We may have been to the DPRK more times than you've had school dinners, but there are some parts of visiting the "Hermit kingdom" that never get old. To whet your whistle for your upcoming trip to North Korea, we have compiled our absolute top ten must-see's! Enjoy.
Drink local beer
North Koreans take their drinking culture quite seriously so it comes at no surprise they can brew a very good beer. There are a few beers to select which include Pyongyang Beer, Bonghak Beer, Paradise Beer, and the most famous Taedonggang Beer!
Sharing a pint or two with a North Korean guide!
Most tourists who travel to North Korea come through China and the Chinese local beer is usually served warm and with 2.5% alcohol. So once entering North Korea the beer is always cold, at 5% strength and goes down exceptionally well during summer. A lovely welcome!
Pro tip: When ordering a Taedonggang ask if they have the yellow (gold) edition, this is a slightly higher standard beer than the usual Taedonggang (black beer) and showing off this knowledge to your North Korean guides will be a cheeky surprise to them.
If you're polite, you can be rather popular!
Due to travel restrictions in North Korea you are not able to travel around the country alone. You will receive two local North Korean guides (who speak English, however other languages can also be requested). Whilst this may be a bummer for some, the local North Korean guides we work with are very energetic, eager and very knowledgeable about their country. So, use this to your advantage and make good mates with your guides to not only learn more about their country but to enjoy your holiday in North Korea. The better mates you become, the more they'll feel comfortable around you, and the more they'll tell you! Simple.
Pro tip: best to avoid having controversial conversations with your guides to put them in a difficult spot. Ask them about their family, partner, job, education, wants and wishes and this will give you a deeper insight into the country through its people.
Photos in front of the large bronze statues in Pyongyang
When you're in Paris, you can't miss out on the Eiffel tower. When in New York, you stop by the Statue of Liberty. These are very iconic sites and so no other location in North Korea says “THIS IS NORTH KOREA!” than by visiting Mansudae Grand Statues located in the heart of Pyongyang.
These bronze statues aren't entirely made of bronze so don't let the name fool you. However, they are 20 meters tall and represent the two previous leaders of the country, Eternal President Kim Il Sung and Respected General Kim Jong Il.
Pro tip: You can take your photo in front of the statues, but it is considered very rude to do gestures in front of them, such as mimicking their stance, pulling the peace sign or anything else that falls out of simply hands by your side, and a smile.
Go for a swim!
During summer the DPRK gets HOT and what better way to cool down than to take a dip with the locals. If your tour is purely based in Pyongyang the nearest beach is two hours away, so why not hit up the Munsu Water Park which was recently built in 2013. This park has modern waterslides built for fun, speed or relaxing views. It's also opened during winter as the indoor section is heated!
For those heading out of Pyongyang Wonsan city on the east of the peninsula, this city is most famous for its long white beach. It's 2 EUR to take a dip which is only a short walk from the Tongmyong Hotel. They have two diving boards out in the ocean for the thrill seekers out there. Nampo is another popular swimming location on the west of the peninsula but the sand is more of a suspicious orange colour with less waves.
Pro tip: bring beach toys with you to get the locals involved! Footballs, Frisbees and kites go down really well!
Try Pyongyang Cold Noodles
Any Korean from either North or South will tell you to try Pyongyang's famous Cold Noodle dish. It's a very simple dish with buckwheat noodles, slices or pork, chicken and vegetables and is best served... yep, COLD! There are vegetarian options also available.
Pro tip: add in a tad of mustard and vinegar to give it more zing!
Visit the DMZ
No visit to North Korea is complete without visiting the DMZ. The DMZ is a two-and-a-half-hour drive south of Pyongyang and it's the exact point where North and South Korean borders meet. You'll be able to enter Panmunjom village; what the South Koreans like to call the Joint Security Area (JSA) and the North refer to it as the Conference Hall. Essentially, it's the place with the “blue houses”.
If the timing is right, you'll be able to enter the house so you can technically be in both Koreas. Pretty cool huh?
Pro tip: get your photo taken with the local Korean People's Army soldiers!
See the Korean War Museum
There's always two sides to one story. The officially named Victorious Fatherland Liberation
A local guide giving a talk about the museum.
War Museum is a newly built museum that uses modern and well-presented exhibitions to tell the Korean War story from the North. Captured American tanks, weapons and even the USS Pueblo which was a ship disguised as a research vessel used to monitor North Korea. Lots of very interesting stories and dioramas to explore. One of the biggest highlights is visiting the Panorama room with 360 degree views of different battles and the progression during the war.
Pro tip: Watch the documentary video inside the USS Pueblo.
Climb Mt. Paektu
Located in the North East of the DPRK bordering China and only accessible from a chartered domestic flight from Pyongyang is the most sacred mountain to both Koreans, Mt. Paektu. This extinct volcano stands 2750 metres tall and hosts a lake inside known as Heaven Lake.
Nearby is a secret base camp which was used during the war against the Japanese where the North say Kim Jong Il was born. There are also other old folk tales that say this was the landing zone where Koreans descended from Heaven and arrived on Earth. Great stuff.
With breathtaking views and incredible scenery, it’s definitely worth the adventure up! Come join us on our next tour up there on our Victory Day & Mt. Paektu tour.
Take the train
Taking the train is another huge highlight aside. Whether your departing from Beijing or from Pyongyang this comfortable 24 hour overnight sleeper whisks you through the countryside of both DPRK and China giving your an incredible advantage when it comes to mingling with North Koreans on the train and for photography.
North Korean sports teams are a common fixture on the train!
Pro tip: head to the dining cart once you're in the DPRK side and order the set meal. It's roughly 8 Euros, and surprisingly delicious! And don't forget to wash it down with a Taedonggang with the locals you share the ride with.
To begin your own DPRK adventure, check out our 2017 or 2018 itineraries.