North Korea Summer Tour
I think other people around me were more concerned than I was about going to the DPRK, I not once had the feeling that it would be dangerous to go there or that I won't return (a thought surprisingly a lot of people around me had). I think my biggest concern was that they would go through my entire phone and/or delete certain things from my phone before entering.
I think I never felt safer anywhere else. I felt completely comfortable, and while at the beginning you're still a little cautious about what you are saying even in private but that also faded very quickly and we felt like we could talk relatively openly. To my surprise, the military men, also at the borders, were extremely friendly. Yes they did go through ALL my pictures on my phone, probably for their amusement since it was obviously not about the DPRK anymore, but it was in a very informal ambiance. Upon arrival you have to fill out what you all have with you, and we had our concerns about filling that in wrong because we had no clue about what to fill in, but people on the plane who lived in the DPRK or have been there more often were very helpful in helping us filling that out, and in the end it didn't matter at all anyway. (but maybe for next times, give groups some information about what to fill in there)
For me going to the DPRK was never about "collecting" another country as it was for many others, the country has fascinated me for quite some time and then mainly from an IR perspective, the regime, the nuclear weapons and the like.
What I liked most about this trip is how it really changed my way of thinking. Even though you tell yourself you won't be influenced by the propaganda and everything is staged, it is not that simple, and probably because what you know from western media also is biased in a way. It is a trip that gives you a lot of food for thought and makes you question your way of thinking and might even change it on a few points which is definitely the case for me. I think it is a good feature of a "holiday" if it makes you think and if it changes your opinions and maybe even yourself.
The fact that you are warned to have low expectations makes everything even better than it otherwise might have been. I heard you should only expect cold noodles, but the food we got was extremely good. I have to say that I am a food lover, and probably the least picky person around when it comes to food so I might me biased, but I absolutely loved the food. I got away from the table full and very happy every single time. Unfortunately that also means I gained weight, which according to the guides was their goal. Also, you hear that you are not allowed to talk to any Koreans and that talking with your guides is about limited topics. However, even though you're not allowed to talk to "real koreans" (they wouldn't understand english anyway) you meet quite some others and it surprised me about how much you can actually talk with them. I even talked about politics with one of our Korean guides and I really enjoyed talking with him. Another highlight was definitely being able to join in the mass dances, it was a really really great experience dancing with the Koreans and them staying very friendly even though you are screwing up their dance. While realizing that it is also propaganda of some kind it is still an incredible experience, partly because it is something you never expected to be possible.
The relaxing factor of this trip. It was one of the easiest trips I have ever taken, partly of course because everything is arranged and you don't have to plan anything, but that makes it very relaxing as well. Plus, being completely cut-off from the outside world is really really good, no phone no internet, it makes the trip so much more enjoyable. You experience way more, and I do think that having no internet is not a violation of human rights whatsoever, but actually can make people happier.
Another benefit of the trip I think is the group. I don't think you see so many different people on other group trips but who are still in some way very similar. I really enjoyed the group and I wouldn't have wished for any other group. I think this is something special about going to North Korea since only people with a certain mindset go there, and on top of that it's one of the few places I think where a group tour is so extremely mixed in age range.
I would definitely recommend KTG, even though it might be a little expensive, it is the best money I have ever spent and KTG tours is I think one of or even the cheapest option around. Plus the communication is very pleasant, emails are answered very quickly no matter what time of the day or how many stupid questions you ask and all questions you might have, are answered into details. It is also recommendable to people who are busy, since almost everything is taken care of by the company.
I have been extremely happy on this trip and therefore it is the best money I've ever spent. I don't want to market the DPRK as the happiest place on earth or anything like that, for me it was definitely a combination of circumstances including some which have nothing to do with the DPRK that made it such a good experience for me. But all the above definitely played a role.
Also a few things I would like to add which could be different maybe, I am not sure if KTG has any influence on it or not but maybe it's worth mentioning it. The first is, that as much as I loved the food it would be nice if they would give some less. There was always too much and I tried my best to eat as much of it as I can but it was still way too much. Knowing
conditions in the DPRK this is not the place where you want to leave a lot of food on the table. It might therefore also be better for their image as well as the tourists conscience if they would serve a little less. Furthermore, I would have really liked it if the Korean guides could have sat with us with lunch and dinner, I asked every time but only the very last dinner I managed to sit together with them, which turned out to be one of the best evenings ever.
Another thing which might be better is to leave the children's palace out of the programme, as it is experienced as something sad by most tourists, and it would be a lot better for the DPRK's image to scratch that, because in my opinion, the things that work best for them are the non-planned parts of the trip, the looking out of your bus or train window, talking to the guides and other people. I know they cannot change an entire programme, but the Children's Palace was the most extreme and quite sad.
Thanks for everything.