Young Pioneer Tours

Why Isn’t Bhutan Like North Korea?


At YPT, we specialize in taking people on group tours to off the beaten track and whacky destinations. In 2020 we added Bhutan to our international tours list. Bhutan famously does not allow independent travel to the country, much like North Korea. Yet aside from that what are the similarities and differences between the Kingdom of Bhutan and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea?

Let’s delve in…

You Can Only Visit North Korea and Bhutan on a Registered Tour

Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to join a “group tour” in either Bhutan or North Korea, but that does not mean you cannot travel independently. When you do an “independent” tour to either place, it still means having a confirmed itinerary and tour guides. You just won’t be with strangers. In both countries, this means travel becomes a lot more expensive. In this respect, they are independent tours, not independent travel.

To learn more about independent tours to North Korea click here.

Getting a Visa to Bhutan, or North Korea

Neither country is visa-free, and you will need an invitation letter from a travel agency. You cannot just rock up and do your thing in either country.

You Are Looked After by Tour Guides

In North Korea and Bhutan, you are looked after throughout your trip by registered tour guides who are there to show you the best and explain about the country. In North Korea, they are often unfairly called minders, but they are, in actual fact, just tour guides.

Why Isn’t Bhutan The Same as North Korea?

The political system, economic system and beliefs of Bhutan are incredibly different, which obviously affects the tourist experience in both countries.

You Are Free to Wander in Bhutan

In Bhutan, you have much more freedom to go (slightly) off itinerary (within reason) and can certainly stop in a store to buy a coke.

This also manifests itself in the evenings. Whilst we personally make sure you have lots to do at night in North Korea, you cannot simply leave your hotel and head into town. In Bhutan, you have freedom in this respect. In many ways, this makes touring Bhutan much more similar to Tibet than North Korea.

The Cultures of North Korea and Bhutan Are Just Very Different

Funnily enough, I have a North Korean friend who visited Bhutan that thought ethnically they looked very similar, but culturally the countries are very different. Buddhist relaxation vs Communist Propaganda. Different, but from a travel point of view similar in some ways.

To join us in North Korea check out our group tours here.

To join us in Bhutan check out what we have to offer here.

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