North Korea is a very strange land. It is probably the closest approximation of Orwell's '1984' any country ever managed to achieve.
North Korea has been completely closed to the outside world for many years. As a country North Korea doesn't have friends to speak of. The relationship with China is as good as it gets in terms of North Korea's diplomatic achievements. And that isn't saying much as China is getting increasingly impatient with Pyong Yang's constant demands for more and more support. North Korea is the generally recognised pain in the neck of the far east predominantly because they are believed to have some nuclear weapons. Ironically in 1997 the US, South Korea and Japan signed an agreement to help North Korea build its nuclear power plants! North Korea seems to play the clever political game of blackmailing its neighbours into subsidising their doctrine based economy further. North Korea knows that its neighbouring countries just want to be left in peace and North Korea plays that card pretty well. Despite their less than adequate relationships with Japan and South Korea both countries are believed to have subsidised North Korea with over $1 bilion USD last year alone.
Kim Jong Il who currently presides the Party in North Korea seems to be just as conservative as his deceased father the Great Leader Kim Il Sung who passed away in 1994. The unique doctrine that North Korea is religious about is the 'Juche idea'. Juche means 'self reliance' which indeed describes the country's foreign policy quite accurately. When I said that Koreans were religious about Juche I meant what I said. Religion as such is banned in North Korea. The only belief that the state permits is Juche. The idea of Juche and its implementor Kim Il Sung who was also the first Great Leader of the communist Korea are glorified to a god-like status in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. In fact Kim Il Sung's death in 1994 was no impediment to making him the 'eternal president' of North Korea, the title he will hold forever or at least as long as North Korea keeps on going. Throughout the country there are special places where citizens can (read: have to) pay their respect to the Great Leader and Juche. Generally speaking North Korea is as close to an Orwellian state as humanely possible. Citizen's rights of free speech are non existent even traveling from one place to another within North Korea is not possible without a special permit issued by the state. The state controls everything and everyone including all industries, media and press and education is highly influenced by the doctrine of you guessed it, Juche. Juche ideology is for all practical purposes none other than a sophistry to theorise the idea of personality cult of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong Il.
Yet, knowing all of the above I still want to visit North Korea. I think it is the one in a lifetime opportunity to learn about the evils of state control and how a government can gravitate towards total control and domination of its citizens given the right circumstances and consistent policy.
Pyong Yang the capital of North Korea is however, one of the most amazing and unusual places on earth. Unlike most other communist cities which haven't seen proper urban maintenance since the end of the fifties Pyong Yang is pretty much spotless. The city has been designed and built as a great showcase for the Juche ideology and a place where the aparatus would enjoy living. Actually if you live in North Korea you have to be well connected to be able to move to Pyong Yang. At one point in time the old, the disabled and pregnant women were all banned from living in Pyong Yang. Still, Pyong Yang is one of the finest accomplishement of modern urban planning. As exemplified here and here and on this picture there are even some architectural gems in Pyong Yang not to mention the overall skyline of the city which is very impressive at night.
Visiting North Korea is no mean feat. Actually if you hold a United States or a South Korean passport you can forget about it right away. They simply won't let you in. However, for everyone else there is at least one travel agency that can organise the trip. I won't give their name to avoid accusations of generating free advertising. If you're interested you'll easily find them on the net. Before obtaining the visa your journey has to be planned upfront and can only include selected regions that tourists are allowed to visit. Surprisingly enough the Demilitarised Zone is one of such places. When you go to North Korea a government appointed guide will be with you all the time to the point of getting a hotel room right next to yours. Lack of privacy you say? Hey, you're in North Korea man, don't expect even the slightest bit of privacy while you're there. I believe that to be a part of the experience. Sort of like a free extra in a normal holiday package!
My only reservation now is the fact that going to North Korea will mean subsidising this unbelievably oppressive state somewhat further and most likely putting a few extra dollars into Kim Jong Il's coffers. North Korea is not a holidaymaker's destination. It's a traveller's destination. It is certainly not something for your average fun in the sun loving suburban Joe with one point six kids and a mid management job. But I think it could well be one of the most incredible adventures one can encounter on this planet. A journey of a lifetime.