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Mar
29

North Korea—It’s Getting Trendy. Say What?

friday night fun

friday night fun

Guess what? Pyongyang, the North Korean capital and home to more than 3 million people, is becoming quite the hot spot travel destination these days. I think it sounds like a prison sentence. You tell me:

First off:

All foreign visitors and tour groups must be accompanied by guards.

You can’t photograph much. You can’t walk wherever you want and whatever you do you cannot talk to North Korean people.  They make it so any direct contact with the North Korean people is virtually impossible.

But according to most people who’ve been there it’s not all bad.

your travel guard

your travel guard

In fact, it’s becoming more westernized. In Pyongyang there’s the first hamburger shop, which the locals refer to as McDonald’s. Two Italian restaurants had also recently opened.

One of those, a pizza restaurant, has a woman standing and singing songs in Italian.

There are more and more tourists there (which could all come to an end of the leader gets crazier), but the places are filled with mostly business people or embassy staff — the price is too high for most North Koreans, of course.

You know where they dream of going? Not Paris. Not Malibu but the coastal town of  Wonsan, about 200 kilometers to the east of the capital. And one reporter went there and said that they looked like a totally normal group of people, just trying to kick back and enjoy a summer holiday at the beach. People were swimming, sunbathing and playing ball games.

Other hot spots:

Mansudae Hill

Mansudae Hill

A popular tour stop, Mansudae Hill in Pyongyang is home to statues of late President Kim Il-Sung and leader Kim Jong-Il.In January of 2010, North Korea changed its policy to allow U.S. travelers to visit on official guided tours any time of the year.  Yippee!!

Some tours offer travelers the option of visiting Pyongyang’s Rungna People’s Pleasure Ground, an amusement park that opened last year. Also newly opened for tourists, the Rungna People’s Pleasure Ground, another amusement park. Who needs St. Tropez this summer, huh?

ANd the Koreans like you to plan your visit during these times so that you can really get the most out of your trip: And you’re in luck, April has a lot going on.

Kim Jong Il’s birthday

Kim Jong Il's birthday

Kim Jong Il's birthday

February 16 would have been the late Kim Jong Il’s 71st birthday, now known in North Korea as, “The Day of the Shining Star.”

Kim Il Sung’s birthday

Kim Il Sung's birthday

Kim Il Sung's birthday

Another big day of celebration, April 15 will be the 101st anniversary of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung’s birth, known as “The Day of the Sun.”

Army Day

army day

army day

April 25 is the 81st anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army, “a day of celebration for servicemen and army veterans in the DPRK.”

Just like the rest of the world, North Korea celebrates May 1 as International Labor Day. Here you try to mix with local people at the festival in Taesongsan park.

Victory Day

Army Day

Army Day

Lots of fun here. July 27, 1953, was the day the Korean War armistice was signed, an occasion celebrated annually in North Korea as “Victory Day.” Victory Day leads into Pyongyang’s Mass Games, a hot tourist ticket, that usually take place from July through October. Also known as Arirang, this arts and gymnastics event features more than 100,000 performers participating in nonstop shows.

“We expect the games to run from July 27 to September 9, 2013, but as yet have received no official confirmation,” says Koryo Travel.

great shows

great shows

Packages that include tickets to the Mass Games start at around US$1,500. Visas typically take 10 days to process from the date of application made via Beijing.

Koryo advises visitors to apply for the tours one month before departure date, though this can be reduced for those who live in Beijing or if they’re in a country with a DPRK Embassy.

Airlines that fly into North Korea via Beijing include Air Korea, Air China and Air Koryo. Non-U.S. citizens have the option for train travel from China.

Despite the change in policy, U.S. citizens still face restrictions that don’t apply to other travelers. For instance, they can only enter the country via airplane, unlike travelers of other nationalities who can enter from China by train. With the exception of journalists, most North Korea visa applications — U.S. citizens included — are approved with no problems.  If you are ready to book your ticket you may also want to read our article on how to avoid long lines with the new Expanded PreCheck Program here.

Mass Games performance, North Korea

Mass Games performance, North Korea

And Good News… You can now bring your phone!

In January of this year, North Korean authorities announced that travelers no longer need to surrender their mobile phones before entering the country.  Don’t get too excited though— You’ll have zero network coverage with your own SIM card, but it is possible to purchase local SIM cards from a booth in Pyongyang airport.

The pay-as-you-go SIM cards allow users to make and receive international phone calls or call any other foreigner in Pyongyang with a phone. There’s no 3G access or international texting and you won’t be able to call your guides, as they’ll be on the separate North Korean network, so basically you have no real use for it. I’m sure it’s bugged.

fun fun fun!

fun fun fun!

Have I made you want to book your ticket now? :-)

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