Works for MBC Travel and specializes in North Korean affairs
View of Pyongyang, North Korea. (Shutterstock/Truba7113)
As the K-drama Crash Landing On You gained popularity, there has been renewed international exposure of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea).
While traveling to locations featured in K-dramas has become a tourist activity in recent years, there have been many questions regarding the safety of traveling to North Korea. Here are some tips and frequently asked questions about the country.
Firstly, I would like to clarify that traveling to North Korea is not only possible, but it is also very safe for tourists. Although as of the time of writing, North Korea is closing its border to keep its citizens safe from the COVID-19 pandemic. Its borders are expected to open after the world finds the means to stop the spread of the disease. If you are interested in traveling to this beautiful and unique country, here are some steps that must be observed to go there.
1. Secure a visa
To enter North Korea, Indonesian tourists must apply and pay for a visa that can be issued through North Korea's representative in Indonesia.
In doing so, tourists must provide details of their arrangements with local tourist guides that will arrange the entirety of their trip to North Korea. After arrangements have been made, tourists must submit their application to a local representative alongside the necessary forms and documents. They include a 3 centimeter by 4 cm formal photo with a red background, copy of your passport, itinerary, proof of payment and arrangement with local North Korean partners, confirmed flight itinerary in and out of North Korea, a copy of your ID and workplace address (not applicable to students, retiree, freelancer or stay-at-home spouses).
Tourists must also sign a terms and conditions document regarding the rules and regulations of traveling to North Korea. The North Korean representative could issue a nonstamped visa upon the request of a traveler. The visa would be issued around 30 days after the application is submitted and the tourist's original passports must be brought to retrieve the visa. If all steps have been followed correctly, congratulations! Now you can travel to North Korea.
2. Mind the rules
One might wonder about the rules and regulations of traveling in North Korea.
The most frequently asked question is whether tourists are permitted to bring communication devices, such as tablets, smartphones and cameras.
The simple answer is, yes, you are allowed to bring your personal communication devices and cameras into North Korea.
However, there are rules and customs that must be observed in using these devices. When arriving in Pyongyang Sunan International Airport, you have to declare how many devices you are bringing into the country to the customs officer.
While taking photographs of scenery, buildings and the general vicinity of North Korea is permitted, it is considered rude to take a photo of someone without asking his or her permission. There are also certain places that don’t allow photography, such as museum galleries as well as military and police installations.
If you are unsure, it's always advisable to ask your local guides about taking a picture. Generally, when asked politely, they will say yes.
3. Internet connection and charger
Internet connection and international phone calls are available in North Korea. International phone call services can be purchased at a hotel lobby or made on your phone with a tourist SIM card, which can be bought at the airport.
However, the tourist SIM card might be pricey. During our latest tour to the country, a SIM card capable of internet and international phone calls cost a whopping US$150 per piece with only 50 megabytes of data without any calling plans. The internet package will cost around 2 US cents per MB.
Rather than paying the hefty price, I would suggest taking a break from your smartphone and the internet. Enjoy the calm ambiance of North Korea as well as its healthy food.
If you really need to stay up to date with international news, hotel rooms provide international channels such as Al-Jazeera. Hotels such as the Yanggakdo and Koryo also provide interesting experiences for tourists, such as indoor pools, bowling alleys and even a casino.
The electric sockets in Korea are the same as those used in Indonesian, so no need to worry about compatibility. For those with specific dietary requirements, tell your local tour guides before arriving in the country.
The currency used in North Korea is the DPR Korean Won, but tourists are expected to use Chinese RMB, euro or US dollars instead of the local currency.
The only time you may use the local currency is when you visit department stores where money changers are available. Tourists are expected to pay in full for all itineraries before departing to North Korea. They are also expected to bring said currencies in cash for further expenses such as snacks and souvenirs.
As North Korea is under a heavy economic sanction, the usage of Mastercard, Visa or any international banking system is not possible. For a normal trip, a cash equivalent of $300 is enough for the whole trip as most local arrangements include three full meal courses and amenities in North Korea are very affordable.
If you want to purchase a tailor-made traditional North Korean attire, prepare more money as they could be quite costly depending on your choice. The usual price is around 100 euro ($112.86). Your custom-made clothes will be ready in around three days, so plan your purchase accordingly. While traveling in Korea, you are expected to wear comfortable and polite clothing, especially in esteemed places or if you have to attend a performance.
Finally, just like traveling to any other country, follow the customs, rules and regulations of the country. Enjoy what North Korea has to offer and, most importantly, have fun while you’re there. Try the authentic North Korean food, enjoy the fresh air the country offers, take pictures and selfies in interesting places and engage and converse with the local guides. (wng)
James Sugianto Limantara works for MBC Travel and specializes in North Korean affairs. He has a bachelor’s of international relations from Pelita Harapan University. He can be found on Instagram at @Jamesslimantara.
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.