With spring break just around the corner, why not eschew the standard week-long Florida blitz of non-stop anonymous sex and constant drinking for something really off the hook? I’m talking visiting North Korea.
Now, of course a visit up North did not work out for University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier, of Cincinnati, who was detained on January 2 at the Pyongyang airport just as his tour group was leaving the country. The North Korean government accused him of committing an unspecified “hostile act” against the country. Since then, there’s been no new information about his or well-being, so at the minimum the dude’s failed spring classes.
Despite the possibility of spending one’s entire youth in a gulag, Warmbier is hardly alone in seeking a glimpse of the lit-up dictatorship. Exact numbers are hard to come by, but Uri Tours, the largest provider of North Korea travel in the U.S., estimates that at least 1,200 Americans venture to North Korea every year, and almost all of them make it home.
Want to go?
Americans are allowed by America to visit North Korea, and North Korea generally welcomes us. However, we’re not allowed to travel on our own and must use an approved tour group and obtain a visa ($75) in advance. Americans must also fly in from Beijing. Once on the ground, you will stay with your tour group, and be accompanied by a North Korean guide/minder at all times. You can’t wander around, and stops to lay flowers and bow to statues of the deceased leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are required.
You can also see the USS Pueblo, the only commissioned U.S. Navy ship permanently docked in a hostile nation. The North Koreans captured the spy ship during the Cold War in 1968, towed it into a Pyongyang River, and operate it as a tourist destination. The U.S. Navy keeps it under commission in the belief it will someday be returned.
Another tour features Hamhung city, stopping off at the Hungnam Fertiliser Factory to see some local DPRK industry.
There are several tour companies that will take you in, and hopefully out. One typical one is Rebel Tribe.
Prices are all-inclusive, after you get yourself to Beijing. Costs vary with the tour and time of year, but look to drop about $1500 and up, up, up.
And careful what you bring with you. Officially, tourists are not allowed to bring in lenses over 150 mm, but the tour group haven’t seen this rule enforced for a long time. As long as you don’t show up at the Pyongyang airport with a telescope, you should be just fine. A big prohibition is sensitive, controversial, or otherwise “subversive” materials. These include religious texts, Western media (music, DVDs, etc.), literature that is critical of the regime, and so on.
Until recently, mobile phones were not allowed into the country. That rule has recently changed, and foreigners are now allowed to bring in their mobile phones. To make calls, however, you’ll have to purchase a local SIM card for around $67.
Sounds like a party to me. See you there.