Five North Korea trips for 2011, and a “no taxation” celebration

It isn’t easy to visit North Korea. The country makes it intentionally difficult for outsiders to get in. For those of us in the United States, the distances to be traveled increase the barrier even more. Well, I just got the list of tour options from Koryo Tours, and it looks like North Korea is more open than ever!

There are several ways you can get to Pyongyang and other cities in 2011 – and not just for the Arirang event. Chartered planes, bikes and new destinations are on the itinerary, making this an exciting company to reach the most isolated nation on the face of the planet. Take a look below at five ways you can visit North Korea next year.


1. Arirang 2011 confirmed: if you’ve always wanted to see Arirang in Pyongyang, next year’s dates have already been confirmed. Westerners will be able to witness the spectacle from August 1, 2011 through September 9, 2011. For those short on time or cash, consider taking a Mass Games Mini Break jaunt for three days.


2. Second city access: don’t stop at Pyongyang! In 2011, you have the option to visit Hamhung, on the east coast of North Korea, and Rason, the country’s free trade zone. From Rason, you’ll leave the country by train to Vladivostok.

3. Take your time: visitors to North Korea who don’t want to miss anything can take advantage of a 16-day excursion into the world’s most isolated country. In addition to a deep look at Pyongyang and the surrounding areas, you’ll fly by chartered plane out to Mount Paekdu, one of the most important sites in relation to the Kim family. Chongjin, Hamhung and Mount Kumgang are also on the itinerary.


4. Ride a bike: for the first time, you can bike across parts of North Korea (five-day and nine-day options are available). Pyongyang, Nampo and Sariwon are on the list, as well as Kaesong, the ancient capital. For the long option, you’ll also fly to Mount Paekdu by chartered plane for even more scenic cycling. This has never been done before!

5. No taxation: visit Pyongyang in late march to celebrate Tax Abolition Day (March 21, 2010). This is the anniversary of North Korea’s abolishing what the sixteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution permitted. Maybe we’ll see some of the “Tea Party” folks on this one?

[photo by David Stanley via Flickr]

Arirang extended in North Korea

Arirang, also known as the “mass games,” has been extended until October 25, 2010. The North Korean festival features thousands of dancers performing in unison and is packed with local symbolism. The event consists of 100,000 performers in all. Koryo Tours, which brings westerners into North Korea, has put together a short trip from October 23 – 26, 2010 to catch the last of the event.

This is a rare chance for westerners to enter the reclusive state, not to mention witness its primary cultural event. While you’re there, take a look at the intersections and let us know if the Pyongyang traffic girls are back!

Five facts about the North Korean Arirang festival

North Korea’s Arirang festival is in motion, and people from all over the world are traveling to the isolated communist country to watch what truly is an impressive undertaking. But, what do we really know about it? So much about North Korea is shrouded in mystery, making it hard to really learn much about what goes on there.

Instead of relying on the accounts of tourists, the western media or other “unreliable” sources, let’s go straight to the horse’s mouth. The Korea Central News Agency is the country’s official news organization regime’s mouthpiece, and has plenty of carefully selected stories to share with people outside North Korea … since nobody in the country has a whole lot of access to the website, which is based in Japan.

So, let’s learn a little about Arirang – from the folks who know it best!

1. Truly performed by masses: 100,000 performers participate in the Arirang festival, which is “admired by the spectators for its kaleidoscopic background and wonderful scenes”

2. New this decade: Arirang was introduced in 2002 to celebrate the ninetieth anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung

3. Countless of performances: Over its eight-year life, Arirang has been performed “several hundred times”

4. World record-setting: The Guinness Book of World Records picked up Arirang in August 2007, but that’s not nearly as impressive the fact that it was “the first to receive Peace Order and its diploma in April of the same year since it was instituted by “Protectors of Arts for the Century”, a Russian international charity fund, to appreciate epoch-making masterpieces, inventions and works”

5. Millions and millions served: Apparently, 12,127,000 people have viewed all the Arirang performances held, 118,000 of them foreigners … but who’s counting?

Of course, according to the KCNA: “‘Arirang’ is recognized as cultural asset of humankind.”

[photo by yeowatzup via Flickr]

Everybody loves Arirang according to North Korean news agency

It’s Arirang time! The North Korean group gymnastics festival is under way, and the crowds are predictably adoring. According to the Korea Central News Agency, the twenty-fifth batch of campers of the Songdowon International Children’s Camp “appreciated the grand gymnastic and artistic performance.” But, that shouldn’t come as a surprise because it was in KCNA.

Shockingly, the KCNA continued:

Zhaoli, head of the group of Chinese campers, said that the performance is the acme and the Korean people are demonstrating before the whole world their dignity under the wise leadership of General Secretary Kim Jong Il.

Russian campers were happy, too. Nataliya Andreyevskaya, who headed up the sixth group, “keenly felt through the performance that each country and nation can become glorious and powerful only when they have a great leader.”

And since no KCNA report is complete without this … “[Nataliya Tatarina of the first group of Russians] stressed that no force on earth can match the strength of the Korean people closely united around Kim Jong Il, the sun of the 21st century.”

[photo by yeowatzup via Flickr]

Shanghai: New route from China to North Korea

It isn’t exactly a wide-open commercial route, but at least the door is slightly ajar. Korean Air charter flights will start flying from Shanghai to Pyongyang on August 6, 2010, when the first group of tourists will take advantage of this (rather slight) liberalization of North Korean travel rules.

The goal, of course, is to “help to further promote cooperation and exchanges between China and North Korea in trade, tourism and culture,” according to People’s Daily Online.

It doesn’t look like the move is coincidental, as this is the 60th anniversary of the start of what we call the “Korean War,” though on the other side of the border, it’s given the moniker, “the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea.”

August is a great time to go to Pyongyang, given the Arirang Festival, which usually runs until October. And since North Korea is now a new destination for the Chinese tourist travel market (since April 12, 2010), the locals can take full advantage of this unique opportunity.

[photo by yeowatzup via Flickr]