Introducing North Korea
Memorial to Kim Il Jung © yeowatzup
North Korea is the world's most bizarre tourist destination and for that reason uniquely worth visiting for the curious tourist looking to experience a regime founded on a cult of personality and delusional fear of outsiders.
Once supported by the USSR's communist regime, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPKR) is easily the purest example of a totalitarian regime in the 21st century; the state controls virtually every aspect of life. In turn, that 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 100,000 tourists 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 is assigned tour guides that restrict visitors to a pre-approved government itinerary prohibiting individual and free exploration. On the plus side your chance of getting mugged is zero, however don't expect to see anything but the sanitised version of North Korea.
Visitors should never insult or disrespect the regime or Kim Jong Un, no matter how appealing the prospect. You and especially your guide will get into serious trouble, as it is possible that you are being monitored in some form during your visit. In fact, in North Korea it is impossible to be paranoid - here, you are often being scrutinised, whether by the government or the average citizen.
Tourists will enter on an Air Koryo flight, the national airline that has the dubious distinction of earning the only one-star rating by Skytrax, the lowest rating available (although, some reports boast of recent improvements).
The capital city is Pyongyang, notable for its strangely absent people and empty roads. The main sites are enormous memorials and statues commemorating the DPRK's founder leader, Kim Il Sung. It's a strange and sterile environment, uncannily clean, which somewhat belies the difficulties its people face behind the concrete facades, such as the struggle to survive without power and regular food, under the yoke of an oppressive regime notorious for human rights violations. Symbolic of some of the regime's failures, the city skyline is dominated by the enormous and permanently unfinished Ryugyong hotel, a yet unrealised step toward foreign investment, growth and connection with the rest of the world.