Democratic People's Republic of Korea / DPRK / Korea (north)

Discussion in 'Trip Reports and Trip Photos' started by Chicken, Nov 17, 2018.

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  1. Chicken

    Chicken Active Member

    May 9, 2006
    776
    347
    Sydney
    #1 Chicken, Nov 17, 2018
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2018
    This trip report was written retrospectively (there was no internet available in Korea).

    It is DPRK or Korea, not North Korea. Just Korea. The other bit is called south Korea.

    Itinerary

    2018-10-25 SQ232 SYD SIN
    2018-10-26 SQ806 SIN PEK
    2018-10-27 JS152 PEK FNJ (Pyongyang International Airport, via Air Koryo)
    2018-11-01 train 51 Pyongyang to Beijing
    2018-11-04 KA901 PEK HKG
    04 and 05 in Macau
    06 and 07 in Hong Kong
    2018-11-07 CX312 HKG PEK
    2018-11-08 SQ801 PEK SIN
    2018-11-08 SQ288 SIN SYD

    Business class all the way (except the Cathay Pacific and Dragonair in economy), including on the DPRK flag carrier Air Koryo (yes, “business” class in a socialist country).

    My time in Korea would be arranged by a Tasmanian (who told us he doesn’t like Melbourne?!) trading under Uri Tour. The time in Korea itinerary is called “The DPRK Classic - 5 Nights”, and the actual tour operator (driving us around feeding us) would be operated by Pyongyang Koryo International Travel Company.

    Spoiler / executive summary :

    The country is opening up quickly, and it is safe, they look after foreigners like VIP (desperate for money). Even a papa with Parkinson's was looked after very well, even found him wheelchair at many places. I would highly recommend people going.

    Notes about this trip report:

    - I would skip a lot of irrelevant / unimportant events, as this is mainly about Korea.
    - I may not strictly follow chronological order (I would note them), as there are a lot of monuments or similar, which most people would be bored, so I would combine them in parts of this trip report.
    - Also, I am someone who would rather immerse in the moment, so there are a lot of photos only available inside my head, as I 'forgot' to take them with a camera, so I would have to explain them in words in this trip report.
     
    • Like Like x 7

  2. Chicken

    Chicken Active Member

    May 9, 2006
    776
    347
    Sydney
    I did not want to end up like Otto Warmbier, and with all the scary stories from the media, I wanted to go in in a safe manner, with a tour company which would behave properly themselves and ensure people in my tour would be of ‘reasonable’ quality.

    I spent weeks reading TripAdvisor > Travel Forum > North Korea. I learnt about the differences between tour companies.

    The tour company which took Otto Warmbier to Korea turned out to have a reputation with people in the tour being ‘loose’. I later on tested the reputation of that tour company with a Korean tour guide who took me from my hotel to Pyongyang train station. The Korean tour guide (a girl in her mid 20s) described visitors from that tour company like people in a “pub”. Korean men has a reputation with drinking, so the word “pub” is not a complement. Not a good thing when you go to Korea.

    There are also suggestions of Chinese tour companies in China, which are cheaper, more frequent. There are also counter suggestions that these tour companies from China are less professional. Well, as we would later see during our 6 days in Korea, that the bad behaviours of most Chinese tourists would be on full display, and we would spend 6 days just trying to stay away from Chinese tour groups we encounter. Professional or not would be the least of my problem if I had gone with them.

    I decided to go with Uri Tours, because they were not being mentioned the most, I ddn’t want to go with a large tour group with 50 people on the tour, and their responses to my e-mail do actually answer my questions, not just scripts. Some old information on web site did give me some concern, but I decided to take my chance.
    So, I contacted Uri Tours to book and arrange payment.
     
    • Informative Informative x 3
  3. kermatu

    kermatu Senior Member

    May 27, 2012
    5,086
    2,687
    Canberra
    Twitter:
    Really interested to read your report. Thanks in advance for sharing your experience.
     
  4. oobi doobi

    oobi doobi Intern

    Jun 15, 2007
    66
    19
    Perth
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    This is one I will be looking forward to. We went there in 2005 when Kim Jong il was running the show.
     
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  5. Chicken

    Chicken Active Member

    May 9, 2006
    776
    347
    Sydney
    After reading the whole web site of the tour company, I decided to fly business class into Pyongyang, then take a 24 hours sleeper train from Pyongyang to Beijing. I e-mail my decision on the above, and my request for single hotel room surcharge, I was giving an invoice, then I paid AUD 800 deposit by bank transfer. Tour company confirmed my plane ticket, requested a copy of my passport, got my visa, and everything is confirmed, it is going to happen!

    There is no visa label for passports, nor would immigration stamp our passports upon entry into Korea. All that we would be issued with, would be a piece of paper as a visa. We would be given this piece of visa paper when we check in for our flight into Pyongyang.

    Now just need to find my own way into Beijing. I have never flown SQ before, so let’s do that, especially they are easy for getting seats.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  6. Sludge321

    Sludge321 Active Member

    May 24, 2015
    533
    660
    PER
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    Wow! I've always toyed with the idea of a trip to North Korea, so will be following this report closely!
     
  7. Chicken

    Chicken Active Member

    May 9, 2006
    776
    347
    Sydney
    It is hard to convince check in area that I should be let in to the business check in queue / desk, when I often turn up in a T shirt and denim shorts. They always keep watching me at the desk, until check in crew could see on the computer that I am really in J.

    Time to go into the lounge for breakfast, after leaving home at 7 AM, battled AM peak standing room only bus, then getting off the train at Mascot in order to transfer to the 420 bus to Sydney airport.

    It would be the SQ lounge. Um, so many people, so full at 10AM, hard to get a seat. Ended up at some high bar stool at the window with no power socket, at a corner.

    Food was basic, I had croissant and egg. There was also rice and dim sim, but I couldn’t down them as I associate them with lunch not breakfast. DSCN1462.JPG DSCN1463.JPG
    Oh, there is a MH on the tarmac. I will always remember the satay I was offered before take off when I flew business class on MH16 to Amsterdam (right after the MH17 was shot down). They were so yum, and they had so much of it, the FA ended up walking up and down the J cabin yelling “Anyone want anymore? We need to finish these to take off!” I had so many of them. :oops: DSCN1464.JPG DSCN1465.JPG
     
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  8. Chicken

    Chicken Active Member

    May 9, 2006
    776
    347
    Sydney
    This is my first time flying Singapore, so let’s check out the business class seat on A380-800

    DSCN1466.JPG

    DSCN1481.JPG
    So many buttons and even make up mirror. Cool!

    DSCN1467.JPG
    Seat pockets everywhere!

    Pay attention to the foot well. You can see that the edge is a landslide in progress. Turned out there is nothing under the padding to hold it, that means my foot would be falling off it for the rest of my flight.

    DSCN1489.JPG
    You can see how the foot well is right at the edge of my airspace. What this means, is I would be sleeping 45 degree in my seat when it is converted into a bed, and my head would be stuck at the corner. On top of this, the foot well was also a landslide which lasted 8 hours per above photo.

    This seat is really really disappointing, my first trip on SQ.

    I think I much prefer herringbone
     
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  9. Chicken

    Chicken Active Member

    May 9, 2006
    776
    347
    Sydney
    What's for lunch?

    Tomato and mozzarella with salmon gravlax
    Mesclun, capers and lemon vinaigrette

    Seared beef fillet in red wine sauce < by Matt Moran of Aria Sydney
    With shallot tarte tartin, carrot, crème fraiche and leaf spinach

    Thai style stir fried pork noodle
    Served with crushed peanuts and lemon wedge

    Crumbed chicken thigh with dutch carrots
    With pickled tomatoes and parmesan cheese

    Braised lamb rendang
    Sambal goreng and coconut rice

    Mint chip swirl ice cream
    Raspberry bavarois cake
    Cheese
    Fruit
    Praline

    What should I get? All right ...

    DSCN1484.JPG

    Salmon

    DSCN1485.JPG

    Rendang Shaun the sheep

    DSCN1487.JPG

    raspberry cake

    out of everything, the salmon and raspberry cakes were the best.

    Then sleep time.

    2 hours before landing is time for food again ......
    DSCN1488.JPG
     
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  10. Chicken

    Chicken Active Member

    May 9, 2006
    776
    347
    Sydney
    #10 Chicken, Nov 21, 2018
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2018
    I would spend overnight at a friend's place.

    Saw this notice on the MRT : "Bag on the floor, makes space for more" . I don't think Asians ever put bags on the floor, floor is dirty!
    :eek:
    :D

    20181026_125316.jpg

    My friend would buy me Hainanese chicken rice that night, from Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice (very famous apparently and it was indeed very good, very soft chicken)

    We would also go to 1 Altitude after having chicken rice. At SGD $45 admission after 9PM with 2 drinks included is not cheap, and the queue for drinks took forever. It was rubbish on that front; but you go there for the view, not for the drinks. Also, if you want to pick up a Deutsche guy, this is the spot. :D There are a lot of Germans here in Singapore.
     
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  11. Chicken

    Chicken Active Member

    May 9, 2006
    776
    347
    Sydney
    Next day is to get back on the plane, from SIN to PEK, on a 777-300Er

    1.JPG
    2.JPG
    3.JPG

    I feel this seat has a lot more usable space than the A380.
    4.JPG

    5.JPG

    That next to the screen is actually a make up mirror, with in built light!
    6.JPG

    This foot well is a lot wider, I did not have to be so 45 degree | \ | unlike the last flight. Also, there is plastic under the padding, so the foot well was not a landslide.

    I like this seat much better; but not as much as herringbone I don't think.
     
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  12. dxwell

    dxwell Member

    Jul 7, 2016
    153
    137
    BNE
    Enjoying reading the TR, but cargo pants in J?
     
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  13. Chicken

    Chicken Active Member

    May 9, 2006
    776
    347
    Sydney
    Haha, yep.

    Well, I have a reason for this departing from Singapore: I can't deal with heat. Going to Singapore is like going into an steam oven, and air conditioning is generally not that full on in Singapore, especially on the MRT.
     
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  14. dxwell

    dxwell Member

    Jul 7, 2016
    153
    137
    BNE
    Travelling in J, you would have access to the SilverKris lounge in Changi. I always shower (great showers and two attendants in close proximity) and then change into appropriate travelling clothes.
     
  15. Chicken

    Chicken Active Member

    May 9, 2006
    776
    347
    Sydney
    SIN > PEK is not a long flight, so they decided to either:
    - eat after take off, then sleep until landing;
    - sleep, then wake up 2 hours before landing.
    I decided to eat, then sleep.

    Menu for the day

    Singapore chicken and lamb satay
    With onion cucumber and spicy peanut sauce

    Marinated seafood salad
    With palm heart, fennel, mesclun lettuce and herb vinaigrette

    Warm salad nicoise with chicken breast and cashew nuts balsamic dressing

    Bak chor mee
    Egg noodle in pork broth garnished with sliced and minced pork, pork ball, braised mushroom fried pork lard and dried sole served with sliced red chilli

    Roasted leg of lamb
    With sautéed vegetables, boulangere potato and rosemary garlic gravy

    Movenpick choco ice cream
    Cheese

    DSCN1501.JPG
    This was really good, especially I really liked the texture of the scallops. Not really into the sauce personally, not my thing. How they served it with garlic bread was interesting and good: nice with the seafood, and comfort food with garlic bread. I like this combination.

    DSCN1502.JPG

    This was impressive. It was not boiling hot, but still good.

    I got some sleep after these. It was a good idea that I did get some sleep, because it would be a crappy night when we land at 23:00 into Beijing.
     
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  16. Chicken

    Chicken Active Member

    May 9, 2006
    776
    347
    Sydney
    We landed early into PEK, slightly before 23:00. I needed to apply for 144 hours visa free entry.

    I was the only person at the 144 hours visa application desk, and there was only 1 officer at the desk. She was playing with her phone while I completed immigration card. I thought that it would be a quick process. It was, until I got my 144 hours visa, then arrived at the actual immigration control.

    It was clear that immigration control was training new immigration officers, except that it looked like every single desk was being buddied by an also relatively new staff, that is, blind leading the blind. There would be a lot of head scratching, a lot of blank stares into people’s passports. I looked at the facial expressions of the immigration officers and thought “crap, I ain’t gonna be leaving here anytime soon.”

    I ended up clearing immigration and customs at 00:00. Got to taxi rank, and the sign states estimate wait time was 120 minutes. The queue was so long I could not even see the taxis. This could not get any better.

    Got into the taxi, told driver Holiday Inn Beijing Airport Zone with street address, he didn’t know where that was, so he put it into his phone for GPS navigation. He realized the distance, and said
    “I didn’t know you only want to do such short distance. I drove 30+ km to the airport empty, and all I got is you.”
    “How long is the distance to my hotel?”
    “13 km, like 15 minutes”
    I then just said nothing to avoid further discussion.
    Arrived at the hotel 01:15, meter stopped at CNY 47.
    “Please give me some extra money if you can.”
    Arriving late, and having no concept of what is the value of CNY, I said:
    “Make it 50”
    “Gee, 3 bucks, thanks a lot”

    The hotel was good, no problem with smell of cigarette or anything like that. Asked reception to confirm that they got my e-mail to book me a shuttle bus for the next morning back to airport. Front desk could not find my booking, but she said she would book it for me again. Thank god all the drama finally ended. Or so I thought.

    I booked the shuttle bus for 08:30 to go back to the airport. Got down to front desk at 08:25. Yep, there was no booking for my shuttle bus. The staff called the bus with her phone, then told me that the bus driver is already on the way to the airport. She found me a taxi, and gave cash to the taxi driver, that the ride would be complementary.

    Yep, my first time to China, and the whole experience, from landing to take off, is just one big mess.
     
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  17. Chicken

    Chicken Active Member

    May 9, 2006
    776
    347
    Sydney
    I arrived at the airport just after 9AM, and the tour group would be meeting at 10:30, with the flight being 13:05, it’s better to get food first, in case it would be messy later on.

    Is it wise to get coffee in China? Oh yes, cat poop coffee.

    20181027_095601.jpg
     
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  18. Chicken

    Chicken Active Member

    May 9, 2006
    776
    347
    Sydney
    Found my Australian tour organiser. He gave a quick explanation on what was to happen for the following 1 hour (which was actually standard check in clear immigration etc), and also to stress important points after landing in Korea, like:

    Take as many photos as we like, but don’t be sneaky, make it obvious for the tour guides, so the tour guides could help check our photos when there is a need.

    Ask questions, but don’t argue if we don’t get the answer we want. There is no point.

    There would be:
    Sydneysider X 3 (including myself)
    Kiwi X 1
    Singapore X 4 = papa + mama + daughters x 2
    UK X 1
    USA X 1
    Thai X 1

    Now, let’s just go and clear Chinese security first, before anything else.
     
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  19. Saltywings

    Saltywings Member

    Feb 19, 2018
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    Given China, there's a 98% (citation needed) chance of it being fake hahahaha, but props for willing to try it.

    Following your TR with interest.
     
  20. kermatu

    kermatu Senior Member

    May 27, 2012
    5,086
    2,687
    Canberra
    Twitter:
    Do you know how much cash she gave, out of interest?
     
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