What is it like to visit North Korea?

So, 2 years ago a friend of mine told me some people she knows are thinking about visiting a Casino in Pyongyang, North Korea. Yes, a casino in North Korea. I personally had no interest in gambling but I have been wanting to go and see North Korea with my own eyes for quite some time now and I thought this was the perfect opportunity for me to finally do it and I may get to see a little bit more (or different things) than a typical tour group.

Suffice to say it was a once in a life time trip and for better or worse, it was definitely one of the most memorable trips I’ve been on. Below is a list of things I want to highlight and share with you all (whether you are planning to go there at some point or not):

1. Casino(s) in North Korea

  • The casino that my friend’s friends were thinking of visiting was on the ground floor of Yangakdo Hotel – one of the best hotels in PyongYang. (this blog actually has a pretty good overview of this hotel North Korea: There’s no escape from the Yanggakdo Hotel, Communist Resort, and Casino )
  • I was quite curious what a “casino” would be like in North Korea, but when I saw it, it is really just a few slot machines and a couple of tables. The few nights we were there, I didn’t see any activity. and you cant take photos inside the casino
  • I understand there is actually another casino near the border of China / North Korea (North Korea Casinos – 808kimchi )

2. Munsu water park (Munsu Water Park )

  • There is a massive water park in Pyongyang where people actually go (Well I saw people there as you can see in the pictures below though I really cannot be certain if people there were part of the propaganda or real visitors; our guide was telling us he takes his son there regularly)
  • Ticket prices have two categories: local or foreigner and I remember there was quite a bit of a gap between the two
  • It had an indoor area and an outdoor area, gift shop and a hair salon for both men and women

  • The hair salon had two big pictures on the wall showing all the hair styles you can choose from! Stylish!

A picture of the gift shop/ waterpark store where you can buy all your swimming stuff!

3. Pyongyang has modern buildings and taxi’s

  • As we drove into the city centre, I was amazed to see quite a few really modern looking buildings (like the one in the picture below) in Pyongyang. Not quite sure what was in all those buildings but have to say, they definitely looked the part.
  • There are also taxi’s driving around the city which according to our guide, people actually use. Though I am not sure if they were instructed to say that

Picture of a taxi

4. Blue sky

  • Before I went, I had this image of a grey looking place (not quite sure why but I think most of us had that mental image so when we went and saw the blue sky we were all pleasantly surprised); but come to think about it, it has very very little industrial activity, so why wouldn’t the sky be blue and clean? lol

5. China during the Cultural Revolution Era

  • So one of the main reasons why I have been wanting to see North Korea is because I have been told that it is “just like China during the Culture Revolution”, and my parents were the generation that was most affected during that period of time in China so naturally growing up I have heard many many stories about what it was like back then. In some indirect way, I guess it also affected the way my parents raised me starting from the fact that they chose to migrate to Australia when I was young. So for me it was the closest I could get to get a feel of what it was like, however little it would be
  • So was it? Based on the stories my parents told me, the numerous Chinese TV shows about that era I have watched, I have to say, it was more or less right. The most telling part was the language they used. My guide spoke amazing Chinese, not only was he fluent, he also spoke just like how people did during the Chinese Culture Revolution. I was amazed.

6. Devotion to their leader

  • This would seem particularly crazy to the rest of us living in the free world
  • So this is what I saw, we went and visited a number of monuments and museums while we were there and each time we saw any of the Kim (II-sung; Jong-il or Jong-un) statues, we would need to bow so we bowed a lot. During our visit to the International Friendship Exhibition where it showcases all the presents North Korea has ever received from foreign dignitaries (International Friendship Exhibition), in one of the rooms we saw this group of middle-aged women who were crying when they walked past one of the Kim’s statues. It wasn’t just a tear on the cheek, they were all bawling their eyes out.
  • Now tell me if that doesn’t seem crazy to you, given how the rest of the free world feels about North Korean leaders. Moreover, when was the last time you can recall the ordinary citizens have that much devotion and emotionally attachment towards any one of their political leaders.

Picture of the International Exhibition Hall

7. You can take photos

Based on all the photos in my answer, I guess it is obvious now visitors can take photos but only in areas where your guide tell you it is okay to take photos.

8. Tourists eat quite well

As much as the country as a whole may be short of food, as tourists, you will definitely be fed. We actually ate really well

9. People are starting to realise maybe the outside world is not as what they have been told

Our guide for example grew up in Beijing because his dad was a driver for a one of the consulate officials and he was saying now with more and more tourists coming in, people (though small group) are starting to see and hear things from the outside world and I think most of them do realise it is probably a bit different to what they have been told by their government

10. Guides and drivers are very careful where they take us and what they tell us

Our guide got really worried when some people in the group did not follow their instructions properly and they were careful in answering our millions of questions. He was a really friendly guy but it was clear a lot of the things were propaganda talk.

Here are some more pictures:

A show we saw

That famous building which took forever to build

The view from top floor restaurant at the Yanggako Hotel

North Korean side of the DMZ

North Korean subway station

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One thought on “What is it like to visit North Korea?”

  1. I’m really disappointed to hear that you didn’t get a haircut while you were there.. haha

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