Portrait of Kim Il Sung, North Korea

The difference between north and south cannot be more marked than between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea (DPRK), and the Republic of Korea or South Korea (ROK). These two areas could not be more diverse in political, social and economic terms. However, that has not always been the case – the landscape is similar, history is shared and it is only more recently that there has been one peninsula, two very different Koreas.

The differences are notable from the outset – a visa is required for the North, not so for the South. Entry into and a stay in North Korea is controlled by endless red tape. The North has its own extreme political system and is far more restrictive than either China or Russia were when they were deemed “mainstream” Communist countries. You will always be accompanied by at least two guides whether in a group or travelling on a private tailor-made holiday

Why go if you are so controlled? The reason we love this area is the fact that few westerners see it and that it holds a fascination so vastly different from our usual travelling experiences. Moreover, our expertise and experience is invaluable in negotiating this bureaucracy and trying to ensure that you get the most out of your stay.

Travel in the South is very different. Unhindered and with an excellent infrastructure of road, train (including high speed bullet trains) and air links. However, at times the roads become grid-locked. In comparison, in the North you can travel on a four lane highway and see almost no traffic at all. In the South you can walk out of your hotel, stroll in the market, go to a restaurant or purchase a product in a shop.

The hotels you walk out of in the South are large and modern, some of the best properties the world has to offer. Accommodation in the North is considered “comfortable” especially in the capital Pyongyang. Venture out of the capital and the accommodation is more basic but still comfortable and with private bathroom facilities. The one thing both the North and South have in common are the local hanoks, the traditional and historical houses where you sleep on the floor and have underfloor heating, similar to ryokans in Japan. A wonderful way to experience traditional life.

Technology is a feature of the South, one of the world’s most developed nations. Home to Hyundai, Samsung and Lotte and huge cities of sprawling residential tower blocks. The North does not allow internet access, has antiquated machinery and industrial procedures, harking back to a pre ‘Industrial Revolution’ period – they are keenly aware of this disparity and hence photography of its rusting rural relics is prohibited.

Whilst there are differences between the two, starkly illustrated by the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), there are more similarities than at first glance. Yes, by dint of geography the scenery and climate is comparable – dramatic tree-covered mountains, fast flowing rivers and fertile valleys. Yes, as a result of the last sixty years, both strongly promote their culture, and own modern history. More importantly if you have the opportunity to meet some of the people, you will discover their wishes and smiles are akin. That is one of the joys of travel – understanding, appreciating and embracing.

Our recommendation is to visit both the North and South and see what similarities you can find.

Get in touch to learn more about holidays to North and South Korea. Email inspire@steppestravel.com or call us on 01285 601 753.