North Korea Tourism Questions
Propaganda art at the Rason SEZ shoe factory – unfortunately not for sale.
I have been reading through your website after a friend put the idea of a NK trip into my head. The idea of seeing NK before too much changes (example of Suddam’s Palace before his fall compared to after) just wont get out of my head. While there is surprisingly a lot of information about the tours on offer, various questions still elude me. Would you be able to do a detailed article on how to get the most out of a NK holiday? Maybe some of my questions are more suited to a private tour with friends which is why they don’t pop up as most tours seem to be group booking with random people. After going so many times, I couldn’t think of a better person to ask.
- How much should you tip a guide? Some websites are saying up to 10 euro per guide per day from each group member… that would make them extremely wealthy compared to he average NK citizen after only 1 tour? Do the guides keep the money or is it given to the government and they are paid a wage?
Our policy is to tip 7 Euro per day per participant of the tour (or equivalent in hard currency). The cash will be pooled together and split something like 40% – 40% – 20% between the two guides and driver. The money goes to the tourism workers, guides, and driver, and is not handed over to the government.
Yes, access to hard currency does make the guides wealthy in the DPRK, but remember that money will be spread out and shared between the guide’s extended family and their networks of support. The wage paid by the government for the guiding job is negligible.
- How much cash do you need, some people say 200-300 euro others up to thousands. Besides tips and extra food/alcohol and small but expensive souvenirs, what else can I buy? And realistically how much per day should I plan to have to spend including tipping?
For a seven day trip based in Pyongyang 400 dollars should be adequate. Of course there are no banks or ATM machines so I always play it safe and bring more than I need. If you really love propaganda art perhaps consider bringing more, hand painted posters cost around 60 Euros, hand embroidered masterpieces start around 200 Euros. Also consider your price for the Arirang Mass Games ticket if you go in late summer/fall, and don’t forget your tip!
- Everything is in Euros and they say ‘have lots of small denominations.’ How small? what is the average price of items I would be spending money on? Do I need 50 Euro in small coins or are we talking 1 euro plus to buy anything?
Actually USD, Euro, and RMB are all acceptable. Small bills are helpful – don’t come with a single 500 euro bill, nobody will break it. Bills below the 50 denomination will be the most useful. When spending hard currency be prepared to receive mixed change, perhaps it could come in a mix of Euro coins and small RMB bills.
Things you might spend small bills on: an extra coffee in the morning or after lunch, a game of pool or bowling, a beer or two at night, sending postcards, bottled water…..
- In one of your articles is says that you gave the guide several euros to buy more beer. How accepted is this practice? Would they be able to get you other things not normally provided? Traditional meals from local restaurants? Memorabilia that isn’t sold in a government run tourist stand?
Using hard currency and having our guide get beers at local cost was a special circumstance, I wouldn’t normally expect it. You might be able to have them get you ice cream or other local treats, just ask and see, but unfortunately all sit down meals will be at authorized tourism restaurants. It is possible to order extra food off the menu but the cost will be out of your pocket and in hard currency.
- How can you get the guide to allow more time for photos or other small side deviations? (if there was a nice park and you wanted to stop and take some photos but it wasn’t on the itinerary).
Easiest way to get this accomplished is to act as a responsible visitor and respect their photography rules and customs. When you gain their trust it’s much more likely your guides will accommodate a request to stop and check out a passing site.
- Taking home a piece of art would be high on my list of things to do. Where would this be available? Is there local art of personal expression or is it controlled art by the government? Again is this something the guide would need to source?
Not on many tour itineraries I would try to get your guide to fit in a trip to the embroidery institute. It is possible to commission work there, or you can browse through their showroom. Also mention to your western guide your interest in art so they can work early on to ensure stops at showrooms and galleries are including in the itinerary.
- Are there stores that would have antique items for sale, old books or small items that would make a unique gift, rather than a commemorative pin or stamps? Again is this something the guide would need to source?
I have not seen anything like this, and while possible, acquiring antiques is only done by a few people with long and developed relationships and after many return visits.
- When attending the Mass Games, is there any advantage (photography wise) to purchasing a much more expensive seat? Is there 220 euro better photos in VIP section compared to 80 euro standard seat if you have a good camera and quality lens?
I have only been to Arirang Mass Games once and consider my 150 Euro 1st class seat to be completely adequate. We had a table which was perfect for a small pocket tripod (they don’t like large pro tripods). You have a great view wherever you sit. If you go for the 80 Euro third class section consider bringing a monopod.
- You mentioned at night there is only bars and theme parks to go to. Can you bar hop from hotel to hotel until closing time? Possibly to meet up with other tour groups?
If you want to go out at night take a close look at the itineraries offered by tour companies. My company (Young Pioneer Tours) routinely offers nightly visits to the various drinking venues, but bar hopping really isn’t an option. The majority of tour groups will be based at the Yanggakdo Hotel, with the best place to mingle with other groups being the hotel’s microbrewery bar.
- Are the women working in the hotels, as guides or ones you can interact with all married? If not what is the etiquette for social interaction? Are they banned from physical interaction with westerners after hours? (obviously not talking about prostitution as that is illegal, free will interaction) I wouldn’t want to offend anyone the same way you wouldn’t ask a woman in Muslim country as it is not socially/religiously acceptable.
No, they are not all married, some are single, and some are dating. Interacting with people in the tourism industry is fine, you can invite the girl that works at the Viennese coffee shop to play foosball, or have a dance with a BBQ waitress, but these interactions will be part of their workday and any meeting up with an off duty girl is impossible – as is any type of intimate interaction.
Your female tour guide will probably have a beer with the group after hours at one of the hotel bars, but please be aware of the situation, often the DPRK guides can be seen meeting up with long time friends and enjoying some quiet time after a long day – drunken tour members crashing their private time is not particularly welcome but a common scene.
- There is a lot of talk about local beer (I am not a beer drinker), do they have local spirits? (excluding rice based alcohol) Whiskey?
I’m a beer and wine guy myself; I have seen some imported whiskeys available, but I suggest you bring in your own bottle from Chinese duty free. There is absolutely no problem with BYO in DPRK. Local spirits besides soju include blueberry and apricot wines, and various snake liqueurs.
- Do you have any recommendation for non itinerary items you can suggest to the guides on a standard 7 day tour? Seeing a sporting, art or cultural event. Do you need to tip to get these added on for the day or only pay entry to the event (if required).
You just need to enquire what is happening in Pyongyang during you stay, it is possible for the guides to arrange a visit to the circus, dolphin show, revolutionary opera, sports events, pizza restaurant, shooting range, or maybe even the Moranbong Band concert. These activities are not held on a daily basis, cost extra, and your entire group will need to agree on making the activity. I would suggest approaching your western guide to help setup any extra activities.
Sorry I know the list is long, but I tried to make it concise. I feel the above would really help anyone seriously considering going to NK and help in the planning process. Your site and views on NK was inspiring, to be able to show the unbiased beauty of a country with so much negative press is a rare talent, keep up the good work.