therefore we ask our
tourists to respect the Koreans and their vision of the
Great Leader - this involves bowing at the 20 metre statue
on Mansudae and on various other occasions. Chewing gum,
and wearing scruffy clothing in places of Korean national
importance (such as Mansudae statue to Kim Il Sung, the
Friendship Exhibition and
Manyongdae birthplace of Kim Il Sung) will
In all these instances it is the guides that get into
trouble and not you. If you are happy just to be taken
around the 'system'
with all the diatribe and trimmings, then you will have the
most amazing experience. If any of the above poses a problem
it is advisable not to visit the DPRK as we have too many
experiences of seeing guides put in serious trouble by
who are not aware of their actions.
Customs The usual
list of prohibited items applies here i.e. arms, drugs,
pornography etc. Immigration officers may examine your
baggage and will frown on books/articles about North
Korea printed in the West and South Korea. Please do
not bring in any item that may risk confiscation.
will be asked to declare currency and electronic items
such as cameras, radios etc. Mobile phones and video
cameras are confiscated at the border and given back
to you on your return. MP3 players/iPods are ok to
take in. On occasions we are allowed to
take in video cameras providing they are used for personal
viewing only and you abide by the restrictions on
can be filmed. There is no limit on currency. DPRK
regulations state that you cannot take a lens
over 150 mm into the country.
Currency The official
exchange currency in DPRK is now Euros (USD were taken out
of circulation in 2003 but can still be used though we advise
you bring Euros). It is possible to exchange other currencies
(such as Pounds, Yen, Renminbi, HK Dollars) in the hotel
but be aware that the rate will not be in your favour, better
to change the money before entering the DPRK. We do not recommend
taking in travellers cheques as they are difficult to cash.
Economic reforms at the end of 2002 mean that the DPRK Won
is now valued at roughly 165 won to 1 Euro. It may be possible
to get hold of real DPRK money in the hotel but the best
currency to use when buying goods remains the Euro.
Food All meals
are provided and inclusive on the tour and are fair
not cordon bleu. Most of the meals will feature traditional
food, inc: 'Raengmyon'' (cold noodles); 'Pulgogi' (barbecued
meat which you cook yourself); 'Kimchi' (pickled cabbage).
Local beer and, on occasion, Ginseng wine are available
at meal times. There is a rather limited menu for
Postal services are available at the hotel. IDD phone
and fax is available though monitored. It is cheaper
to call from the phone booths in the lobby of the
Yangakkdo hotel rather than from your room. It is
possible to send e-mails in the DPRK from the hotel
server but you cannot check hotmail etc. Electricity
Supply: 220 volts, two round or flat pin plugs. Television
Shopping Most goods
are available in the foreign currency stores and hotels. However,
prices are relatively high. Specialised items such as slide
film, memory cards/sticks for digital cameras, batteries,
contact lens solutions etc., should be taken.
Climate Korea has a
temperate climate with distinct seasonal changes. Early Spring
is sunny but chilly so bring a warm coat and under clothes.
In late Spring light clothing in the day and warm clothing
at night is needed. Summer (June to August) is fairly hot
and humid during the day and cooler night but bring a light
raincoat as this is the rainy season. Autumn has marked
variations between day and night so be prepared. Winter (December
to February) has clear skies not much snow but is biting
Photographs There is
a 24 hour photo processing service in hotels and some shops.
There are no restrictions on taking photographs in Pyongyang
but common sense is called for, particularly at Panmunjom.
As in any country do not use your camera on the border crossings.
Korean courtesy demands that you ask permission before taking
photographs of people. Ask your guide if in doubt. They will
also be extremely pleased to receive a copy later.
Etiquette When offering
or accepting food, gifts etc., it is polite and customary
to use both hands. Hello = an-nyong ha-sim-ni-ka. Thank you
= kam-sa ham-nida. Though it is not customary to give tips
in Korea it is appreciated. We suggest small gifts for
the guides and driver such as cigarettes, fruit, coffee
Some provisions are also good for the train ride and to share
on the bus while we're on tour.
and more ideas....
Most Korean men smoke and it
is a good idea to bring a carton or two of Western
to share amongst the driver and guides. Korean women
do not smoke so giving cigarettes to a female guide
will benefit only her father or husband. It is also
having some bars of chocolate or cosmetics such as
Nivea hand/face cream, or jars of coffee/dried milk
will meet various female guides during your trip. We
would suggest you give these during the second day
as a pleasant gesture. We strongly suggest you bring
photos etc. to let your guides/waitresses etc see a
little of how you live.
The more 'little' things you
pens etc) the better as you will meet quite a few
who will guide you at various exhibits from children
to adults and most people are happy to receive a
sometimes it is easier to ask your guides to offer
them. If you have a polaroid camera a photograph
makes a great
gift - or you can send photos through us from back home.
The Koreans are very wary of foreigners but it is clear that
you can have a great impact if you come across as open and
friendly. In 1993, children would be very wary and try to
ignore you, however they are now responding with 'hello' and
are obviously fascinated. It really helps to smile and where
possible engage the Koreans, learning basic greetings in Korean