Eli Orzessek is Travel's Digital Content Producer.

Readers' insights on North Korea

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Readers share their tips and memories with Eli Orzessek.
At the base of the Juche tower, North Korea. Photo / Simon Johnston
At the base of the Juche tower, North Korea. Photo / Simon Johnston

In Ask Away in our March 7 issue, I answered a question from Travel reader Mike, who was interested in North Korea as a "hot new travel destination". The column seemed to strike a chord with many other adventurous readers.

Here is a selection.

"Even now it's hard to put my finger on exactly how I feel about North Korea," writes Ann Cowie. "One of the most memorable places we visited in Pyongyang was a maternity hospital. Memorable because it was just odd they wished to show us their 'state-of-the-art' facilities. When we were leaving, our guide pushed the wrong button on the elevator by mistake. The doors open, and there is a corridor which is pitch black - clearly has no power - but is absolutely teeming with people."

"My husband and I both agree that the trip into North Korea in 2014 was one of the most interesting, unique and unforgettable experiences we have ever had," writes Shirley Newton. "On the lighter side we went to a circus performance of unbelievable high talent, and a children's concert of amazing talents also. All the children are immaculately dressed - especially going to school.

They march in order and are never rude - and always step aside for older people and certainly us as visitors."

Dame Jenny Gibbs also visited in 2013, as part of a small group from the Asia Society in New York. "My experiences may not be typical as we were treated as honoured guests but there was still a lot that was a total surprise," she wrote. "Perhaps the biggest surprise was the very modern glitzy fun park full of young North Koreans having a night out.

"While on an unsupervised visit on my own up a tower to get an overview, I came across a group of 20-plus-year-olds with whom I had a good chat. Some had been on exchange visits and study trips to Canada (I had no idea such relations existed), I presume these are from government and trusted official families but it was still a surprise."

Simon Johnston and his wife visited with the same tour company used by Otto Warmbier - the unfortunate American tourist who was sentenced to 15 years hard labour for stealing a political banner from a hotel.

Johnston says the tour started with a lecture: No bad memes/photos, no derogatory movies about NK, nothing about the 'Dear Leaders' and no pornography. He described visiting the National War Museum as "one of the most frustrating experiences I have ever had".

"We were forced to watch a movie called How the US Imperialists Started the War and then shown around the museum by a North Korean guide, whose accent was a mixture of North Korean and Russian, who shared a false propaganda history.

"New Zealand was mentioned in the imperialist forces, our flag torn and smashed on the ground in the exhibition in which a US wax soldier is crying and another has his heart being eaten by crows, complete with dramatic sound effects. I have to say, Weta Workshop would be impressed!"

- NZ Herald

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Eli Orzessek is Travel's Digital Content Producer.

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