North Korea

For eight days in North Korea:

  • I went without a mobile phone;
  • Accepted restrictions on photography; and
  • Was accompanied by two guides.

Most importantly, I never spoke ill of Great Leader Kim Il Sung (former president, founder of North Korea) and his son, Dear leader Kim Jong Il.

To visualise North Korea, take a modern city, remove all the commercial sectors and rewind 20 years.

View of Pyongyang city
Photo credit: Shane Dallas

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After a week in North Korea, we departed the way we arrived - by train. Our guides, Mr Li and Ms Li, took us to Pyongyang station where Dallas and I boarded the train. Mr Li followed on board briefly to drop our bags. Ms Li, however, was stopped at the entrance.

I witnessed her surprise through the window. It reminded me strongly of the restrictions in North Korea. I went out, collected my bag from Ms Li. We hugged in emotional farewell. As the train departed, I felt grateful for my freedom, grateful that I toured this country. It changed my worldview.

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Today, September 9th was National Day. Public holiday that marked the founding of North Korea.

We returned to Pyongyang via Reunification Highway (named for its possible passage between Pyongyang and Seoul). There was no traffic except for a handful of vehicles. I could photograph the road behind, but not in front.

Returning to Pyongyang via Reunification Highway

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My tour of North Korea culminated on day 4 with a visit to Panmunjom (or DMZ as commonly known). We joined an English tour group and a Chinese one. All of us under the one military guide.

An Armistice to end the Korean War was negotiated in this building. Coincidentally, the Chinese group sat on the side of South Korea/UN/US. While the English group sat on the side of North Korea. Some handshaking and fist thumping occurred in jest.

Building where the the Korean War armistice was negotiated, DMZ

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