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Photo journey: Travelling to North Korea

Travel to North Korea Pyongyang

Photo journey – Travelling to North Korea

North Korea had been on our bucket list for a long time. But we had pretty mixed feelings about visiting the country, since we knew the only way to get there is going with a tour, which is both expensive and pretty strict in terms of what you are allowed to see. We also guessed that most of the tour fees evidentially ends up in Kim’s pocket.

Despite the cost and our own morality, we let the curiosity beat us; the thought of visiting the most secluded country in the world was just too difficult to resist.

We went with a budget tour company, which came to about 500 euros per person for a three-day tour. The plan was to go during the 70th anniversary of the Worker’s party of DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the country’s official name). We started our tour in the Chinese border town, Dandong, where we took a 7 hour train ride through the countryside of North Korea before arriving in the capital, Pyongyang.

Our quick visit was both strange and enlightening, proving and disproving many of the rumors we had heard and read about before our visit.

Below you can follow us through our journey and read some interesting facts along the way!

Boat ride on Yalu River, Dandong, separating China from North Korea

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We didn’t encounter any cars in the countryside, only bicycles

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Traditional farming techniques

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Two curious boys watching our train pass by

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A soldier riding his bicycle

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We didn’t see commercial advertisement of any kind, but propagandous murals of the leaders were easily spotted.

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It is forbidden to photograph North Korean soldiers

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A young women supervises the train station

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Locals crossing a river in one of the villages

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North Korean propaganda is plentiful

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Finally in Pyongyang: Mansudae Fountain Park in front of the Grand Peoples Study House

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Two gigantic bronze statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. This monument is dedicated to the anti-Japanese revolutionary struggle

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Woman wearing Hoejang Jogori, the traditional Korean dress

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Soldiers pay respects at the Mansudae Grand Monument during the Worker’s Party 70th anniversary

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This young boy was dressed up like a soldier

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These soldiers show their respect at Kim Il Sung’s birthplace

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A well dressed family in front of the Grand Monument at Mansu Hill

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Father and son celebrating

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Street Style: Pyongyang Edition

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More communistic murals

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Fact: 80% of the population has the first name “Kim” …both men and women

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Relaxed soldiers at the train station

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Young woman riding the metro in Pyongyang

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Brothers posing for a photo
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Soldiers wave to the citizens during a military parade
North Korea Travel 55 8oui An important place for a traffic cop.


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The Monument to Party Founding; hammer, sickle and brush representing the hands of a worker, peasant and an intellectual

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The world’s deepest metro system also works as a bomb shelter

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Locals celebrate fanatically as tanks pass by during the military parade

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Locals reading the newspaper at the metro station

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Fact: North Korea bases its calendar on Kim Il-Sung’s date of birth: 15 April 1912. So today it’s year 103!

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Locals waiting for the military parade to start
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We noticed how most of the locals wear simple clothes, without any logos
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North Korea has faced a dire food crisis over the past two decades, the ongoing impact of which is still visible on many citizens.

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Young woman working at the metro station in Pyongyang

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Fact: North Korea has its own time zone: Pyongyang Standard Time

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Military airplanes celebrate the anniversary of the workers party

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Deserted streets in the capital
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Fact: Elections are held every 5 years. Voting is mandatory and turnout is always 100% for Kim Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Locals watch the fireworks during the celebration

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There aren’t many traffic lights in the capital

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Fact: North Korea has the 5th largest army in the world with over 1 million active troops

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The sun sets down over empty streets in the big city

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Locals admire the fireworks shooting in the sky

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It was a cold day in the city, we felt bad for the traffic lady

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Military men wave to celebrating locals

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The Rungnado 1st of May Stadium – Currently the largest stadium in the world with a capacity of 150.000

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Another metro stop in the city

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Mangyongdae Funfair amuzement park

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Fact: The capital Pyongyang is home to 3 million, but only the elite! North Korea Travel dfye

The military parade we witnessed in the evening. Soldiers and big tanks drove past us next to screaming locals
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It really looks like going back in time, doesn’t it?

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Our short visit to Pyongyang was over and it was time to hop back on the train to China

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Fact: There are nearly 200.000 prisoners in work camps in North Korea, but Dennis Rodman loves it here

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Once again we rode for 7 hours through the countryside, with our faces stuck to the windows watching the “local” life in the villages

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Fact: More than half of the 24 million population lives in extreme poverty

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At one of the train stops

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Village life

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Visiting North Korea

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9 Comments

  • Reply
    Nuno
    January 11, 2016 at 7:49 pm

    i wonder where you guys stayed overnight and what kind of limitations you realised while visiting these places with your “korean tour guide”. any chance to be close with locals? i mean can we approach them and talk to them? how is the food there? 🙂

    • Reply
      Andri Wilberg Orrason
      January 14, 2016 at 4:22 pm

      Hey Nuno! As we were on a budget tour we stayed at the Youth Hotel which was better than expected. Rooms were spacious and clean, albeit a bit dark and damp and the showers were cold. We weren’t allowed to exit the hotel during the night but there is a karaoke bar downstairs and a small souvenir shop where you spend your time during the evenings.

      As for the tour itself it’s a tight schedule and during most places you have to stick with the group. However it was surprisingly lenient at time; during the military parade we were cheering among the locals for a couple of hours without any supervision. Most of the locals ignore you, which I found highly strange, not even eye contact, except a few smiling children. But later I was told that they are not allowed to make contact to foreigners. Most of them in Pyongyang seem accustomed to tourists, there are so many different tour groups wandering around the main sights taking pictures franatically everyday that it might to this point seem mundane to them.

      Food was average. We ate at the hotel, and most of the courses were simple many of them egg based. We did eat at a Korean barbecue that quite similar to what you find in S-Korea. But keep in mind that what we got to eat is far away from there regular diet which is simply just rice for many (especially those living outside the capital).

      Hope that answers a few of your questions 🙂
      Andri Wilberg Orrason recently posted…Photo journey: Travelling to North KoreaMy Profile

  • Reply
    MariaAbroad
    January 12, 2016 at 4:19 pm

    Wow, what an impressive photo story. I’ve always been fascinated by North Korea and its Orwellian society. I grew up in West Germany and was 8 when the Wall came down. I’ve talked to many people about their experiences in East Germany, but I think that North Korea would be the one place on Earth to SEE history. Thank you for taking me along on that journey. I hope that one day I’ll be able to go myself!

    • Reply
      Andri Wilberg Orrason
      January 14, 2016 at 4:24 pm

      Thank you Maria 🙂 We’ve had been fascinated to visit this country for a while, and it’s true, you’re truly seeing history, it’s like stepping a few decades back in time in so many ways. Time seems to stand still there. Hope you’ll get to see it with your own eyes someday 🙂
      Andri Wilberg Orrason recently posted…Photo journey: Travelling to North KoreaMy Profile

  • Reply
    Dominique
    January 16, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    I’m completely enthralled by this photos! North Korea would be such an interesting place to visit and you captured it so well in the photos! I can’t believe they have their own calendar 🙂 You’ve inspired me to visit this place as well!
    Dominique recently posted…Plans for 2016My Profile

  • Reply
    Hamza Arslan
    January 31, 2016 at 2:01 pm

    Great photo story and introduction guys, loved it! I had heard and read in some other travellers’ blogs that on these guided tours, taking photos of soldiers or urban life was strictly forbidden, one guy even had written the soldiers who noticed they were photographed had stopped the bus and came aboard than checked his camera for photos. As I see you guys had no problem in photographing people, military, tanks with flashes. Didn’t any of those soldiers in train station see you photographing them and made a fuss about it?

    I am asking to learn for my future visiting plans 🙂

    Cheers

    • Reply
      Ása Steinarsdóttir
      January 31, 2016 at 9:10 pm

      Hey Hamza! 🙂

      So glad you liked the story and photos from North Korea! It was a really interesting journey…We had heard that it’s forbidden to photograph soldiers, however we felt like they were a little relaxed about it. One of the soldiers stopped us in the train and asked us to not take a photo, but nothing more.

      Other than that we felt like we were quite free and that we could photograph most of the things we wanted. The locals didn’t seem to mind, but sometimes our guide told us when we should keep the camera away.

      Hope that answers your question 🙂
      Ása Steinarsdóttir recently posted…Explore England: Top 7 Places You Must Visit On Your TripMy Profile

      • Reply
        Hamza Arslan
        February 1, 2016 at 11:44 am

        hey Ása! 🙂

        thanks for the explanation. anyway, I’m glad you were able to photograph the trip, it might be one of the rare, best photo captions of daily North Korean life and people. Well done!

        Hope to follow more of yours’ journeys, 🙂

  • Reply
    Valeriia
    February 17, 2016 at 3:56 pm

    Very interesting reportage, thanks so much!
    Hoping one day to go there ourselves, maybe for a biking trip not to be noticed 😀
    Valeriia recently posted…Thanks God, we did Iceland by bike!My Profile

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