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North Korea: A Traveler's Guide to Successful Tourism in a Secretive Nation: Part 2

Once Inside

North Korean Money

The official currency is the North Korean won, but foreigners are generally expected to use more stable currencies such as the US Dollar or Euro and as such, these are accepted in most authorised shops, while the North Korean won is accepted in local shops. However, due to the fact that the tour company you booked with will have taken care of the majority of reasons for expenditure, you might still want to purchase souvenirs, additional food, drinks and the like.

The aforementioned souvenirs are readily available from shops at practically every tourist destination. Examples of potential souvenirs might include: postcards, stamps, local art and even items of propaganda such as books and/or videos. Said merchandise cannot be taken home via South Korea, as these items are banned there. However if you are leaving via the Chinese border, then you are less likely to encounter any problems in that regards.

As you are part of a guided tour, you can expect food to be made readily available for you as part of the tour, even despite the national food shortages that the country faces. The restaurants you are likely to be taken to will be carefully staged visits, overseen by the local authorities. The food itself is unlikely to astound, primarily due to the shortages and the tendency to fry everything. The restaurant visits themselves, however, will make for memorable points during your stay.

If you are expecting any sort of nightlife or entertainment after dark, then you are to be sorely disappointed. The only bar, club or place remotely resembling anywhere in which you can expect to spend an evening will be in the hotel, and because the visit is generally all inclusive - make the most of your time in the hotel! As in many places, it might be wise to consider purchasing bottled water as opposed to openly using the water from taps.

Be Careful

North Korean Army

As you may or may not be aware, tourism in North Korea is highly controlled by the government and acting in a way which is perceived to be negative by those in authority can have sever repercussions. Make sure you do not fall foul of the restrictions imposed upon you or what is asked of you during your stay in North Korea.

At no time are you to directly or indirectly (i.e. in any way) do anything that could perhaps be seen as insulting any of the leaders Kim Il-Sung or Kim Jong-Il, the North Korean people or their government, way of life, or Juche - the official state ideology of North Korea, which teaches that "man is the master of everything and decides everything".

Taking photographs is another challenge you may face, as it is strictly forbidden to take images which may portray North Korea in a negative light. It should go without saying that taking photographs of anything even vaguely military in appearance (including personnel) will land you in trouble as well. More often than not, you will be asked to delete the offending images from your camera.

Gifts for your guides as a token of your appreciation will go a long way and may even result in the guides imparting information or doing something they otherwise wouldn't to people they had no trust/respect for, such as taking you/your group to additional tourist destinations.

Act in a respectful and courteous manner for the duration of your stay and everything will run smoothly, thus enjoying a unique insight into what tourism in North Korea is all about.

North Korea in a Nutshell

North Korean Statue


Limited to the hotel bar. External nightlife is non-existent. Be careful not to overdo it or the repercussions of drunken behaviour will be severe.


Most often you will be served food of slightly better quality than the average North Korean can expect, done in the traditional Korean manner, typically fried. Food is unlikely to be varied, due to shortages.


Hard-currency only shops/vendors are prevalent at tourist sites, selling souvenirs, snacks, drinks, etc. Nearly everything will be taken care of and paid for up-front by the tour operator.


Plentiful apart from in main cities, which are distinctly urban. Outside of cities, the terrain is hills and mountains, separated by narrow valleys. Coastal plains can be found in the east and west.


Depends on time of visit. Everything is organized by the tour operator and your guide will be on-hand to escort your group to planned events inside or outside of the city.

With special thanks to Koryo Group for their contributions and helpful insights.http://www.koryogroup.com/

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