Sunday, June 12, 2011

North Korea's the safe one... right?

I may or may not be going to North Korea in a couple of months. I know, surprising isn't it? I don't normally make plans beyond the week.

The uncertainty isn't because of any safety concerns (as if I have the self-awareness for that), but because the planning is being done by someone else, who I don't even know. This is annoying because, as I've said before and stick by, people are unreliable and often downright rubbish. Especially me. I might just bail out of the whole thing. Or should I go?

Only one thing for it: let's bypass the deficient decision-making part of my brain and discuss my private business openly on the internet. Let's!

Reasons to go

1. Hardly anyone goes to North Korea - about 1,500 Westerners per year, according to Wikipedia, which is about as many people as fit into my school's sports hall for assemblies. This would make me artificially interesting

2. It fits in quite well to my travel plans - I was planning to go to China some time anyway, which is the starting point of the tour, as well as South Korea which is nearby. In the south. (That's probably why it's called that)

3. It'll be nice to have something to look forward to, as a change from just wandering aimlessly around Asia

4. Who knows what might happen with North Korea in the future? This could be my last chance to go there

5. I would really like to meet some North Korean people... who spoke English, obviously. Hey, I'm the guest - they can make an effort


1. Makes me interesting: Such self-aggrandising ego-stroking isn't enough of a reason to go to a country and spend all that money. If I was hopelessly chasing a girl, things would be different

2. Fits into my travel plans: Yeah, but what doesn't? I don't have any deadlines for my Asian travels (apart from the ones imposed by visas). In fact, it wouldn't fit in all that well, as I was planning on leaving China and South Korea until later on (maybe even next year), so having to be in Beijing by August and skip the rest of South East Asia wouldn't be ideal

3. Something to look forward to: This would be nice, but I generally have a few potential destinations to look forward to anyway - along with the freedom to choose whichever one I feel most like at the time. Or whichever one I make you choose for me because I'm incapable

4. Last chance to see: On the other hand, North Korea might become friendly and really easy to travel to for a non-extortionate amount

5. Meet North Koreans: It doesn't look like I'd get many opportunities to do this anyway - apparently, tour groups are very strictly controlled and interaction is kept to a minimum so we don't spread our stupid ideas and corrupt their women (damn, I was looking forward to that part)

Reasons not to go

1. It's expensive. The tour I've been looking at to see the Arirang Games is one of the cheapest ones available, and it's still around £1000 for a week-long trip. This is admittedly all-inclusive between Beijing and Pyongyang, but I'd still have to make my own way to Beijing.

I could afford £1000 as a one-off, but considering I can live on £467.82 a month in Asia, it seems daft to pay more than twice that for a single week (with a flight to China on top)

2. I'm not in the neighbourhood. I only make long distance trips when I have to (such as being surrounded by hostile countries), and right now I'm happy leaping from country to country in a logical sequence (putting things right that once went wrong, etc.)

3. I really need freedom. Pathologically so, to the extent that you'd think I'd been chained to a radiator for five years or something. Sometimes I change my mind on a whim regardless of how it affects other people. Being herded around Pyongyang for seven days doesn't sound like fun to me

4. I don't know who I'm going with. I found out about the trip by browsing a travel forum, and the guy who's supposedly organising it is being a little elusive. I'm not into the idea of group trips in general, because I'm pretty private. Hmm... it's not looking good for North Korea

5. I'd love to go to South Korea some time. Let's be decisive about this: I will be in South Korea some time within the next year. All the South Korean people I've met have really impressed me (not just their paranormally beautiful women) and I don't want to make enemies by telling them I hung out with the naughty neighbours

To North Korea or not Korea?

I don't even care about the Arirang Games, which are the focal point of the trip.
I guess I could make myself enthusiastic...?

After that brainstorm, it seems like not going to North Korea right now is a sensible idea.

But does sensible really have to win every time? In this case, I think it does. It's not really about the money, I just don't think I'd enjoy it all that much, and since I seemingly live solely for self-gratification, it would seem a bit pointless to go.

And besides, there's always next year, when I might even be in the neighbourhood. And what could possibly happen between now and then to get in the way of that vague plan? Since when have North Korea's international relations been anything less than cordial?

(I am thinking of the right Korea, right?)

I still have a few weeks to decide, before I need to send papers to the tour company to start processing my visa and the other documents you need to enter such a scary country. And before that, I guess I have to start looking into that China visa too. I'd better get to Hong Kong first, then I have to decide whether I want to have my month in China before the North Korea trip or after...

Sod it. Anyone up for North Korea 2012?


  1. I'm sure you're well aware of this already, but you don't need to go in August. The only thing that's happening then is that massive gymnastics tournament or whatever it actually is. The website you showed me with tour details also had plenty of other tours throughout the year. They're still expensive, but it means you can get to China whenever you feel like it.

    Presuming you've done more research on this than me (ie you've done more than look at the link you sent me), do you know if there are any problems with having a North Korean stamp in your passport? If countries object to an Israeli stamp I wouldn't be surprised if some stopped you entering because you'd been to NK.

    Also, did you ever go to that turtle sanctuary?

  2. Can you set up email alerts when people post comments after your comments on these Blogger blogs like I can with Wordpress ones, or do you just have to remember you asked a question and manually check back?

  3. It seems the DPRK (North Korea) doesn't usually stamp passports, they just issue a separate visa (which you arrange with Young Pioneer Tours before you go).

    It also seems you need big groups of at least 10 people for these tours to be possible, which is why the popular August one seems like the best bet. But you're right, if I could find people who were going some other time - just to be herded around, try the food and stuff - that would be better and maybe even cheaper.

    I didn't go to the Perhentian turtle sanctuary because I didn't go back up that way, and because the price put me off. But I helped out feeding the homeless in KL last week (and didn't have to pay hundreds of pounds for the privilege), so it was good to find out about stuff like that. Especially as I can't even give bloody blood any more, which used to be more or less the only way I helped anyone.

  4. I can't give blood in the UK until something like six months after being in a place like Thailand (which shouldn't be too much of a problem), but I can't give blood in Australia ever. Because I lived in the UK in the 80s. Stupid third world countries and their possible blood risks.

    I can subscribe to RSS feeds of your comments, but I haven't done that. I normally give you a few days to reply and if you haven't then I assume you won't. If you did something like go to one of your mentally old posts to complain about a stupid guy you had in your dorm, I'd probably never know. I did just go and check that post -- good work with the annoying guy find! Do you ever considering being that guy? There must be some towns you're never going to go back to and the chances of bumping into those same room mates again...

  5. On the subject of responding to mentally old posts, I have been back to the same hostels occasionally after a week, a month or two months - mostly in Singapore and Bangkok, my space stations in South East Asia - and plenty of people hang around much longer than you'd expect. Especially the insane and rude ones. The nice people are too courteous to stay more than a day, the selfish bastards.