North Korea – Is It Safe?

The Mass Gymnastics and Artistic Performance – Pyongyang, North Korea

The Mass Gymnastics and Artistic Performance – Pyongyang, North Korea

North Korea is one of the safest countries you will ever travel. During my 2009 visit, I was always accompanied by a driver, party official and guide, and because the only people who are likely to speak to you have been authorised to do so, the chance from petty crime is almost nil.

The most important word to remember when visiting the country is respect. Never say or do anything disrespectful with regards to any of the current or former leaders. In particular, the Great Leader, he is genuinely and deeply loved (it is not an act put on for tourists) and as such, all statements regarding him should be positive – very positive.

Be aware that visitors have been arrested and jailed for subversive activities relating to illegal missionary work. If you are visiting, leave your Bible, Koran or other religious books behind. If you wish to spread the word of God, North Korea is not the place to do it for the consequences can be severe.

You will be told seemingly implausible stories, mostly surrounding the Korean War (or as it is termed the Fatherland Liberation War). It is important that you accept these statements without question, and if you do wish to question these statements, it is best to do so by asking more information rather than challenging the statement directly.

Always ask for permission before photographing anything, and though it gets tiring after more than a thousand photos, the more your North Korean hosts trust you, the more liberties you are given.  There are rules about photographing statues or images of the Great Leader (Kim Il Song), Dear Leader (Kim Jong Il) or the current leader, Kim Jong-un – for example only photographing statues from the front – obey these directives. Photos cannot be taken from a moving vehicle (though I did on the train out of the country but I had no guide at that point) so always ask if you wish to do so. Your camera may be checked for photos at the border prior to leaving, so if you have sneaked in any unauthorised photos, you are likely to lose them then.

You are prohibited to go anywhere without having an escort shadow your every step.  If you do want to leave your hotel for example, your guide will escort you.  Again, heed all instructions given to you by the guide about where it is acceptable for you to go.

If you cannot abide by the controls of movement, photography, be respectful to the leadership (both past and present), and are not willing to accept statements without challenge, then it is best not to visit the country.

Finally, if you wish to blog about your experiences; do not identify your driver, party official and guide either by name or in photos.  If you post anything deemed negative in any way on the Internet, it can have ramifications for your party official and guide, and these consequences could be serious.

If you wish to visit North Korea, it is important to read the following information:

Lonely Planet  Tripadvisor  UK FCO