Whether it’s a group tour or independent tour, once you’ve decided on how you’re going to experience North Korea for yourself, the next question is usually how you plan on entering and exiting the country.
While there are certainly pros and cons to both taking the 24-hour train from Beijing via Dandong into Pyongyang, or flying directly from Beijing to Pyongyang on an Air Koryo flight, here are some things to consider for all options.
Train in / train out
With the train in / train out option included in the price of all tours, this is a no-brainer for those traveling on a budget and with a bit of time to kill. Taking the train in is an excellent way to kick start getting to know your fellow travelers and bond on the initial 24-hour journey from Beijing. With the majority of the Beijing to Dandong leg happening overnight, you’ll also save money on an extra night’s accommodation in Beijing. Additionally, you’ll get to briefly encounter the Chinese border town of Dandong and experience the novel customs procedure entering the DPRK via Sinuiju. From here, it’s a leisurely train journey throughout the DPRK’s beautiful rural countryside, albeit quite bleak in the winter. Finally, taking the train is an excellent opportunity to rub shoulders with North Koreans returning home from work or study in China, with the train’s dining cart being a particular social hotspot and your first opportunity to try North Korean train cuisine (better than it sounds!). Please note: Train in / train out takers will need a double entry Chinese visa.
Flight in / Flight out
If you find the idea of taking a 24-hour sleeper train a little intimidating and if you have less time and more of a budget to play with, opting for the Air Koryo flight experience could be the way to go for you. At just under three hours, the Air Koryo flight from Beijing is the quickest way to get you in and out of Pyongyang. For those already traveling and wanting to avoid the hassle of organizing a Chinese visa while on the road, those who opt to fly in / out may also be eligible for the 144-hour transit visa, not available to those taking the train which can be an added plus. Please confirm with us if you are unsure about your eligibility for the 144-hour Chinese transit visa.
Train in / Flight out
The best of both worlds and in this humble writer’s point of view, the way to go. Chinese trains are an experience in themselves and the build-up of excitement to taking the train while seeing China slowly transform into North Korea is next-to-none. There’s something deeply satisfying and memorable about completing an overland adventure, arriving in Pyongyang after 24 hours of travel on two different trains and having bonded with your fellow travelers. You’ll arrive at the hotel with your new best friends and meet “the newbie’s” AKA “the flight takers”, who, no offence, flight takers, have 24 hours of banter and deep conversation to make up for! Taking the flight out is a great way to wrap up the tour and get back to China quickly to update that Instagram account and have some serious post-tour R&R. Beware though, flights depart Pyongyang International Airport at 8.30am (which means a 6am departure from the hotel) and final tour night celebrations can very easily become a late night, so if you’re not partial to an early morning, reconsider this option! Train in / Flight out takers may be eligible for a single entry Chinese visa on arrival in China and transit visa on entry back to China post-tour. Please confirm with us if you are unsure about your eligibility for the 144 hour Chinese transit visa.
Flight in / Train out
Flying in certainly has its perks too. With some flights departing Beijing at 12.00pm and arriving at 2.30pm, whether it’s a stroll down to Kim Il Sung Square or a get-to-know-you drink with your Korean guides, you’ll get to sneak in a couple of extra hours in Pyongyang in the afternoon before the train-takers arrive. Opting to take the train out has its advantages in that you’ll be able to add an extension to the North Korean border town of Sinuiju (not available to flight-out takers). Additionally, with a 10.00am departure, you’ll have the opportunity for a potentially very much needed sleep-in on the very last morning of tour following the inevitably late night of final tour night celebrations (take it from experience). Finally, adding 24 hours on a train to the end of your trip can either act as an extension of ‘the good times’ or provide some quiet time to yourself to reflect on the journey. Flight in / Train out takers may be eligible for a Chinese transit visa on arrival to China and single entry Chinese visa on entry back to China post-tour. Please confirm with us if you are unsure about your eligibility for the 144 hour Chinese transit visa.
Ultimately, with pros and cons for all combination of options, the choice is up to you!