North Korea

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Introduction to North Korea

North Korea has some exquisite national parks, and the country is almost completely unexploited by commercial tourism. From the ultra-clean showcase capital, from which old people and pregnant women are excluded, to Paekdusan, where they're still rewriting history, there's weirdness galore.

Full country name: Democratic People's Republic of Korea

Area: 120,540 sq km

Population: 23 million

Capital City: P'yongyang

People: Korean

Language: Korean

Religion: All religion has been effectively prohibited since the 1950s

GDP: US$22 billion

GDP per capita: US$1,390

Annual Growth: -5%

Major Industries: Military products, machinery, electric power, chemicals, mining, metallurgy, textiles, food processing

Major Trading Partners: China, Japan, South Korea, Germany, Hong Kong, Russia

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Traveler Facts

Visas: This is the difficult part. If you're from the US or South Korea you can pretty much forget about it. Other nationals may have some luck approaching the tourism office in the North Korean Embassy in Beijing; your chances of being granted a visa are far lower at other embassies. A visa, if it is going to be granted, can normally be granted quickly.

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +9

Dialling Code: 850

Electricity: 110/220V ,60Hz

Weights & measures: Metric

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North Korea does not celebrate Christmas or the Lunar New Year, nor many of South Korea's major holidays. May Day and Liberation Day are the big holidays, and the parades are huge extravaganzas featuring mass gymnastics, which rank among the country's most memorable sights. By all means try and be in Pyongyang for those events.

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Best time to Visit

The best months to visit North Korea are May, June, September and October. In May and June, the worst of winter will be gone and the days will be warming up, in September and October you'll get a brilliant display of autumn colours.

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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: North Korean won


Budget: 10-15

Mid-range: 15-20

High: 20-25

Deluxe: 25+


Budget: 175-300

Mid-range: 300-350

High: 350-400

Deluxe: 400+

It's going to be an expensive trip. Not counting transport to and from North Korea, you'll have to spend between US$100 a day if you're in a large group, to US$250 a day if you're travelling alone. Foreigners must exchange money at hotels. When you get your visa you are usually also given a currency declaration form, and you must fill in another when you leave. The only currencies you can exchange easily are the Euro, British pound, US dollar and Japanese yen.

Although you can usually get a far better black market rate for North Korean won in Chinese cities near the border, forget it. The money will be confiscated and you'll be turned back or arrested.

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Pyongyang is a superb example of the regime's determination to project its image of progress, discipline and the well-being of its citizens. Don't expect a bustling Asian capital alive with street hawkers and televisions being carried on the backs of bicycles. In fact, don't even expect bicycles.

The city is built around the banks of the Taedong River. The most amazing thing about the river is the two mid-river fountains that rise to a height of 150m (492ft), reputedly the highest in the world. Your first day out in the city will undoubtedly be a guided tour by car.


This port city is 130km (80mi) due south of Pyongyang. You can take a boat to numerous offshore islets, or explore the sandy beaches when the tide is out. The nearby mountain of Suyangsan (945m/368ft) boasts a fort pleasure ground with statues, slogans and other reminders of the Great Leader.


Kaesong today has around 200,000 residents, but 800 years ago the population was close to four times that, when the city was capital of the Koryo Dynasty. It was then a sumptuously wealthy and sophisticated metropolis, crowded with Buddhist aristocrats.

Centuries of neglect and three major wars that left the city in rubble each time tarnished this picture a little, but there are a few relics of former times and a couple of good museums. You can also take a charming walk between the wide streets and traditional tile-roofed houses of the old quarter.


Just across the mouth of the Taedong River from Namp'o stand the Nine Moon Mountains, the most spectacular peaks on the west coast. Several roads and hiking trails provide access to two of the main peaks and valleys, waterfalls, hot springs, old fortress walls and former shrines and hermitages.

South of the main peak lies the Samsong Pleasure Ground, a favoured summer resort of North Koreans. Further south through beautiful scenery is Woljongsa, a reconstructed temple, unfortunately only a shadow of its former glory. You can explore the main attractions in a day of driving and hiking.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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