This week on Wednesday Interview, Anjaly shares with us on her experience where she travelled to North Korea. Anjaly Thomas is a lawyer-turned-journalist-turned-traveller/writer and is currently based in Dubai.
Anjaly, I heard that you have recently travelled to North Korea. What is the first impression of North Korea?
It was so unimaginably different! There was nothing to compare it with – it is unique like that! So everything was a novelty – even being forbidden to take photos without permission felt like a nightmare! I didn’t have a first impression, because whatever we had been told about in our briefing was kind of true – while I couldn’t imagine what the place was like, I couldn’t have also imagined the effect it would have on me!
Was it difficult to get permission to enter into the North Korea?
Well, the government of DPRK is rather careful in selecting tourists that can enter the country. A few types of professions – like journalists, photographer or preachers – might find it a little hard to gain entry into the country. There are circumstances under which journalists or photographers may be allowed, but it is not very common.
What are the rules and regulations for you to enter North Korea?
Oh, there are plenty! The do’s and don’ts are rather exhaustive. To begin with, one doesn’t just “fly” into North Korea. If you are a tourist, you go with an authorised tour company (usually Beijing-based). Once you are cleared for a certain trip, you fly to Beijing and go with the tour group. The tour company takes care of everything – you don’t have much say in planning or execution of any travel-related ideas!
What is the one thing that is totally different from your initial thought of North Korea?
To be honest, except for what I had heard about the country, I had no real gauging scale and hence I had no expectation. In fact, before I left I tried to debrief myself – cleanse my mind of everything I had heard so I could see it in a whole new light, uninfluenced by what “someone had seen” or “someone’s opinion.”
That way whatever I saw felt new.
You visited one of the factories in North Korea, what were they manufacturing?
Well, during a visit to the factory in Pyongsong, the Pyongsong Taedonggang Factory, local uniformed women were manufacturing winter clothes. On looking closely, I realised they were “fixing” Made In China tags on to them – which was rather curious. The brand they were manufacturing was RipCurl – it caught my attention because I am quite a fan of RipCurl myself. I did take a few pictures and later published them on my blog as well.
When in the factory, my first thought was that China was sort of stamping every rock on earth with a “Made In China” while in reality, it was not exactly being produced in the country. It seemed quite funny at that time – only later I realised something was amiss.
Do you have any challenging or bad experience while travelling in North Korea?
No. none at all. As tourists, we were very well looked after. The only downside was the lack of freedom to explore on our own, but that was something we had bought into – we were aware of those limitations, so there is nothing to complain about.
What were the places that you visited in North Korea?
We had a fixed itinerary – hence our visits were limited to DMZ (the border of North and South Korea), Pyongsong (school and clothing factory mentioned above), Kumsusan Palace of the Sun (where the great leaders are buried), the birth home of the Great Leader, Juche Tower, a ride on the Pyongyang Metro and Tram, local beer parlours, a huge bowling alley, War Cemetry, Victorious War Museum, Mansudae Hill, Arch of Triumph etc.
Would you recommend others to travel to North Korea? And, what is the estimated cost of travelling in North Korea?
Yes, I definitely would encourage people to travel to North Korea. Hey, what you are going to get in return, in terms of experience, is something you can never hope to get anywhere. A traveller shouldn’t limit the scope of experiences – that’s what makes them different from a mere tourist. A traveller should go beyond the normal experience – yes, definitely DPRK. There are very few tour companies authorised to take in people – and all of them are based in Beijing.
The cost of travelling to North Korea depends on the length of the tour, time of the year and the company you are travelling with, but you can easily fix a sum of Euro 1200 plus.
Are you planning a new trip or do you already have a new trip in mind?
Yes. I do have a trip in mind and working out the details – it’s a bit of an adventurous kind of trip.
Share with us more on Travel With Anjaly
It is easily a one-stop travel info website, based on my travel experiences around the world – be it a trip to a neighbouring country or climbing a mountain or trekking in Papua New Guinea, the local food of Uganda or Cambodia – I prefer to talk about my experiences and opinions on these travels. I also list events, contests, travel tips, travel resources and other things a traveller might find useful.
When did you begin your website, and Why?
It’s been over 8 years now that I have Travel With Anjaly – the idea behind this website was to record my travels, publish photos and generally be the “one stop” for all travel related info as I knew it and experienced. I also intended to encourage single women (especially from Asia) to travel alone and hoped to inspire them with my experiences. Later I added a lot of other things as well – as I travelled more and experienced different things. I think it makes sense to have all the information in one place – rather than scattered here and there – so it’s easy for people to find.
Do you have any advice or tips for aspiring travellers?
Yes! Don’t think or plan too much – things usually never go according to plan. Be prepared to handle any situation – if you get lost, you will usually end up seeing something you had not come to see- but for sure you will see something you had never imagined!
If the urge to travel hits you – travel. It’s the only cure. Two things can happen – you will become a traveller forever or come back knowing you tried.
But only you can take that first step – just travel.
Anjaly Thomas is launching her new book, THERE ARE NO GODS IN NORTH KOREA, on 6th May 2016, where she travels to North Korea and shared on what she has seen and how she saw it. There are many other destinations covered in the book as well. Follow her travels at TravelWithAnjaly, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Next week on Wednesday Interview, Angela from SheWentWear, a travel and fashion blogger, would be sharing her travel experience.