I have to admit it is not the proudest piece of movie I have made, but then the only place I was allowed to film were when we were at our stops. The rest had to be shot with a government approved cameraman.
The last part of the movie was shot in the Sinju Kindergarten, known for training child performers to the annual Arirang festival in Pyongyang.
If you are more interested in reading about the trip to North Korea, you can do so on this link.
North Korea must be one of the Worlds most expensive countries to travel to, as it is one out of just three countries in the World where tourists are required to be accompanied by a guide at all times. The other three countries being Bhutan and Turkmenistan. Itineraries can be custom made to include not only cities, but also beaches, mountain hikes and skiing in ski resorts, but you will have to pay 1000RMB/100GBP upwards per day.
I did not have a budget for a big tour and decided to go for a day trip from China, which is the only way you can go without having to fly into the country. On the South Korean side they only let you go to a so called demilitarised zone/DMZ, which would not really classify as North Korea.
So first step would be to book a mockup itinerary with refundable flights and hotels in order to get a double entry visa to China and be able to travel there freely. As long as you register your visa in a hotel or at a police station within 24 hours after arrival (72hrs in rural areas) you will be fine doing it this way.
I booked my flight to Shenyang which is the biggest close city to North Korea, just a five hour train ride away that only costs 94RMB/10GBP for a hard sleeper bed. I booked my train tickets through chinahoghlights.com and got a reference number to pick up the train tickets at the station.
Then I sent a booking request to a Chinese agency in Dandong called Dandong International Tours (link) to hear when they were running group tours to Sinju. In the summer time this will be almost every day except Mondays, but in the Winter time there might be weeks in between the tours. My day had a departure for a Chinese group confirmed so I could join them for 1290RMB/130GBP or even cheaper at 800RMB/80GBP had I been Chinese. An independent tour with the same company would have cost 2490RMB/250GBP which would have been pretty much the same experience as going with a group as I got my own Engliah speaking guide anyway.
The tour was a great from beginning to end and you can read more about it in my next post.
The Friendship Bridge – see the right one has been destroyed?
Sinju Kindergarden known for training child performers for the annual Arirang Mass Games
The first thing we did when going to Sinju was to make a stop by some huge bronze statues of Kim Il Sung and his son Kim Jong Il standing in front of a newly built monument. We were everyone were asked to buy flowers, bow down and place them at the feet of the statues, which to me felt a bit funny. I therefore asked if I could chose not to buy the flowers, but got then the guide just showed me her Kim Jong Un pin, which every North Korean carries by their heart and said “we respect our great leaders here, and so should you when visiting Korea”. The battle was lost and I paid 20rmb for contributing to building the sea of flowers that were lying at the feet of the great dictators.
The grand monument and statues seemed to have a bit of a holy status, as they could only be photographed by a professional and then we got to buy printed versions of the photos from the North Korean photographed afterwards. For the rest of the tour we were told that we were only allowed to take photos when being at our stops, with lots of rules like not being allowed to take single person shots and we were told that all pictures would be Examiners by the border guards when leaving the country afterwards. When I managed to shake off my guide at one of the stops I took some great pictures from the window at one of the stops overlooking the Yale River Park where children were playing joyfully in a broken ferie wheel until a man shouted in Korean and my guide came running and asked me to delete the pictures at once. I then decided not to try taking pictures of people any more and that I would give the guide some good tips after the tour was over for being yelled at over something that was my fault.
We then visited a cosmetics factory where they made soap, make-up and toothpaste was being made. It was so uninterresting that I asked my guide if we could just sit outside and talk in the sun instead. The guide was the same age as me, and I showed her pictures from Norway, South Korea and China and told her what it all was like and pushed my questions a bit further every time to know what life was really like in the Worlds most closed country. She seemed to enjoy watching photos and hearing my stories, but at the same time she seemed to genuinely believe that her government acted in her best intentions as she was free to date whoever she wanted, choose whatever job and education she wanted and when she turned 26 she could apply for marriage where the government would supply her with an apartment as she then would move out from her parents house. If she lost her job, which rarely happened the government would give her 300 grams of rice a day until she found a new job. She laughed a little when I told her that the story of Kim climbing DPRKs highest mountain in his suit had reached our country as well and confirmed it to be a true story. I guess she had her limits to what she could tell me.
While the rest of our group went off to do various activities like bb gun shooting in a park we just walked around continuing our conversations until driving off to lunch. A grand luch with lots of beer, food and entertainment, which kind of made us forget about the bus rides in between every stop where no one smiled and everyone were just continuing with their jobs of watering plants, carrying rice on their shoulders and digging up the soil in the fields. It seemed like they were not allowed or at least not supposed to wave at us, as if they were not at all curious about us or as if we were not even there. It was a funny feeling.
The last stop visited was a kindergarden famous for music, drama and arts- the highlight of the trip in my eyes. Here we visited classes with disiplined children listening to their teachers and watched them draw highly detailed drawings which was crazy for children at such a young age (up to six). The Chinese people in the group were still a bit drunk from lunch and started playing on drums, hugging the children and grabbing children against their will to take pictures with them- quite provocative for me to watch. They were even smoking in the hallway entrance of the kindergarden the ignorant Chinese. I forgot all about it when they showed us how they had trained for the Arirang mass games, which is a huge show taking place in Pyongyang every year. The children were singing, playing all kinds of instruments and performing dramas including scenes of war and acrobatics. It totally blew me away and was the perfect ending of a trip to the DPRK.
I always have a lot of trips to look forward to, and during the next few months I will travel to the following places:
November 14.-16. Ireland: Celebrating my birthday together with my girlfriend doing christmas shopping and visiting breweries and destilleries
November 21.-30. Cuba: Sailing through the Canarreos Archipelago. A free study trip with Kilroy and G-Adventures
December-31-January 4. Turkey: Celebrating New Years in one of my favorite cities; Istanbul. Business Class tickets that I won with TK through an Instagram competition earlier this year
March 30.- April 4. Sri Lanka: Renting a motorcycle to explore remote villages of the up and coming country
April 4.-13. Maldives: Cruising through the Vadhoo Canal on a Dhoni Boat with G-Adventures. Experiencing local life on the beaches and fishing villages of Dhiggaru, Felidhoo and Enboodhoofinolhu.
April 25.-30. North Korea: Traveling from Beijing over to their mysterious neighbor in the east
May 1.-25. China, Khazakstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Turkey: on the Silk Road with Vodkatrain
Have you done any of these trips and have anything to share or recommend from your own trip? Feel free to comment!