Essential Facts You Need to Know Before Visiting North Korea
Asia's most secretive country and sole 'Axis of evil' member, North korea allows in a trickle of highly regimented tourists each year who are shown exactly what the government wants them to see in this fascinating communist time capsule.
It's capital city is "Pyongyang," with a total population of 23.1 million, an area of 120,540 Sq Km and its official language is Korean.
North Korea is extremely mountainous country, large swaths of which are inaccessible by roads even if foreigners were permitted to make their way off the beaten track. Biodiversity is greater here than South korea, because of the varying climate zones that are homes for subarctic, alpine and subtropical plant and tree species.
? Portraits of Kim II-sung and Kim Jong - ill everywhere
? Richly painted propaganda posters adorning every street corner
? Vast monolithic architecture in concrete and steel designed to impress and intimidate
? Shy locals who will wave or smile at your passing bus but will never speak to you
History in A nutshell
Born out of the anti-Japanese struggle at the end of World War II, North korea was supported by the Soviet Union, whose Red Army finished off the Japanese presence on the peninsula in 1945. Simultaneously, the US moved into the south of the peninsula and plans for one Korea became hostage to Cold War tensions - both North and South declared themselves independent republics in 1948 and nothing significant has changed in the North since then. The Great Leader' Kim II-subg was worshipped as a living god until his death in 1994. The communist world's first dynastic succession then occurred when his son Kim-Jong-il became the country's leader, a position he retains today.
The population in the North - possibly several million fewer than the official total of 23.1 million - is ethnically almost uniform. Traditionally North Koreans practice Buddhism and Confucianism, although religion has been strongly discourage by the state and largely replaced by the apotheosis of its political leaders. A smattering of traditional temples remains but they're for show rather than for locals to worship at.
? Kim Jong - il, despite leading the country for over a decade, has only ever spoken in public once, and even then it was handful of words
? The international Friendship Exhibition consists of two massive vaults in the mountains where Kim II-sung and Kim Jong-il gifts from foreign leaders are displayed.
? When lights go out in the frequent power cuts, North Koreans typically shout 'Blame America'!
? Kim Jong-il loves basketball. Madeleine Albright presented him with a ball signed by Michael Jordan on her visit there in 2000.
The self-declared 'Juche' principles of autarchy that made North Korea seem a relatively viable economy in the 1960's have proved since to be a complete joke - since an economic slump in the 1970's has gon efrom one benefactor to another in its search for aid ( The Soviet Union, China, the UN, the US and even South Korea). The economy remains backward, centrally planned and in desperate need of reform.
In North korea, two official guides accompany tourists everywhere outside their hotels. This is the only way to see the country, and so to reduce costs most people go on an organized tour. Traveller's can expect to be kept busy by enthusiastic guides showing them monuments, museums, and performance extolling the virtues of the regime.
There has been a ban on Americans visiting North Korea since the end of the Korea War ( North Koreans accuse the US of atrocities during that time ), but this had been somewhat relaxed in recent years, with Americans now able to join three-day tours of the country for the annual mass games, a vast gymnastic show performed by tens thousands of people between August and October in Pyongyang.
Kim Jong-il with Vladimir Putin
Rumors from the 'hermit kingdom' occasionally escape to the west suggesting things are slowly changing - but so far every time a major change has been on the cards, nothing happens. The country is Asia's ( and perhaps the world's ) biggest enigma, and visiting it doesn't get you mus closer to the truth!
? Paying homage to the 'Great Leader' Kim II-sung at his massive bronze statue in Pyongyang - its obligatory! ?
? Going eyeball to eyeball with South Korean soldiers at the scary DMZ?
?Hiking North Korean' style in the mountains: climbling concrete steps through lush forests?
?Swimming on a North Korean beach at Nampo or playing a round of gold in Pyongyang - who can say they've done either in North korea? ?
?Trying to decide whether the busy 'commuters' on the Pyongyang metro are just actors or not?
? The best time to visit Korea is around the month of March to June, September to November
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Sources; North Korea