What’s North Korea like? There’s an app for that.
Released today, the North Korea Travel app covers the 22 restaurants, 4 bars and 14 factories open to round-eyed devils in Pyongyang, as well as parks, local attractions and hotels all over the DPRK.
Descriptions of attractions range from tactful, ‘the café serves foreigners and the occasional wealthy North Korean,’ to deadpan: ‘Visiting the [Hungnam Fertiliser] factory…[is a] highlight, as tourists can usually see the large industrial rooms visited by Kim Jon Il in 2010 in addition to some of the factory grounds.’
Tips include warnings about power cuts and which historical name to drop for greater access to the factory floor. Frequently Asked Questions covers who can travel to the country (Americans, yes, South Koreans, no) and politely mentions the hot water tour guides get into when journalists sneak in on a tourist visa.
The site has a government-sanctioned tour itinerary builder, with price comparisons. Leaving the hotel grounds unescorted is illegal, ‘At minimum, visitors are accompanied by two North Korean guides at all times and a driver.’ Read: plan ahead, or you’ll be stuck sitting in the dark.
Though the English isn’t perfect, ‘It is suggested that tourists ask for permission when filming local citizen, as human being do not tend to like to feel like animals being photographed on a safari,’ the advice is sound for travellers anywhere.
Notably absent in the phrasebook: asking a local out on a date, ordering a movie ticket and calling a cab. Sadly, the phrasebook doesn’t come with audio, so one must just take a stab at ‘oenjjogeuro dosipsio,’ or ‘turn left.’
Healthwise, the app also strongly recommends that your travel medical insurance provides for an airlift to Beijing or beyond in case of health issues.
On spying: ‘…tourists generally are not important enough for North Korea’s intelligence agencies to care about.’ Sorry.
Why on earth would I use an online app in an internet desert? Don’t worry, NorthKoreaTravel.com has an offline version for actual rather than armchair travel.
The app also handles big picture issues, giving clear-eyed analysis in phone-friendly lengths. It gently acknowledges that the PDRK may still have some kinks to work out. On skiing at the Masik-Ryong Ski Resort, the app warns, ‘Please be aware that the main bunny slope somewhat unhelpfully ends atop a 30 foot cliff.’
Even if North Korea isn’t in your travel plans, the app makes for a great read and the photos are stunning. I know that this is a nation with a serious personality cult disorder, nukes, and people who ate paper while the country exported fresh fruit to Europe. Maybe I’m a sucker, but this app gives me itchy feet.