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.