There is nearly no place in this world that you cannot see as a tourist. If you have the right passport and a sufficient amount of money, that is. Even North Korea, one of the most secretive and isolated countries of the world is open to tourism. I can imagine you saying ‘who the hell wants to go there’ now. Well, I would like to go, kind of. Plus, more and more people use the opportunity to visit the Land of Whispers. But then again: Is it okay to travel anywhere – regardlessly?
Whoever dares to enter North Korean territory might as well enter the last white spot earth has to offer. A lot of people do not even know that it is possible to visit the land of whispers. Yet according to travel agencies, the numbers of visitors are growing constantly, even though it is at least near to impossible to get official figures. The Pyongyang government actively promotes tourism to North Korea from China and Europe. Even Americans are granted tourist visas, regardless of political animosities. The country needs forex and dollars are sincerely appreciated. Maybe it is better not to think about what that money will be used for.
To those who come, North Korea is not only a devious, dangerous, and corrupt dictatorship but also – and maybe above all – an adventurous temptation. It is a country of which we know next to nothing. Pictures and information that leave the country are meticulously filtered. We don’t know what is true, what is sugarcoated, and what is complete and utter propaganda. There is no McDonalds, no Coca Cola, no Facebook. The journey to North Korea is a journey into the past. The Chinese tourists say that the country is like China back in the 1980s.
Whoever comes to North Korea does this out of curiosity and thirst for adventure. To get to know the country nobody knows. And its people. But journeys to North Korea are well-ordered and conform to the government’s specifications. Getting in touch with the people is possible, but not off-handedly. Discussion partners are carefully selected. A spontaneous chat with a local resident can become a disaster for him, agencies warn.
If free exchange with residents of North Korea is not possible, then what does tourism mean for them? On the one hand, it offers another perspective on the west – a less biased perspective on a world that most North Koreans only know from propaganda material. Financially though, the greatest of the population does not benefit from tourism as the money brought into the country goes directly to the government. So – if tourism finances this government, does it also legitimize its demeanor?
Ultimately, the question if North Korea tourism is ethically and morally tenable, is another question: Is traveling a political statement? And if it were, North Korea would not be the only country on a list of states to which a visit would be reprehensible.
Would I travel to North Korea? Probably, yes. But as a journalist who openly reveals herself as that on the internet, I think I would hardly stand a chance to even get a tourist visa. The North Korean government does not actually like journalists in the country. They are dangerous. They might uncover and propagate what everything is really like, in the Land of Whispers.
More about North Korea tourism and the Land of Whispers:
Is tourism in North Korea a good or bad idea? Eleven defectors share their thoughts on nknews.org
Dominik Schwarz has traveled to North Korea and explains why he did so in Why I traveled to North Korea
Mandy has just booked a trip to North Korea. While her very detailed and well argued article on the moral aspects of traveling to North Korea is only available in German, she has found a Youtube video about North Korea which I also find worth sharing.
Credit for all photos used in this article go to Stephan who has a lot more beautiful and intriguing pictures of North Korea on his Flickr profile.