North Korea extends Arirang again!

Well, it looks like this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity will be offered again this year. That’s what happens, though, when you’re dealing with Pyongyang – you never know what to expect. The latest news is that the Arirang Mass Games festival has been extended from the end of September to October 17, 2009, giving Koryo Tours time to schedule one more outing for western visitors.

Like the last trip offered, this short run through the most isolated country on the planet will last three days and includes flights to and from Beijing, all meals and hotel stays, transportation, entry fees, guide services and just about everything else (though you are encouraged to bring gifts for your hosts). You’ll also have two opportunities to see the Arirang spectacle, along with the usual North Korean sights: Juche Tower, Pyongyang Metro, Kim Il Sung Square and others.

The trip comes at a price of €850 (around $1,100), though discounts area available for students, children and groups of three or more booking together. Of course, the dates aren’t flexible – this is North Korea, after all. The trip runs from October 15 to 17, and the booking deadline is October 3. Americans are welcome on this trip.

So, if you saw the last deal from Koryo Tours and weren’t sure, you have another shot at visiting this unusual destination.

Not sure what Arirang is? Check out the video after the jump.

Spend a weekend in Pyongyang

If you didn’t get a shot at the last short trip that Koryo Tours organized into North Korea, you have another chance coming. This rare breed of travel company – which brings westerners into the most isolated country on earth – is planning an excursion for September 24 – 26, which will include the sights of Pyongyang and the opportunity to witness the Arirang Mass Games spectacle.

The “mini-break,” as Koryo Tours is calling it, starts and ends in Beijing (so you’ll need a double-entry visa for China) and includes all fees, accommodations, transportation, guide services and flights for the Beijing-to-Beijing roundtrip – you’ll have to arrange your own travel to and from Beijing. Along the way, there are two chances to go to Arirang, not to mention Juche Tower, the Korean War Museum’s interesting take on history, Kim Il Sung Square and the Pyongyang Metro. U.S. citizens are permitted to join in on the experience.

So, if you’re looking to cross into the unknown, make your reservation by September 14. At €850, it’s an absolute steal. If you have any misgivings, Koryo Tours says, “A fascinating, safe and unique experience is guaranteed.”

Amazing North Korea trip deal: Arirang for $1,000!

Koryo Tours is offering the least expensive North Korea travel deal I’ve ever seen. Granted, there aren’t many tours to this corner of the world, so there can’t be too many discounts. But, even in this limited field, a $1,000 jaunt to the most isolated country in the world is an incredible find.

For this low price, you can spend three days in North Korea in August (departing from and returning to Beijing). The price of the package includes flights, accommodations, guides, entry fees and the other basics of getting into and out of Pyongyang. You’ll also get two chances to see Arirang – the Mass Games – and a tour of the country’s capital, including the Juche Tower, Kim Il Sung Square and the Pyongyang Metro. Meals are also covered.

The trip runs from August 27 – 29, 2009, with the last date to book August 17, 2009. Students, children and groups of at least three are also eligible for discounts. And, Americans are allowed to take the trip.

There has been nothing like this deal, and the odds of it being offered again are rare. This could be the best chance you have to go to North Korea.

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Infiltrating North Korea Part 9: Worshiping at the Altar of Kim

It’s impossible to visit North Korea as a tourist without being forced to personally pay respects to the Great Leader oneself.

This is always done at the capital’s Mansudae Grand Monument where an enormous bronze statue of the Great Leader towers above the city. According to my copy of Pyongyang Review, the statue was built in 1972 due to the “unanimous desire and aspiration to have the immortal revolutionary exploits of the great leader Comrade Kim Il Sung remembered for all time and to carry forward and consummate the revolutionary cause of Juche [self-reliance] which he initiated.”

The Grand Monument is one of the holiest places in Pyongyang and our guide appeared a little nervous when we piled out of the minivan. “There are a lot of people here,” he told us. “Please don’t do anything that would embarrass me.” He also asked that we did not take any photographs of the Great Leader which would cut him in half. Only full shots were allowed in order to show the utmost respect.


Before leaving the parking lot, our guide walked us over to a small flower stand where a member of our group was asked to purchase an arrangement. After doing so, we joined a large crowd of North Koreans also bearing flowers, and walked up a slight hill towards the statue and two large monuments which stand on either side of it, one of which commemorates the anti-Japanese struggle while the other chronicles the socialist revolution and includes a large slogan that reads, “Let us drive out U.S. imperialism and reunify the country!”

Because of the mass of people paying their respects, we had to wait a moment before a member of our group was allowed to walk the remaining distance and place the flowers at the base of Kim Il Sung. When he returned, we all stood nervously in a line facing the statue. I wasn’t about to bow, and I assumed that the others in my group wouldn’t as well. Our guide however, had no choice. He bent low to the waist and offered up a very serious bow to the Great Leader. And then, we were free to go.

We hung out for a little while and watched as a never ending flow of North Koreans did the same as we had just done; parading up to the statue, offering flowers, and then bowing deeply to Kim Il Sung. For an atheist nation, I never would have expected such religious devotion.

Yesterday: The Cult of Kim
Tomorrow: The Followers of Kim

Infiltrating North Korea Part 8: The Cult of Kim

“Comrad Kim Il Sung is worshipped by the Korean people, not only as the liberator of the Korean nation, but also as the genuine father and teacher who provided them with all rights and benefits which are indistinguishable to independent beings” –Pyongyang Review

The cult of Kim permeates North Korea.

From the moment we arrived at the Pyongyang airport and were greeted with a large smiling mosaic of Kim Il Sung on the outside of the terminal, there was hardly a moment when the face of either the leader or his son were not staring down on us in one form or another. “The Great Leader Comrade Kim Il Sung will always be with us!” is the most popular of political slogans in the North, and perhaps the most accurate as well.

Kim Il Sung was North Korea’s first leader following the defeat of the Japanese in World War II. He was trained under the Red Army and handpicked by the Soviets to take control of their newest colony. And he did not disappoint. The new leader quickly whipped the North Koreans into a communist stronghold that actually outpaced South Korea with rebuilding and economic growth in the immediate years following the war.

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In the process, Kim established himself as an omnipotent, iron-fisted ruler who tolerated no dissent, exiled opponents and naysayers to concentration camps, and cut off the population from international contact. A pervasive secret police force bolstered by an invasive network of personal informants further ensured that everyone toed the party line.

Like all communist leaders worth their salt, Kim patterned himself as the nation’s messiah. Through a carefully orchestrated combination of nonstop propaganda, brainwashing, and continuous re-education, North Korea has emerged as the world’s largest cult and Kim Il Sung as its glorified leader.

Kim is integrated into all aspects of life: children sing praises to him at school and workers honor him with shrines at their factories. Kim’s portrait is also hanging in every classroom, train station, public square and on the front of every official building. As if that’s not enough, every single North Korean adult is also required to wear a pin of his likeness on their lapel. “Korean people revere him as their father,” Pyongyang Review says, “and deem it their duty and their loftiest moral obligation to hold him, the man who fed and led them, high and loyal.”

Since Kim’s death in 1994, his son, Kim Jong Il, has assumed the throne and is now featured prominently in state propaganda standing beside the Great Leader (who has posthumously been promoted to Eternal President) or gloriously leading the nation forward on his own. In what is undoubtedly the only choice North Koreans have had in deciding a leader, they can now pick between their pins of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il to decide which leader they will affix to their lapel.

There is simply no escaping the Kims when traveling through North Korea. The above gallery is just a small selection of the never ending flood of statues, mosaics, photographs, and other Kim iconography we encountered during our five days embedded in the world’s largest cult.

Yesterday: The Mass Games
Tomorrow: Worshipping at the Altar of Kim