Please be aware that whist we do the utmost for our tourists it is also important not to put our guides in danger. They are under very strict regulations as to what they can and cannot do and this is not negotiable. For example; you are not free to wander around on your own, there are also photographic restrictions. The main problem is with journalists who have tried to enter the DPRK with us but without informing us of their status. This has led to two serious instances which put our guides in danger. We therefore ask all journalists to notify us of their position so we can suggest other alternatives..
We cannot risk putting the guides in serious danger and it is therefore only advisable visiting the DPRK if you can tolerate the following points:
- In the DPRK you will be under close scrutiny from the guides and security. Use of cameras causes the majority of problems. You can only take a photograph of what the guides allow. The public are obliged to report all photography. Taking photos of soldiers, at check points, poverty, sneaked photos and close ups of people without their express permission will cause serious problems. Photography when being driven around is also restricted. Even what we would interpret as 'day to day' harmless scenes may cause problems. It is too easy to get carried away and think that it is not causing offence or would not put the guides in danger. This is not the case and therefore we ask our tourists to take a very responsible attitude even though it may mean missing the photographic opportunity. If the group gets the confidence of the guides you will have amazing opportunities for photography and you will miss out on very little. You cannot take lens over 150 mm into DPRK.
- Leaving the hotel without the guides or the guides' express permission is not possible. If you are feeling the need for 'a breath of air' then a casual stroll along the river is possible but only if accompanied with a guide. It is possible to stroll in the grounds of the hotel but please ask the guide and do not take your camera.
- We are 'invited' to the DPRK and therefore we ask our tourists to respect the Koreans and their vision of the Great Leader- this involves bowing at the 20 metre statue on Mansudae and on various other occasions. Chewing gum/sweets and wearing scruffy clothing in places of Korean national importance (Mansudae statue to Kim Il Sung/Friendship Exhibition/and Manyongdae birthplace of Kim Il Sung in particular) will offend guides.
In all these instances it is the guides that get into trouble and not you. We cannot risk putting the guides in danger. If you are happy just to be taken around the 'system' with all the diatribe and trimmings, then you will have the most amazing experience. If any of the above poses a problem it is advisable not to visit the DPRK as we have too many experiences of seeing guides put in serious trouble by tourists who are not aware of their actions.
View and learn some basic language here
Customs The usual list of prohibited items applies here i.e. arms, drugs, pornography etc. Immigration officers may examine your baggage and will frown on books/articles about North Korea printed in the West and South Korea. Please do not bring in any item that may risk confiscation. You will be asked to declare currency and electronic items such as cameras, radios etc. Mobile phones, video cameras and laptops are now allowed but there is no internet service in DPRK. Local SIM cards (expensive) can be purchased and calls are allowed only abroad. Land phone calls are possible from your hotel (also expensive).
There is no limit on foreign currency and USD, Euros and Chinese RMB are widely accepted in DPRK.
It is possible to exchange other currencies (such as Pounds, Yen, HK Dollars) in the hotel but be aware that the rate will not be in your favor, better to change the money before entering the DPRK. Economic reforms at the end of 2002 mean that the DPRK Won is now valued at roughly 165 won to 1 Euro. It may be possible to get hold of real DPRK money in the hotel but the best currency to use when buying goods remains the Euro.
Food All meals are provided and inclusive on the tour and is fair but not cordon bleu. Western style meals will be included, but most of the meals will feature traditional Korean food, inc: 'Kuksu' (cold noodles); 'Bulkogi' (barbecued meat which you cook yourself); 'Kimchi' (pickled cabbage). Local beer and on occasion Ginseng wine are available at meal times. There is a rather limited menu for vegetarians.
Postal/phone services Postal services are available at the hotel. IDD phone and fax is available though monitored. It is cheaper to phone from the phone booths in the balcony of the Yangakkdo lobby rather than from your room. It is not possible to use e-mail in the DPRK. Electricity Supply: 220 volts, two round or flat pin plugs. Television is PAL.
Shopping Most goods are available in the foreign currency stores and hotels. However, prices are relatively high. Specialised items such as slide film, memory cards/sticks for digital cameras, batteries, contact lens solutions etc., should be taken.
Climate Korea has a temperate climate with distinct seasonal changes. Early Spring is sunny but chilly so bring a warm coat and under clothes. In late Spring light clothing in the day and warm clothing at night is needed. Summer (June to August) is warm weather day and night but bring light raincoat. Autumn has marked variations between day and night so be prepared. Winter (December to February) has clear skies not much snow but biting cold.
Photographs There is a 24 hour photo processing service in hotels and some shops. There are no restrictions on taking photographs in Pyongyang but common sense is called for, particularly at Panmunjom. As in any country do not use your camera on the border crossings. Korean courtesy demands that you ask permission before taking photographs of people. Ask your guide if in doubt. They will also be extremely pleased to receive a copy later.
Etiquette When offering or accepting food, gifts etc., it is polite and customary to use both hands. Hello = an-nyong ha-sim-ni-ka. Thank you = kam-sa ham-nida. Though it is not customary to give tips in Korea, the guides love them! We suggest small gifts for the guides and driver like cigarettes, fruit, coffee or chocolates. Some provisions are also good for the train ride and to share on the bus while we're on tour.
Korean men smoke like chimneys and it is a good idea to bring a carton or two of Western cigarettes to share amongst the driver and guides. Korean women do not smoke so giving cigarettes to a female guide will benefit only her father or husband. It is also worth having some bars of chocolate or cosmetics such as Nivea hand/face cream, or jars of coffee/dried milk as you will meet various female guides during your trip. We would suggest you give these during the second day as a pleasant gesture. We strongly suggest you bring home/family photos etc. to let your guides/waitresses etc see a little of how you live.
You can buy a box of fruit when you arrive in Beijing (you can get almost everything in Beijing) as there is not much fruit in DPRK. The more 'little' things you have (chocolate, pens etc) the better as you will meet quite a few Koreans who will guide you at various exhibits from children to adults and most people are happy to receive a gift, though sometimes it is easier to ask your guides to offer them. If you have a Polaroid camera a photograph makes a great gift- or you can send photos through us from back home.
The Koreans are very wary of foreigners but it is clear that you can have a great impact if you come across as open and friendly. In 2003, children would be very wary and try to ignore you, however they are now responding with 'hello' and are obviously fascinated. It really helps to smile and where possible engage the Koreans, learning basic greetings in Korean will also help.