There is only one way to enter the north: with a tour company and it’s the type of trip that I totally despise, but being the only option do I have a choice?
We went on a 2 day trip to the Kumgansan resort in North Korea, about one hour north from the eastern border of South Korea. We didn’t know really what to expect. We were told we would be staying in a protected area so of course, the real North Korean experience was not to be had. We would only be allowed to see and experience what the north permitted.
The Kumgansan area is actually run by the South Korean company, Hyundai Asan. They have bought it over from the north since this is the main source of income for the north. Being protected, the South Koreans are more safe to enter. And why the interest for the South Koreans to enter the north? Only because Kumgansan is the 2nd biggest peak in all of Korea, and of course the Koreans most favorite past time is hiking, esp up big, tall mountains!
I guess it’s a good deal which both Koreas benefit from.
Gumgansan mountain resort area
It was quite pricey since as a tourist you pay a per day visa at about $50/day. This is all covered with our tour and we have to stay with our guides at all time when off the protected area. No pictures are allowed when on the bus and they even check your zoom at the border crossing. North Korea even gives you their own passports which they confiscate as you exit the country.
We were with a group of Americans but everything went smoothly. Also, the currency you are allowed to use in this resort area is also only American.. how ironic!
Our 5 star resort was great, but also kind of saddening seeing that while these tourists are living in style and pleasure, just miles away is a dying breed that have no control over their daily lives. Our only real connection with the North Koreans was with the people who were working at our resort. We tried to question them about how far away they live, and where. But they did manage to dodge the questions as much as possible and even refuse for pics. They all wore red uniforms with pins of their leader.
At the mural of the leader, only North Koreans are allowed to TAKE the pics, no one else. I’m surprised they even let us take a picture with their beloved leader and son.
The hike was totally NOT the highlight of my weekend. In fact, I quit the hike half way since it was raining and the visibility was very poor so reaching the peak was just not worth it. The second day we were taken to the beach side area which is the east coast of Korea (I had been to the South Korean east coast just months earlier and it does look the same) and on the bus ride we were able to see North Korean residents working the fields and their little villages which were made of small houses. This is what I picture poor Asia to be like. And to think that just one hour south of there, Koreans are living in high rises, driving in cars and are able to live the life of luxury that the North Koreans can not even comprehend.
But it makes me all wonder, can you miss what you don’t know about?
North Korean soldiers were what we saw the most. They stood completely still every couple of feet with their guns in hand. We came really close to them at one point without even knowing, and yet still, thier faces were unchanged.
North Korea (or what I saw of it) was naturally stunning. This is more due to the fact that almost everything is untouched and in the same it way it was 50 years ago or more. No air pollution was a huge plus! It was captivating to see the country with such propaganda to be so beautiful, nature wise.
It was definitely an experience, probably the only time I will ever step into a communist country (I believe China is a fake communist).