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North Korea

I have visited North Korea 3 times.

It is a fascinating country, as the brief pictures of Kim Jong-Il’s death have shown. It is like no other country, not even China, which I have visited over 30 times since the early 1980′s, or Russia can compare. Will Kim Jong-Un, Kim Jong Il’s successor, referred to as the “Dear Leader”, make changes? In the short term it seems not. He was, in late December made head of the army, the State and was called the “Supreme Leader”.

Where in the world are you escorted everywhere as a tourist, as I was on my last visit. This said, I did manage to watch my first ever football match in Pyongyang, an Olympic qualifier between North Korea and India. Even in China and Russia during the communist era you were allowed on public transport or to take a taxi, you could walk out of your hotel or dine in local restaurants. This is not so in North Korea. Your programme is very structured. Mobile telephones, no. You have to give them up on entry but they are given back on exit, even if you do enter by air and depart by train. One is encouraged to lay flowers at the huge statue of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong-Un’s grandfather who is still referred to as the “Great Leader”.

2012 is the 100th birthday of Kim Il Sung which promises to be a very grand event. Despite many restrictions and regulations, Steppes Travel can organise tailor-made trips to North Korea from a long weekend to a stay of 10 days or more which will allow you to see most of what you are allowed to see with visits to the coast, the mountains and the demilitarised zone (DMZ). The best time to visit is in the Spring and the Autumn.