Dennis Rodman and Google’s Eric Schmidt aren’t the only tourists to have traveled above the demilitarized zone. Since 2009, most Americans have been able to visit North Korea relatively easily with the aid of a few authorized travel agents. Uri Tours’ Andrea Lee, whose company made arrangements for Schmidt, Rodman, and the Vice delegation, offers some tips for making a sojourn to the DPRK.
1. Get yourself to China.
Uri Tours’ seven-night itinerary, including hotels, meals, and airfare, goes for $2,600 per person, but the trips only leave from Beijing. Flights to Pyongyang are booked on the DPRK’s national carrier, Air Koryo.
2. Mind your handlers.
North Korea assigns tourists two chaperones who must travel with them at all times.
3. Book a room at Pyongyang’s Death Star.
The Ryugyong Hotel was supposed to be the tallest hotel in the world when construction started in 1987. This summer, the 105-story monstrosity is finally set to open; price and room information is still pending.
4. Ogle the statuary.
No visit to Pyongyang is complete without a stop at the 65-foot bronze renderings of Kim Jong Il and predecessor Kim Il Sung at the Mansudae Grand Monument. Also a must-see: The USS Pueblo, captured by the DPRK in 1968.
5. Eat up!
“Despite the food situation in the rest of the country,” says Lee, “we’re fed pretty well.” Among the local delicacies are naeng myun, or cold noodles, though the homesick can head to the Italian Specialty Restaurant. For drink options, the classic Korean spirit is soju; if you’re feeling adventurous, there’s a local liquor made from a live snake drowned in alcohol.
6. Don’t forget your Rollerblades.
At the new Pyongyang Skate Park, inline skating is all the rage. But caution to any would-be cultural ambassadors: On a recent trip, one traveler tried to bond with fellow shredders, only to have his gesture fail to translate. “People don’t really know what a high-five is,” says Lee. “So we had to teach them how to do it.”
7. Grab a souvenir.
“The North Koreans are very skilled at art,” says Lee. Pick up some postcards for friends back home; one tourist favorite features three hands—representing North Korea, South Korea, and overseas Koreans—crushing an American soldier.