Grace Tu

Grace Tu

Monday, June 20, 2011

North Korea Adventure - Getting There...Part A

Looking at North Korea from DanDong City

Looking at North Korea soldiers from DanDong City

The Boarder - other Canadians had been here

About six months prior to my trip I announced to family and friends that my next destination would be North Korea, and that I knew it’d be difficult, but I had made up my mind to go.

At the time of this announcement I knew this much about travelling in North Korea: I knew that all the tours would be planned by the DPRK government and no tourist would be able to involve in any scheduling or to walk around freely without the supervision of official tour guides; I knew that travellers from different countries would be charged at different rates – based on how wealthy the countries are perceived by DPRK and how politically friendly the countries are with DPRK. I also knew that it would very difficult to get a visa, especially as a Canadian. Travelling around the world as a Canadian would be most of the time visa-free. When dealing with DPRK however, thanks to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canada was one of the first countries to issue statement against North Korea in May 2010, just a few months before my departure, my Canadian identity would scream more than that I am somewhat U.S. friendly, and the process of applying for visa could therefore be extremely slow and arduous.

This trip therefore became one of very few times where my Taiwanese passport was able to give me greater convenience than my Canadian passport. I resolved that I needed to use this green passport to get a 1/6 rate, and I needed to use it to obtain the visa, but I had absolutely no idea how. To travel to other countries, a few hours at the Consulates would get me that piece of paper in my passport. In this case, I did not how to even build a slightest connection with any North Korea officials, who are supposed to have the power of saying yes to my visit. The only hope I had then, was to contact aimlessly any travel agency that might be able to help.

It’s no walk in the park.

The search engine told us that there were literally thousands of websites that had some sort of introductions about North Korea travel. These websites however usually did not contain accurate visa information. We finally narrowed it down to a dozen of Chinese travel agencies which explicitly offered to apply visas for the travellers, and we started to email them, phone them, each by each.

The process was lengthy – sometimes we sent out emails and couldn’t get a decent reply for weeks. The reason, as we later found out, was that there were actually only two agencies which had the actual connections with the DPRK officials. So the emails went through agency A to B to C and finally came back to me with ambiguous answers. In the end, the only way I could avoid any uncertainty was to skip all the middle agents and get to the bottom of the email chain. Finally we were able to phone and talk to the travel agency situated in the city of DanDong, on the border of China and North Korea. This agency, as I realized afterwards, shared the same office building with DPRK officials, and who, was able to secure my visa application.

(to be continued...)

For previous North Korea posts, please visit

No comments:

Post a Comment