We all know North Korea is weird. But for curious travelers, this spooky controlling-ness is exactly what makes the Hermit Kingdom such an alluring getaway.
North Korea Travel App is your new go-to guide for plotting a trip north of the border, with info on everything from visas to attractions to restaurants and bars. A London-based website launched the app, so we can’t say it's the creepy governmental propaganda you might be hoping for.
But the travel tips we picked up are still so incredibly... weird, we just had to share.
Gifting your tour guide is encouraged.
American visitors to North Korea must be
babysat escorted by at least two tour guides at all times -- where they don’t take you, you can’t go. The app therefore suggests bringing presents to your guide, particularly of the alcoholic variety... other sources confirm that trinkets will help locals be less "wary" of Americans.
“Liquor and alcohol might be welcomed by your bus dtwriver," the app reads. "Try and stick to the prestigious brands that cost the most in North Korea.”
The wrong questions could get your tour guide in BIG -- and we don’t even know how BIG -- trouble.
The app warns multiple times against venturing off on your own and questioning North Korea’s twisted version of history, saying your questions might put your tour leader at serious risk.
“Any misbehavior by a member of a tour group will be interpreted as being the result of a failure on the guide’s part, and the punishments can be severe,” it says. (After reading what can happen to defectors, we're afraid to make a peep).
You can sneak memory cards past border patrol.
We already knew about that thing where it's taboo to cut out any part of a leader’s body when taking photos of those giant propaganda statues. But who knew there was a way around it?
“Your photographs will sometimes be checked at border when you leave,” the app reads. “Many visitors therefore keep a memory card with a few innocuous snaps in their cameras and the ‘real’ one in an mp3 player." (Other visitors report using this trick, too).
Even the circus is propaganda.
The app pitches the People’s Army Circus as a popular spectacle: "This circus very rarely features any animals… but does almost always feature an anti-American clown show.”
There are only two coffee shops in the whole country.
That’s how many are listed on the app, at least. Research shows there might be a few more.
But there are TONS of factories.
The app lists no less than 14 notable ones, from the “famous” Hungnam Fertilizer Factory to the Tae’an Heavy Machine L Factory, which has a “Revolutionary Museum on site.”
The foreigners’ hospital is way nicer than the hospital for local people.
Just as hotels are thought to be specially tricked-out for visitors, you won’t be given the standard North Korean treatment in a hospital either, the app says.
“The Foreigners Hospital is much better equipped than other facilities in the country, with quite luxurious private rooms for patients.” (But "luxury" is relative: most North Korean hospitals are majorly lacking resources.)
Everything "the Kims" touched has turned to gold.
...and is held really, really sacred for a really, really long time afterward. The app highlights Kyongsong Museum, which includes a special site that is really just the house where Kim Jong Il slept for a few nights as a kid. The app says you can’t go inside, but your guide “will open the window so visitors can see in and take pictures of the cutlery… used by the Kim family.”
Kim Jong Il only spoke seven words in public, ever.
The app also features Kim Il Sung Square as the place where Kim Jong made the sole public speech of his entire reign. “His words were: ‘Glory to the heroic Korean People’s Army.’”
“There are a handful of hotels in the east and northeast of the country that will not accommodate American citizens.”
Reasons, the app says, are “unknown.” (At least the ones you CAN stay in are pretty snazzy).
According to the app, your tour guides probably know they're lying.
North Korea’s government has its own warped version of history, which tour guides preach as fact. The app says your guide likely knows how the Korean War really started, but there’s no point in you stating the truth, because they’re not allowed to acknowledge it.
“Most of the guides will also be aware of the inaccuracies of their government’s line on things," the app explains. "But try not to embarrass them by challenging them." (In their defense, some sources say the guides actually have no idea they're incorrect).
Yes, your hotel room may have been bugged before. But no, they’re not spying on you now.
Good news: guest rooms haven’t been bugged in recent times, the app says, and they were never bugged with the intention of spying on common tourists like you. (Indeed, some important visitors believe they've been bugged before, but tour groups say it's nothing to worry about).
“It is possible that the rooms of important visitors may well have been bugged in the past,” the app explains. “While ego might lead certain tourists to believe that they will be monitored during a visit, it is likely that the opposite is true.”
Well that's one comforting fact.