North Korea, or officially the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), is the last stalinist
country in the world. Its leader, Kim Jung Il, has an iron grip on the country. The state
controls everything: where people live, what job they do, etcetera. We made a short but fascinating
visit to the weirdest and most isolated country on earth. Visiting the country is an experience straight from
Although you can't travel to North Korea individually, to many people's surprise
a visit can quite easily be arranged through several travel agents. Tourists are allowed since some
time, because the country is in desperate need of hard currency. The countries economy was based
on cheap trade with communist Russia and China. Since the demise of communism in Russia and
the process towards capitalism in China, North Korea's economy has declined rapidly. Poverty
and famines have struck the rural parts of the country and despite its isolonist policies,
the country is slowly opening up to tourists, organisations like the Red Cross and even to
Still, you aren't allowed to travel individually through the country. Every group, no matter
how small, gets two guides and a driver. You aren't free to go as you like: you book a
certain initary and in the country you will strictly follow that initiary. The Korean tourist
organisation chooses the hotels where you sleep, the restaurants where you eat, etcetera. We
booked a standard three-day tour of the countries' highlights, travelling to Pyongyang
(and hopefully back) by train.
Rogier and I read several travelogues on the internet of people who had done a similar tour of the
country. It was rather strange: since all those tours are exactly the same, we were actually reading
exactly what was going to happen during our visit. During our time in North-Korea, we knew exactly
in advance what was going to happen. We knew what we were going to see. We knew that we actually
weren't going to see the country as it really is, but rather how the leaders want the country to be.
A glorious country, full of monuments and happy people, while the truth if far from that.
But still we wanted to go. And we didn't regret is. Actually being there is one amazing
experience. The way the state controls everything is claustrophobic. Even though you know
they won't hurt a western tourist, it's a bit scary. North Korea has a terrible regime that
I hope will disappear quickly. Having said that, I'm glad that I saw it with my own eyes.