North Korea (correctly Democratic People's Republic of Korea or DPRK) is a country in Eastern Asia. It occupies the northern half of the Korean Peninsula that lies between Korea Bay and the Sea of Japan. It is surrounded by China and Russia to the north and South Korea to the south.
Travel to North Korea is only possible as part of a guided tour. Independent travel is not permitted.
The climate is temperate with rainfall concentrated in summer. Late spring droughts are often followed by severe flooding. There are occasional typhoons during the early fall.
Mostly hills and mountains separated by deep, narrow valleys; coastal plains wide in west, discontinuous in east. Mountainous interior is isolated and sparsely populated.
During the 1930's, Japan invaded the Korean peninsula and occupied both Korea and China. Following World War II, a civil war erupted on the Korean peninsula and a United Nations force lead by the United States fought to stop the whole peninsula being overun by a Communist army. A truce was finally agreed to and Korea was split, with the northern half coming under Communist domination and the southern portion becoming Western oriented. Kim Chong-il has ruled North Korea since his father and the country's founder, president Kim Il-song, died in 1994.
After decades of mismanagement, the North relies heavily on international food aid to feed its population, while continuing to expend resources to maintain an army of about 1 million. North Korea's long-range missile development and research into nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and massive conventional armed forces are of major concern to the international community. In December 2002, North Korea repudiated a 1994 agreement that shut down its nuclear reactors and expelled UN monitors, further raising fears it would produce nuclear weapons.
Visiting North Korea
Visiting North Korea is bureaucratic nightmare, and your every move will be monitored by your guides. There are those (including Amnesty International) who have called for a boycott on tourism to North Korea, due to widely suspected human rights abuses in the country. However, North Korea is generally acknowledged to be a very unique place to visit. The traveller must make his or her own mind up about the rights and wrongs of visiting the country.
Provinces and cities
Citizens of the United States of America, South Korea and people of Korean origin are not permitted to visit North Korea. Citizens of all other countries will need a visa, which will only be issued after your tour has been booked, approved by the North Korean authorites and paid for.
Most people travelling to North Korea will travel through Beijing. It is most likely you will pick up your visa from there. The North Korean consulate builiding is separate from the main embassy builiding at Ritan Lu, and can be found round the corner at Fangcaodi Xijie. It is open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 0930-1130 and 1400-1730, and on all other days except Sundays from 0930-1130. Bring your travel permission, US$30 and two passport photos.
North Korea's sole airline, Air Koryo, currently only has scheduled flights to Beijing. These leave Beijing at 1130 every Tuesday and Saturday, and return from P'yŏngyang at 0900 on the same days.
All your transport needs will be dealt with by your tour company. There may be some opportunities to see local public transport, especially the P'yŏngyang metro. Enquire with your guide to see if this is possible.
The official language is Korean.
There are three types of banknote in North Korea, green (which you will get for hard currencies such as the US dollar), red (for when Chinese yuan are exchanged), and those for use by locals only.
There are numerous hard-currency only souvenir shops at tourist sites. Interesting souvenirs include propaganda books and videos, postcards and postage stamps.
Despite severe food shortages in North Korean, you are unlikely to have any problems getting food. Your guide will order all your food for you, and you will eat in hard-currency only restaurants. Vegetarians will need to make arrangements in advance. A visit to a "real" local restaurant may be possible, enquire with your guide.
The local speciality is insam-ju, Korean vodka infused with ginseng roots.
This is likely to be your principal expense while in North Korea. You may only stay at "designated tourist hotels", for which you will need to pay in hard currency. There may be discounts if you ask for lower class accommodation, and you are travelling as part of a group, or if it low season (November - March). Costs for your tour, which will include accommodation, all sightseeing activities and meals, will range from US$70 - US$200 a day, depending on these factors.
If you are interested in teaching in North Korea, you may find success by contacting the North Korean UN Mission in New York, or contacting a North Korean university directly.
Crime levels are practically zero, at least to tourists on a strictly controlled tour. Under no circumstances whatsoever are you to insult Kim Il-sung or the North Korean government. You are likely to face serious trouble. Assume that you will be under constant surveillance throughout your trip.
Drinking water is safe. Medical facilities are basic, and if you fall ill you might be better off returning to China for treatment.