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North Korea, on a budget.

To travel to North Korea is one thing that most people think is very expensive, time-consuming, and difficult, but those people could not be wronger.

Before I went to North Korea, I read through all the biggest travel forums in the world about how to get there. Everyone told me it was costly and took weeks if not months to organise.

I was in China on a tourist visa office when I was thinking of going there, so I did not have weeks or months to plan it.

I decided to take a local train from Beijing to Dandong, the border city in China with North Korea and hope for the best.

bridge to north korea from dandong

After arriving in Dandong and checked into a local hotel, I went around to look for a travel company that might have trips to North Korea.

After walking around for a short time, I met another foreigner that was going to North Korea the next day; I went with him to his company to apply for the visa. After filling out the visa application and paid, and the next day, I was on my way to North Korea with the train from Dandong to Pyongyang.

Less than 48 hours after I had arrived in Dandong.

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The train journey is nothing unusual in itself. I met another European group going there too.

So we ended up getting drunk with few bottles of horrible local liquor with some North Korean soldiers.

Pyongyang The Capital of North Korea

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train to north korea

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Most tourists get checked into the Yanggakdo Hotel, is 47 stories tall, has several restaurants (including a revolving restaurant on the top), and a kitsch casino in the basement where you can watch Chinese gamblers going wild.

It also has a bowling alley, a huge swimming pool, a few small shops and a tailor (where I got a tailor who made Kim Jong-Il suit).
Pyongyang
Pyongyang

When travelling in North Korea, you have to be with a guide all the time. One of the differences between going with a Chinese tour instead of an international one if you do get a lot more “freedom” with a Chinese tour.

In North Korea, I always free to walk wherever I wanted with the guide following me instead of you have to follow the guide as I saw all the international groups had to do.

And I was free to take photos of whatever I wanted too.

Some of the things you will see in Pyongyang is:

Juche Tower -A 170-metre tall monument which dedicated to the Juche philosophy of Kim Il Sung.northkorea,north korea,asia,china,bridge,kimjong
Juche Tower in Pyongyang

Arch of Triumph-The arch was designed to commemorate the Korean resistance to Japan between 1925 and 1945 and eventual liberation from Japanese rule. The arch is modelled on the Arc de Triumph in Paris. However, at 60 m high and 50-m wide it is the biggest victory arch in the world.northkorea,north korea,asia,china,bridge,kimjong

Korean War Museum-Also was known as the Victorious Fatherland Liberation Museum.

The basement of the museum has some captured U.S. planes, tanks, and weaponry. I’m not a fan of museums, but this museum is amazing. It’s very modern and has a lot of art facts on display. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take photos inside.
Pyongyang War Museum

20-metre high bronze statue of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il at Mansudae. #North_Korea , #Pyongyang

Grand Monument-Two huge bronze statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

Here you will have to put down flowers and show your respect to the great leaders. Some locals will bow to the statue.

Pyongyang Metro

Nampho.

One of the places you get to see outside of Pyongyang is Nampho on the west coast.

Nampho is an industrial city where the West sea barrage has located a system of dams, three lock chambers, and 36 sluices, allowing the passage of ships up to 50,000 tons.

The dam closes the Taedong river off from the Yellow Sea. This place would never have been a tourist sight anywhere else in the world, but this is North Korea.

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Kaesong

One of the other places you get to see is Kaesong located in the south close to the DMZ and South Korean border. Kaesong is a small city and former capital of the Koryo Dynasty (918 A.D. – 1392 A.D.).

It is the only major city that changed hands between North and South Korea as a result of the Korean War in Kaesong you will get to see the POYANG TEMPLE,

Pohyon Temple is one of the five famous Temples of Korea boasting of over 1000 years. It was built in 1042 but rebuilt between 1441 and 1765. Originally it had 24 buildings and pagodas.

It was the largest temple in Phyongan area and a centre of Buddhism in the northern part of River Chongchon. It burned down during the Korean War but later on restored.

The temple did not interest me much, and since it was rebuilt after the Korean war, it basically looked like something from IKEA, with bright colours.

Unfortunately, that’s the same story in South Korea, all historical temples their looks like they just came in the box from IKEA too.

DMZ (Demilitarized Zone)

Next day we are off to the DMZ, the line of border between North and South Korea, I had already been to the DMZ from the South Korean side, and it was quite interesting to see how the sides want to tell you what happened, while South will tell you their side of the story, the story that North tells you is the complete opposite.

Click here to read about visiting the DMZ from the South Korean side.

While the South Korean side was overcrowded with tourist groups from around the world, the Northside was the complete opposite to it. I was the only one there.

So the soldiers were quite talkative and even happy to be taken picture off

First, you will have to go to the North Korean Peace museum, the same building that the armistice got signed the armistice was signed on July 27, 1953.

The museum is filled with photos from when the armistice got signed and historical artefacts.
After done with the DMZ, it’s back to Pyongyang for more sightseeing.

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North Korean soldier on the border with South Korea

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Additional info about Travel North Korea

How to travel to North Korea

North Korea can only be visited by an organised tour, but this can be a large group or a party of one. Prices start at around  700Euro/780USD for a 5day tour with a Chinese company.
You can enter by train from Dandong(China), or you can fly in from Beijing (China)

Is it worth going to North Korea?

Quite a few people would tell you, you should go, coz if going you will support the regime, and the money you spend will go straight to the regime.

If you don’t care about the hypocrites and is rather interested to see what’s all about, I would say yes, I would defiantly go back.

Price

1USD – 130 North Korean Won (KPW)

Even North Korea got their own currency your not allowed to use it while in North Korea; you have to pay everything in USD, Euro, Chinese renminbi (CNY)

But when you’re going on an organised tour, almost everything is included in the price already. You will not have to pay for any transportation, meals, entrance fees, accommodation etc. But you will have to pay for souvenirs, beer, and other stuff from the small convenience store in the hotel

1bottle of beer – 1USD
Tailor-made Kim Jong il suite – 250USD To send
postcard to Europe – 1.5USD

Safety

North Korea is considered one of the safest tourist destinations in the world.
The only way you are likely to put yourself in any danger is by criticising the North Korean leaders or government.

BEER in North Korea

Also, North Korea got its own beer, Taedonggang Brewing Company was established in 2002.
The local beer was easily available, and every evening while in North Korea was used to drink beer with other travellers in some of the bars in the hotel

They offer one light taste beer and one darker beer.
north korea beer
Taedonggang 2P

Taedonggang 2P

Type – American Adjunct Lager

Strength – 5.5%
Price – 1USD

Taste – Clear amber-gold colour, light grains, with light rice taste? The beer taste is very light and easy to drink,
Hangover? YES, one of the worst hangovers I have ever had

Score – 5/10

north korea beerTaedonggang 11P

Type – Pale Lager
Strength – 3.3%
Price – 1USD

Taste – Little corn and grass on the nose. Quite dry, but no alcohol taste. very easy to drink

Hangover? YES, same as with the other North Korean beer, it gives an awful hangover

Score – 4/10

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Marissa arroyo

Saturday 22nd of February 2020

So how was it when you went back? May i ask the agency name please?do you consider is safe forme as a woman to visit alone? Thanks

Fyl

Wednesday 12th of June 2019

What language did you use to communicate and interact with the Chinese tour group people? What about other staff and locals during your ll visit1visit?

Korean, Chinese, or English?

Would someone with no Korean or Chinese be able to experience much of this?

Also, do you feel that your "neutral" country of origin got you different access/treatment? Would there be advantages for holders of "friendly" papers (Chinese, Russian) or disadvantages/risks for "unfriendlies" (USA?)

Christian L.

Wednesday 12th of June 2019

Hello.

Your guide will be a North Korean English speaking guide. You can also request other various speaking guides etc French, Spanish, German + more. Your guide will be a North Korean licends guide, so you will have exactly the same type of guides all international agencies

Peter

Friday 9th of February 2018

Hi Christian – again, jumping on this amazing blog post thread which has been encouraging. I'm a Canadian but I can speak Mandarin, so you have me thinking now about checking out North Korea through Dandong.

Just like the ask from people above, may I get the name of the agency you used? I'll share my email in the comment section. Thanks again!

Peter

Christian L.

Tuesday 20th of February 2018

Heei. Sorry for late reply. I have been busy Traveling. I used the company called ExploreNorthKorea based in Dandong

Miguel

Friday 10th of November 2017

Hi Christian,

Could you please tell me what's the name of the company you travelled with? You can send it to my private email if you don't want to share it in public! Here it is:

Would be nice if you could tell me a bit more about the chinese visa procedure and other requirements. Thank you very much!

Christian L.

Friday 10th of November 2017

Heey Miguel. I will check my mail again and answer you there as soon as I can:)

Christian

Ilja

Monday 13th of February 2017

Hey Christian,

Thanks for sharing your story, I've read it with great pleasure. Naturally I don't want to go with one of these tours as well. It would be great if you could send the name of the Chinese agency in Dandong to [email protected]

Thanks in advance!

Benoit

Tuesday 14th of March 2017

Hi there, same here haha. I went to dprk 3 years ago with a Chinese agency found in Dandong too but still think there must be better one, or at least with different program. Thanks a lot and all the best.