Jonas — 5 things that
surprised me on my
first visit to North

Jonas has been been interning at Koryo Tours since January and just came back from his first trip to the DPRK. In this blog, his writes about his first trip and the things that surprised him about North Korea.

Just like most people who visit the DPRK for the first time, I found my trip to North Korea really interesting and eye-opening. It’s one of those places where you leave having more questions than you had before the trip. To share what it was like for me being in North Korea for the first time, I have written a little list of things that I found surprising.

1. Pyongyang is a beautiful city.

When I landed in Pyongyang, I expected to see a grey, concrete-dominated city. And although there are many concrete buildings everywhere, is actually a very colourful city, with a beautiful river, interesting architecture, and unique monuments.

2. People are simply going about their daily lives.

When you sit on the bus, travel on the train, or walk in the streets, you realise that people go about their daily routine just like they do in any other country. This might seem obvious, but it still surprised me as it’s something you don’t hear about much in the West.

3. North Korea has its own unique style.

Before going to the DPRK, I did not know much about its art, architecture, dance, or music; I had heard more about the country’s politics before going on this trip. So I found it quite interesting to learn about the unique North Korean architecture, see very talented performances at the School Children’s Palace in Pyongyang, and hear North Korean songs and karaoke. It were especially these things that I didn’t expect that made the trip mind-blowing and absolutely worthwhile.

4. The tour guides are really open and fun.

Often, when we think of North Koreans, we do not imagine them to be people just like you and me — simply because we don’t know much about them. Once I got to know the local guides, I realised they are really fun and open people, who know a lot about foreigners and what’s going on outside of their country.

5. Some North Koreans are able to travel outside their country.

When I traveled from China to North Korea and back, I was surprised to find quite a lot of North Koreans on the same flight and train as me. These people were coming back or leaving the country for business or to study. On the train to Pyongyang, I shared lunch with a few North Koreans, and discovered that one had even been to Germany (my home country)!

Of course most North Koreans cannot leave the country, but there seemed to be more people traveling than I expected (though I am aware that most people sadly cannot get the permission to go).

My conclusion after my trip was (and this applies to many countries) that you simply have to go and take a look yourself to understand a place. Don’t believe everything you are being told, judge by your own experience, and as my Korean guide told me, “seeing is believing”.

For an account of Koryo Tours' General Manager Simon Cockerell's first trip to North Korea, see Simon's blog post, or check out our previous intern Alessandro Ford's blog here.

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