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.

Visitors since 2009-06-09:
kostenloser Counter
Poker Blog


Robert said...

hi how much was the train trip (the fares) from Moscow to Vladivostok ?

Helmut said...

I didn't travel Moscow - Vladivostok, I travelled first from Moscow to Irkutsk (with stop in Novosibirsk and sidestep to Barnaul), then Irkutsk - Pyongyang.
There are pics of the used train tickets in my travelogue, there you can find out the prices.

1. The 2008 prices are already outdated
2. Prices vary depending on where you buy them (Russian Railway, Slovakian Railway, Travel agency, etc)
3. might be interesting for you. Moscow - Vladivostok can be done for 392 EUR in 2nd class with a train ticket from Slovakia.

Hope that helps!

jpatokal said...

Fascinating story! Please post more details of how you managed to get entry permission for Tumangan.

Helmut said...

We had no official permission from KITC (the North Korean state tourist company) to use this route, according to KITC tourists can't use this route.

But as 두만강 is by default one of three border points listed on any North Korean visa...
So it was kind of an "experiment" and I can't predict whether such an experiment is possible a 2nd time...

Cassandra said...

What a wonderfull experience!
Thank you fot the photoes.
Now my "trip by google heart" is more complete..

Thomas Wetschnig said...

Ein hochinteressanter Reisebericht. Schade dass es nur wenige junge Leute mit Lust auf grosse Abenteuer gibt.

zeroeleven said...


Asian Market Girl said...

3 grand for 22 days... Wow.

asian market girl said...

oh btw its great that you focused on the beauty

north korea article said...

good photos and experience

Manoj Vishwakarma ( said...

Welcome to India, my Friend

Natty said...

Awesome trip! Wish we had been around when you traveled to help you guys record and share it. Embarrassingly we don't have any North Korea trips on yet. If you end up reposting it, I'll give you a free photo book of your trip - theres gotta be some reward for being first! Thanks for sharing and happy future travels.

Jawara Kampung said...

great,...for info

Aan said...

its really great,,, ur blog

Darjole said...

Awesome :)

Anonymous said...

Great Adventure, Blog and Story, thanks so much!

Brunold said...

und da lobe ich mir

wien - meidling <> üjoenyang 222 stunden mit 3 mal umsteigen ;-)

Anonymous said...

toller Bericht!

Christian M. said...

Frm Romania, all respect from tru...

Christian M. said...

Thank you,it's very interesing your trip. From Romania respect

Marrakech tours said...

Fascinating story!

Anonymous said...

gratuliere für die Leistung und danke für die Photos. Zwei Fragen:
- sehen die Nordkoreaner unglücklich aus ?
- was für ein Visum haben Sie bekommen ?

Grüsse aus Spanien (derzeit)


Daniel Wien said...

das finde ich genial.
geile bilder

Royyan said...

Great Adventure, Blog and Story.
Keep Blogging.

Samuel said...

Wow that was an amazing journey you guys made. Much respect for having the guts to go into North Korea like that. I've only been to the DMZ from the south side but would love to make it into the North without a guide. Here's hoping one day I'll make it there.

Anonymous said...

Hi Helmut,

I don't know how I happened upon your blog, but some link happened to lead me here. I was fascinated to read about your truly incredible journey.

As an American, many years ago I decided to move to Graz and took a job. I lived there several years and took several Eurail/Interrail journeys. So I know the magic of rail travel that you mention. I also many times passed through the Wiener Suedbahnhof where your journey started, and I can still hear the chimes and announcements of the OEBB in my head. Reading your travelogue made me feel as if I was right there traveling with you.

In my days living in Graz, I was younger, carefree, and single. I jumped on the rail and rode the train to faraway destinations with no idea what awaited me, and nothing to guide me other than an incomplete and slightly out-of-date Interrail timetable. My most distant and most dangerous destination was Morocco. Many surprises awaited me there, and it was a trip I will never forget. But your "forbidden railway" trip is more exciting still, and is certainly, for me, at the top of the list of daring train adventures that a young man can take.

As an older and married man now, I think I will never again take the same kind of risky rail journeys that I used to. But by reading your blog I could again experience the thrill and mystery of riding trans-continental trains. I could again feel the fear-tinged excitement that accompanies every border crossing and passport check, when one knows that he is out of place or bending some rules. And I could again taste the sweet triumph of getting there, and back, in one piece, having touched and been touched by the previously unknown.

Well done, sir.

William said...

That's one heck of an adventure. Do you think others could attempt it or were you just lucky?

Anonymous said...

William: Elsewhere on the blog, it is stated that apparently the state sponsored North Korean travel agency learned of the unsupervised entry by rail and took steps to prevent a similar entry in the future. If you tried it now you might be denied entry or otherwise get in trouble. And we sometimes hear stories about how North Korea deals with troublemakers.

Unknown said...

This is a cool story and some great photos added to it. My little cousin loves train and was just talking about train rides in Pennsylvania! I think that would be a load of fun.

Haven House said...

Best infrastructure facility i would say in say in world Eurasia...

Anonymous said...

What a wonderfull experience!
Thank you fot the photoes.

Unknown said...

Good photos and good experience...

Unknown said...

Great website, thank you! I'm planning a trip in September 2014

毛澤 said...

Great Adventure, Blog and Story.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Clara said...

This entire post is so interesting! I know I'm about 5 years too late, and I wonder how different it would be now for travelers who would follow your itinerary. Nonetheless, that was such unique experience!

Asrotdotcom said...

thanks for info, its very usefull

Anonymous said...

An excellent and informative travelogue

Anonymous said...

Try the Indian railways and you can have complete freedom and and awesome journey will await you

Anonymous said...

YouTube video doesn't seem to work. Can you fix please?

Helmut said...

I just checked, the video at works without any problems here.