The spring festival just passed and Yvonne and I had the opportunity to travel to North Korea or as they like to call it the DPRK. Yvonne and I usually travel during spring festival, because we have a week off, but this year we were slow to get our plane tickets and everything was going to cost $700 – $1,000 per ticket, which we thought was too expensive. If we wanted to travel abroad it would have cost us $1,500 – $2,000 just for the flights!
So, we decided to travel to North Korea with Koryo Tours instead. The cost was about $1,500 per person for 5 nights, but everything was included hotel, food, transport, etc. This allowed us to visit a new country and have an experience of a life time…. because I don’t think we will ever go back.
Over the 6 days we were in North Korea, we visited many places and experienced many things. Here is an account of my first impression of North Korea, we will go into more details over the next few posts, but this post is just how I feel after leaving the DPRK.
First Impression of North Korea
There was very little good. This might be hard to hear, but remember this is my first impression of North Korea. When you travel to North Korea you bring a lot of preconceived notions about the country. We have all been told about the lack of food, electricity, and basic resources, but until you experience it firsthand it’s just a story. Some of the good things about North Korea were; there appeared to be more resources than the news often portrays and there weren’t people starving in the streets.
Pyongyang is actually a well-developed city and there was evidence of construction. This means the economy is growing and the lives of Pyongyang citizens are improving. This was good. Also, we were able to visit a supermarket and the shelves had plenty of food and drink items. There was evidence that North Korea and China have been trading a lot over the last few years and 80-90% of the products were Chinese products. This trade has allowed for people living in Pyongyang to improve their standard of living.
In terms of traveling, everything is taken care of by the tour company and KITC (Korea International Tourism Company). The trip is well structured and the tour guides were friendly. The North Korean people are also friendly and seemed happy.
On the surface North Korea is just a poor country trying to improve, but underneath it is a failed socialist state. The bad was it appears almost all the resources that enter the country are pooled in Pyongyang. Outside of the city life looked extremely hard for the average North Korean citizen. The infrastructure is not maintained and there is no electricity. We spent the night in two smaller towns and there was no electricity. The hotels were able to provide limited electricity because we were foreign guest, but the majority of the city had no power.
The ugly was really ugly! Over the 6 days we were in North Korea, we were dragged from mausoleum to fake temple to empty museum. Everywhere we went was a complete mismanagement of limited resources. The leaders have spent millions of dollars on museums that remain empty, on statues of themselves, on mausoleums to hold their dead, and on sports stadiums that remain dormant. All the while, citizens are struggling in the countryside with no electricity or transportation. On the Sunday we were traveling in North Korea, they launched a satellite and everyone was excited about this great accomplishment, but all I could think of was ‘how much did it cost’ and ‘how many people could have been helped’ had those resources been used for the people.
Final Thoughts on my impression of North Korea
North Korea is a failed state. This is how I feel after visiting the DPRK. The people are controlled by their dictator and the country is not a socialist state. The people, including the tour guides, have little or no access to world news or different opinions and they are effectively indoctrinated into the cult of Kim. They are smart enough to know that their country is not the best, but they don’t blame their government for their problems. They blame outside forces and they don’t question the dictator. The government wastes resources to maintain their power and they do not seem interested in truly improving the lives of their citizens. The infrastructure was failing and there was constant brownouts in Pyongyang.
On traveling in North Korea
It was actually extremely easy and there were many socialist monuments and museums to visit. This made for an interesting and enjoyable trip, but it was a constant reminder of the failed policies of North Korea. Would I recommend the trip? Yes and No.
- Yes, because it was amazing to see and experience, like I said it is a once in a life time experience. Also, places like North Korea are becoming rare and history should be documented through the eyes of travelers. Plus, its North Korea… Not too many travelers have that travel badge. According to some accounts only 6,000 Westerners travel there each year.
- No, because it is North Korea and although very little money is made off of tourism each year, you will be stimulating their economy. Also, the government uses tourism as a propaganda tool and hopes to impress foreigners. They hope we will tell a different story to the world and to our friends. Their interpretation of world events is very different than accepted truth and they attempt to tell their story through travelers/bloggers that will praise their advancements and progress (and all the things they ‘invented’).
These are my first impressions of North Korea after traveling for a very short time and a very controlled environment. I obviously do not have a full account of the issues North Korea faces and I am not an expert on the ongoing problems. I am just a traveler explaining what I saw and felt during my trip. Stay tuned for more stories about North Korea in the future.