Ride the metro, drink a microbrew, go bowling, catch a Man U football match via Jumbotron in a public square.
Question: Which of these things can a Western tourist do in North Korea?
Answer: All of them!
Don’t believe me? Check out the North Korea Travel App. Or just go. Though the Hermit Kingdom had only 6000 Western tourists last year, nearly a quarter of a million Chinese visitors went there, did that and bought the T-shirt.
Under the auspices of the Orwellian title Office 39, the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea oversees themed package tours that mostly resemble a foreign holiday anywhere: Sports, Military History, Architecture, Kim Il Sung’s Birthday.
Though they won’t win any awards for spontaneity, North Korean tour guides are attentive. As Western demand rises, travel packages are dropping the third factory visit or immense bronze dead guy statue of the day in favour of more interaction with real live North Koreans. Like playing Frisbee with the locals. Beware: North Koreans are deadly at Frisbee.
Things are loosening up in the PDRK, but it’s still North Korea. Expect to hand over your passport to your guides. You won’t see it again until it’s time to go. Pick up a 3G mobile SIM card, but be careful about snapping shots of statues. (Only from the front and only full length) For spending money, forget about credit cards: the country doesn’t take plastic. It also doesn’t have ATMs.
Bring crisp Euros, US Dollars or Chinese Yuan in small denominations. Although foreigners aren’t allowed to possess or spend Korean People’s Won, you may be able to sweet talk your guide into giving you a little KPW change as a souvenir. Get yourself some good travel medical insurance.
Buttering up your guides is a terrific way to begin any travel experience, but showering your North Korean guides, drivers, and hosts with small gifts can help loosen the reins. Although the guidebooks suggest giving men (North Korean women don’t smoke) packs of cigarettes, lots of people feel uncomfortable tipping with lung cancer. For the men, booze is nice, and the women appreciate cosmetics. Pick up a sack of tangerines in Beijing; fruit is a rare treat in the PDRK.
Due to its proximity to Liberia, the PDRK has shut its borders to foreign tourists until further notice. Once Ebola hysteria passes, North Korea awaits.