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Customer trip report: My journey through North Korea

28/01/2020
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Mansudae Grand Monument in Pyongyang, North Korea

The experiences of Dirk and Michèle while travelling in North Korea

A visit to North Korea is certainly not a tourist trap but an experience that will give you food for thought for a very long time to come. You get acquainted with the system but also with people who try to function in this system.

It all starts in Beijing

From the moment you check in for your flight in Beijing, you will already see long row of baggage carts filled with neatly packed boxes with unknown contents. These are labelled and marked by men dressed in black. It’s clear that the North Koreans are importing a huge amount from China into their country.

Nothing but praise for the smooth passage through Pyongyang airport where the fact that only one flight arrived may have been the reason for this. As my wife was still hungry, we took the guides to a small bar at the airport and were the last ones to leave the building. This was a first for us.

Visual stimuli

From then on, visual stimuli begin to flow in, making it difficult for your brain to classify them correctly because empty streets and lonely traffic cops at empty intersections do not fit well with our busy Western heads..

And so it continues for four days in which you follow a tight programme that is mainly intended to give the visitor the impression that everything is available and that people have complete freedom and information.

Good and less good actors

As in every play, you come across good and less good actors along the way and when an empty school is visited and the children are said to have free time, we cannot get rid of the impression that the freezing cold in the classrooms is one of the causes of the holiday.

People are people and we have looked into the eyes of young people whose zest for life was hard to find, to the extent that a week later a group of young people dancing in the streets of Hanoi moved us to tears at the memory of it.

No judgement

Some people write that it is better not to travel to North Korea because it only helps to maintain the system. We think it’s better to visit these proud people, compliment them on their absolutely clean streets and humbly observe human behaviour on the ground in not always simple circumstances.

It is also fascinating to make our ‘free’ minds available to other insights without judging or condemning them.

Moreover, as an ambassador, you are returning to the universal idea that respect for every human being and his ideas is a fundamental value and that we must cherish our democratic decision-making and certainly not treat acquired rights and freedoms lightly.

Perfect organisation by CultureRoad

The organisation was perfect, just one piece of advice, don’t let your luggage check in to your final destination on the return flight when you are going somewhere in transit because Kim doesn’t pay a handling fee outside his own country and so we had to get our luggage from Vietnam Airlines.

Anyone who has survived the Chinese immigration with countless receipts with ditto colors should do it back in the illogical direction, highly recommended…

Fortunately no quarantine

A few weeks after our return home and with the certainty that we had not brought any coronavirus with us, it became clear to us how lucky we had been when it turned out that three days after our departure from North Korea they closed their borders and all China travellers had to be quarantined for a month. (At least according to Western sources…)

© Dirk and Michèle (Belgium), January 2020

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