Introducing North Korea
Redefining the term rogue state through its isolationism, controversial nuclear weapons programme and missile testing, North Korea is probably the most mysterious country in the world today and one almost entirely untouched by tourism. Off the beaten path seems too slight a term for a nation that admits fewer than 2000 Westerners a year, and whose overwhelming attraction is its isolation and backwardness. The capital, Pyongyang, has a few sites worth visiting and Paekdusan is considered one of the most stunning sights in North Korea.
Here the Kim dynasty, which began life as a Soviet-sponsored communist government in the 1950s, has evolved into a hereditary dictatorship owing far more to Confucianism than Marxism. The founder of the state, Kim Il Sung, may have died in 1994, but he is still the president of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (the name locals prefer for their country). His son, a man who only ever uttered one sentence in public (it was ‘Long Live the Victorious Korean People’s Army’ at a rally in Pyongyang in the early 1990s), continued to rule like a medieval monarch, an unknown quantity with nuclear weapons and a huge army at his beck and call, giving sleepless nights to governments in Seoul, Tokyo and Washington. It's early days yet for his son and heir Kim Jong-un but few signs of change have emerged.
A trip to North Korea is strictly on its government’s terms, and it’s essential to accept that you’ll have no independence during your trip – you’ll be accompanied by two government-approved local guides at all times and only hear a very one-sided view of history throughout the trip. Those who can accept these terms will have a fascinating trip into another rather unsettling world. Simply to see a country where the Cold War is still being fought, where mobile phones and the internet are unknown, and where total obedience to the state is universally unquestioned is, for many, reason enough to visit.
Korea travel guide
The Korean Peninsula is a true travel gem: the South, a high-tech nation with a reverence for tradition and the ways of old Asia; the North, a challenging, geopolitical enigma.
The island-hopper's guide to Korea
Mention Korea and several things probably spring to mind: the division of North and South, the sparkling city of Seoul (headquarters to Samsung, Hyundai and other Korean powerhouses) and Psy’s manic and flashy ‘Gangnam Style’...
To understand what makes Koreans tick, you should know something about harmony and hierarchy, highly valued principles that draw on Confucian ideals.
North Korea destination guides
Travel literature review: Nothing to Envy
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Review by Rachel Berg At the beginning of Barbara Demick’s book, Nothing to Envy, there is a satellite image of North and South Korea, taken at night...
DMZ Past and Present: Korean Demilitarized Zone Tour from Seoul
On this tour of the Korean Demilitarized Zone from Seoul, feel the reality of Korea’s turbulent history as you explore the line that divides North Korea and South Korea.
Joint Security Area (JSA) Tour: Get Close to the North Korean Border
This day trip from Seoul takes you by comfortable coach to the Joint Security Area (JSA), located near the infamous border that divides the Korean peninsula into North and South. Known in Korea as Panmunjom, this negotiating site holds historical significance as it represents the political tension existing between the two countries since the Korean War.
A journey into the Hermit kingdom of North Korea
As we hurled balls down the bowling alley lanes and sipped draught beer from the onsite microbrewery, it felt like we could be anywhere in the world. Yet just 20m away in the foyer, North Korean locals gathered around a television set, watching the new supreme leader Kim Jong-un address a mass children’s rally...