What it’s Like To Take a Tour in North Korea

What it’s Like To Take a Tour in North Korea

A tour in North Korea? You must be mad.

This is the most unique country in the world. That alone should be reason enough to travel here. To take a tour in North Korea is unlike anywhere else on earth. This is not travel like we’re used to. There are obviously a lot more restrictions, but is it all bad?

It depends how you look at it. Imagine a holiday where you could just sit back and take it all in. You don’t have to worry about where or what you’re going to eat or drink. You don’t have to do hours of research or sifting through lonely planet books looking for the “must-do’s”.

In North Korea, it’s all taken care of. You are guaranteed to see the highlights. Sit back relax and take it all in.

Everything is agreed upon and arranged in advance. From your North Korea visa to every meal that you will be served. All you have to do it turn up and open your mind.

Performance at a school in Chongjin, visited on one of our North Hamgyong Tours
Joining a Kindergarten Performance

The North Korean Guides

There aren’t enough superlatives in the world to describe the work these guys do.

From giving you a wake up call in the morning to joining you for that last nightcap in the bar, the work of the North Korean tour guide never stops.

Yes they accompany you constantly but they are also a fountain of knowledge at your fingertips. They also sing, make jokes and generally make sure everybody is enjoying themselves. By the end of the tour you wont want to leave them. They are truly the highlight of any North Korea tour.

The Hotels

Contrary to popular belief, there is more than one hotel in North Korea.

Foreigners can actually stay in more than 10 Pyongyang hotels. The infamous Yanggakdo Hotel is probably our favourite though. The hotel contains a whole underworld of karaoke rooms, billiards, ping pong, bowling and swimming pools. There is plenty to keep you occupied after hours in “The Gak”. 

Many North Korean hotels look like something from a Wes Anderson film. The socialist kitsch just oozes with character you can only find in the DPRK. You can’t leave the hotel by yourself but after a full day touring and with the entertainment on offer, you would hardly want to.

tourists at the Pyongyang beer festival on a North Korea tour
Pyongyang Beer Festival

The Rules

Sure, it’s not all fun and games. There are a few important rules to abide by. These will be repeated at the pre-tour meeting in Beijing by your Rocky Road tour leader. 

You cannot venture off alone. The is a general rule. Sometimes when we visit a place like the beach or the water park, you are free to do as you please. This is why we put an emphasis on visiting leisure sites where we are free to mingle with locals for hours. 

What can you actually see?

While you will only be able to peel back one layer of a thick skin, what you actually see and do on a North Korean tour is a lot more than you think.

Guess what – you decide the itinerary! Well on a private your you would. On a group tour, your travel company decides. There’s a long list of what is possible and what is not. At Rocky Road Travel we design each itinerary so it has a balanced mix of museums / revolutionary sites and “normal” activities like visiting parks and leisure centers. 

We are never told what to include in our itineraries by our Korean hosts.

If you want to properly see North Korea, then opt for a longer tour into the countryside like a North Hamgyong tour. On longer tours outside the capital, there’s more driving and sometimes these drives give you the best peek inside the country as you can possibly get.

There you have it, it’s not for everyone but if you have any curiosity of what a tour in North Korea looks like then you’ll just need to bite the bullet and see for yourself!

Check out our full list of North Korean Tours!

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Rocky road travel founder Shane Horan at the DMZ

Founder

When Shane is not endlessly writing award winning content for Rocky Road, he’s usually kayaking to and from work along Berlin’s River Spree.