Part 1: Building An Asian Experience Around A(nother) Mistake Fare
Part 2: First Stop – Japan
Part 3: Off To The Chaos of China and North Korea
Part 4: Air Koryo Flight 252, PEK – FNJ
Part 5: DPRK The Arrival
Part 6: Statues And Souvenirs
Part 7: Homeward Bound
Part 8: Xi’an and Terra Cotta Warriors
Part 9: Myanmar, Land Of A Thousand Pagodas
Carrier: ANA, Business Class, 20,00 UA miles, one way
Plane: Boeing 777
Routing: HND – PEK
Booking a trip to DPRK is easy. Americans are not forbidden from visiting, and its relatively easy to arrange. There are a handful of agencies that organize trips, and you can go with a group or even arrange a private tour. Given my schedule and time constraints, I opted for a 3 day tour with Koryo (www.koryotours.com) and wired the deposit in January for my early April visit. A quick google search will easily recap what was going on right around this time. Missiles were being tested, threats being made, all kinds of (scary) anti American rhetoric was coming out of North Korea and was playing 24/7 on every news station. Not surprisingly, I spent a fair bit of my time in Japan wondering what the heck I was thinking by going. Several comforting emails and phone calls later, I was assured everything was in order and completely safe, and I hopped on my flight to Beijing where the tour would commence.
I landed (thankfully) in a city reasonably clear of the lung choking smog I had experienced in my last visit, and made my way to the train for a ride into the city. I opted for a two night pre-DPRK stay in Beijing at the Park Plaza Wangfujing where I could use Club Carlson points and get a free bonus night as a CC Visa holder. The hotel was clean, efficient, and right above a subway station with easy access to the rest of the city. I got situated and the next day, made my way to the Koryo offices for our mandatory two hour pre-departure briefing.
When I arrived, I was relieved to find that I was one of eight Americans on the tour (all expats, living in Asia, however) The rest were mostly European, Canadian and a few Chinese – 23 total in our group. I had already devoured every piece of information I could on N. Korea, so I wasn’t surprised to hear that we were only allowed to see and do what our N. Korean guides said we could. We would be staying at the Yanggakdo hotel – a property located on an island in the middle of the Daedong river (affectionately called Alcatraz) and would have two government minders with us at all times (two because one needs to watch the other…) No pictures without permission (none at all of military personnel or equipment,) no wandering off by ourselves, no sensitive political comments or questions, etc. etc. There would be no cell phone service and no internet access during our visit. Our Koryo guides were hopeful that once our minders warmed to us, they would loosen up and we would be allowed more access to the people / children. At the end of it all, we were told, we would have more questions than answers.
I returned back to the hotel and prepared for my early Air Koryo flight the next morning.