Every tour is led by a government minder who determines what you can and cannot see. Expect to be escorted by one or more minders from the time you leave your hotel. They examine any photos that they believe do not represent North Korea or its government in a positive way and ask photographers to remove them, in addition to ensuring that visitors do not wander outside of approved tourist zones. It’s usually a good idea to pay attention to and agree with what your minder is saying. When you ask uncomfortable sociopolitical questions, you’ll get vague, evasive answers at best, and hours of questioning at worst.
If you’re unsure about shooting photos anywhere, it’s usually a good idea to ask your guide, but tolerances tend to vary a lot. You may be able to find a laidback guide who will let you shoot photos from a bus or inside a city. On the other hand, you could obtain one that tightly controls where you take photos, prohibiting anything shot from a tour bus or of specific locations in general, such as Pyongyang’s downtown streets. There is just no way to know until you go on a tour. If you believe a picture would be humiliating to the DPRK as a whole, either ask or don’t take it at all.
Military members are likewise usually banned from being photographed. Again, if you’re unsure, consult your handbook. However, in certain cases, such as at Mansudae (the memorial site for the sculptures of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il) or a local funfair, it is difficult to shoot some locations without adding a few military soldiers. Although you will be informed where taking photos is absolutely banned (like as in some parts of the DMZ), and the guards/soldiers there would react negatively to being photographed in general, reactions appear to range from being ignored to interest. The inside of the Friendship Exhibition, which exhibits presents from across the globe to Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, and the Kumsusan Memorial Palace are two more places where photography is banned. The guards will likely examine your camera for unflattering pictures if you depart the country via train (to Beijing).
Visits to different war memorials, monuments to the Great Leader and the Workers Party of Korea, and many museums make up the bulk of sightseeing (mostly war-related, like the statues and monuments). In North Korea, the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is a popular tourist attraction.
While you’re in North Korea, the popular opinion is that the Americans are to blame for initiating the Korean War; disagreeing with this perspective is likely to create difficulties for both you and your guide, especially because the two Koreas are still technically at war, with merely a cease-fire in effect. The DMZ is highly guarded and studded with minefields and other booby-traps, despite its deceptive moniker. You must not leave your group or take photos of military sites under any circumstances. The “peace settlement” Panmunjom, on the other hand, is open to photography and features the world’s third highest flagpole.
Whilst on these guided tours, especially to the state museums and monuments, you will undoubtedly endure an ongoing barrage of propaganda, consisting largely of anecdotes about things that Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il did for their country. To the untrained eye, several of these statements may seem strange and even funny; nevertheless, keeping a straight face is usually recommended. It’s safer to pretend to accept what they say seriously, even if it contradicts everything you’ve ever learned in history class or defies even the most fundamental human logic.
So, now that you’ve heard all of this useful information, where should you go? Pyongyang is home to many of the major sites you’ll see. There’s much to see even if you don’t there in time for the Arirang Mass Games. There’s Kim Il-sung Square, which hosts the city’s notoriously spectacular military parades. Even without the parades, it’s a beautiful plaza, and the Grand People’s Study House is located there. Over 30 million volumes are housed in this massive library and learning center, which uses a sophisticated system of conveyor belts to bring you the one you need. Two museums are also located in the plaza, the most notable of which is the Korean National Art Gallery. The Triumphal Arch is the nation’s capital’s other major monument. It is the world’s biggest arch of its type, somewhat larger than its Parisian cousin. The huge bronze sculptures of the Great Leader and Kim Jong-il will also be prominently displayed. Respectfully join the community in their earnest efforts to honor the monuments, which are an important part of the national leaders’ dedication cult. Try the lovely Pyongyang zoo for a greater possibility of informal interactions with locals. Visit the Great Leader’s birthplace at Mangyongdae and, of course, the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, which houses both of the previous Kim’s embalmed corpses.
No tour to North Korea is complete without a thorough examination of the tense and highly guarded Panmunjeom border standoff, also known as the Joint Security Area. The town of Kaesong is not far away, featuring a beautiful ancient town and King Kongmin’s UNESCO-listed tomb. Visit Kumgangsan, or the Diamond Mountains, for breathtaking natural wonders, including magnificent panoramas, waterfalls, lakes, and old Buddhist monasteries.