Should we travel to North Korea? Michael Palin says ‘yes’

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It’s human nature to wonder what lies beyond locked doors, so it’s no surprise one of the world’s most secretive states holds so much allure. Whether you agree with their ideologies or not, North Korea is a fascinating place, and slowly the communist country is opening up to the outside world.

Of course, all visitors must be accompanied by a national guide, but that doesn’t detract from the sheer wonder of exploring a society so different to our own.

Michael Palin was given unprecedented access for a Western journalist, he was approved to make his TV documentary Michael Palin In North Korea, and the country clearly made a big impression on him. Here, he shares some thoughts.

The colours are surprisingly bright
“People think of it as a grey, cold, rather bleak place, but it isn’t. The buildings themselves are quite bright. They have decorations in all the restaurants – lots of flowers and bunnies, which is a bit juvenile in some way. But they do love decoration. They love colour and they love to express themselves musically or in sport.”

It reminds me of China 30 years ago
“I didn’t see a tractor or a combine harvester or anything like that. All the work in the fields seemed to be done by hand. People had bicycles, so they were cycling, but there were quite wide roads with nothing on them at all. That did remind me of going to China 30 years ago. Little villages looked reasonably comfortable. But then you get to Pyongyang and it’s a city with quite handsome buildings and wide roads, and a hotel that functions pretty much like any Western hotel.”

Billboards are blissfully absent
“It has a very quiet, almost serene atmosphere. There’s no advertising at all – apart from the propaganda posters, which are not absolutely everywhere. The hoardings have pictures of people either celebrating learning or celebrating missiles. But there’s no consumer advertising, and that’s quite restful after a bit, because it’s always in your face here. You’re in a big city and yet it feels like a city that’s a film set, where you’re given your lines in the morning.”

I’d recommend it to anyone
“If someone said to me, ‘Should I go to North Korea?’ I would say, ‘Yes! Go’. But I think you’ve got to go there in the spirit we went there, which was not to judge and not to condemn, but to understand and learn.

Here are some things to know before travelling to North Korea
Tourism
Tourism in North Korea is unlike anything you will have experienced anywhere else in the world. Tour companies organise everything, from your visa to government-appointed tour guides. That means those who travel to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will be on a bus, following a predetermined itinerary for the entirety of their stay.

Independent, adventure or solo travel is not allowed, your every movement is controlled. You must not leave your hotel without a guide, you will not be allowed to travel on the public transport system at all, and both you and your guide will be punished if you violate the rules.

Only travel to North Korea if you are prepared to accept harsh limitations on your movements and behaviour.

Crime
It’s unlikely you will be affected by any serious crime but, as always, you should exercise care. Be alert to your surroundings and ensure personal belongings are secure, especially at Pyongyang Airport and in public markets. Even though your movements are tightly choreographed you should not get too complacent.

Tourists
Unofficial estimates put the total number of tourists at 50,000 each year with Chinese travellers making up the majority of the numbers. It’s estimated that only 40005000 tourists from Western countries make the trip each year.

Weather
The monsoon season is from late June to late August. Typhoons can occur between August and September and flooding may disrupt essential services.

Currency
The local currency is the North Korean won but foreigners are forbidden to use it. The euro is the most widely accepted foreign currency with the US dollar and Chinese yuan close behind. You must take enough currency for your entire stay in North Korea as you can’t use ATMs, traveller’s cheques, debit or credit cards.

So, it does seem like there’s nowhere on Earth quite like North Korea. If you’re planning a trip, just make sure to read up and do a lot of research before making the decision.

Are you intrigued? Would you travel to North Korea?

With PA

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16 Comments

Total Comments: 16
  1. 0
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    Hmmmm..let me think long and hard about it….NO.

    If I want to visit a totalitarian state, Victoria would be first on my list.

  2. 0
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    And this week they will take a dozen tourists as hostages . I have been to the D M Z and that was close enough. Try South Korea , they are very friendly and won’t detail you…

  3. 0
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    After reading this article, the first thing that came to mind was ” How much was he paid to say that it was a good idea to go to N.Korea for a holiday.

    I use, and I think he did too, the word holiday loosely. That really doesn’t sound like much of a holiday to me.

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      Reminds me of going to East Germany in the 60s. First to change a certain amount of your west money into east at an extraordinarily bad rate. So much a day has to be spent with bank slips to prove it upon leaving the GDR. Herded everywhere and not allowed to explore any locality without official guide etc made it hard especially when you speak their language.
      A few years ago a Gold Coast travel agent organised a trip to North Korea, friends who went told me of the experience and it was like above in East Germany 1967. Not for me, only for people who have to have been everywhere.

  4. 0
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    I haven’t been there so can’t comment about the place.
    If it is as Palin described, it would not be a place of choice, as there doesn’t seem to be any.

    I would quickly get claustrophobic, being led everywhere, no credit cards, no this, no that, you must act this way. That said, many countries restrict movements, and we all should respect local customs and manners.

    There are many countries higher up on my list…

  5. 0
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    I watched his travelogue on North Korea quite fascinating, but I think he found a lot of the gathering and singing and happy looks of the people, was pretty well choreographed totally too. I think freedom is a word those people have never even heard of? A bit sick actually.

  6. 0
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    Agree with Julian.

  7. 0
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    mmmm, what did he see, certainly not the real North Korea but a government authorised facade staged like a pantomime. His very description of the trip is enough to put me off. I’ve been to South Korea and movement is free and easy and the locals are friendly. Even the soldiers at the DMZ were pleasant and put you at ease. Of the 200 or so countries in the world I’ve only visited 95 so there are enough countries left to visit before I pop my clogs to allow me plenty to choose from without venturing to Commoland.

  8. 0
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    Julian and Mariner, you are welcome to come to Victoria at any time, Just do not expect to go shopping, visit theatres or be out and about after 8pm. But apart from that life is reasonably good down here, I am comfortable notwithstanding restrictions on my movements. Our Premier is working himself into ill health or worse trying to look after us, unlike some Premiers who bow to the pressures of the NRL/AFL. We do not have a police state, which is why civilian security guards, rather than Police/ADF, were put in control of quarantine with the reasonable expectation that people in quarantine would at least act like adults and not cry and whinge like children. Life can be difficult for some people, especially those on ventilators, but we manage. I applaud the Premier of WA standing up to the National Cabinet to keep his people and economy safe. Our borders are not closed, but you may have issues travelling back to wherever you came from, but that is not the responsibility of Victoria.

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      As for North Korea, it is not on my bucket list and, in any case, nowadays I have to be content to watch most places on my 50 inch TV from the comfort of my family room.

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      &Eddy – almost there myself. Was in Melbourne for 10 days in February and loved our stay. Hope you guys get over the hump soon; and you are right, we can go there but not come back. Here in cairns only because I managed to get here before the borders closed. have extended by a month spending the money saved for an overseas holiday which was cancelled in April.

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      Spoken like a true Commy Eddy the premier has no clue what he is doing and neither does the quack Sutton two boofoons, and of course it is a police states coppers arresting pregnant women for nothing.
      You idiot left-wingers just follow Andrews like bloody sheep

    • 0
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      I’ve only one thing top say to you Anon…..Baah

  9. 0
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    sounds like paid propaganda to enrich rocket man by encouraging tourists. No thanks


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