May 1st, otherwise known as May Day or International Worker’s Day. May Day celebrations take on different shapes, sizes and forms around the world but to most people, when someone mentions its May Day, at least to those who have heard of it before, images of large, left-wing, Marxist rallies in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and in modern day communist countries or those heavily influenced by socialism typically come to mind. While Map Day is a celebration of the international labor movement and causes typically associated with far left leaning governments, May Day has spread and is a recognized national holiday in more than 80 countries and actually began as a commemoration of the 1886 Haymarket Riot in Chicago. Still, I can’t help but associate May Day with hard core communism and no place is more hard core when it comes to communism than North Korea. Here at the World by Road Collective, we have long been fascinated by North Korea; in part because of what we do know about this reclusive country, but even more so by what we don’t know about it.
As it turns out, North Korea is starting to open up its doors to foreigners. One group of foreigners that were able to penetrate North Korea’s protectionist and isolationist bubble were the guys at Vice magazine. There aren’t too many people who have made it into North Korea, filmed their experiences, and made it out to share the footage, but the Vice boys managed to do just that and the resulting three part series The Vice Guide to North Korea in nothing short of fascinating although the footage doesn’t really answer many of the questions we have formulated with regard to North Korea; it only raises more. The goings on within North Korea are so strange, so foreign and so alien, the only way to truly believe it is to see it with your own eyes.
The Vice guide was filmed in 2008, and there have been some pretty major changes in North Korea since then. In the wake of a series of failed nuclear tests, UN sanctions and ongoing difficulties conducting diplomatic talks, North Korea is still very much the pariah state is was back when Shane Smith and Co. visited it, however, with the passing of the dear leader, Kim Jong Il, at the end of 2011, there is renewed hope that North Korea will step out from the shadow of its past. There are also other encouraging signs. In January 2010, North Korea lifted travel restrictions on American citizens, allowing them to visit freely in the company of a guide throughout the year and the lone western embassy in North Korea, Sweden, has been joined by about half a dozen more including Switzerland, Poland and Germany. The most encouraging news is that over a dozen travel agencies now offer guided, packaged tours to North Korea, although tourists to North Korea are still severely limited in what they can see, do and even say.
Still, it appears North Korea is on the up and up, and seemingly things are slowing changing for the better, so much so that we have been seriously contemplating putting together The World by Road Collective’s Guide to North Korea in the near future. In the meantime, if you have ever considered satisfying your own curiosities about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, here are some resources we have been eyeballing and a window into how much it might actually set you back to visit what is, in our humble opinion, one of the most fascinating places on earth. It’s interesting to note that the tours are pretty standard and essentially cover the same locations give or take a few, so its obvious the movement of foreigners within North Korea is still extremely restricted and tightly controlled.
Koryo Tours – based in Beijing and run by British nationals so no language barriers to overcome
New Korea Tours – based in the US and offering the standard tours and sights
For a more complete listing of tour operators, you can check here, although a cursory run through revealed several are not offering trips to North Korea at this time or cater to select groups of people.
Average “Standard” North Korea Tour Costs*
Five Days/Four Nights – $1791
Six Days/Five Nights – $2452
Eight Days/Seven Nights – $2732
* Most tours originate in Beijing and include travel between Beijing and Pyongyang, so you are responsible for getting to and from China.
Check out the May Day Stadium for yourself!