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North Korea

Health & safety

Dangers & annoyances

As a foreigner you will be both conspicuous and unfathomably wealthy compared to the average local. Be as vigilant as you would be anywhere else, but realistically, your chances of being a victim of crime are very low. Pyongyang’s Sunan airport seems to be one place where petty theft could be a problem.

The major potential for disaster is thoughtless visitors openly criticising the regime while in the country. In 2002, according to rumours, an American aid worker was incarcerated for two months after asking why Kim Jong Il was so plump while ordinary North Koreans were so skinny. It is to be hoped that most readers would have more sense than to make such a remark. If in doubt, bite your tongue –be similarly discreet on the phone, by fax and in your hotel room, all of which can be monitored.

Likewise, spare a thought for both your guides and the few locals you will come in contact with. Despite being the official representatives of a brutal Stalinist regime, your tour guides are vulnerable to persecution themselves. Running away from them, disobeying them or otherwise going against the grain will be far more dangerous for them than for you.

When meeting North Koreans in the street, take your lead from the guides. Ask before you take photographs, do not give them any gifts that could incriminate them in imperialist flunkeyism and generally proceed with caution.