From an earlier blog post and the general hype around North Korea these days, I thought it would be fun/interesting to have a look at how I would set about seeing the place myself, being open minded and all that.
First on the agenda would be travelling there. I did a quick google search, and found out that North Korea has its own National airline, Air Koryo (link). Good start. I Looked at where they fly, and much to my dismay, they don’t have regular service to either Dublin OR Shannon. Drat. A quick search revealed they DO however have a Service office in Berlin. Great, all I have to do is hop on the Airbus to Germany. Or so I thought. I then tried to book a flight from Berlin to Pyongyang, only to find the service is unavailable due to Air Koryo being on the list of Air carriers banned from operating in the EU, because of of maintenance concerns and noise emissions. Double Drat.
The next closest place on the list of airports it still flies to is Vladivostok, Russia. So assuming I can get there reasonably cheap and easily, I’m in business. Quick hop onto eBookers.ie suggests that the easiest way to get there is via Charles De Gaul in France, then on to Seoul South Korea, then back to Vladivostok, Russia (€4,085.38), before onto Pyongyang. Maybe I could hop off in Seoul and just bus/train it Across? The alternative is to hop off at Moscow and from there to Vladivostok, and forward with the original plan of arriving in Pyongyang Sunan International Airport (around $600 USD). So without €5,000 to burn, I wont be taking that route, and a quick read of Wiki travel’s page on North Korea says-
“Tourist travel to North Korea is only possible as part of a guided tour. Independent travel is not permitted. If you are not prepared to accept severe limitations on your movements, behaviour, and freedom of expression, you should not travel to North Korea.”
They reckon most travellers who get in do so via Beijing embassy. Travel permission, two passport photos and $45 USD should get you in, provided you’re not a journalist or suspected of being one. (Not a hope of getting after writing this article I fear!)
The Guide companies are all ran by Korean International Travel Company, with the exception of a few who are ran directly by government ministries and the DPRK NGOs, and its their guides who show you around anyway. You can’t leave the guides. independent travel is not allowed.
So lets say im in Beijing, and have got my visa sorted out. My next step is to choose a tour from the list, and my own preference is economy. That translates to €845 for a 4 day stay in DPRK. This pays for all the food, accommodation etc, but they recommend another €200 would do you the week on drinks, souvenirs, attraction entry and amusement park rides (remember they’ll be planning your trip). so call that €1000, provided I got to China, which was €600 on eBookers.
This is <just about> possible on a budget of €2000 per person.
And assuming that north korea doesn’t go ARGO on it and decide to pull hostages in demand for western respect or something, I’d be fairly ok. I mean, provided I don’t say anything too loud or crass, I suspect I’d have an eye opening time.
I think I’d try communism lite (Russia, China, Cuba) ahead of North Korea however. The Cold War has cooled off, tensions are low and they like making money too much to endanger tourists. Korea however, is capable of anything.
Edit: While I was writing this, my access to Air Koryo’s website was cut off. Might be just a strange coincidence, but it sure is spooky!