St. Patrick’s Day in North Korea

Modern day travel isn’t quite the “adventure” it once was. We have a pretty good idea of what to expect on the other side of long haul flight. We have seen images of the destination online, friend’s Instagram shots and so on. In fact, we can pretty much skip down the streets and landscapes of the entire planet thanks to Google Street View. Everywhere except one entire country. That country is North Korea.

North Korea is a “black box”. Sure we hear a lot about the country in the media. Vice opened us up to certain visible facets of the country and it’s regime in their documentaries. But, as I quickly learnt, what we see in the West is a distorted view. Much like the view the North Korean’s have of the West. All smoke and mirrors, with nuggets of truth evident upon closer inspection (or probing the local guides after filling them up with copious amounts of beer).

The above answers the “why” of going to North Korea. How fascinating is it to get the opportunity to go to a country of which there is no true view into it’s real day-to-day existence? All we have of North Korea is perception. And our perception is false. But I am not going to tell you why it’s false, I will give my reason for doing so shortly.

Our trip to North Korea started in China. Beijing to be precise. You see China is the only gateway into the country. You won’t find “Pyongyang”, the capital of North Korea, appearing on the departure boards of any other airport except for Beijing International.

It being my first time in China, I expected to get a glimpse into another world. Alas, Beijing was all too familiar. Numerous McDonalds, KFC and Starbucks reminded me of the West constantly. You are never far from the familiar. Tianamen Square in real life looked no different to the jaunt I took across it on Street View the night before I left.

And then we boarded a plane from Beijing to Pyongyang, to the unfamiliar. A true adventure. This is the part where I give a day by day account of the trip. But I am not going to. Doing so would uncover what life is really like in North Korea. And that is something I don’t wish to do.

In a smaller and ultimately more transparent world thanks to the web, North Korea is an anomaly. If you are reading this you too are curious about North Korea. I would put a bet on that your implicit desire to visit North Korea is because of it’s mystique. If I were to give a long account of what each day entailed I would dampen the curious fire you have for the unknown.

What I will tell you is that the 5 days in North Korea were completely and utterly unforgettable. First and foremost the group we were with were amazing. A very lovely, and wild, bunch from all over the globe. North Korea attracts the curious and crazy. The guides could not have been better in showing us the various facets of the country, from the historical to the all-out entertaining.

I must state quite proudly, that our group was the first ever group of people to do a pub crawl in Pyongyang. To be the first people to do a pub crawl in a country is something else. In fact I was one of two other Irish people on the pub crawl on St Patrick’s Day. It’s not often you get to say ye were the only Irish people in a country celebrating St Patricks Day.

Again, I won’t give a full account of the trip, but I do want to mention a thing or two to put “but it must be sad and dangerous there” people out there at ease. A lot of what you hear or see about North Korea is blown out of proportion. North Korea is a fully functioning country. It is a beautiful country with amazing people. Yes they have some extreme nuances, but North Korea is not Mars.

Other than that I am keeping schtum about the trip. For your sake I am preserving the secrecy of the country. Reach out to Dave and Dan here, who were beyond brilliant in arranging the trip, if you want to see what I saw.

You don’t have to be brave to go to North Korea. You just have to be curious. If you are curious then simply GO. It will be the most unique trip you will ever go on.

by David Morrissey