north korea portrait

Have I Been Brainwashed By North Korea

Have I Been Brainwashed By North Korea?

North Korea is usually a synonym for dictatorship, nuclear tests, various missiles, and three Kims. It is also one of the most isolated countries in the world, you probably wouldn’t have heard of someone that has visited North Korea. To some extent, it is true that visiting North Korea is a little difficult and that it is not easy to obtain a visa.

I have titled this ‘have I been brainwashed by North Korea’ because I have left the country and didn’t feel it was all that bad. But, the more and more I think of it, I can’t decide who is better off, North or South. Now, most of you are probably thinking I’m crazy, hence the title. Everything has a flip side and could be seen as either good or bad. Just a quick example, North Korea has no beggars or homeless people but there are in South Korea, so which would you rather? Homeless with freedom? Or housed with a strict set of rules? We all lived with parents once, with rules!……

From what I did know, did read and thought I knew is now very different, however, I still have a lot of unanswered questions for whatever reason couldn’t be answered. The one thing I have learned is the saying ” It’s a free country, and I have the freedom of speech” certainly isn’t the case here.

A few questions that I have been asked.

I asked my guides a lot of questions, most of them I didn’t really get an answer and it was sort of shrugged off, to be honest, it looked as if they were quite uncomfortable answering.

 Is it true that they are restricted to specific colours and styles when it comes to clothing?

I asked this questions to my guide, which he replied ‘no’ so I then asked him if he could wear any suit colour he liked, which he replied ‘ He can wear the suit he has on (black), a grey or a dark green one.  So I think that answers that, from what I was aware of everyone does dress the same, they are dressed very smartly and formal and I only saw 2 colours. It would seem, women, however, can either wear the colourful traditional dresses or smart business wear. Not once did I see anybody in non-formal clothes unless they were in sports gear and training. One thing they must wear is the portrait pin of the Kim’s, they have a choice in a round or square single portrait pin or the flagged double portrait pin, THIS IS A MUST!

Are they allowed mobile phones? And does social media exist there?

Yes, they are allowed mobile phones and no social media doesn’t exist nor does the internet. I loved being in a country where people are not glued to their phones on social media. It was kind of nice not having the internet during my stay.

Are you allowed to venture off on your own and tour the country?

 No, from the second you enter the country you must have your guide with you. The only place you are allowed to go without a guide is inside the hotel. If you leave the hotel you must have a guide with you at all times. If you go outside without a guide, you will be will be picked up by a guard within 50 meters and will be in a lot of trouble. To be honest, from the second yu enter the country it kind of feels like you are being watched!

Are there any facts that shocked you about the lifestyles of the North Koreans?

I was shocked by almost everything in North Korea, I was shocked to learn that the government gives everyone homes and gives everyone jobs. Even if the job is pointless they are still given this job. The job could be anything from standing next to traffic lights and watching the traffic, to standing by a monument making sure everyone bows, yes bows to a statue is a must.  I was shocked to learn that there is no freedom for them to move house and no free will to change jobs.

Is it true that when a talent is discovered in an individual they are pushed towards pursuing it as a career?

Yes, from what I understood, once a talent is discovered they are pushed from a very young age to maximise that talent. It seemed that the child didn’t have a choice, but all the children I saw at a local school seemed very happy. To be honest, I agree, at a young age, you should be pushed. The music talent I saw at the school I visited was by far the best I’ve ever seen in any school, anywhere in the world.

Are they strict about marriage? Arranged marriages?

There is no arranged marriage and they are free to date and marry who they like. It would seem that this is just the same as in the western world. If they haven’t found anybody they liked from school then quite often, families will introduce their kids together in hope for marriage however it is completely down to each person. The average age for marriage for women is 25 -28 and for a male is 28-32.

Is there a great mix of wealth among people?

I kind of feel that I was only taken to parts of North Korea that the government wanted me to see, which means that I only saw an equal wealth amongst people. I for sure didn’t see any homeless people and nor did I see any people begging for money.

Do the people and their lifestyles feel very robotic to an outsider?

Yes, The only way I can describe what it felt and looked like was a strict military prison camp. The way people walked was in an almost marching motion, and the way they formed lines whilst waiting for trams etc was like robots. Not like any normal western world where we look untidy and bundle for the first tram that arrives, they form a very neat 2×2 line. I’ve never seen such straight lines.

Would you dare rebel if you disagreed with something?

Errrrm, no, You very quickly realise that even if you consider yourself as a free will person when confronted with the right environment, you just find yourself following and obeying their rules.

North Korea – The Distant Neighbour

North Korea is a country in eastern Asia on the Korean Penninsula surrounded by neighbouring countries: China, Russia and, of course, South Korea. It is separated from Japan by the Sea of Japan. Although it is mostly surrounded by the sea, North Korea is mostly a mountain country with numerous peaks higher than 2000 feet. It has a pleasant climate, but during the winters it can be quite harsh.

The biggest city in the country is its capital Pyongyang, there are other major cities such as Hamhung, Chongjin, Kaesong or Wonsan which are slowly becoming more accessible for tourists.

Why are there two Koreas?

The Korean peninsula has been inhabited for millenniums and the first county founded here was the Kingdom of Gojoseon back in the 3rd millennium BC. The Korean Kingdom was founded in 1389 and it was ruled by the Joseon Dynasty until 1910, making it one of the longest-running dynasties in the world. But in 1910, Japan has occupied and annexed the entire peninsula which was a start of a very harsh rule resulting in deaths of millions.

In 1945, the Japan’s rule has come to an end when Soviet forces occupied the north, and the US army the south of the peninsula.

The border between two powers was set to be the 38th parallel, but this was meant to be just a temporary measure. Unfortunately, tensions between two political movements led to a severe Korean war whose result was a division of once unified Korean state into two parts. South Korea embraced democracy and the North went towards an authoritative, one party rule under the Kim Il-Sung and his son Kim Jong-Il.

What Can You Do In North Korea?

Being a tourist in North Korea does not allow you to do anything independently, you will always be followed by a tour guide. Nevertheless, there are several interesting things you will do while in North Korea that could free you from your guide.

For instance, you can visit an amusement park in Pyongyang that offers several very modern and safe rides (enjoy the 4-minute ride without a guide). Also, the government organises a marathon that is held in the capital Pyongyang every year. The marathon has an international character, so the tourists are welcome to join and run on the streets of the North Korean metropolis, (this is your chance to be free from your guide for up to 4 hours).

north korea marathon

Attractions – Very Guided Tours

North Korea truly is a beautiful country with many great places to visit but, you will not be allowed to see them all, and everything will depend on your guide for that day. Tourists usually love guided tours but in North Korea, they are quite “guided”. This means you will not have the freedom of going anywhere you want, any time you want like you can in other countries.

Most of the attractions are dedicated to the country’s leaders such as memorials, monuments, and museums. The museums are quite cool, especially if you are fond of military history.

The top touring destination is a visit to the Demilitarized Zone or DMZ. This is the bordering area between the two Koreas, but it is actually not quite demilitarised. On the contrary, it is completely covered by mines and various booby-traps.

A visit to Pueblo, the only us navy ship in captivity. The USS Pueblo was a Banner-class environmental research ship which was used by the US Navy as an information gathering ship (spy ship). On 23rd January 1968, it was attacked and captured by North Korean forces, after which sensitive equipment fell into North Korean and USSR (Russian) hands. The incident is also known as Pueblo Incident and as Pueblo Crisis. Pueblo is a tourist attraction in Pyongyang, North Korea. Visitors are allowed to board the ship and see its secret code room and crew artefacts.

There are many tours through Pyongyang and other cities that will surely be a part of your visit. One thing is for sure, this will be an adventure of your life and you can find out what it’s like to have your freedom taken away from you.

The DMZ north korea
USS Pueblo (AGER-2)

Where To Stay While In North Korea?

It is obviously not possible to go to your nearest travel agency and book a flight to North Korea unless you are Dennis Rodman, but you also don’t have to be James Bond to visit it. There are agencies that cooperate with ones in North Korea and they can handle all the requirements for a visa. In fact, North Korea rarely decline visa requests for tourists during special events. For example, there is an annual marathon and people from all around the world sign up for it. Also, birthday celebrations of the country’s leader Kim Jong-Un is a great time to ask for a visa.

Visiting one of the world’s most unique and fascinating countries is not easy, but on the other hand, it is not that hard. The country is becoming more and more open to tourists, and the number of people who decide to visit North Korea as well as the number who are permitted to enter the country is increasing. The government has announced plans to enable around 2 million tourists to visit the country on an annual basis.

Because North Korea is not a free country, and you are not free to roam, the truth is that you don’t really have a choice in hotels. If you are visiting North Korea then the chances are, you will be on a tour and that tour will decide where you will be staying.

If you are one of those that are lucky enough to get permission to enter the country and have a private tour, then the next step involves deciding where to stay. The capital city Pyongyang has a dozen hotels where you can stay. There is no choice of air BnB, hostels or apartments for tourists.


Among the most popular hotels in Pyongyang is Yanggakdo Hotel. It is placed on an island in the capital and has quite a lot of things to offer, spacious and clean rooms with a memorable view, swimming pool, sauna, massage services, bars, bowling alley, billiards room and lots more. Because you are not free to leave the hotel without a guide, this hotel is perfect to keep you entertained during the late evening

Apart from the already mentioned hotel, travellers have the opportunity to stay in Pothonggand Hotel, Haebangsan Hotel, Pyongyang Hotel and Youth Hotel. All of them come as a decent variant with clean sheets, cosy beds, and nice views.

Cuisine In North Korea – The Importance Of Food In The Country

There is no man or woman who is older than 20 and who does not remember a period of living in famine in North Korea, during the last war that occurred in the last century. However, the food was always important in the North Korean culture. Believe it or not, North Koreans are great gourmets. They love preparing food, and their restaurants will surprise you with tasty and delicious meals on offer. North Korean cuisine rests on vegetable, rice, and meat. These three are usually combined and prepared in various ways to get some of the tastiest dishes in the country.

Due to the way North Korea is, having a choice of restaurants is not an option and you will only be taken to restaurants which are suitable for tourists, although, at different times, it is so clear that every tourist visits the same restaurants.

So, I am sure after you spend several days in North Korea, you will taste their traditional dishes such as ‘naengmyeon’, and ‘kimchi’.

Naengmyeon is the most popular dish in Pyongyang made of buckwheat. They are dark and usually served with a boiled egg, hot sauce and a few slices of meat.

Kimchi is a cabbage-based dish that has a mild and spicy version. The latter is more popular in North Korea, and it is consumed on an everyday basis.

Misconceptions About North Korea

The rest of the world is mostly brainwashed about North Korea and most of us laugh at the statements related to this Asian country. However, most of the things you hear on the news and read on the Internet about North Korea are just not like that. It is a strange country with a strict set of rules, yes it did feel a little like a prison military camp but I do strongly believe that the leader is doing what he generally believes is best for his people and I do generally believe that they respect him for what he does.

Interesting facts about North Korea

-It is possible to visit, as long as you respect the country’s rules and take your guides with you no matter where you go.

-Kids in North Korea learn English very young – aged 6.

-North Korea is one of the safest countries in the world almost without any crime or violence.

-There are many alcohol drinks you can order and they are very cheap.

-North Korea has its own time zone which is 30 minutes behind South Korea and Japan.

-Literacy level in North Korea is 99% which makes it the biggest in the world.

-The Rungnado May Day in Pyongyang is the biggest stadium in the world with more than 150,000 seats.

-North Korea actually has a Constitution which is available for all to read.

Paektu Mountain

If you are now tempted with North Korea then why not read my Reasons to visit North Korea article?

I hope that I have given you a clear and better picture of North Korea, I’m sure many of you have questions so, please use the comments section below.

Would you travel to North Korea? if you answer that with a no, then please share why not in the comments.

pyongyang station north korea

10 Reasons to visit North Korea

10 Reasons to visit North Korea

North Korea, officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is a country in East Asia, constituting the northern part of the Korean Peninsula. It has been a source of some rather popular controversies, but is it really worthy of its notoriety? Let’s have a look at some of the best places in North Korea and why to visit.

I didn’t get time to visit all of these places but I have spoken to those that have and decided they are worthy of being on the list of reasons to visit.

1. The Pyongyang Marathon

Pyongyang Marathon commonly known as Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon is an annual marathon held each April in the capital of North Korea, Pyongyang. The Marathon is categorised as an IAAF Bronze Label Road Race.

In 1981, the marathon was held for the first time for men, and in 1984, the women’s event was initiated. The race starts and finishes at the  Kim Il Sung Stadium and continues along the famous Taedong River passing some of North Korea best landmarks.

The Pyongyang Marathon is not only fun to watch but is also fun to participate in. Crowds consisting of women, children and elders gather and high five the contestants throughout the marathon. This event is also perfect for strong amateur runners wishing to take part, with a cut-off time of 4 hours. Do not worry, if you can’t make the 4 hours cut off time like my pal Tim, you can hop aboard the yellow sweeper bus or opt for the half marathon or 10km run.

north korea marathon
north korea marathon

2. The Arch of Triumph

The Arch of Triumph commemorates President Kim Il Sung’s return home after Korea was liberated from Japan in 1945. The Arch stands lit at night and offers and impressive view of Kaeson Evening Funfair which is also close by. Across the street from the Arch of Triumph, Pyongyang stands a large mural depicting the President’s speech upon returning to Korea after the country’s liberation. The top of the Arch of Triumph also offers great views of the Kim Il Sung Stadium where sporting events are held.

Arch of Triumph

3. USS Pueblo (AGER-2)

The USS Pueblo was a Banner-class environmental research ship which was used by the US Navy as an information gathering ship (spy ship). On 23rd January 1968, it was attacked and captured by North Korean forces, after which sensitive equipment fell into North Korean and USSR (Russian) hands. The incident is also known as the Pueblo Incident and as Pueblo Crisis. Pueblo is a tourist attraction in Pyongyang, North Korea since being moved to the Taedong River. Pueblo used to be anchored at the spot where it is believed the General Sherman incident took place in 1866. In late November 2012 Pueblo was moved from the Taedong river dock to a casement on the Botong river next to the new Fatherland War of Liberation Museum. The ship was renovated and made open to tourists with an accompanying video of the North Korean perspective in late July 2013. As of April 2015, the museum is moored and on display at the Pyongyang Victorious War Museum. Visitors are allowed to board the ship and see its secret code room and crew artefacts.

USS Pueblo (AGER-2)

4. The DMZ (De-militarized Zone)

Asia’s most dangerous front line and a strip of land just 4km wide and 250km long which separates North and South Korea, a place where anyone who visits must follow a strict set of guidelines and procedures. The soldiers wear dark glasses so their enemies can’t read their expressions. Known as the DMZ, this is the site where an armistice was signed to end the Korean War in 1953. Except a peace treaty was never officially signed and the two nations, North and South, are technically still at war.

The DMZ north korea

5. Juche Tower

The Juche Tower was built on the occasion of the 70th birthday of Kim Il Sung, by the River Taedong in 1982. The tower has a 20-meter long torch which can be seen glowing throughout the night. In front of it is a group of three people standing 30 meters high. Each person in the trio carries a symbol of the emblem of the Worker’s Party of Korea; a hammer, sickle and brush.

Juche Tower
Juche Tower

6. Paektu Mountain

I passed this one on the bus trip heading to the DMZ, so if you could get a  tour including the DMZ and the Paektu mountain you would be onto a winner.

Mount Paektu, Baekdu, or Changbai is an active volcano on the border between North Korea and China. At 2,744 m, it is the highest mountain of the Changbai and Baekdudaegan ranges. Mount Paektu is particularly interesting because it is relatively distant from a tectonic plate boundary.

Paektu Mountain

7. The Tomb of King Tongmyon

The reason that makes the tomb a remarkable and fascinating spot is the legend behind the King Tongmyon’s birth. According to the legend, the chambermaid of the queen became pregnant when she was struck by a bolt of lightning. Because of this, the king feared that this may be a supernatural event that could harm him and ordered the baby to be thrown into the pigsty. But, the baby survived. The baby was then thrown into a horse stable where he survived again. The king, therefore, realised that the child was a divinity so ordered the mother to bring him up. He was given the name Tongmyong (Eastern Light) considering the events which led to his birth. He then went to build his own kingdom after overcoming all obstacles and attempts made on his life. He then declared himself the king of Puyo.

The Tomb of King Tongmyon

8. Kumsusan Palace of the Sun

The Kumsusan Palace of Sun, also known as the Kumsusan Memorial Palace and often referred to as Sung Mausoleum, is the Mausoleum for Kim Il Sung, the founder and eternal president of DPR Korea and for the leader Kim Jong Il who succeeded him as the country’s ruler.

Inside the palace, Kim Il Sung’s embalmed body lies inside a clear glass sarcophagus. His head rests on a Korean-style pillow and he is covered by the flag of the Workers’ Party of Korea. Kim Jong Il is now on display in a room close to and very similar to his father’s. In the Mausoleum there is a big museum dedicated to achievements of the leaders displaying medals, honours, diplomas, pictures from different countries etc.

 9. The Tomb of King Kongmin

The Tomb of King Kongmin, more correctly known as the Hyonjongrung Royal Tomb, is a 14th-century mausoleum located in Haeson-ri, Kaepung County just outside of the city of Kaesong. It is one of the Royal Tombs of the Koryo Dynasty. The tomb in awe-inspiring and hauntingly beautiful. Nothing short of an amazing spectacle of nature and man-made structure.

The Tomb of King Kongmin

10.  To meet like-minded people

It is no secret to North Korea’s strict guideline, that must be followed, there for, the only way to explore North Korea is to be part of a tour. North Korea attracts a certainly kind of person, a person that is perhaps eager to find answers, a person who is eager to explore somewhere new or perhaps a person eager to explore somewhere different and out of their comfort zone. Either way, you must be part of a tour and you are very likely to encounter like-minded people. Perhaps I was lucky on this tour or perhaps North Korea attracts a certain kind of person.

If those from my tour were to go again, that alone would be my number one reason. Thank you to all those like-minded people, I met along my journey of North Korea and a big shout out to my favourite Anouk 😉  oh and Lucy. 🙂

north korea tour

If you have visited North Korea and you have some reasons to visit please share in the comments below