Common Misconceptions About North Korea: Is it Safe to Visit in 2019?
As one of the least visited countries and seemingly cut off from the rest of the world, North Korea is a somewhat mysterious nation shrouded by misconceptions and uncertainty which tends to put most people off from even thinking about taking a trip to the Hermit Kingdom. While for most it won't seem like an obvious destination, nowadays North Korea is actually really easy to travel to, with thousands of westerners visiting each year. Traveling to the country gives you a first-hand, fascinating insight into a nation seemingly stuck in the past, devoid of western influence with an incredibly unique image. But is it safe?
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Safety in the DPRK
Contrary to popular belief North Korea is one of the safest destinations you can visit in Asia. The chances of being pick pocketed or facing any kind of crime while there is absolutely zero. This is because anyone visiting the country as a tourist must be part of a tour group with their own personal North Korean guides. Secondly as the government has such a tight grip on the people's activity, crime against foreigners is completely unthinkable.
The main cause of concern for most people is the threat from the government and chance of being arrested. Rules in North Korea are strongly enforced among both locals and visitors. Before you enter the country and during your time there, you'll be clearly reminded of things you shouldn't do while there, if you're shortsighted enough to disobey these rules then you only have yourself to blame for any consequences.
The government has been trying to promote tourism recently, to help improve their low GDP. The last thing they'd want to do is to worsen relations and decrease income from tourism by arresting and kidnapping foreigners. However the country has strict laws that they will enforce if needed such as stealing property, which has happened previously. If you plan on following the rules there then you'll have nothing to worry about.
How Do You Even Get There?
As you'll need to book through a tour company, the company will do everything for you such as applying for a travel permit/visa, which makes it incredibly easy to visit. You'll need to book a flight to China first, it's the only way into the Hermit Kingdom. Although some tour companies do include the flight there in their tour plan, it's often cheaper to figure out your own way there and start the tour from China.
Note that South Koreans are not allowed to enter unless you have citizenship from another country. US citizens are also currently banned by the US government from visiting.
Isn't it Expensive?
Years ago when the country was just starting to open up to tourism, tours into North Korea were quite expensive and only for those with money to blow or the extremely curious. Things have changed in the last few years however, nowadays you can easily visit the country even on tight a budget. One tour company that offers budget tours into North Korea is Young Pioneers with their 'Ultra Budget Tour' taking the train from the Chinese border down to the capital of Pyongyang.
What is There to Do?
Even without the mysterious allure of visiting such a restricted nation, the capital of Pyongyang is quite frankly beautiful and has a number of amazing sights to see. Most people say visiting the country is akin to going back in time, similar to what you might imagine China to feel like in the 1980s. It's an incredibly unique experience to see a city without the influence of the western world with a distinct lack of advertisements, bright lights and colorful clothing. There really is nowhere else in the world quite like it.
Outside of the capital places get rural quite quickly, you'll see farms still using old fashioned methods with no machinery reinforcing the feeling like you've just been whisked off to another time period. Most tour companies offer tours to all parts of the country, there are actually few places that can't be visited. The country has ski resorts, beaches and national parks just like any other country which can be visited by foreigners.
There are also a number of events and celebrations throughout the year that tourists can visit that are particularly memorable. Some of these include the Mass Games, Victory Day and New Year celebrations.
While a holiday in North Korea certainty isn't for everyone, most people who do decide to visit are often surprised by how easy and safe it is while taking a trip there. While interaction with locals in the capital is usually quite difficult as most are quite apprehensive talking to foreigners, if you visit during one of the celebrations you'll find many North Koreans to be friendly, outgoing and cheerful, the complete opposite to what many expect.
The local tour guides in the country who will accompany you are often chosen for their bright and friendly personalities and talking with them is easy and can often be quite an eye-opener into this unique culture. Note that the country has changed significantly from the horrible conditions and situation during the famines in the 90s, which is often the still how many people seem to think life is like in North Korea.