Destination: North Korea

How to Travel Like Kim Jong Il

First, no jets. Use a train. Or three. You need the decoys. It’s not paranoia. People really would like to see you dead. Maybe travel at night, too, to avoid surveillance. Oh, and you’ll need food and drink. Send for a few cases of Bordeaux from Paris. It’ll go well with the live lobster you’ve shipped in.

The Los Angeles Times has more on how the Dear Leader likes to get around.

Another ‘Slightly Creepy’ North Korean Night Out

A couple of weeks back we met the chain restaurant as done by North Koreans. Now, the New Yorker’s Evan Osnos offers a glimpse of a more “upscale” North Korean restaurant experience in Beijing. A sample: “[T]he experience is not, in the traditional sense, relaxing. The food is serviceable, though it always arrives with the slightly creepy sensation that dining out on North Korean fare just might be an act of exceptionally poor taste.”

The Chain Restaurant, North Korean-Style

Slate’s Sebastian Strangio goes inside the Pyongyang restaurant chain, a government-owned operation that brings a taste of North Korea to diners across East and Southeast Asia—and, allegedly, launders money and funnels foreign currency back to the North Korean regime.

Paranoid and Isolated in North Korea

Photojournalist Sean Gallagher looks back at a trip he and writer Mark MacKinnon took to North Korea, both posing as regular tourists. The details in the post—quizzes about science and history from government minders, fears about bugged hotel rooms—are fascinating, and the post ends on a thoughtful note:

As much as I would have liked to, getting close to the everyday person proved to be almost impossible. Hence, my photographs from this journey have a sense of isolation about them. It is an isolation probably born from my own feelings while being there. People are dwarfed against the mighty, imposing communist-era architecture, small and insignificant against the overbearing size of the buildings.

For me, my images from this trip have raised more questions than answers.

(Via @markmackinnon)

Interview with Nick Bonner: Touring North Korea

Cullen Thomas talks to the founder of Koryo Tours about his fascination with North Korea and providing tours to the land of Kim Jong Il

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Lights Out in Pyongyang

Journalist Sarah Wang recently spent four days in North Korea, traveling incognito with a group of “potential investors.” Her story in Slate adds some vivid details to what we know about life in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Here’s one scene:

The men in the streets usually wore black or dark blue uniforms that looked like Mao suits, and the women wore cheap white or gray blouses with black or dark blue skirts. The most popular shoes were made of dark blue cloth, with white shoelaces and white plastic soles. The blue color ran and stained the laces when it rained.

Look for more North Korea coverage on World Hum in the coming days.

Freed U.S. Journalists Return Home From North Korea

Laura Ling and Euna Lee arrived in Los Angeles this morning after months of imprisonment. In the Daily Beast, World Hum contributor (and resident expert on Korean prisons) Cullen Thomas sheds some light on how the happy ending came to be.

Kimchi Burgers Bring Sweet Taste of Freedom to Pyongyang

Just when we were beginning to think that isolated North Koreans might never enjoy the greasy spillover of the expanding McWorld, the first-fast food restaurant in Pyongyang opened yesterday. The Daily Press reports that the Samtaeseong Restaurant—which serves burgers, fries, beer and, of course, kimchi—is already proving a runaway hit with locals and foreigners, and plans to expand are in the works.

Finding Trouble in Asia: Let Us Count the Ways

Finding Trouble in Asia: Let Us Count the Ways Photo by kwanz via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Is it me, or has it been a surreal few months for Americans in Asia? Guidebook writers and State Department travel monitors, take note: a few new travel “don’ts” have entered the lexicon. To recap, here’s what we know not to do next time we journey East.

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Hyesan, North Korea

Hyesan, North Korea REUTERS/Reinhard Krause

A woman carries water she collected from the Yalu River in the North Korean city of Hyesan.

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Kim Jong-il’s Bizarre Pizza Quest

This just in from the parallel universe known as North Korea: the country’s first-ever pizzeria has opened in Pyongyang. The Guardian reports that Kim Jong-Il’s longtime obsession with pizza—and a decade-long campaign to train North Korean chefs in making the perfect pie—has culminated in the launch of a restaurant that flies in wheat flour, butter and cheese from Italy. 

In any other country the opening of a pizza joint would be unremarkable, of course, but given that millions of North Koreans have died of famine since the mid-90s, the only word I can muster is: tragic.

Morning Links: A Surge in Train Travel (Stories), the Truck Stop Dentist and More

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For Americans, A Way to Game North Korea?

Photo by yeowatzup via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Though the North Korean government hasn’t officially announced it, it looks like the country will hold its renowned Mass Games from August through October this year, opening a window for American tourists to travel to the otherwise closed nation. The Beijing-based Koryo Tours, which handles travel for about half of all Westerners who visit North Korea yearly, is currently accepting applications from Americans interested in traveling during the Mass Games period, based on North Korea’s history of allowing Americans to visit during the event (as happened in 2002, 2005, 2007 and 2008).

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Morning Links: Vegas to L.A. High-Speed Rail, ‘the Gifts of Travel’ and More

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Hope for Pyongyang’s ‘Hotel of Doom’?

Photo via Wikipedia Commons.

The pyramid-shaped, 105-story Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea, has been languishing—unfinished—for 16 years. But now Egyptian developers have begun refurbishing what was once dubbed “the worst building in the history of mankind,” Reuters reports. It’s estimated to cost $2 billion—about 10 percent of North Korea’s annual economic output—to finish the skyline-dominating eyesore.