travel, north-korea, traveler
I'm the GM of Koryo Tours. the leading North Korea travel company. In this capacity I have been to the country 118 times thus far. Glad to answer any questions about what its like to visit North Korea
I'm the GM of Koryo Tours. the leading North Korea travel company. In this capacity I have been to the country 118 times thus far. Glad to answer any questions about what its like to visit North Korea
Comments: 3458 • Responses: 64 • Date: 2013-02-13 16:09:14 UTCsource
swifty31462 karma2013-02-13 16:31:56 UTC
Do you think the North Koreans actually believe all the propaganda their government produces, or do they realize that the government is their enemy?
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KoryoTours1757 karma2013-02-13 16:51:29 UTC
I would say that by and large most people take most news they are given at face value. There is only one official news source and this is not a new system, the vast vast majority of people there have never known anything else. However people talk to ach other, and a fair number of North Koreans have been abroad (mostly to China) and know certain things that run counter to some things they are told. So its a combination. Much of the propaganda people are told is about how Koreans are best (rather than that they have more stuff I mean) and this is a powerful message for people wanting something to make them feel better about their situation. Being able to even slightly credibly blame the outside world (usually it is the US) for their predicament makes people feel that they are toughing life out all-in-this-together a kind of blitz spirit. This is outlined very well in this book http://www.amazon.com/Cleanest-Race-Themselves-Melville-Publishing/dp/1935554344 by the way
checkfeet1002 karma2013-02-13 16:58:39 UTC
Is Kim Jong Un like totally cute up close?
KoryoTours1251 karma2013-02-13 16:59:48 UTC
Sorry, never seen him in the flesh so couldn't comment. The Onion clearly thought so though!
coco9nyc1000 karma2013-02-13 16:43:34 UTC
Do you know why Americans (and only Americans) are not allowed to leave the country by train? (Assuming that rule is still in force.)
KoryoTours1159 karma2013-02-13 16:53:56 UTC
That rule is still in force and honestly I have no idea why. After all many Americans have a second passport and can just use that for travel. When you travel in or out by train you don't see anything particularly sensitive anyway. I would expect this rule to change before long (but I have been expecting that for some time!).
KoryoTours848 karma2013-02-13 18:02:27 UTC
I'd just like to quickly apologise to anyone whose comment I haven't replied to, I'll be answering for about another hour but am well aware that I can't type fast enough to answer everything. So apologies in advance if I don't reply. Some of the questions are basically repeats and I believe they have been answered in the AMA in general so not to cop-out or anything but have a look to see if I answered it elsewhere.
Larrity806 karma2013-02-13 16:32:17 UTC
What would you say is the oddest custom they have?
KoryoTours1253 karma2013-02-13 16:57:36 UTC
Finding something odd is subjective of course. A lot of the traditional rituals that Korea has would be perfectly familiar to people in South Korea but very alien to anyone who hadn't been to either place (or to East Asia). Surely though the most quintessentially North Korean rituals are mass rallies. While we don't attend these you do see them happening n the TV and while passing by. These are often not even broadcast very extensively as they happen so frequently. These are a part of life for everyone in North Korea but something that most people outside of the country have never taken part in.
I'd distinguish between these and political rallies in western countries as the latter are of course voluntary. North Koreans don't really choose whether to attend their rallies or not
winnerherzog703 karma2013-02-13 16:21:08 UTC
What are some precautionary measures that you or your company would advise tourists to take before visiting (ie don't wear THIS, don't bring a camera HERE).
Is there a particular season or time of year that you find a big spike in the number of tourists visiting? And subquestion: what is the place like 'off-season'?
KoryoTours1129 karma2013-02-13 16:35:32 UTC
low season is winter; its very cold and the days are short. In fact tourists are not permitted to go there between Dec 15 - Jan 15 usually. High season is when there are a run of national holidays and big events. For the Mass Games which takes place every year recently between Aug - Oct the largest numbers of tourists visit. Many Chinese go at this time too so there are times when it seems the place is overrun with foreign visitors.
in terms of what can be taken into the country it was always mobile phones that were not allowed. This has now changed and you can take them in, you need to buy a local SIM (50 EUR) though and the cost of international calls is very very high. But it is possible to take in overseas phones now. Cameras etc are fine too, there is a rule against lenses over 150mm but it has been years since I've seen that enforced. Computers are fine but there is no internet available for tourists. While the locals dress conservatively it is fine for tourists to dress as they like, but at the most significant places such as the Mausoleum of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il it is expected that tourists will make a bit of an effort - long trousers, no flip-flops, shirt, that kind of thing.
Also visitors are advised not to give anything to locals which could be compromising for them - religious texts, western CDs, that kind of thing (although they can be taken into the country). As is well known this can cause some problems for people who aren't supposed to have such things
seitgeist485 karma2013-02-13 17:08:51 UTC
Does the VICE-documentary about North Korea give a good insight of what going to North Korea looks like? It's on youtube if you have not heard of it.
KoryoTours871 karma2013-02-13 17:23:13 UTC
The Vice guide is interesting for sure. Its a wildly sensational piece though shot on what is a pretty normal tourist trip. Obviously the magic of editing/camera angles/editorial/etc can be used to make anything appear in any way but I would say it is worth watching with a slightly sceptical eye. Its entertaining though obviously
CaptainRedBeerd475 karma2013-02-13 18:14:06 UTC
OP on top of Ryugyong Hotel
KoryoTours437 karma2013-02-13 18:39:51 UTC
That is indeed me, thanks
ryan_roxx397 karma2013-02-13 16:30:13 UTC
Have you noticed any major changes in the country since Kim Jong Il died? Do you think the country will ever open up to the outside world without foreign intervention?
KoryoTours511 karma2013-02-13 16:45:13 UTC
I haven't noticed any major changes since Ki Jong Il died. Some surface changes are clearly visible (obvious stuff like more statues of Kim Jong Il, that kind of thing) and more mobile phones in the general population, more building work going on (almost all in Pyongyang), but this may well have happened regardless of his death. So we wait with hope of more substantive change that has been widely predicted, but thus far not materialised.
As for opening up the country I honestly don't know. People there deserve better lives, even the people with relatively comfortable lives, but how and when it will happen is beyond my knowledge. A lot has been predicted by various experts but it remains unclear. We live in hope though, fingers crossed for substantive and beneficial change before too long
Bunyhel357 karma2013-02-13 16:43:47 UTC
What are some stereotypes you can trump about how our media portrays the people of North Korea, not the government?
KoryoTours807 karma2013-02-13 17:07:37 UTC
Basically tat although there is a very high degree of alignment enforced on the population by the state there are still differences in people that are observable. People like different music, have different favourite films. Like different jokes, etc. Not everyone is the same. Many of the North Koreans I know are lovely people - kind, helpful, understanding, and even liberal minded. Some are trickier and more doctrinaire, some of them are not very nice at all. I find this comforting as if everyone was very nice this would be a bit Stepford Wivesish. The variation in people's character is refreshing and unexpected for most visitors.
The main difference I think is that we generally expect people in North Korea to be in an almost perpetual state of anti-American rage. This si the view given in the media (both ours an theirs) but in reality this anti-Americanism is so abstract to most people that they don't think about it all that much. After all its a poor place so most people are generally more concerned with food, family issues, education for their kinds, health for their parents, finding a pretty girlfriend/handsome boyfriend, etc than crushing their enemies all the time
Grazsrootz357 karma2013-02-13 17:16:30 UTC
have you seen the concentration camps? How bad are they? what does the general population know about them?
KoryoTours529 karma2013-02-13 17:25:59 UTC
Tourists cannot go anywhere near camps, prisons, etc. Its difficult to talk directly to people there about this as they are very cautious about it. Much has been written on the subject though. Undoubtedly people in the country are aware of what goes on there to some extent at least
KoryoTours333 karma2013-02-13 18:50:33 UTC
Apologies to cut this short, I've been overwhelmed by the amount of questions, replies etc that everyone has sent in and I'm truly sorry that I could only scratch the surface and respond to some of them. I hope the answers I'm provided helped in some way. For all the questions that were repeats of previous ones please do have a look in the AMA in general for my responses, for all those I missed out, sorry to have not gotten to it. And thanks so much for the humbling response. I wish there were more hours in the day or that I could type faster.
I'll happily try to answer more questions if you drop me a line on [email protected] sorry I can't touch the political ones, that's outside of my remit and better answered by experts in that field.
Thanks again redditors, warmest regards!
ElPolloRico328 karma2013-02-13 17:38:50 UTC
Have any of your clients gotten themselves in trouble while visiting?
KoryoTours518 karma2013-02-13 17:42:42 UTC
no, the people we take in are well prepared and know the rules, regulations, etc. Nobody want to get in trouble in North Korea, no to get anyone else in trouble there so people do tend to be fairly well behaved
MsLynn285 karma2013-02-13 16:46:07 UTC
Thank you for doing this AMA as well as producing documentaries. When asked, I always suggest that everyone watch State of Mind. I've been saving up to do one of your tours for about 3 years now but I've been struggling with my curiosity to see it first hand, but also my morale outrage that I'd be lining the pockets of "The Kims". If I took one of your tours, can you please tell the break-down of where my money would go? Again, I'm extremely interested in experiencing N. Korea first hand, but the thought that I'd be helping the State say, buy more weapons to "guard" and oppress more people in Yodok keeps me up at night.
KoryoTours417 karma2013-02-13 17:19:55 UTC
Thanks for the comment. I answered this a bit in another reply but its a valid concern and a common one. We believe that engagement and humanisation is a valid thing to be involved in, we also try to direct those interested in humanitarian issues to the right orgaisations and have a handful of small projects that we fund ourselves. As for the breakdown of where payment goes to explain this would require me to know the exact source cost of everything to be able to work out profit levels from things such as plane tickets, hotel bills, etc to be able to work out what tax is paid to the state by the organisations that we pay for goods and services. Sorry but I simply don't know these numbers. Apologies for this
megnesson281 karma2013-02-13 17:20:25 UTC
I caught the tail end of a show on NPR regarding the environment in NK. I recall that one of the things the guest noticed was the absence of small animals (squirrels, birds, etc). I think they were making the possible connection between that and food shortages, but since I missed most of the show, I could be wrong. Have you noticed anything similar?
KoryoTours334 karma2013-02-13 17:29:45 UTC
Hard to be sure to be honest. You don't see that many birds around although you do see them. Squirrels and other wildlife too. It may well be that they have been caught, etc I couldn't say for sure. This would be more likely in the worst-hit areas of the country, the places with the biggest problems due to lack of food, however these places tourists can't go to so I can't say for sure
MayoDomo274 karma2013-02-13 17:26:33 UTC
You mentioned people are interested in the outside world. How much do you tell them? What are their responses?
KoryoTours541 karma2013-02-13 17:36:31 UTC
As the people we deal with are adults I feel that if they ask a question they should get an honest reply. People don't really ask if other countries are better than theirs though, they usually ask about what kind of houses people live in, what jobs people have. what films are popular, what people abroad think of North Korea. I'm of the opinion that answering honestly is best, they wouldn't ask if they didn't want to know after all!
thewalex258 karma2013-02-13 17:30:34 UTC
I'd say you might be one of the only people on reddit with enough data to finally answer this question:
Statistically, Is North Korea best Korea?
KoryoTours339 karma2013-02-13 17:40:15 UTC
Good question. As the concept of 'best' is subjective I believe that this can't be answered statistically. Sorry!
Salacious-237 karma2013-02-13 16:10:57 UTC
KoryoTours291 karma2013-02-13 16:15:43 UTC
Oh yea, forgot about the proof part! Sorry I can't post 118 visas as they are issued separately tot he passport (usually, depending on where they are issued) and retained at the end of a trip. I'm the second person down on this page though http://koryogroup.com/about_staff.php
I'll have a look for some other proof now, thanks for the reminder!
KoryoTours231 karma2013-02-13 16:17:48 UTC
Posted on our FB page about this AMA, hope that covers it! http://www.facebook.com/koryotours?fref=ts
coco9nyc74 karma2013-02-13 16:33:12 UTC
Here's what a DPRK visa looks like:
Simon ran my trip in June 2011, and as he says, you don't get to keep the visa.
blogjam36 karma2013-02-13 16:53:39 UTC
I got a "proper", stuck-in visa on my first trip with Koryo, but it was issued in London rather than Beijing.
LexLV21 karma2013-02-13 16:57:03 UTC
Now that's the stuff. I want one of these :D
KoryoTours46 karma2013-02-13 17:08:54 UTC
Whether it is stuck in the passport or not simply depends on where it is issued. In Beijing it is an external document (unless you are Chinese or on a business or journalist visa), in most NK embassies in Europe it is stuck in the passport
swangful196 karma2013-02-13 16:13:51 UTC
Is the food any different? Better? Worse?
KoryoTours403 karma2013-02-13 16:23:53 UTC
Its not a culinary wonderland of course. But tourists who go there are well fed. Generally the food given to tourists is a kind of compromise Korean food. the spice element is toned down as it is generally believed that foreigners cannot tolerate spicy food, but even when it is asked for and provided it is not anywhere near as spicy as a good indian curry or anything like that. Generally for breakfast its toast and fried egg, for lunch and dinner a selection of dishes such as barbeques beef, fish (especially in Pyongyang), rice, mild kimchi, that kind of thing. Regionally there is some variation with potatoes replacing rice in the north of the country, and more focus on seafood on the north east coast. Simply down to what I available in certain areas. Obviously the country as a whole has experienced massive food problems and this is ongoing in many areas so people who visit there don't expect much. But the quality ranges from 'alright' to 'surprisingly good'. There is a limited amount of western food available in Pyongyang only. There are 3 Singaporean burger outlets, a couple of fried chicken joints (called 'Kentucky' locally), 2 pizza restaurants, and a couple of cafes (one of which was opened with Swiss investment, one German) but mostly it is Korean food, some Chinese, some Japanese
2spade159 karma2013-02-13 16:36:57 UTC
How difficult is it for the average person to go there?
Edit: Also how dangerous?
KoryoTours269 karma2013-02-13 16:46:51 UTC
Its very easy in fact. as a travel company we are not permitted to take journalists, we cannot take people on South Korean (ROK) passports but in general other than this anyone can go. Of the around 2000 people we take in a year something like 1/4 to 1/3 are from the US. The rest mostly from western Europe, Australia, Canada, etc. the process of visa application is simple (the Chinese visa also needed to get there is usually more complicated) and anyone who would like to go would be welcome to drop us a line about it
mewtwo_132 karma2013-02-13 16:10:55 UTC
What's the scariest thing you've seen (or were able to see)?
KoryoTours273 karma2013-02-13 16:14:22 UTC
To be honest I haven't seen anything truly and objectively scary. Tourisms as you might imagine cannot go to the deepest darkest parts of North Korea. But you can get an idea of what it is like while travelling around the country. In many ways seeing the zeal with which some people there take part in what could be called propaganda activities can be a bit scary; seeing the passion and true belief to an extent that is often unexpected can be eye-opening. But in all honesty I have never seen the darkest things that exist there
nibblerZ115 karma2013-02-13 16:41:13 UTC
it might seem like a dumb question but what is the DPRK's stance on marijuana?
KoryoTours185 karma2013-02-13 16:47:49 UTC
I'm no specialist in this field but as I understand they have no real official stance on it. There is an article about this at http://www.nknews.org/2013/01/struggle-is-the-enemy-weed-is-the-remedy-the-truth-about-marijuana-in-north-korea/ its a little sensational, but worth reading
blogjam109 karma2013-02-13 16:26:16 UTC
Is there anywhere in the DPRK (or indeed China) that sells North Korean vinyl records? I have a growing collection of what one might term propaganda recordings, but I imagine the Pyongyang crate-digging scene is somewhat on the small side.
KoryoTours114 karma2013-02-13 16:30:52 UTC
I have never seen any vinyl records for sale there. Some must exist as obviously when people listened to music in the past they used records but I have never seen them there. The only NK related vinyl I have is a record released to mark a visit by Norodom Sihanouk - its a 10 inch record with music & lyrics in a book attached, one side is tracks written by Sihanouk about Kim Il Sung and the relationship between the two states, the other some general NK militaristic tracks.
No second hand record stores or anything like that there, sorry!
ChickenBanditz105 karma2013-02-13 17:21:14 UTC
Are you Korean?
KoryoTours271 karma2013-02-13 17:23:51 UTC
No, I'm British
twooder95 karma2013-02-13 16:44:28 UTC
Does North Korea have any big fast food branches? (like Mc Donalds, KFC etc.)
KoryoTours154 karma2013-02-13 16:53:05 UTC
no, none. It has 3 branches of a burger chain which was opened with Singaporean investment. 2 branches of a friend chicken place, opened with (I believe) South Korean investment. and a handful of streetside burger shacks, none of the places you mentioned though
PaperWindshield93 karma2013-02-13 17:19:14 UTC
KoryoTours177 karma2013-02-13 17:28:02 UTC
Marylandman10187 karma2013-02-13 17:03:19 UTC
are the people nice? Do they genuinely like their government?
KoryoTours210 karma2013-02-13 17:11:32 UTC
Most of the people I know there are nice, some are not - a statistic repeated across the range of humanity I think. As for their views on their government it is very hard to say for sure. certainly there are levels of support. This is the great unknown in North Korea though. It may be some years before proper objective information on this can be made clear
joely9684 karma2013-02-13 16:17:19 UTC
What has compelled you to go there so often?
KoryoTours159 karma2013-02-13 16:24:59 UTC
I visit for work. Taking in tourists, sports teams, school trips and so on. But its a fascinating place. The people tend to be much more interested in the outside world than is expected, they also tend to be very easy to get along with and as much interaction is possible is found to be very worthwhile.
joely9671 karma2013-02-13 16:50:13 UTC
Interesting. Would you say western society has a very warped view of what the North Koreans are like?
KoryoTours335 karma2013-02-13 17:16:21 UTC
O the human level perhaps. we do tend to ignore the fact that the average person gets up in the morning, goes to work, is underpaid, has family concerns, etc like most other people. Its hard to humanise a people we have very little knowledge of or interaction with. That's one of the reasons we try to promote as much interaction as possible (which is very difficult). Likewise the North Koreans often have no idea of the real lives of western people - they think that Americans in particular spend a lot of time thinking about North Korea and plotting how to destroy it, and are often disappointed when it is explained that most people don't give them a second thought
adafer81 karma2013-02-13 17:36:43 UTC
Do the residents have internet access or is it limited to what they can see/can do on the internet, if so what was your experience on it?
Why is there never cars/people walking around when ever i see videos or pictures of N.korea?
KoryoTours277 karma2013-02-13 17:52:26 UTC
The common person there has no internet access at all. Very very few people have ever used the true internet, with any luck this will change soon. There is a national intranet operated in universities and study houses, this contains mainly academic data for studying, some games and chat facilities etc too. but this is not something people can use widely and not for hours at a time. The intranet contains (I am told) no adult material at all, making it utterly distinct from the regular internet
KoryoTours107 karma2013-02-13 17:54:00 UTC
Oh, and part 2 - the cars and pedestrians. Well Pyongyang is a very quiet city and its not unusual to simply not see many people wandering around. They are there, just not walking around. You see very full buses and subway cars at what passes for rush hour, but not usually vast numbers of people on the street as you do in Chinese cities. There are few cars, the number is growing but the total is still small. The very large roads hat are common in the capital help to crate the image that there are almost none
P4471 karma2013-02-13 16:58:37 UTC
What are the tour guides doing in winter? When there are no tourists?
KoryoTours172 karma2013-02-13 17:03:47 UTC
Basically they study - they have to memorise tracts which are issued every year about each place that tourists visit. Also about key topics like education system, co-operative farms, industry, that kind of thing. Often these are exceptionally dull. The one I saw that all guides had o learn about the Kimilsungia (a flower) was about 4 pages long, the first paragraph would have been enough. but then it went on at length about optimum growing conditions and so on, nothing anyone would really want to know about, nor would need to know about. But they are all supposed to learn these things. Often when there if a very standard question is asked to which a long formulaic answer is required the guides appear to go into a kind of trance (almost!) and rattle off the standard answer. The guides all joke about this afterwards though, they are not robots even though parts of their job are robotic, they can see the funny side of it! The visitors generally get more value from asking about perianal lives, favourite films, how they met their husband/wife, etc ore so than the big political questions (which will inevitably be discussed anyway)
wesleyt8951 karma2013-02-13 18:15:14 UTC
I've heard their television channels are very.... limited and very controlled. Could you describe a typical day of television programs there and what they entail?
KoryoTours79 karma2013-02-13 18:39:32 UTC
Some news (which is mostly propaganda of course, but sometimes there is real news reported too), cartoons (usually local, but sometimes foreign), movies (again usually local, foreign at weekends), and documentaries - usually on the leaders, war, history, that kind of thing. Its fair to say that to most outsiders its pretty dull and uninspiring.
Oh, they have exercise shows as well
muchosuspicioso41 karma2013-02-13 16:19:08 UTC
How do you justify to yourself the money you bring into the totalitarian murderous dictatorship of North Korea through your tours?
In future years will you look back on your time there as people do to Stalin's USSR or Mao's China or the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia?
KoryoTours439 karma2013-02-13 16:41:38 UTC
Basically we take the approach that exposing as many North Koreans to as many foreigners (and vice versa) as possible will in some small and incremental way help to demystify both sides. The level and veracity of anti-US, anti-Japanese, etc propaganda in North Korea is hard to overstate. So humanising the other side and making people see as much as possible that at the simple human level people are all the same has great value. This constructive engagement approach is supported by a wide range of national governments, embassies, and international organisations.
Obviously nobody wants to support the government of North Korea. but its too simplistic to state that all tourism $ go to the government to use for the bad stuff they gte up to. There is a cost to everything bought or used there just as there is anywhere else. Tourism numbers are very low and profit as paid to the government in tax by local companies is also low, and we believe counterbalanced by the engagement approach.
We hope and expect eventual change there which will improve the lives of the everyday people, people we engage with as much as possible on as many ways as possible (through sports, school exchanges, etc) and I would hope that in the future we can look back and see that during our time there we helped to move people away from the idea that all foreigners are evil and up to no good. and for the visitors that there is a difference between the 24 million people who live in the country and their government. That people can kick a football around with each other without it being a national issue. That kind of thing
DrDejavu40 karma2013-02-13 17:27:14 UTC
Have you ever met the American defector James Dresnok?
KoryoTours72 karma2013-02-13 17:37:44 UTC
Personally I never have. Our company co-produced a documentary about him though, called A State of Mind. He's still alive and living there at the present time
stiofandebrun37 karma2013-02-13 17:12:39 UTC
Do you think the city of Hyesan could open for tourists at all? I suppose in general how much lobbying can Koryo Tours do to get new places open for tourists?
KoryoTours72 karma2013-02-13 17:21:37 UTC
We can bring it up places we want to visit with our local partners, and put pressure on them to put pressure on the next level, and so on up the ladder. Problem is nobody seems to know quite how high the ladder goes so this is a slow and frustrating process However we tried for years to add the city of Hamhung to tourist itineraries and this was successful, Hoeryong also now. Chongjin too. Hyesan is on the list, but its a long list!
OftenInappropriate33 karma2013-02-13 17:16:41 UTC
does the new transit visa in Beijing apply when transferring to NK?
KoryoTours47 karma2013-02-13 17:25:06 UTC
Yes it does, 72 hours transit in Beijing (if flying directly internationally from Beijing) without visa
brightsid333 karma2013-02-13 17:54:31 UTC
generally speaking, how do north koreans feel about south koreans? do they ever discuss the n/s korea political situation?
KoryoTours76 karma2013-02-13 17:59:29 UTC
They do discuss it, in broad terms. And they more or less follow the party line of SK government = bad, SK people = our brothers and sisters. People very much look forward to reunification and believe that it would follow their plan of a confederal republic. One country, two systems. So discussions on this are always worthwhile, and I would encourage it for anyone going there
keglamorphic33 karma2013-02-13 17:20:48 UTC
Do you just tour Pyongnang where most elites live or do the tours go outside to rural areas where their population is starving to death?
KoryoTours73 karma2013-02-13 17:31:49 UTC
Tours all go to Pyongyang, but most also go outside to other areas. It isn't like there are just two kinds of places there though, some second-tier cities are in better condition than others, some countryside areas are more fertile and viable than others. Some areas benefit from cross border trade with China and thus can sustain people much better than others. However the areas where people have the least food, the least services, the hardest lives, etc cannot be visited by tourists. Many areas around the country can, and the list is expanding all the time, but not everywhere
TheCroak30 karma2013-02-13 17:53:30 UTC
Is it true that each non-Korean in NK has an appointed translator who basically follows him everywhere?
KoryoTours59 karma2013-02-13 18:00:21 UTC
Each tour group (be it one person, or 20 people) has 2 tour guides (who are translators too) who lead them around, they don't follow you, you follow them!
edtri1930 karma2013-02-13 17:18:54 UTC
Have you spoken to anyone who escaped from a work camp? If so what was their experience?
KoryoTours52 karma2013-02-13 17:26:24 UTC
Sorry I haven't. There are some very interesting books on this subject though
XLII25 karma2013-02-13 18:09:21 UTC
KoryoTours68 karma2013-02-13 18:28:02 UTC
Thanks for this comment, very interesting one.
Basically as a tourism organisation we are not permitted to take in journalists. there are ways for journalists to go but the opportunities are quite rare in general. We can get told off of we do take in journalists and we ask everyone when they apply to be honest about this. We may well have taken in people undercover as it were and not know about it, we have certainly taken in people who have published things after the trip and in general blogs, etc are not an issue at all. Its only the major media which could cause problems and touch wood this hasn't been a problem for a while.
If you're on the tour and people discover you were born in the US (this is written in your passport right? its not a hard thing to find out) then they wouldn't care. This doesn't matter at all. nothing to worry about.
We've never had anyone arrested, detained, kicked out, etc. never. Never had to call in Clinton, Bush, Nixon, whoever to rescue any tourists (Obviously this circumstances of the recent arrests that everyone knows about are a bit different to being an a tourist visa) so this isn't a credible concern honestly. It is however probably the most common question we are asked (after 'really?'). I hope this goes some way to answering it!
independent_hustler24 karma2013-02-13 17:35:21 UTC
What other languages do the people of North Korea speak? Does anyone speak English?
KoryoTours41 karma2013-02-13 17:50:48 UTC
most people speak no foreign languages. however this is gradually changing with English now part of the curriculum (however many schools in the countryside still have no way of teaching this), so the numbers of young people, particularly students, who can speak English are going up. People who are very very old can usually speak Japanese (they were forced to do so under the occupation), and some middle aged people can speak Russian. Chinese is also very common, particularly among people involved in tourism (the vast majority of tourists who go are Chinese)
Thehoneycombhero20 karma2013-02-13 18:38:25 UTC
What's their views on gay visitors ?
KoryoTours51 karma2013-02-13 18:46:50 UTC
We take in quite a few gay visitors (BTW we don't ask people if they are gay in advance of course), and haven't had any problem with it. The concept simply doesn't exist in North Korean society, obviously there are gay people there but nothing you might consider to be gay themed music, TV, films, etc. They would think PDAs to be crossing the cultural line, but we have guys & girls holding hands etc there and hasn't caused a problem. Most North Koreans find homosexuality confusing and slightly funny (like schoolkids basically)
sicitur19 karma2013-02-13 16:13:30 UTC
What are some of the most shocking daily reminders that you witness that remind you you're in a totalitarian Stalinist dictatorship?
KoryoTours72 karma2013-02-13 16:28:34 UTC
its a somewhat loaded question obviously but the main thing that makes every visitor constantly aware that they are in a country very different to their own would be first the limitations placed on the movement of visitors. In brief you must be accompanied by tour guides wherever you go, the itinerary must be planned in advance (this is what we do, it isn't imposed on tourists from above, it is planned in co-operation with the travel agency). That said there is some small leeway for things such as going to local sports events, having some time in a park to mingle with people having picnics, wandering at leisure around a funfair. But movement is restricted, rules on tourists are strictly enforced and so on. This is the most visceral reminder.
Additionally just looking around one sees the lack of adverts, the uniformity of dress (with some variations emerging in recent years), the architectural style, the flags, portraits of Kim Il Sung, and so on which leave you in no doubt that you are in fact in North Korea. there's never really any doubt about where you are
Paramnesia119 karma2013-02-13 17:55:14 UTC
How widespread is smoking in North Korea? In China it seemed like everyone smoked. I just wonder if the authoritarian government had particular policies on it.
KoryoTours58 karma2013-02-13 17:56:48 UTC
Its rare for men not to smoke. I know only a handful of men there who do not smoke. However it is exceptionally rare for women to smoke. Sometimes you see some older ladies smoking, local tradition has it that when a woman is widowed she then starts smoking her husband's brand to remind her of him
KoryoTours37 karma2013-02-13 17:57:42 UTC
There have been anti-smoking policies though. Kim Jong Il was supposed to have described smokers as one of the three great fools of the 21st century at a time when he quit himself (the other fools BTW were people who don't like music, people who aren't interested in computers)
DefinatelyNotACheese11 karma2013-02-13 16:33:45 UTC
How gullible are the general population? Do they believe all the insane propaganda?
KoryoTours23 karma2013-02-13 16:51:47 UTC
I hope this is covered in the answer I gave above
joshcoles8 karma2013-02-13 16:59:23 UTC
This comment is the highest up, so "above" doesn't apply to where you previously answered the question.
KoryoTours19 karma2013-02-13 17:13:42 UTC
Apologies for that. my fault!
noitsnotrelevant10 karma2013-02-13 17:23:18 UTC
As a person picky about food, would I even be able to go?
KoryoTours21 karma2013-02-13 17:24:22 UTC
Yes. Depending on how picky you are you might want to supplement the food given with some things you are used to though. Usually most people have no problem though
mongoliannavy8 karma2013-02-13 17:29:20 UTC
If I were to visit North Korea through your agency, is it possible to watch a local North Korean football game and visit the famous Okryugwan restaurant?
KoryoTours19 karma2013-02-13 17:33:51 UTC
Yes, these are both possible. Local football matches take place in 5 batches though out the year. Basically a series of round-robins. International games take place too but only when scheduled, there is only the occasional friendly.
tomhfh7 karma2013-02-13 17:39:21 UTC
How could one go about visiting North Korea?
KoryoTours31 karma2013-02-13 17:55:03 UTC
you can visit our website www.koryogroup.com and drop us an email [email protected] for more details. Sorry I don't want to turn this into a total promotional push! hope posting that link is alright
LexLV7 karma2013-02-13 17:06:38 UTC
I've always wanted to go, but still cannot put aside the money required for a trip to the DPRK. My fear is that by the time I can afford it, the regime may have crumbled by that point or war could break out again. Do you ever think that would ever be a possibility in the next few years?
KoryoTours22 karma2013-02-13 17:13:02 UTC
Predicting the lifespan of any government is very hard of course, also predicting wars too. It seems like a war is highly unlikely though, as for the big political question - that's really one for expects who focus on such issues. I would suggest reading the essays of Andrei Lankov for one about this kind of thing, he's much better qualified than I to answer the political questions
panjee5 karma2013-02-13 17:29:42 UTC
What does the normal tour look like? Do you get involved with the locals?
KoryoTours15 karma2013-02-13 17:39:40 UTC
As much as possible we do. although there are many limitations. I always try to encourage people to go to places where random interaction is more likely; parks, funfairs, bowling, walks along the river, picnics, that kind of thing. People in North Korea are not the most forthcoming so interacting with people does tend to need a push from the visitors side. Taking a football or some balloons along on a trip is often the best way to interact with people
rattmann56025 karma2013-02-13 16:44:40 UTC
Do you think that an unmanned aircraft could potentially destroy dear leaders house, and kill him?
Do you think this would help North Korea
KoryoTours36 karma2013-02-13 16:54:25 UTC
honestly no idea, sorry! military and national politics is a bit outside my remit!
jkols3 karma2013-02-13 17:30:08 UTC
What do you think of the recent nuclear tests they have undergone? Do you believe that North Korea would ever actually pursue a nuclear attack?
KoryoTours13 karma2013-02-13 17:33:00 UTC
Sorry its not something I have any knowledge about (same answer as a few other questions here). I would hope that nobody would pursue a nuclear attack on anyone else though
Wasp-ish2 karma2013-02-13 17:19:30 UTC
If I came on a tour to North Korea with you and your company, given that marijuana is legal, could we do a little strain hunter expedition to collect some seeds please? I would love to collect and refine a North Korean strain before they inevitably wipe out the native species.
KoryoTours1 karma2013-02-13 17:28:11 UTC
Sorry, that's pretty unlikely!
Grrbam1 karma2013-02-13 17:39:44 UTC
This is the most silliest question but,
If they are anti-american, are people who are born in different country but being half american also not aloud to go NK?
KoryoTours5 karma2013-02-13 17:41:25 UTC
Its no problem for US citizens to go on a tour there, No problem at all
drbergzoid1 karma2013-02-13 17:26:51 UTC
What do you tell your travellers?
KoryoTours1 karma2013-02-13 17:37:01 UTC
We give a full briefing about what to expect on the tour, and try to answer any and all questions about it. That is without simply explaining the tour to them in advance
TheGrimGoodbye0 karma2013-02-13 17:26:44 UTC
What made you want to do this AMA? Are you trying to promote the service? I seriously doubt I'd ever get a visa from N. Korea being the American I am without paying off some customs agents.
KoryoTours1 karma2013-02-13 17:35:21 UTC
I thought it might be interesting (and it is, for me at least) although I don't have the expertise to answer many of the questions, nor can I type fast enough! US citizens can visit on tours, you don't need to bribe anyone, and there's not many reasons why you wouldn't get a visa
Sciencekitten-12 karma2013-02-13 16:13:36 UTC
Show us proof op!
KoryoTours10 karma2013-02-13 16:48:12 UTC
Sorry, I thought the link to the company Facebook page mentioning this AMA covered that
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