I went on a four day trip to the DPRK through a tour company and spent most of my time in Pyongyang. I visited during Liberation Day and saw some amazing and surreal things, including the DMZ, the Palace of the Sun (Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il's mausoleum), the Korean War Museum, and even got to drink some beers with locals. I'm now in South Korea for a couple months and most people are totally shocked when I say I just got back from the North. The big news here (as you can see in my proof below), is that Kim Jung Un is missing and there are plenty of rumors about what happened to him.

Here are links to two recent papers, one from Pyongyang, North Korea, and one from Seoul, South Korea: http://imgur.com/WRDIz0O http://imgur.com/Pl8lp3R

UPDATE: Someone asked about the propaganda so I uploaded some images here. I also included my favorite anti-American postcard, which was available in the gift stores.

Comments: 303 • Responses: 106  • Date: 

DornishWhine50 karma

Did you have any frightening moments while in North Korea?

ayofosho108 karma

Yeah, I did actually. A member of our tour group was an artist and he took off his shoes and started dancing at the DMZ. It lasted about 20 seconds before the tour guides flocked over and started telling him to put his shoes back on. They questioned him aggressively about what it all meant and separated him from the group for a while. The Western tour guide that was with us had to intervene on his behalf and said it was merely a sign of "respect". It was really nerve-wracking for the rest of our group. A few days later, the same person took his shoe off and held it in front of a statue of Kim Il Sung and took a photo. The news was filming because it was Liberation Day, so our tour guides had a fucking fit. They made him delete the photos and I'm not sure how he was able to leave the country unscathed...

r2002101 karma

This artist is a moron. I'm glad you weren't hurt.

ayofosho29 karma

Thanks, me too :)

jamdabomb20 karma

Did he really delete them all? I don't know if this is the same guy who posted photos in the internet. He showed us one with a guy bathing in the river.

ayofosho24 karma

I know for a fact he deleted all the photos. Except for one with his watch next to Kim Jong Il's face. Can you link to the photos you mentioned?

jamdabomb13 karma

Sorry. My bad. The photos were published 2 years ago. I just saw them few days ago. By the way, whenever I see something from North Korea, I always think it is gloomy and eerily quiet. How do you see this country after visiting them?

How do North Koreans humor or entertain themselves? And is there a funny moment with them? Sorry LOL

ayofosho18 karma

I'd still like to see them if you can share!

Yeah, I have so many photos of public areas where there is just no one around. It is totally eerie. I just posted a weird photo of my tour group dancing in a crowd of people at the park, so there's one that isn't totally gloomy. This is also a great example of North Koreans entertaining themselves!

EDIT: oops sorry just took a look at the photos. It's funny, they are suppose to be the photos that North Korea didn't want you to see, but I took a lot of the same photos.

jamdabomb10 karma

And you were able to get out without hassle?

What is your first impression of the North Koreans? Are they loud? Aloof?

ayofosho16 karma

Yeah, we had a lot of freedom with our photography. No one even checked my camera on the way out of the country. I think they are starting to relax a lot with the restrictions on photography. One of a few things that has changed for tourists in the DPRK.

Everyone I met in North Korea initially stared at us, but then were incredibly gracious and willing to interact with us.

BMN1211 karma

What the fuck is with that guy and taking his shoes off?

ayofosho13 karma

It might be helpful to have a little more info on the artist's dance. His idea was to mimic touchdown dances, (like Tewbowing, etc.) when he arrived at the DMZ. It's actually a pretty funny idea if you think about it, though TOTALLY ill-advised. Some of us on the trip knew he was going to do this, but we didn't know he was going to take his shoes off. Taking your shoes off before entering a sacred space, like your home, is a widely practiced custom in Korea. Perhaps it had something to do with that? I couldn't even begin to explain the shoe photo next to the monuments.

throw66731 karma

Did the locals have anything to say about the status of KJU?

ayofosho70 karma

When I was there he was still considered to be in good health and in power. I did ask our tour guide where he might be while we were in the country and he avoided my question for a while. Finally he said, "no one knows where he is or where he lives." And that was that.

grassisalwaysgr33ner29 karma

Was there anything in NK that struck you as particularly odd?

ayofosho113 karma

Oh, just about everything. The fact that every single person has to wear a pin of Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung over their heart. The fact that they keep their dead leaders embalmed and on view for the public. The fact that there are no cars on the highway. The fact that there isn't a shred of graffiti or advertising. The fact that there is propaganda EVERYWHERE.

Hugo_ijslijk41 karma

To be honest, the church also has the embalmed bodies of popes on display.

ayofosho27 karma

That's a good point. Still odd, though!

KrishaCZ3 karma

Also, you still have Lenin in the Mausoleum...

Was it Lenin right?

ayofosho3 karma

Ugh, this list is getting creepier and creepier.

grassisalwaysgr33ner13 karma

I can't exactly put into words exactly why this response was so chilling, but it's left me with goosebumps and I'm quite certain that I'll never go to NK.

Is there any cannabis consumption in NK? What is the art like?

ayofosho20 karma

Sorry to creep you out so much!

Much like in South Korea, the consumption of drugs is a huge, punishable offense in the DPRK. So no cannabis consumption. (I heard a rumor about some weird food or chemical they people are getting high from--can anyone chime in here?).

All the art I saw was traditional calligraphy-style painting or ceramics. It was pretty generic and I think most artists are state-appointed. If anyone is making contemporary art I did not get to see any of it.

sprinky0710 karma

Actually, there's no law against marijuana consumption in NK!


ayofosho5 karma

Oh wow! Maybe they meant other illicit drugs. Thanks for the clarification :)

ricardelico6 karma

I'd love to hear about cannabis use in NK. It's supposed to be legal.

ayofosho9 karma

Me too!

MrWraith13 karma

Ho Chi Minh is in a same condition in Hanoi, but I didn't find that to be particularly creepy. It's an interesting experience visiting him actually, I recommend it.

I'll hijack this question with one of my own: I have a four day trip booked to visit DPRK over Christmas this year. Is there any advice you can give me that I won't be given by the tour company? (YPT).

I have a tradition of getting a small tattoo in each new country I visit. I am 99.9% sure this won't be possible in Pyongyang, but I would settle for commissioning an artist to draw up a simple design and to have that inked elsewhere. Can you comment on whether you expect either of those will be possible? I know you were accompanied everywhere, but were you able to visit random parts of the city for purposes like this?

Also, were you able to make international phone calls at any point? I'll be fine if not, but it would be nice to call my family on Christmas morning :)

ayofosho9 karma

Wow, what an awesome idea! My instincts say that you will not be able to pull this off, buuuut I've been told that you can ask your guides for special things like this, so I would recommend asking at least. I've been told it's even illegal to get a tattoo in South Korea, but I can't confirm...

Yes, you can make international calls from the hotel! It's something like 5 euros a minute. Have a wonderful trip--I'm so excited for you!

whatthehellisup3 karma

On view for public? Did your tour go to this? Is it really on view for the public or is it just N Korea saying this but in reality it isn't possible.

ayofosho8 karma

Oh heck yes I visited this. It was one of the most surreal parts of the trip. It was the only time I saw North Korean citizens worshipping the leadership. Women were in tears and everyone was rapt with adoration.

dave_anson28 karma

Do you think that abundance of food was just in the touristy areas? For political purposes?

ayofosho53 karma

We talked about this a lot in my tour group. All our meals were pre-planned at were held at tourist restaurants or at the hotel, so it was entirely possible for them to make these meals as opulent as possible. And we were always served too much food at these meals. Some of us felt guilty because we know that much of the country has to deal with rationing. I think a lot of what we experienced was a show for political purposes, not just the food. It was hard to tell what was part of the charade and what wasn't though.

DickWolfyWolfe11 karma

That reminds me of this Vice documentary.

ayofosho14 karma

If I had to be totally honest, it was this documentary that sealed the deal for me. I've always wanted to visit the DPRK, but it wasn't until I watched this doc that I realized it was totally doable. So, thanks Vice?

DickWolfyWolfe6 karma

That's awesome. Now I'm compelled to take a trip just to see what it's like with my own eyes.

ayofosho16 karma

One thing I would suggest before you make the decision is to consider where your money is going when you purchase the trip. It's something that came up in a couple threads on this AMA, actually. Ultimately, your money is added to the coffers of a supremely brutal regime. I wish I gave this more thought before I made my decision, but ultimately, I think I've made peace with my decision. If you do decide to go I think it will be totally fascinating and I hope you enjoy it!

NeedMoarCoffee3 karma

I know this is really late, but about how much was the trip?

ayofosho5 karma

No problem! I spent about $1000 for a four day trip. I believe that's on the cheaper end.

shanhalim23 karma

How was the food in north korea like?

ayofosho87 karma

It was pretty mediocre, though there was lots of it. We had some good Korean BBQ one night, and I even got to try dog soup. Here's a semi-offensive photo of me eating dog soup: http://imgur.com/oUKUJWq

Beleidsregel29 karma

Did not expect to see doge. :(

ayofosho36 karma

Sorry, should have posted a NSFD :(

losumi12 karma

I have heard that a dog will always know if you have eaten their kind. They can smell it on you. I live in South Korea, and am glad to see boshintang dying out. Coming from a perspective that one ought not to eat ones pets, of course.

ayofosho8 karma

Man, I believe it.

shanhalim-36 karma

Oh shit you're cute. How does doge taste though?

ayofosho12 karma

Haha, thanks! It tasted pretty beefy. They really spiced it up...

deekun20 karma

I always wanted to go to the DPRK. So my questions are:

How did you arrange the trip and how expensive was it? Was there any problems in going there? (such as Chinese visa problems etc)

ayofosho26 karma

You should definitely go if you can. I went through an amazing tour company called Young Pioneers. They are a young group that caters to backpackers--I highly recommend them. They seem to be the cheapest tour around. My four day trip cost about $1000. It's pretty steep for a short trip, but it included hotel, food, DPRK visas, and flights. You really hit the nail on the head--the Chinese visa was a bitch to obtain. I was rejected three times. Other than the Chinese visa I had no other problems.

MrWraith8 karma

Can I ask what kind of passport you have? From my research it looks like only US passport holders need to fly in, otherwise it's pretty cheap to catch a train over the border from China (Dandong). As an AU passport holder, I didn't even consider the flying option. I'm glad to hear you had a good experience with Young Pioneer Tours. I'm looking forward to travel with them.

ayofosho11 karma

I have a US passport, so I was unable to take the train in. I believe that the train was more expensive? I could be wrong, though. I think you can also take the train from Kuala Lumpur. Have a wonderful trip!

wutang4thekids20 karma

How is North Korean weed?

ayofosho41 karma

I feel so cheated, I didn't know it was legal there until I started this AMA. Joke's on me :(

cyclopsblue1318 karma

1.Is there any way to differentiate people of north from south just by looks? 2.Why did you do the trip? Thank you .

ayofosho25 karma

Other than dress, I couldn't discern a difference. The thing is, I only interacted with privileged people who live in Pyongyang. I am told that people who live in the countryside are much thinner and shorter due to malnutrition. My pat answer for why I wanted to go is because I can't time travel, so visiting North Korea was one of my few chances to take a step back in time. Also, I just find the culture so fascinating. The cult of personality around the Kim family is unlike any other government on the planet right now. Thank you!

Krystalraev4 karma

You might want to try Cuba too. I want to.

ayofosho7 karma

Yes, forgot that one! I was looking through a friend's photos from Cuba and I noticed some superficial similarities between the two countries actually. Namely the concrete buildings and their washed out paint jobs, and the old cars.

Krinks13 karma

And the propaganda. Saw a lot of it when I was in Cuba too.

ayofosho3 karma

Yes, that too, duhh :)

CreepLion17 karma

What kind of beer did you drink there? Do they have breweries in NK?

ayofosho29 karma

We actually went to a brewery! The funny thing is the beer didn't have a name it was just "light," "regular," and "dark." The dark was pretty good actually. It reminded me of Guinness. We were told that the men in the DPRK get a ration of free beer every month, I'll try to find out how much it is. The brewery was really fun because it was one of the few times we got to hang with the locals.

lowey200214 karma

Why is the Pyongyang times in English?

ayofosho15 karma

The newspapers in public areas are in Korean but they translate them into English, Russian, Chinese, Spanish, and Japanese in the tourist areas.

IWannaFlyShit4 karma

Why do they format the date correctly? I thought that year 0 started when their O'Glorious Leader was born.

ayofosho9 karma

You are correct! See where it say's "Juche 103"? Juche is the year in North Korea (it is also a very potent state ideology). I think they put 2014 in parenthesis because the paper is translated into English. I didn't see 2014 in the Korean version.

djdanster13 karma

Was there something you weren't expecting to see on the tour (ignoring the DMZ incident you mentioned) that you did?

Bonus question: did you notice any air traffic in the tourist areas?

ayofosho20 karma

I didn't expect to get to interact with locals at all. We had some time to drink with people and to go dancing and bowling with them, too. It was really humanizing (even if they were actors, which I don't think they were). Also the visit to the mausoleum was incredible and totally surreal. I didn't think I would actually get to see the leaders' dead bodies. I didn't think I would actually see DPRK citizens sobbing uncontrollably in front of them.

ayofosho19 karma

I forgot to mention that I was really surprised to see people using cell phones and tablets. There is no wifi though, so I think they were just glorified digital cameras...

jimkill1237 karma

So, what would they use tablets for? Just playing angry birds?

ayofosho10 karma

This was my question, too. I think they were like glorified, oversized digital cameras. Some people on the trip wondered if they were planted for our benefit...

ayofosho4 karma

Ooh, GREAT bonus question. I didn't notice any air traffic. When I flew in we only traveled over land for about 10 minutes before landing. I departed from Beijing so we traveled over water most of the time.

goodways13 karma

I was living in the South myself when I went for a visit to the North back in '09. Honestly, I wouldn't necessarily advertise the fact that you went to every South Korean you see; this is how I had some cops come a'knockin at my door about a week after I got back.

So my question is: Have you received any negative perceptions of you going there by South Koreans?

ayofosho17 karma

Oh wow, that is really scary. Thanks for the heads up. Everyone I've talked to about it has been really curious and has had lots of questions. A couple people have even asked to take photos of the souvenirs I brought back. I haven't had any negative feedback yet.

Can you elaborate on your story?

goodways14 karma

I lived there for a long time, so I told just about everyone I knew about it, just like you. Someone at some point, though, must not have taken a liking to it, and one day they just appeared at my door. I can assure you that any North Korean souvenirs you brought with you are most definitely illegal. If you want to keep them I suggest you mail them out of the country immediately. The police took what I had, and they would do the same to you.

ayofosho9 karma

Damn. I had no idea. Thanks again.

ChikcenSoop12 karma

Is it true that people in North Korea worship there leader? Also is there really a statue that you have to bow to?

ayofosho17 karma

It is the truest truth of all truths. I saw people weeping at the mausoleum. We were asked to bow several times at several monuments and were even encouraged to buy flowers for them.

XanCrews12 karma

Who is your favorite member of The Wu Tang Clan?

ayofosho23 karma


carry_a_laser11 karma

Are you the one who provoked the "artillery shelling" the other day?

ayofosho7 karma

haha, not that I know of!

pavpatel10 karma

Why would you go? Weren't you scared? I hear of foreigners getting imprisoned all the time.

ayofosho12 karma

Actually, foreigners are rarely imprisoned in North Korea and it's usually for something avoidable like illegally crossing the border or leaving a bible in a hotel room (avoidable, but not reasonable). I went because I've always been fascinated by the country and I wanted to get a better understanding the reality there, to see the truth behind all the sensationalizing in the media. I was scared at the airport, especially when they didn't believe my passport was real, but after that it was totally relaxed.

Pokedude45310 karma

I want a story on the passport!

ayofosho14 karma

Haha, ok! Arrival at the airport is typical, you have to go through customs, etc. It's more like a regional airport (you deplane on the tarmac) even though there are international flights. When it was my turn to talk to inspections I gave this guy in full military regalia my passport and he immediately shook his head and said it wasn't me in the photo. I offered to take my hair down (it was in a ponytail, and in the photo it is down), but he still didn't believe me. I don't know if he was skeptical because I look vaguely Korean or what; also why would I try to get in to the country with a fake passport?? Anyway, they pulled me aside and brought over a senior official. He took a look at the passport then talked to the other officer in Korean for a while. I was SWEATING. But then, after a few short minutes, they let me in with no explanation. I guess I passed.

Be_you_Do_you3 karma

Were they looking for a bribe of some sort? The same deal happened to me going into Vietnam. They claimed that my ears looked different, but that magically changed when I slipped them a five.

ayofosho2 karma

What! That is nuts. No I don't think so, there wasn't really any chance for me to offer a bribe, they barely even talked to me.

kwondon9 karma

Not sure if you're still answering questions but

Were there any Korean people with US/Canadian citizenship that were also a part of the tour? Or I suppose, South Korean people in general (though I think one of the questions you replied to stated that South Korea is the only country that can't enter the DPRK with a visa?).

I'd imagine the DPRK would refuse citizen/tourist entry for any South Korean... though I have absolutely no idea.

ayofosho7 karma

Still here! No Korean people on my trip, but it really would have been interesting to get their perspective. Yep, South Koreans can't visit the DPRK.

ricardelico9 karma

Did you get to see, hear, smell anything cannabis related?

ayofosho6 karma

None whatsoever! I didn't know that it was legal there until I started this AMA. Whoops.

ANGZT868 karma

Which Korea is best Korea?

ayofosho41 karma

The Korea that discovered the world's last remaining unicorn lair

shanhalim7 karma

I have another question. What kind of military presence was there in the DPRK, if any?

ayofosho10 karma

Actually much less of a presence than I expected. There were only four guards standing on the actual border, and about five soldiers traveling with our group (one per tour bus).

redmello5 karma

Did you see any stationed around town?

ayofosho4 karma

Good question. Outside of the DMZ they were a constant presence. If I had to generalize I would say we saw about five or six soldiers every two blocks.

trebor046 karma


I've wanted to do a NK trip for a long time. I'm pretty into the whole subject, owning most books about the country, reading the NK news every day etc. However, after reading books by defectors (Kang Chol-Hwan, Shin Dong-Hyuk etc), they are pretty vocal in their opposition of people going to North Korea for tourist purposes, and essentially handing money to the regime that brutalised these people so inhumanely. I do doubt a lot of the media hyperbole bullshit that comes out about NK, but I don't doubt the testimonies of these guys about the human rights abuses and labour camps etc. Did any of these issues cross you mind when you booked the trip, if so, how did you get round them? At the moment my reluctance to give money to the NK government is the only thing stopping me from doing exactly what you did.

Also, I have to say it - you're pretty cute!

ayofosho7 karma

I sort of answer this question in another thread, but I think it's a really valid point and something I did/do struggle with. I haven't read any of these testimonies and I'm sure I would have struggled with this decision more if I had. The tour I experienced did not really shed any new light on the reality on the ground, which was something I really wanted to achieve with this trip. I am a little disappointed in myself for having funded such a brutal regime without gaining an understanding of the people they brutalize.

fabricalado6 karma

Are any alcoholic beverages allowed there? What do NK people do to have fun?

ayofosho10 karma

There was sooooo much alcohol comsumption. We drank beer and soju every single night. Many of us on the tour felt like it was used to sort of normalize the situation, like if we had a good time at the bar we would remember the trip as a really fun experience. When we visited the brewery we were surprised to see that both women and men were getting drunk together.

RobVegas7 karma


Soju doesn't fuck around.

ayofosho7 karma

No, no it does not.

r4ygun3 karma

This may seem a little odd, but I'm curious if the NK'ers at the bar were allowed to socialize. As in, would it be possible for someone to fool around with a girl or guy from NK?

ayofosho3 karma

Not odd at all, we had the same question. I didn't see any PDA among the North Korean citizens whatsoever. I did, however, see a Westerner get really drunk and start to put his hands all over a North Korean woman at a karaoke bar. She seemed to be interested in his attention, but maybe she was just putting up with it. Someone told me that same night that it would be highly punishable if she slept with the man. I have no idea how that would have happened, though; we were constantly being watched by the chaperones.

ayofosho7 karma

Forgot to mention what they do for fun. We saw a lot of people drinking, dancing and playing cards in the park. We also saw people watching music videos on a giant outdoor screen. Also, we did karaoke with some of the tour guides and they seemed to know a lot of classic Western songs.

TheCapeman6 karma

Did people come up to you and ask what it was like abroad? And if so, what questions did you recieve and how did you answer them?

ayofosho16 karma

One of my tour guides found out that I am a music producer and she asked me, in all seriousness, if I wrote the theme song to Titanic. It was so ludicrous but I thiiiink the reasoning is something like this: North Korea only has one legal outlet for music and that is the government. They put out state-approved propaganda every so often. So maybe she thought my government also only has one outlet for music and I was it?

TheCapeman9 karma

Haha thats insane. Also,

  • what movies do people watch there, and how does censorship work when/if they screen western movies?

  • Did you speak Korean with people or were you with a translator?

  • Please say you told that lady that you were in fact Celine Dion?

ayofosho13 karma

So it turns out that a lot of students see clips from Disney movies to learn English. One of our tour guides even asked me about a confusing saying that the Genie uses in Aladdin (I am WRACKING MY BRAIN trying to remember which one). Otherwise a lot of the movies available were written and directed by Kim Jong Il.

Most of our interactions with people were translated by our guides. There were a few people who could say a few things in English.

I really fucked up by not telling that lady that I am Celine Dion.

RegularGuy8159 karma

I saw a TV special with Diane Sawyer a few years ago where she went into a children's classroom and asked them if they have seen any American movies. They said no. She then asked what movies they have seen and they said Toy Story and Shrek and all that. Really flippin' weird.

ayofosho6 karma

Holy cow, that IS weird. Well, all the people I spoke to knew that the Disney movies came from the U.S.

dellrogers6 karma

What did you think of the Pyongyang. Is it a nice city or do you prefer Seoul more?

ayofosho6 karma

Pyongyang was a very interesting city, but owing to fact that I couldn't actually experience it on my own terms (i.e. without a chaperone guiding me everywhere) I gotta go with Seoul. Also, Seoul is infinitely more modern--there is almost no comparison between the two.

aurumpotestasest6 karma


ayofosho15 karma

Thanks for asking a question! I actually speak and read very little Korean so I couldn't notice a difference between the two. I will say that North Koreans had this crazy cadence when they spoke with us in Korean. It's hard to explain, but it was like really formal orating, like a proud general addressing his troops. Sorry that is a bad analogy...

Most people could not speak English in Pyongyang, but we had some translators with us. People at the beer hall knew enough English to sort of joke around with us, but it was very, very limited.

I really wanted to see mass dancing or a military parade, which is why I went during Liberation Day. Unfortunately for me, they are no longer doing the Mass Games...

We went south about two hours to see the DMZ (the border with South Korea), where we also saw a smaller city. The city was pretty similar to Pyongyang in terms of modernity, etc.

RobVegas8 karma

I've read somewhere the difference between North Korean speech and South Korean speech is akin to the following:

South Korea: "The President visited a factory, and congratulated the workers on jobs well done."

North Korea: "The Great Leader and Marshall of the DPRK made grand appearances at various foundries, belying great faith and hope in their workers to drive forward our Korean values in their craftsmanship!"

ayofosho4 karma

That was definitely the case, though I'm not sure if that's due to an actual language difference (i.e. I don't think that citizens actually talk that way). It was pretty amazing how embellished some of the speech was, though.

oGsBumder2 karma

they are no longer doing the Mass Games...

you mean they're finished for this year? or you mean they have permanently stopped this annual event because it's too expensive/whatever?

ayofosho5 karma

I was told that they're cancelled indefinitely

WRV35 karma

How are your living conditions now, compared to your living conditions in the North?

ayofosho18 karma

So we stayed in this crazy hotel that was just for foreigners. It was situated on an island and we weren't allowed to leave without chaperones. Honestly, it was awesome. There was a sauna, a pool hall, a bowling alley, a karaoke bar, and tons of restaurants. And as I mention in other comments we were given an abundance of food. So my quality of life was excellent in North Korea, though I know that it was not at all representative of how DPRK citizens actually live. Here in South Korea I live in a major city, so the quality of life is excellent, too. The big difference is that I can have a cell phone and the internet here. And for most people that is make or break.

cara1234567894 karma

were there other tourists at this hotel and restaurants you visited? Or was it just your group?

ayofosho5 karma

Yes, there were a lot of other tourists with us. Usually, we would run into the same four or five groups because the itineraries were pretty similar. There were also some other visitors supposedly volunteering at a children's summer camp on the coast. I would have loved to talked to them about their experience.

Codename133 karma

I'm guessing that the government of NK tries to make the country look better than it is when there are tourists around..

ayofosho10 karma

Yes, this definitely was the case. There were a lot of times when the tour guides would say, "this is the tallest building in the world," or, "this is the biggest water park in the world," and it was blatantly false. I have seen much taller buildings and much bigger water parks in my home town alone. That being said, I do think our guides had extreme pride in their country and were genuinely proud to show us how "modern" and "rich in resources" North Korea is.

The_Chieftain5 karma

What rules did the North Korean government impose on you during your stay?

ayofosho8 karma

Most rules were in effort to control North Korea's image outside its borders: No photos of people working, no photos of the military, no photos of checkpoints, do not mimic the leaders in photos with their statues, no photos of people without their permission, do not leave religious materials in the hotel or in public, do not fold or tear images of the leaders.

maximuszen5 karma

Was it difficult crawling under the DMZ fence at night to escape North Korea?

ayofosho3 karma

There IS no fence at the DMZ

maximuszen8 karma

so it was easy you're saying

ayofosho3 karma


isync5 karma

So do they actually play this song every morning?

ayofosho3 karma

Whoa, I did not experience that when I was there! Crazy.

mchammer485 karma

If you could, would you choose to go back again? Why?

ayofosho5 karma

I would want to go back in about 20 years to see how it has changed. I assume that by then they will have opened up its borders and things will have changed for the better. I wouldn't go back before then. The trip was really restricted due to the organized tour format. I don't think I would see anything new the 2nd time around.

PrinterDrop4 karma

On what are you basing your assumption regarding the opening of N. Korea?

ayofosho9 karma

Good question. I wish I had some solid evidence of this, but it's really just a feeling I have. I saw people using cell phones and tablets in North Korea. I am constantly talking to people in South Korea who have high hopes for reunification. North Korean officials have been having meetings with China and Japan recently, and a few came to the closing ceremony of the Asian Games a week ago. Small things, I know.

redmello3 karma

It would be nice. They've had high hopes for years though...my FIL would love to see the brothers he was separated from.

ayofosho2 karma

That's true, too. I've also spoken to people who are extremely skeptical. Please give your FIL my good wishes; I know that it was a real privilege for me to have visited the country when so many people would give so much to see their relatives there. If you haven't heard it already, there was a great podcast about a Korean woman and her father going to visit family in the DPRK. I believe it was on Snap Judgement.

shmedic5 karma

How was the food?

ayofosho8 karma

I answer this question above :)

West4Humanity4 karma

Do you think it would be safe for an American? Did you get the impression that the "regular" people you met really actually believe everything, or are they just pretending so they don't end up dead? Do they know how bad they have it or are they blissfully ignorant?

ayofosho6 karma

It was a safe trip in the sense that it's unlike a typical metropolitan area. You will never get pick-pocketed, mugged, or scammed. I am an American and I felt totally at ease. You just have to use your head and don't do anything against the rules. It was actually much more relaxed than I expected.

I can't really say if people really believe everything, it was so hard to tell. I did see women sobbing in front of Kim Jong Il's embalmed body and that seemed really fucking real.

To be fair, the only people I met were living in Pyongyang which means they were incredibly privileged. They probably have a good sense of what the rest of the world is like, especially now that so much information is getting in illegally.

bebblebr0x4 karma

Out of curiosity, why is the North Korea paper in English?

ayofosho5 karma

I answer this in another thread, but they translate the paper into several other languages in the tourist areas.

Squilly1233 karma

What do you believe has happened to Kim Jong Un?

ayofosho7 karma

Well, this is pure speculation on my part but I think he's been deposed. I think this because some top officials have been meeting with Japan and China, and a few made a surprise visit to the Incheon Asian Games a week ago. Some news outlets here in South Korea have the same suspicions.

dellrogers3 karma

Is it really as bad as people say? The death camps and everything? Do people suffer as much as media portrays they do? Thanks for this AMA btw.

ayofosho6 karma

Thanks for asking a question!

The thing is I was shown a very small percentage of the country, and I know that the experiences I had do not reflect what the majority of North Koreans experience on a day-to-day basis. I know only from reading the news that there are labor camps and other horrific things going on in the country. The evidence seems to be overwhelming, however. As an American, I was not allowed to enter the country by train, but another tourist told me he saw a little boy get on the train who looked like he was starving. Apparently, the little boy started eating food off the ground. I don't know if this is representative of the entire countryside, but it exists for at least one little boy and that is really, really sad.

isync3 karma

I remember there's a 3G internet carrier. Are you allowed to use?

ayofosho2 karma

None of us were able to connect, unfortunately :(

However, the hotel offered international calls for about 5 euro a minute...

daxpierson3 karma

What is/was the most positive aspect of your trip to North Korea? I know that the country is messed up and all, but there must be some good and positive things about it.

ayofosho8 karma

Good question, it's something I've been trying to answer for myself. Of course getting to meet people is a sure-fire way to humanize a people that is so sensationalized in the media. But I think talking about their culture is a more interesting answer to your question. Since there is no free market, there is literally zero advertising (save for one Italian car company, but I never saw their ads). That was something I have never witnessed in my entire life.

Codename135 karma

Is there TV there?

ayofosho4 karma

Yep, we saw a lot of TV, though it seems that everything that broadcasts is state controlled. We watched the news which mainly consisted of footage of Kim Jong Un touring factories. We also watched a channel that played the same music video (a woman in military regalia singing a ballad about the "dear leader") over and over again. I was surprised to find that I could watch the BBC in my hotel, however.

Codename134 karma

That's kind of sad, that some citizens might not even know what's going on in the world. Do they know about ISIS and the Ebola virus? Is it on the news?

ayofosho7 karma

I read one of the newspapers on display in the subway (it was in Hangul), and I was surprised to find reports on both of these things. My guess is that there's no real limit on negative news from other parts of the world because it only bolsters the DPRK's reputation among their people.

that_is_so_Raven2 karma

What are your thoughts on Breaking Bad?

ayofosho30 karma

It's a fascinating documentary series about how the illegal drug industry destroys lives.

puding692 karma

How about the haircuts? Is that true they must use just haircuts approved by the government?

ayofosho2 karma

I'm not sure how that rumor started, but there was as much variety in haircuts as anywhere else in the world. And I didn't see one person with KJU's "official" haircut (besides him, of course).

twogunsalute2 karma

How much did it cost? Any plans to go any other controversial places - Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia?

ayofosho4 karma

It cost about $1000 (more details on the trip in a question above).

It's funny, I did get the urge to visit some other controversial places, just because the reality on the ground was so different from what we suppose. I would like to go to Iran, certainly, or Myanmar.

ppksp122 karma

Are many people suffering like hell in North Korea these days ?

ayofosho3 karma

Yes, I imagine they are. There are labor camps, starvation, and all other kinds of hell. I didn't see any of it on my trip though so I have no first-hand evidence.

CommanderBS2 karma

Do you have any family in South Korea and any remaining family in North Korea?

ayofosho3 karma

I do not have family in either country. I know that South Korea is the one country that is not allowed to enter the DPRK with a tourist visa, though.

PlayMp12 karma

What country are you originally from? Obviously not DPRK, as you mentioned that you're a foreigner to there, but are you from ROK, the US, somewhere in Europe...?

ayofosho3 karma

I'm from the U.S. Actually, if you're not from the U.S. you have the option to take the train into the country with North Korean citizens. My only option was to fly in from Beijing.

PlayMp11 karma

Wait, even South Koreans can take the train in, but Americans can't? Something about that seems... backwards.

ayofosho2 karma

No, North Korean citizens can take the train in. South Korean citizens can't go in at all. I would love to know who these North Korean citizens are that are leaving the country, though...

PlayMp12 karma

Ahhh, got it. So South Koreans can't get in at all, Americans have to fly in from China, and everyone else can just transit in from the border.

ayofosho2 karma

Yep, you got it :)

lshic2 karma

who were the locals you spoke with?

what are their jobs, what's their views on the world?

ayofosho9 karma

I met a guy who was a boxing coach. He had been to the Olympics several times so he had been outside the country and could speak a tiny bit of English. He was pretty excited to use his limited English and to meet an American (me). I also danced with this old lady in a park. She couldn't speak English but was really hilarious. She kept spinning me around and we attracted a huge crowd. All in all people were pretty excited about my American-ness, at least outwardly. Wish I could give you more info on their world views, but the language barrier was pretty limiting.

WalropsHunter1 karma

Which Korea best Korea?

ayofosho2 karma

Answered above :)

pavpatel1 karma

Also, why are the newspapers in English and not Korean?

ayofosho2 karma

They translate them in the touristy areas.

pavpatel1 karma

Also, you're like super beautiful :)

ayofosho1 karma

Wow, thanks! These compliments have been an unexpected surprise from my first AMA :)

pavpatel1 karma

No problem. What kind of music do you produce?

ayofosho2 karma

Mostly commercial music for TV and film. Not too cool but it pays the bills!

gijgnaf71 karma

you say you just got back. Why is the NK paper marked for August 9 then?

ayofosho8 karma

I was being liberal with the word "just". I know, I know, I'm sorry.

BrutallyHonestDude0 karma

Why are you giving money to the totalitarian and sadistic government?

Think of all those poor citizens.

ayofosho4 karma

Totally valid question--I try to answer this in a couple other threads.

BrutallyHonestDude-1 karma


ayofosho2 karma

Oh sorry, I meant for you to see my answers to the other people who have asked the same question above.

BrutallyHonestDude1 karma

Can you link it?

losumi-1 karma

How do you feel about supporting the Korean dictatorship?

I ask because when you give all your thousands of dollars for the tours, you support Mr. Kim. Say what you want about the place or the politics, you personally are responsible for lining his pockets. Was it worth bragging rights?

ayofosho5 karma

That's a totally fair question, and something that I struggled with. To be clear, I didn't go to North Korea for the bragging rights, I really just wanted to go see the reality for myself and now I have a better understanding. I can't justify it beyond that because in the end I spent the money.

losumi3 karma

Thanks for responding!

I suppose my question came off as angsty...and it was. It's good to know that there are foreigners here (I live in Paju) that just want to understand what is happening up there.

To be honest, I only wish that more people could visit without having to give so much to what happens there.


ayofosho2 karma

Totally agree. I answer your question a bit more in detail in another thread above. Thanks for asking, I think it's an important topic and needs to be discussed!