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With only around 1800 visitors per year, North Korea is one of the least visited countries in the world. That, coupled with it’s role as one of the few  ‘functioning’ communist states around mean that’s is arguably the most intriguing place to visit imaginable. But it comes at quite a cost, solo-travel is an impossibility due to each trip being monitored by the state-run KITC (Korea International Tourism Company) so you’re effectively required to take a tour. That being said, it’s such an awesome destination for any true traveler it’s a pill you’ll be willing to swallow. Check out my FAQs to get an idea of how to travel in North Korea.

Kim Il Song Square
Me at Kim Il Song Square!


Can I go to North Korea?

Yes, aside from a few obscure nationalities North Korea accepts tourists from nearly all corners of the globe. Normally though, for visa purposes, you have to go through a company. I went with Young Pioneer Tours generally because they’re young, (relatively) cheap and they just ‘get it’. I’d recommend them highly, Gareth and Troy, the directors, are two top top dudes too =)


Can Americans visit North Korea?

You’ll be happy to know that you most certainly can. Although as of January 2012 Americans still can’t take the train from Beijing to Pyongyang, they’re required to fly in and out of the city (this is up for review later this year), they’re the only nationality affected by this rule. The US is the DPRK’s  biggest enemy so be prepared to hear anti-American sentiments throughout your trip.

juche tower pyongyang
Juche Tower Pyongyang

How much does it cost to visit North Korea?

It’s not cheap, that’s for sure. Due to the fact that you have to join a tour for the trip, the cost depends on how long you want to stay. The shortest trips available are generally 3 or 4 nights, with cost starting around $1, 000. The longest trips stay in the DPRK for around 2 weeks but you’ll have to fork out in excess of $2k for those.


Is it safe to visit North Korea?

If you behave yourself, yes. If you run around Pyongyang with an American flag hanging around your waist, singing “George Bush is the man” and spitting at monuments, it may get a little dangerous. Follow the rules, be respectful and don’t veer to far from your ‘minders’ and you’ll be all good. I never had a problem at all.

workers party monument north korea
Workers’ Party Monument


What are the North Korean people like?

You don’t get too much of an opportunity to mingle with the locals, and unless your Korean is up to scratch you’ll struggle if you managed to find one to talk to. The North Koreans are intrigued by our presence but aside from a few stray smiles and waves there’s not too much interaction. All in all, they seemed pretty friendly, if a little subdued.

traveling in north korea

What is there to see in North Korea?

There are a host of awesome sights to see but to be honest, the real beauty of being in North Korea is just feeling the atmosphere as you walk around the city (in full view of your minders of course). You’ll definitely check out the Juche Tower, the Workers’ Party Monument, the DMZ (most fortified border in the world) and if you’re lucky Pyongyang stadium which hosts the Mass Games once a year. The stadium is the biggest in the world, holding more than 200, 000 people at capacity.


How do I get a visa for North Korea?

Your tour company will sort it all out for you. All that is required from you is a scanned image of your passport, the visa itself doesn’t actually get stamped in your passport so your passport isn’t even required. You’ll get a slip of paper from one of your guides just before you enter the country and you’re good to go.

Long Live Kim Il Sungism

Alright guys, that’s the basic run down – if you have any other questions drop me an email or comment below. I’ll be writing a few more articles about my time in North Korea in the next week or two, complete with stories about shooting chickens, eating dogs, North Korean bars and enough propaganda to last you a lifetime. Happy travels!



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51 thoughts on “Backpacking in North Korea (Yes, I did it!)

      1. The “and” is that the company advertised the tour as safe for US citizens according to Warmbier’s dad. However I don’t think it was the company’s fault because the DPRK hadn’t detained a tourist like that before. To the company’s credit it no longer allows US passports to be used to enter the DPRK (a U.S. citizen can enter if using a passport from another country excluding South Korea)

  1. As an influential travel blogger, you should renege all positive sentiments you have expressed about NK and remove any and all posts promoting tourism there. I have been a follower and a huge fan for a long time! In light of recent events, I can not and will not follow travel bloggers/websites that are still promoting the pariah country of NK. That is irresponsible and negligent. As a travel influencer, you should take this opportunity to do the exact opposite and inform people that it is NOT OKAY to risk their own lives and support the Kim Jong Un regime. The treatment of Otto Warmbier was disgraceful and unforgivable. It’s also scary AF! Otto’s father spoke of how Otto was lured to NK by tour groups promoting safe, fun trips and claiming no one has ever gotten hurt — it’s totally safe. And look what happened! You should not be promoting and sugar-coating North Korea. Not anymore. You are encouraging people to turn a blind eye at the atrocities the regime is committing against not only it’s own people, but also citizens of other countries. Please I beg you to do the right thing.

    P.S. I have been living in Ireland on and off for the past two years – Dublin for 5 months (not recommended), then Letterkenny, and most recently the middle-of-nowhere in Fanad 🙂

    1. Have you been to North Korea??
      Seems like you didn’t…so I guess your information comes from the occidental medias and not from your personnal experience…!
      You talk from what you heard, he is talking from what he’s seen and experienced…
      In my point of view his information is a lot more valuable than yours…
      You words all full of fears and stereotypes promoted by the media you look at.

      1. Have you lost your mind? These are not just fears and stereotypes people and the media are perpetuating, and people should not be encouraged to travel to NK, period. The Kim Jong-un regime has tens of thousands of prisoners in concentration camps, most of whom don’t even know what they’re being imprisoned for. Of course you don’t see this when you travel there – you’re only going to see what they let you see. We’re asking other countries like Russia and China to pull their economic support of this county, and it would be irresponsible for any American citizen to be a tourist in it.

        1. So you’re saying only Americans shouldn’t go. And I’m guessing you are American, have never been and get your information from American media.

      2. Sadly Neness the NK government *did* capture Warmbier, and regardless of whether he actually did steal that poster, they chose to imprison him for over a decade instead of immediately expelling him from the country. That act “killed the golden goose” of US citizens coming to the DPRK for tourism reasons as Warmbier himself unexpectedly got brain damaged and had life support terminated after returning to the US.

  2. Backpacking? You are my Hero. North Korea is a very safe country for travellers, indeed. But I never would have had the idea to do that alone. But just to know: Here in Germany you find today some rare travel specialists with special North Korea tour packages (e.g. her: . They mostly are combined with China.

      1. North Korea is probably one of the safest countries in the world to visit as long as you are not a criminal as they do not tolerate damage theft or violence and you will get many years in prison but if you do not wish to be car jacked or mugged it is the place to go

        1. Stewart, one issue with the Warmbier case is that the video the NK authorities provided was too grainy. I don’t think NK ever had solid proof Warmbier ever stole the poster.

          Thanks to the death of Warmbier the US government bans US citizens from visiting NK on US passports without permission from the State Dept because of fears the NK government could use US citizens as hostages.

          The SK government I believe also bans SK citizens from traveling.

          For other nationalities how safe one is from action by the NK government probably depends on how friendly the NK is with the other country.

  3. Hi, very interesting photos and yes North Korea is a very intriguing and secretive place with sights most people will not even ever see in their lifetime, even those who visit.

    But, I hope you and everyone intending to visit realizes that this is a country where 90% of the people are starving, and kept under horrible control through fear. The reason you hardly saw anyone and no one spoke to you is because they probably would be punished for talking to an outsider. This is not something to be taken lightly. Going there to just better ourselves or entertain ourselves is completely the wrong motive. If people go to spread awareness of the injustices to our fellow humans, I applaud you for taking the risk.

    1. I agree with your statement. I am very drawn to visit NK. I am very curious and because of this I started to read about the country’s history (not media nor politically biased). I started to find the regimen they live if not fair. We cannot say that is a different type of life because the people there don’t have the right to choose. What they live has been forced over years and they know nothing more. That is why is so secretive. If the life is so good there why is so secretive, so isolated? What is there to hide? Why so much staging? The unknown attracts people like us who love to explore the world and tackle what we had never experienced. However we need to be careful and empathic about what we promote visiting places of conflict and controversy. Like someone mentioned “candy coating”. Most of the time I have read about people traveling there feels like a bragging about daring to have done it. Also I noticed that the way they describe visiting nk is similar like visiting a zoo. Admiring people in a highly controlled environment. To me is very uncomfortable to go to a place where I can notice that people don’t enjoy the freedom of an interaction, a picture etc. how can you enjoy visiting a place that they just want you to see? That doesn’t make sense!! I reiterate what’s there to hide?!! Nothing good. Also I would like to add the fact that the “free market” money spent there, is taken by the government and since they use most of the money in development of weapons and their Kim ego feeding crap, and the people gets only peanuts. Which mean that your money doesn’t really help the people of NK but it helps to the development of an agenda of hate towards the outside world including the North Koreans. Hence, I refrain myself to visit the place. I refuse to contemplate a place for my personal satisfaction and gain at the cost of other lives. TThese are my 2 cents.

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  5. Hello Mr. Ward,

    I found your posts on DPRK a good read and thus would like to say thanks for such a great story you share with the world. I’ve sent you an email regarding a request for the press in South Korea. Hope to hear from you soon on that matter.


  6. Hi, thanks for the information North Korea is on my must see list and I’m looking to do a short trip next summer as part of my longer trip around Asia. I just wondered what tour with Young Pioneer Tours you did? There are so many and I like the idea of seeing the city and more rural areas.

    Also just a side note, are you aware of any visa restrictions other Asian countries will have if I’ve been to North Korea. Sorry if that sounds ignorant, its just I encountered problems after travelling to the UAE after being in Israel a year previous to that trip.

  7. I’m kinda curious about what would have happened if you punche’d one of youre ‘minders’ in the face, stole the nearest car and drove across North Korea!

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  9. I am so intrigued to go to North Korea but I am worried after all the things I have heard about it!! Should there be anything to worry about? +should i be going with someone like a friend or partner or does that not matter? Thank you 🙂

  10. I have been four times and will be going again. This is one of the most fascinating places in the world. Going over time gives you some perspective on the society and the longer you stay in-country the more you will get a sense of the society and the more you will see. I go for photography and this is a photographer’s paradise – a society unspoiled by the outside. I do suggest that people visit rural Asia first to gain a good perspective. Getting out of Pyongyang is the best way to go as I find the real North Korea lies in the fields and villages. Go during harvest and watch the least mechanized harvest in the world. The minders vary in how strict they are about photography. Some just warned you not to lean out the windows, some restricted photography everywhere. You do have to build a measure of trust.

    It is not for everyone but if you want a good trip (a bit pricey) I recommend it.

    1. hey ray, thanks for this mate – do you keep paying again and again? or do you have friends who run the company? I loved my time here, so fascinating

  11. Great article! You’ve got a really good overview of the place there… I’ll be checking out some of your other stuff now.

    Also, I completely agree about the atmosphere of the place forming an attraction in itself. I was there for a week over the summer, and I think I could have quite happily skipped most of the main ‘sites’ – just the feeling of walking through the wide, empty streets, and taking in both the bold architecture and wealth of propaganda posters makes for a fascinating and unique experience in itself!

    I actually wrote a report on North Korea for my own blog… if you get time to check it out ever, I’d love to compare notes with you.

    Darmon Richter

  12. Traveling North Korea is not so cool in my opinion… you cannot talk almost with nobody and alle your money going to crazy government…

      1. Every tourist say that, and the truth is that NK getting every year more money from tourist and travling in NK is not backpacking in my opinion, you just pay the money and follow the guide ;P.

  13. Can you visit other cities aside from the capital? Was the food similar to ROK food?
    Seems like it is too expensive to travel there. Where does all that money go?
    Checking out the FAQs now.

    1. yeah you can visit a few places mate but u always have to have your ‘minders’ with u. The food is similar to the south. All the money goes to KITC, korean international tourism company – a state-run company (no surprise there)

  14. Wow, what an amazing experience and good to see it’s ‘relatively’ easy to do. It’s not a destination most people would ever think feasible but it seemingly has a lot to offer!

  15. Been waiting for this for a while.. 🙂 Another good read from u JW! Looking forward to ur other posts! (my new flatmates are so amazed by ur travels… u have a couple more fans here! haha =D )

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