North Korea Travel Guide

A unique country headed by a regime many would see as a 'cult of personality', the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPKR) is perhaps the purest example of a totalitarian regime in the 21st century. The state controls virtually every aspect of life, and the state is controlled by one particular family, with Kim Jong Un succeeding his father, Kim Jong Il, as the supreme leader of North Korea in 2011. The country's history, current leadership, and structure make it unlike any other tourist destination on earth.

Tourism is tightly controlled but visas are rarely refused. The country attracts millions of visitors each year, the majority of whom come from China, and the government has plans to rapidly expand its tourism industry over the coming years. Each group of tourists is assigned tour guides, who restrict visitors to a government-approved itinerary that prohibits individual and free exploration. On the plus side, a visitor's chance of getting mugged is zero. However, visitors shouldn't expect to see anything but the sanitised version of North Korea.

Visitors should be careful about insulting or disrespecting the government or Kim Jong Un, and should remember that their tour guide may get into serious trouble, as it's possible that tourists are being monitored in some form or another. It's quite natural to feel paranoid in North Korea.

The capital city, Pyongyang, is notable for its empty roads and scarcity of pedestrians. The main sites are enormous memorials and statues commemorating the DPRK's founder, Kim Il Sung. A strange and sterile environment, the uncannily clean city somewhat belies the state's notoriety for human rights violations.

Symbolic of some of the regime's failures, the city skyline is dominated by the enormous and permanently unfinished pyramid shape of the Ryugyong Hotel. It serves as a grand yet unrealised step towards foreign investment, growth, and connection with the rest of the world.