Next Month You'll Be Able to Take a Road Trip to North Korea

You won't be packing Funyuns and your copy of George Orwell's Animal Farm (that book's banned in North Korea). Oh no. North Korea will assign all road trippers an official escort for the duration of their trip.
05/08/2014 03:09 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017


For the first time ever, you will be able to road trip through the heart of North Korea, departing from the city of Dandong on the Chinese border, according to South China Morning Post. However, there's a slight catch. You won't be packing Funyuns and your copy of George Orwell's Animal Farm (that book's banned in North Korea). Oh no. North Korea will assign all road trippers an official escort for the duration of their trip.

You Zejun, chief of the Dandong tourism bureau in Liaoning province, said the new package for mainland tourists in June would be different from another road-trip route starting in Jilin province, as Dandong's would feature "many other attractions", some of which have never been open to tourists before, according to Xinhua.

Three years ago the first road trip route was approved for Western and mainland Chinese tourists. It departs from Jilin's Hunchun city through the Rason free economic zone and to northeastern North Korea's coastal resort towns. Yes, they have those.

When contacted by Xinhua news, You Zejun would not specify which new destinations were part of the itinerary, and that tour agencies weren't particularly "optimistic about the road trips' quality."

"We don't expect customers will be fond of this trip, because there won't be any freedom. North Korea for sure will assign someone to travel with them," the employee said. "The reason why people want to drive is because they want enjoy the freedom ... It's just a difference of travelling in a car and a bus."

You can take a two- or three-day road trip to North Korea for about 1,180 yuan (HK$1,480) and 1,480 yuan per person. But, you must be in a group of at least six. You will have a Chinese and North Korean guide who will follow your cars. After you submit your paperwork to the travel agency, you're processed in about two days.

Although North Korea has been technically been open to tourists since 1987, the number of visitors to the state has been carefully limited. However, recently, about 60,000 trips are made from Dandong to North Korea, every year. And, North Korea really needs the revenue, considering the fact that their "criminal economy" is coming under major international scrutiny.

The breakdown of North Korea's public distribution system during the famine years of the mid-1990s fostered the emergence of an underground market economy as the populace were forced to find ways to try and survive. - Wall Street Journal

A recent report outlines how this "criminal economy" took shape:

The report, largely based on interviews with North Korean defectors, tracks three stages of development of illicit economic activities in North Korea. It starts from the 1970s, when North Korean officials trafficked a range of products such as drugs and counterfeit cigarettes, manufactured by others, at locations where North Korea had diplomatic and trade ties. In the second phase from the mid-1990s, North Korea concentrated on the production of illicit goods including counterfeit currency and outsourced distribution to criminal syndicates. Since 2005, the regime has lost its monopoly over some illicit activities such as drug production and sales as a criminal market economy has sprung up, the report says.

So, road tripping tourists from the mainland are a blessing to the struggling economy. In addition, traveling to North Korea is a "rare privilege" for mainlanders in itself, as access to the country has historically been cut off or severely limited.

Latest statistics on travel to North Korea are scant, but it is estimated that 250,000 tourists visit every year - a majority of which are mainland Chinese. According to the Chinese Ministry of Tourism, 237,400 Chinese travelled to North Korea in 2012, a 22.5 per cent year-on-year increase. - South China Morning Post

Just follow these simple rules and you should be fine:

Only photograph what your guides allow.

Do not take photos of soldiers, check points, poverty or close ups of people without their permission.

Do not take photos while being driven around.

Do not bring a lens over 150mm.

Leaving your hotel without permission is prohibited.

You are expected to respect the North Koreans "and their vision of the Great Leader."

You are expected to bow at the 20m statue on Mansudae.

Do not chew gum or eat candy or dress ragged in areas which are of national importance.

Be respectful when visiting Mansudae statue of Kim II Sung, Friendship Exhibition, and Manyongdae birthplace of Kim Il Sung.

If you follow those simple rules, you can enjoy such scenic wonders as...

This government building on the central square of Kim Il-Sung of Pyongyang.

And this 14th century tomb of King Kongmin, a 14th-century in Haeson-ri, located outside the city of Kaesong.

And this ancient Koguryo Kingdom UNESCO World Heritage site...

And these statues on the road to the tombs of Ancient Koguryo Kingdom, in Pyongyang...

Bon Voyage!