Would You Holiday In North Korea?

There is nowhere else in the world that comes close to North Korea. As a destination it holds much fascination for many, but few travel there to experience first hand to explore it as a destination.

Some intrepid travelers looking for a new experience have traveled to North Korea to experience this unusual and interesting destination. For those who do make the visit, significant risk is ever present for those who do not follow the rules and laws of the 'Hermit Kingdom'.

One such victim of the regime is that of Otto Frederick Warmbier at the time a 22 year old student from Virginia, who was sentenced to 15 years hard labor for stealing a propaganda poster during a tour to the country in 2016. After a period of 17 months the student was unexpectedly released and medically evacuated back to the United States after suffering severe brain injuries during his time in detention.

Otto-Warmbier-Prisioner-North-Korea Source/Credit: Kyodo/Reuters

North Korea advised at the time through its state media, that Warmbier's death was 'a mystery' and dismissed accusations that he had died as a result of torture and being beaten whilst in captivity.

Young Pioneer Tours, the tour group who arranged Mr. Warmbiers trip appears to have inadequately managed the risks during the course of the tour. In response to this latest incident involving yet another US citizen, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson authorized a 'Geographical Travel Restriction' on all American's use of a passport to North Korea.

Once the ban comes into effect, US passports will be invalid to travel to, through or inside of North Korea. Only those granted 'special validation' will be allowed to visit the country.

Nevertheless, North Korea's travel industry is expanding and in 2015 officials of the North Korean government said they wanted to attract 2 million tourists annually by 2020. North Korea's Tourism Agency launched a website offering several holiday options ranging from mounting hiking, biking and rice planting tours. A number of other packages are also offered including trips to various parts of the country including the capital Pyongyang.

North-Korean-Traffic-Police Source/Credit: Chris Petersen-Clausen/NK News

It's been estimated there are around 30 international travel agencies worldwide offering tours to North Korea, with an average 5 day trip costing between $2,000 - $3,000 per person. Channel NewsAsia spoke with a number of people who had visited the country together with a number of tour agencies to gain an insight into the do's and dont's when visiting North Korea.

GLO Travel, a tour company based in Hong Kong stated travelers using their agency receive a detailed safety briefing session in Hong Kong prior to departure on the tour. The session which generally lasts about an hour, is followed up by a secondary briefing in China, before touching down in North Korea. Tourists in the group are issued with a list of prohibited items, together with traveler warnings via email prior to leaving their home country, including for example a recent ban on selfie sticks entering the country.


One tourist, Kitty Lam from Hong Kong visited North Korea early in 2017 mentioned that she was briefed on what not to do once arrived in the country. These included;

  • Do not photograph military personnel.

  • Do not leave the hotel without a guide.

  • Unauthorized photography is prohibited.

  • Riding on public transport is restricted.

  • Capturing images of poverty is prohibited.

  • Do not bring the Bible or other foreign books about North Korea into the country.

  • All foreign visitors to the country are required to solemnly bow and lay flowers in front of the statue of the late North Korean leaders including Kim II Sung and Kim Jun II.

  • Disrespecting the Kim family is considered a criminal act, punishable by expulsion or arrest and imprisonment.

  • Capturing partial framing of images of the statues of the Kim family is considered a criminal act.

Sandra Hawkins

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