The official exchange currency in DPRK is now Euros (USD were taken out of circulation in 2003). We recommend you therefore bring Euros however Chinese Yuan (Renminbi), USD, and Japanese Yen can be used in most cases. You are advised to bring small denomination bills/coins as change can be a problem. Travellers’ cheques are impossible to cash in the DPRK. Economic reforms at the end of 2002 mean that the DPRK Won is now officially valued at roughly 170 won to 1 Euro. It may be possible to get hold of real DPRK money in the hotel but this is for a souvenir only and cannot be used to purchase goods. The best currency to use when buying goods remains the Euro.
All meals are provided and inclusive on the tour and are fair but not cordon bleu. Most of the meals will feature traditional Korean food, inc: 'Naengmyon' (cold noodles); 'Bulgogi' (barbecued meat which you cook yourself); 'Kimchi' (pickled cabbage). Local beer and, on occasion, Ginseng wine are available at meal times. There is a rather limited menu for vegetarians. If you are a vegan contact us before traveling.
Postal services are available at the hotel. IDD phone and fax is available though monitored. It is cheaper to call from the phone booths in the lobby of the Yangakkdo hotel rather than from your room. It is possible to send e-mails in the DPRK from the hotel server but you cannot check hotmail, or use the internet etc. Electricity Supply: 220 volts, two round or flat pin plugs. Television is PAL.
Most goods are available in the foreign currency stores and hotels. However, prices are relatively high. Specialised items such as slide film, memory cards/sticks for digital cameras, batteries, contact lens solutions etc. should be brought with you from home.
Korea has a temperate climate with distinct seasonal changes. Early Spring is sunny but chilly so bring a warm coat and under clothes. In late Spring light clothing in the day and warm clothing at night is needed. Summer (June to August) is fairly hot and humid during the day and cooler night but bring a light raincoat as this is the rainy season. Autumn has marked variations between day and night so be prepared. Winter (December to February) has clear skies with little snow but is biting cold.
There are many restriction on photography that have to be obeyed in DPRK, however you can take pictures of most things and everyone who visits always takes many more pictures than they think they will (extra digital memory cards and sticks are NOT available in DPRK so be sure to take plenty of those). The Koreans do not examine your film or force you to develop the films you have taken (although the customs officials at Sinuiju may ask to see your pictures). Video cameras are generally prohibited but can be taken on some occasions, again restrictions as to their use do apply.
When offering or accepting food, gifts etc., it is polite and customary to use both hands. Hello = an-nyong ha-sim-ni-ka. Thank you = kam-sa ham-nida. Though it is not customary to give tips in Korea it is appreciated. We suggest small gifts for the guides and driver such as cigarettes, fruit, coffee or chocolates. Some provisions are also good for the train ride and to share on the bus while we're on tour.
And more ideas....
Most Korean men smoke and it is a good idea to bring a carton or two of Western cigarettes to share amongst the driver and guides. Korean women do not smoke so giving cigarettes to a female guide will benefit only her father or husband. It is also worth having some additional bars of chocolate or cosmetics such as hand/face cream as you will meet various female guides during your trip. We would suggest you give these during the second day as a pleasant gesture. We strongly suggest you bring home/family photos etc. to let your guides/waitresses etc see a little of how you live. If you have a polaroid camera a photograph makes a great gift - or you can send photos through us from back home.
The Koreans are very wary of foreigners but it is clear that you can have a great impact if you come across as open and friendly. In 1993, children would be very wary and try to ignore you, however they are now responding with 'hello' and are obviously fascinated. It really helps to smile and where possible engage the Koreans, learning basic greetings in Korean will help.
The usual list of prohibited items applies here i.e. arms, drugs, pornography etc. Immigration officers may examine your baggage and will frown on books/articles about North Korea printed in the West and South Korea. Please do not bring in any item that may risk confiscation. You will be asked to declare currency and electronic items such as cameras, radios etc. Mobile phones and video cameras are confiscated at the border and given back to you on your return. MP3 players/iPods are ok to take in. On occasions we are allowed to take in video cameras providing they are used for personal viewing only and you abide by the restrictions on what can be filmed. There is no limit on currency. DPRK regulations state that you cannot take a lens over 150 mm into the country.
Shopping in the DPRK
Here is a list of the souvenirs that are most popular amongst our tourists and also the best places to buy them. Prices are fairly consistent throughout the country.
Stamps: The best place in Pyongyang to purchase these is the stamp shop which is located next to the Koryo Hotel. If you are visiting the Koryo Museum in Kaesong there is also a very good stamp shop there which your guides will take you to. Prices start from around EUR 0.5 for single stamps and to approx EUR 10 for a collection.
Postcards: The places with the best selections are the stamp shops (see above). Most book shops also stock them. Prices are around EUR 0.5 per card and you can buy the stamps and send them from the hotel. Postage costs from EUR 1. Postcards can be sent around the world and do get there! 3D postcards are a treat.
Posters: There is a limited selection available for purchase in the DPRK but the place with the best selection is the Foreign Languages Bookstore where they go for around EUR 25-50 depending on the quality. Handpainted posters of Arirang are also available at the May Day Stadium before and after a performance of the Mass Games. The book shop in the Yanggakdo Hotel also has a small poster selection. If you are after quality posters then do speak to Emily at the office as we have a splendid collection.
Other artwork (oil paintings etc): The best place to buy this is either Mansudae Art Studio or the Handicraft Exhibition. Prices vary but do not be afraid of bargaining – although do remember it isn’t China!
T-shirts: There are not many available to buy but you can get ‘See you in Pyongyang’ and ‘Arirang’ t-shirts from the Wol Hyang Exhibition Centre near the Arch of Triumph and the gift shop at the Grand People’s Study House – usually cost around EUR 15
Books: The Foreign Languages Bookstore in Pyongyang has the best and most wide-ranging selection of books. Most hotels that you stay in will also have a small book shop (the best being in the Yanggakdo Hotel). Prices vary from EUR 2 to EUR 50 depending on the book.
Films: There is a small selection of DPRK films with English subtitles available for sale and the best place for these is the Foreign Languages Bookstore. Expect to pay around EUR 10 for a DVD. Koryo Tours has the collection of our award-winning films ‘The Game of Their Lives’ on the 1966 DPRK World Cup heroes, ‘A State of Mind’ follows 2 gymnasts in the lead up to the mass games, ‘Crossing the Line’ the story of the US defectors and Joe who still lives in Pyongyang, as well as Centre Forward a feature film on a North Korean football player.
Ceramics: Mansudae Art studio is the best place to get the beautiful Korean celadon - quality pieces are signed by the artist.
Ginseng: The best place to get ginseng products is in Kaesong which is renowned for growing the best ginseng in the country. Most souvenir shops in Pyongyang also stock it. Prices start at approx EUR 30.
Pyongyang Souvenir Shops:
Min Ye Exhibition Centre (also known as the Handicraft Exhibition Centre) – near the Koryo Hotel
Korean International Culture Centre Exhibition Hall (behind the Party Foundation Monument) – mainly artwork and books Wol Hyang Exhibition Centre (next to the Arch of Triumph)
Kumgangsan Exhibition Centre (near Arch of Triumph, on way to Chollima Statue) sells traditional food and handicrafts