Venture to DPR Korea

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The Travelers
Christopher and Mary Brown, and their daughter Bridget (18 months).

The Plan
The family’s trip was organized by Koryo Tours (www.koryogroup.com), a Beijing-based travel agency specializing in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). After a mandatory pre-trip briefing, the family joined their travel group and headed to DPRK flying to Pyongyang via Air Koryo. The family was placed on a single travel group visa.

The Tour
Arriving in DPRK in the late afternoon, the Browns visited Pyongyang’s recreation of the Arch of Triumph before attending the Mass Games. This was followed by a late dinner and checking-in at the Yonggakdo Hotel. The next day, the family had a packed itinerary, including visits to museums, the birthplace of Kim Il-Sung and a local subway ride. On the third and final day of the trip, the tour group had an early departure out of Pyongyang back to Beijing.

Cost
Tourists can use EUR, RMB and USD. The tour costs approximately EUR 800 per person,including return airfare from Beijing to Pyongyang. The family spent an extra EUR 300 to 500 on hotel accommodation, souvenirs, and tickets to the Mass Games.

The Best Part
The best part of the trip was being able to observe, firsthand, what the society is like. It is quite formal and everyone was very courteous. The family loved the Mass Games, which are put on nightly (weather permitting) during the summer time. The Games involve over 100,000 children and young people, who perform a series of patriotic-themed vignettes of group dance and acrobatics. The backdrop of the vignette is comprised of individuals carrying large cards, which they turn over in unison to reveal and form the next picture. The Mass Games are very impressive and visually stunning.

Food
The family did not know what to expect in terms of food and its suitability for their 18-month-old daughter.  As it turned out, the hotel had a Western-style breakfast and the tour stopped at good Korean restaurants.

The Most Unexpected Part
They were surprised to find that the North Koreans are a very formal society. It was as if each person had a role that they were expected to fulfill, and they did not deviate from this while in public. The locals did not, for instance, clamor to speak to the foreign tourists.When they had their photographs taken, even the children stood very erect and did not smile. However, having an 18-month-old daughter with them revealed a different side of the North Koreans, as they let down their guard down to play and interact with her.

One memorable moment occurred while the family was visiting the birthplace of Leader Kim Il-Sung. As they were walking through a park to the site, they passed other North Koreans who were also visiting the site with their families. One very serious man broke into a wide smile and reached out to tousle Bridget’s hair. Afterwards, he immediately went back to his serious demeanor.

Kid-Friendly Features
The entire trip was surprisingly easy to managewith an 18-month-old. During the tour, little Bridget had the opportunity to explore big open spaces, and the tour bus was comfortableenough for her to nap in.

Koryo Group and their local tour guides were very accommodating. The family requested a crib at the hotel and was surprised to find that Koryo Group had arranged for a crib to be taken over with them on their flight from Beijing.

Travel Tips
It’s best to travel to DPR Korea during the Mass Games – it is a sight not to be missed. Be sure to double-check your camera equipmentand batteries, as you’ll capture pictures of a lifetime.
Also, bring an address book with you in hard copy (cell phones are not allowed into the country), as there is a chance to stop at a stamp shop to purchase some gorgeous DPR Korea stamps and postcards. The Brown family mailed several postcards to themselves as a memento of their trip.

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