Travelling to North Korea? Here is a list of things you should not do

A tourist taking a selfie during a visit to a subway station in Pyongyang on July 23, 2017.
A tourist taking a selfie during a visit to a subway station in Pyongyang on July 23, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK - While the United States has only recently issued a ban on travel to North Korea, travel to the hermit kingdom has always been extremely risky.

The oppressive and authoritarian regime does not tolerate any challenges by visitors, and tales of foreigners being detained for minor mistakes have frequently come up in the media.

Chinese travel agencies have distributed a list of things to be aware of when travelling in North Korea, and here are some that have been reported via Korean and Chinese media.

1. Be careful when referring to South Korea or North Korea

Just as South Korea states that the entire Korean peninsula is its territory - meaning it does not officially recognise Pyongyang as a legitimate government - North Korea does not recognise the South, instead referring to it as Nam-Joseon (South Joseon). 

Therefore, some tour companies caution against referring to South Korea as Hangguk (Korea). While not technically taboo, they say using the name can raise some eyebrows.

In the same vein, using the word “North Korea” is also not advisable. Instead, use its official name - Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

2. Do not comment about North Korea’s social, political, economic situation, or its current or previous leaders

As previously mentioned, North Korea does not like foreigners questioning its state system. It is also touchy about someone mentioning that North Korea is one of the poorest countries in the world.

Commenting about its dictatorial leaders in any way is not wise, at least within earshot of a North Korean.

3. Retain a respectful attitude in front of Kim Il Sung’s statue 

Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea and grandfather of current leader Kim Jong Un, is the most revered figure in the country. This is apparent in the fact that none of the succeeding leaders resumed the post of president after his death, leaving the presidency eternally to Kim Il Sung.


A tourist group bowing before statues of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung (left) and Kim Jong Il on Mansu hill in Pyongyang on July 23, 2017. PHOTO: AFP 

Tourists are advised to remain solemn when paying respects to Kim Il Sung’s statue or taking a picture in front of it. Mimicking the statue’s pose is taboo.

4. Never fly solo

Not following the instructions of the designated tour guide is one of the fastest ways to provoke North Koreans, many of whom have no sense of humour when dealing with foreigners they think are running amok.

Unscheduled and unauthorised visits to North Korean homes, or to see friends and family of the said tourist is strictly forbidden, as is taking pictures without consent or even talking to workers.

In 1999, a South Korean housewife was detained for days for a 10-minute chat with a North Korean employee during her tour of Geumgangsan.


A still from the movie The Interview starring (from left) Diana Bang, Seth Rogen and James Franco. PHOTO: SONY PICTURES

Unlike in the movie The Interview, strolling around Pyongyang alone can also get you arrested, although being a personal guest of the supreme leader himself may let you off the hook.