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Travel Guide > Asia > Korea (North)

Korea (North) Travel Guide

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North Korea (officially Democratic People's Republic of Korea or DPRK) is a country in East Asia. It occupies the northern half of the Korean Peninsula that lies between Korea Bay and the East Sea, also called the Sea of Japan. It borders China to the north, Russia to the northeast and South Korea to the south. 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 limitations on your movements and behavior, you should not travel to the DPRK at the present time. On the other hand, travel in the DPRK is, if nothing else, a unique experience.

North Korea can only be visited by an organized tour, but this can be a large group or a party of one. Prices start from around $1000 euro;700 for a 5-day group tour including accommodation, meals and transport from Beijing, but can go up considerably if you want to travel around the country or "independently" (as your own one-person escorted group). Tour operators/travel agencies that organize their own tours to North Korea include:

  • Adventure Korea - Seoul
  • Asia Pacific Travel, Ltd. - Chicago
  • Choson Exchange - US, UK and Singapore. Not a tour agency, rather they provide training in business and economics in Pyongyang, but they occasionally bring people to visit North Korean universities
  • DDCTS - Dandong
  • Geographic Expeditions - San Francisco
  • Koningaap - Amsterdam
  • Korea Konsult - Stockholm
  • Korea Reisedienst - Hannover
  • Koryo Group - Beijing
  • Lupine Travel - Wigan
  • North Korea Travel - Spain, Hong Kong
  • The P'yongyang Project - Beijing, Montreal, New York (American non-profit that organizes academic programs, student delegation trips and study abroad)
  • Viajes Pujol - Barcelona, Spain
  • Regent Holidays - Bristol
  • Tiara Tours - Breda
  • Universal Travel Corporation - Singapore
  • Uri Tours Inc. - US
  • VNC Asia Travel - Utrecht
  • Young Pioneer Tours - China, Canada

Keep in mind that tourism in North Korea is not in a state comparable to any other country in the world.

No matter which company you decide to book with, all tours are run by the Korean International Travel Company (with the exception of a few, such as Choson Exchange and The P'yongyang Project) and it will be their guides who show you around. The average number of tourists per group each company takes will vary considerably so you may want to ask about this before booking a trip.

Most people traveling to North Korea will travel through Beijing and you will probably pick up your visa from there (some agents arrange their visas elsewhere beforehand though). The North Korean consulate building is separate from the main embassy building at Ritan Lu, and can be found round the corner at Fangcaodi Xijie. It is open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 0930-1130 and 1400-1730, and on all other days except Sundays from 0930-1130. Bring your travel permission, US$45 and two passport photos.

Recently tours from Chinese city of Dandong, on the banks of Yalu, the border river, have also started being popular. These tours are reported to be open for all except American nationals, and are especially interesting because they offer more insight into North Korean countryside as the tourists are taken to Pyongyang by a train from the border city of Sinuiju instead of a direct plane from Beijing.

Travellers from western countries should hand their application forms 10 days prior to the start date of the tour, so agency can process visa applications, but you don't have to get to Dandong that early as simply e-mailing the details to the travel agency is sufficient. After your visa is approved by North Korea, the agency will send a confirmation e-mail, and after that you have to be in Dandong a day before the start of the tour, to hand your passport and photos (2-inch coloured ones). The tours start at Chinese customs at 9AM, and the train to Pyongyang leaves at 9:30AM.

Your guides will take your passport and keep it during your stay in North Korea, or at least for the first couple of days of your tour, for "security reasons" (or simply because your entry and exit dates must be registered - the black stamps on the back of your visa or passport). Make sure your passport looks decent and doesn't differ from the most common passports from your country.

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