Saturday, March 9, 2013

36 hours in North Korea without a guide...

Our train trip via Russia to North Korea - using an officially closed for foreigners route inside the "Hermit Kingdom"....


A 26min film about the trip - with photos, videos and music:

kmz-file with our route for GoogleEarth: Open this file with GoogleEarth and you see the whole route from Vienna to Pyongyang and placemarks (with information about time and total distance from Vienna) at places to which I refer in the travelogue. Also most of our photos from the trip inside North Korea are now positioned on GoogleEarth, so you can see the exact position:


In september 2008 a friend of mine and I made a trip to the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, better known as North Korea.

Not only that North Korea is quite an unusual touristic destination, the route to North Korea was even more unusual – I travelled the whole way from Vienna (Austria) to Pyongyang by train via Slovakia, Ukraine and Russia (my friend, he is from Switzerland, only joined me in Irkutsk). And we used a route into North Korea, which is said to be impossible for tourists:
We entered North Korea from Russia via the border at Hasan/Tumangan, whereas usually tourists can only use the railway line from the Chinese-Korean border at Dandong/Sinuiju to Pyongyang.
This route was open for tourist traffic only untill about 1994. It's likely that we were the first tourists who travelled this line since then.

Our trip was an experiment, we just wanted to try this route. Long planning and debates whether we should really try it or not preceeded the trip.

The state North Korean tourist company KITC did not know in advance about our route. And we did not know what would really happen to us after arrival at Tumangan.

But finally everything went well.

The highlights:

  • We went 860 km by train across whole North Korea, from the most North-Eastern point till Pyongyang.
  • We passed through regions, which are usually not accessible for tourists.
  • We spent about 36 hours on North Korean territory without a guide.
  • We walked around freely at Tumangan station, North Korean border station to Russia

The train ticket to Pyongyang via Tumangan:

If you're interested in the whole story, then read our detailed travelogue....



2008-09-07: leaving Vienna, changing trains at Bratislava and Kosice. Taking the Russian sleeping car to Moskva via Ukraine..

2008-09-09: changing trains in Moscow (3,5 hour layover). Train 118 to Novosibirsk via Kazan – Sverdlovsk – Omsk.

2008-09-11: arrival at Novosibirsk and short side trip (train 601) to Barnaul.

2008-09-12: short stay at Barnaul, leaving at lunchtime with train 626 to Novosibirsk. 5 hour layover at Novosibirsk in the evening, then by train 12 via Krasnoyarsk – Taishet to Usole-Sibirskoe.

2008-09-14: arriving at Usole-Sibirskoe (68 km from Irkutsk), visiting friends there. In the evening trip by express-eletrichka to Irkutsk. Meeting with my travel-buddy from Switzerland and his girlfriend (they have together made a big trip before, she didn’t come with us to North Korea, but flew home from Irkutsk).

2008-09-15: leaving Irkutsk on board of the Korean sleeping car attached to the “Rossiya” train twice-monthly (ususally on the 11th and 25th from Moscow and 4 days later from Irkutsk).

2008-09-18: layover at Ussurijsk (the Korean sleeping car is uncoupled from the “Rossiya” in the morning and leaves only in the afternoon with another train to Hasan (Russian border station), where it arrives late night.

2008-09-19: crossing the border between Russia and the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea. Departure from Tumangan in the evening.

2008-09-20: arrival in Pyongyang late evening.

2008-09-21: sightseeing in/around Pyongyang

2008-09-22: sightseeing in/around Pyongyang

2008-09-23: sightseeing in/around Pyongyang

2008-09-24: sightseeing in/around Pyongyang

2008-09-25: leaving Pyongyang with the international train to Beijing. Border crossing at Sinuiju/Dandong.

2008-09-26: arrival at Beijing in the morning. Sightseeing in/around Beijing

2008-09-27: Sightseeing in/around Beijing

2008-09-28: Sightseeing in/around Beijing

2008-09-29: Flying home to Vienna/Zurich via Dusseldorf.



Korean train Moscow - Pyongyang:

Tumangan, North Korean border station to Russia:

Inside North Korea:

Typical station in North Korea - the Great Leader is everywhere:

 DPRK North Korea Trip Nordkorea Reise Tumangan DVRK travel agency visa

Our travelogue - click here


The "Man at Seat 61" has some useful informations for organizing trips to North Korea by train:
has good information about trips to the DPRK and travel agencies, which can organize such trips.
Now there is also a travel agency, which can even organize Europe - Pyongyang train trips (but not the route we took). Also I recently found out that theoretically there is a possibility to travel to Rajin via Tumangan legally (but not to Pyongyang).
Click here for more information.

BTW, also US-citizen are accepted as tourists, but conditions for them (as well as for Israeli and Japanese citizen) are more restricted (trips only possible during certain periods, trip duration limited, departure/arrival only by plane, etc.).

I definitely recommend a trip to the DPRK. It is not cheap, but it is an experience you never forget as you will see a beautiful landscape and a society totally different from ours.

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