With the Middle East hogging the headlines, it can be easy to forget that it takes three countries to make an Axis of Evil. With retro-chic all the rage in the western tourists should not forget to put North Korea on their must-visit list.
From its pit toilets to its steam trains the country is a communist fun-park with something for every member of your family. Whether you’re queuing for a bowl of rice, compulsorily placing flowers at Kim Il-sung’s tomb, or being followed by secret police you’ll find traveling in North Korea delightfully demodé.
1. When to Go
With relations between North Korea and every other country in the world rapidly deteriorating, now is a good time to go. The slightest diplomatic hiccup will result in all foreigners being interred. Being in prison on trumped-up political charges may not be everyone’s idea of a good time, but it will offer an authentic North Korean experience of living like the locals and has the added advantage of free food and board. Well, freeboard.
2. Orientation and Information
There are very few western travelers to North Korea, only the occasional journalist posing as a businessperson. Do not under any circumstances claim you are a business person, as you will immediately be recognized as a journalist by the secret police. Businessmen do not visit North Korea as it has no businesses.
North Korean expressions can often seem a little idiosyncratic to outsiders. For example, travelers might find it odd at first that the country’s official title includes the word “Democratic”. In the North Korean dialect, “Democratic” translates as “run by an autocratic communist madman”.
3. Places to Stay
North Korea is yet to develop the kind of trendy backpacker accommodation that is found around the rest of the world. This makes it very hard to find large groups of Germans on the internet and Pommies getting pissed. Unfortunately, it also makes it hard to find a cheap bed to sleep in. Offers to stay in the houses of local North Koreans should generally be turned down – not because their houses are small and have little food but because your hosts will be killed if you stay with them.
This only leaves expensive state-operated hotels prepared for foreigners when Pyongyang hosted the 1972 Communist World Fair. Guests at these hotels will be afforded luxuries not available to the general population such as electricity, fresh bedding, and drinking water without radium.
The most popular form of public entertainment in North Korea is watching political dissidents being ritually humiliated, an everyday occurrence in the spacious avenues that make up Pyongyang. Tourists may also marvel at the stadiums full of high-school children holding up colored cards. As many as 30,000 students at a time hold up cards to make extraordinarily detailed scenes of sunsets, and flowers.
Whatever you do, don’t miss the opportunity to tour a genuine nuclear facility. Recently opened after renovations, you can watch workers produce weapons-grade plutonium to power the countryside and give Koreans access to chemotherapy. And for a limited time only, trips to the nuclear reactor come with a bonus all-expenses-paid 780 day trip to sunny Cuba, where you can discover for yourself the latest cutting edge military information-gathering techniques. They’ll amaze you!
5. Society and Culture
Those who have met the vibrant people of South Korea will find the North Koreans much the same, but without the vibrancy.
All visitors to North Korea must be accompanied by tour guides at all times. In this way, North Korea is the same as the Leyland Brothers World. These compulsory tour guides will undoubtedly take you to see the Tower of the Juche Idea, a tower similar to the Eiffel Tower. The North Koreans idolize many relics of nineteenth-century Paris, such as Marx.
6. Dangers and Annoyances
- Admitting that you are a US spy can be dangerous.
- Be careful if there is a missile test scheduled during your stay. While the missile will almost certainly fall into the sea, this may prove hazardous if you are swimming or scuba-diving.
- Avoid carrying food items, particularly bread, rice, or other staples, in public places. You may attract a crowd of desperate, starving citizens who will then be beaten by the police.
- Labeling your travel e-mail “My Brilliant Korea” will be an annoyance to all your friends.