10 Really Important Things To Know Before You Visit North Korea


I recently had the dubious pleasure of being part of the first tourist delegation to ever visit North Korea for New Year’s. One of our group had a meltdown by about Day 3, and spent the last two days in his hotel room. If you ever decide to visit the DPRK (I don’t recommend it), here are 10 things you need to know before you go.

1. You will be assigned a guide/guard. When you use the bathroom, he will be at the urinal beside you.

2. No, you’re not allowed to take photos of child laborers. Or teenaged female soldiers. Or people drawing water from muddy wells. Or broken down buses. Only nice things.

3. There is only one tour in North Korea, and it’s the propaganda tour. Get ready to learn all sorts of fun “facts.” Don’t argue.

4. Nothing is wrong in North Korea. Ever. The buildings are the highest quality (if you disregard the foundation cracks). There is no pollution (there’s also no industry). Everyone is very happy (except the 200,000 people locked away in concentration camps.) And the food is fantastic (just don’t ask the 1 million people who starved to death in the past 20 years).

5. But seriously, the food is terrible. It’s not really food­ — it’s matter.

6. Kim Il­-sung is God, Kim Jong­il is his son, and Kim Jong­-un is his prophet. The calendar year in North Korea is currently 101, starting from the birth date of the party founder.

7. Your room will be bugged, as will the restaurants that you visit. Bring up a pro-­American perspective on the Korean war and you’ll be served a free round of beer as the guard desperately tries to change the subject.

8. You will stay at the hotel of their choice. On an island. Your group will likely be the only guests. You will not leave the hotel — if you don’t want to get arrested for spying.

9. Everything is staged. Your guard will place a call to ensure that the restaurants and venues are full of happy people. Like the eight girls, in two groups of four, who showed up at the brewery at the exact same time, to order exactly one beer each. For girl’s night.

10. You will only witness the very best that North Korea has to offer. Almost every building will be brand new, and you probably won’t leave the showcase capital.

It’s all downhill from there.