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The valley of stone pagodas and Buddha sculptures that greets you at Unjusa Temple in Hwasun, Jeollnam-do.
Hello Again Everyone!!
Unjusa Temple was first founded in 827 by the monk Doseon. Unjusa Temple has one of the more unique feels to it with some 21 stone pagodas and 94 stone Buddha sculptures. According to legend, and the theory of geomancy, the Korean peninsula was thought to be unbalanced because there are fewer mountains on the west coast than there are on the east. So it was thought that the west side of the peninsula would go under water from the sheer weight of the east coast mountains. To prevent this disaster from taking place, Doseon called stone masons down from heaven to build a thousand Buddha statues and pagodas at Unjusa Temple. However, before the very last Buddha statue could be completed, the cock crowed in the morning, which recalled all of the stonemasons to heaven. As a result, two statues were left lying unfinished on the ground. These two unfinished statues, which you can see at the top of a neighbouring mountain, are called Wabul in Korea, or the Stone Statues of the Lying Buddha. In more practical terms, Unjunsa Temple was probably created as a school for stonemasons; but the creation story seems so much more dramatic in style.
You first approach the Unjusa Temple grounds through the rather wide two pillared Iljumun Gate. A couple hundred metres up the road and you’ll pass by a collection of stone Buddhas to your left in an open field. Continue going straight, and you’ll finally come to an opening where the bulk of the temple’s pagodas are situated. The first to greet you is the nine-story stone pagoda that is National Treasure #796. Just behind this simplistically designed pagoda is a collection of smashed stone Buddha bodies and heads. To the far right, and at the base of the mountain, is another collection of intact Buddhas. Hovering over top like a sentry is five-tier stone pagoda. Just beyond this area are a pair of seven-story pagodas. They’re simply known as Chilcheung Seoktap (or Seven Story Stone Pagoda). Just behind these two pagodas is a row of stone Buddha sculptures. As I said, this place is loaded with stone masonry. Perhaps the two most unique stone structures lie behind this row of stone Buddha sculptures. The first is the large sized Hwasun Stone Shrine. I have yet to see anything like this in Korea. Originally, it was constructed as an outdoor shrine, which is made apparent by the two simple Buddha images housed inside the stone shrine. It’s believed to date back to the Goryeo Dynasty, and it’s National Treasure #797. It’s only one of two in Korea. Just behind this shrine is the Hwasun Unjusa Multi-Stored Pagoda. The uniqueness of this pagoda is its circular design. Most Korean pagodas, especially from the Goryeo Dynasty, are square or rectangular in shape. But this 5.8 metre tall pagoda bucks that trend. Also, it’s National Treasure #798. Most of the pagodas and sculptures in this valley date back to the Goryeo or early Unified-Silla period in Korean History.
The actual temple complex lies at the end of the valley. You pass through a pavilion with some fierce guardians adorning its doors to gain entry to the temple courtyard. Straight ahead lays yet another stone pagoda that is slightly damaged that also dates back to the Goryeo Dynasty. As for the main hall itself, there are various images of the Buddha adorning the exterior walls to the main hall. Inside, and lining the walls, are various images of a white-clad Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Sitting all alone on a stone base is a Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). Just to the right of the main hall is the Myeongbu-jeon. The exterior walls are decorated with various images of the Underworld. Inside this hall is a golden-haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Underworld). He’s joined by smaller sized figurines of himself on all sides.
Just behind the main hall, and slightly up the hill, you’ll come to two halls. The first one to the left is the Sanshin-gak, which houses a red painting of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). Just to the right is a newly constructed hall that houses one of the better kept stone sculptures of the Buddha. Just behind these halls is another row of Buddha sculptures, including a near faceless seated image of the Buddha. It’s also in this area that you get a great view of the pagodas, sculptures and halls in the valley below.
The final area you can explore, and to the left of the valley that you first entered, is a neighbouring mountain that stands at a reasonable 200 metres in height. You know you’re getting closer to the top of this mountain when you see a pair of seven-story pagodas, as well as Buddha sculptures just below them. On top of this mountain lies the pair of 12 metre long stone sculptures of the Buddha from the creation myth story. This type of image is one of only two in all of Korea. Well preserved, you can get a good look at them from the observation deck.
Admission to the temple is 2,500 won.
HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Unjusa Temple, you’ll first need to get to Gwangcheon Bus Terminal. Probably the easiest way to do this is from the Gwangju Bus Terminal. From the Gwangcheon Bus Terminal, you’ll need to take city bus #318, which takes about an hour and twenty minutes to get to the temple. You can take this bus or city bus #218, which takes about an hour and thirty minutes. Just be sure, with either one, that the bus has an Unjusa Temple sign on it; either that or simply ask the bus driver, “Unjusa?”
OVERALL RATING: 9/10. There is just so much to see at Unjusa Temple. Of the initial 1,000 pagodas and 1,000 Buddhist sculptures that were purportedly constructed through the ages, a selection of a 115 still remain. Amazingly, these historic artifacts can be found almost everywhere at the temple and in the least likely of places. The highlights to this temple, besides the sheer volume of stone masonry, are the 12 metre long images of Buddhas on top of the mountain, the rounded pagoda, as well as the massive outdoor stone shrine. If you don’t enjoy yourself at this temple, you simply don’t enjoy Korean temples.
The Iljumun Gate that first greets you at Unjusa Temple.
The field of pagodas at Unjusa Temple.
Just one of the broken statues dedicated to the Buddha.
A closer look at the nine-tier pagoda that’s designated National Treasure #796.
Just one of the randomly placed pagodas on the neighbouring hillside.
Some more of the stone monuments at Unjusa Temple.
A closer look at an intact Buddha statue.
The Chilcheung Seoktap (or Seven Story Stone Pagoda).
The extremely unique Hwasun Stone Shrine. It’s believed to date back to the Goryeo Dynasty, and it’s National Treasure #797.
A look inside one of the two openings of the Hwasun Stone Shrine.
The front facade that welcomes you to the temple courtyard.
One of the temple’s guardians that adorns the front gate.
A look at the main hall at Unjunsa Temple.
A look inside the main hall. Sitting all alone on the altar is a large sized statue of Seokgamoni-bul. The interior is lined with paintings of a white-clad Gwanseeum-bosal.
To the right of the main hall is the Myeongbu-jeon.
A look inside the Myeongbu-jeon at all of the statues of Jijang-bosal.
The view behind the main hall at two shrine halls and an atypical pagoda.
The painting of Sanshin inside the Sanshin-gak.
And inside the hall to the right of the Sanshin-gak is this well preserved relief of the Buddha.
A near faceless statue of the seated Buddha behind the Sanshin-gak.
The view of the temple courtyard and the valley of statues and pagodas.
To the left of the temple grounds lies a 200 metre tall mountain. Like the rest of the temple grounds, it’s dotted with pagodas and images of the Buddha.
At the top of the mountain is this image of the Buddha that measures 12 metres in length.
The artistry that greets you along the descent.
There will be a significant number of people who will chalk it down to prejudice or a lack of understanding, and to be fair in some people, and with some issues, this may very well be the case. However, the story is not a simple as that. In my opinion, there are obvious traits about Korean culture that stand-out and that guide us to cultural conclusions, and these are very often the right ones. Let's go through a few and I will highlight the simplified cultural explanation (SCE) and see if there is any truth to it:
It is pretty undeniable that there is a bit of an obsession with plastic surgery in Korea, but why is that?
SCE: Koreans want to change their appearance to look more White Western.
Now, of course, this is not entirely true; Koreans have many home-grown reasons for valuing things, like pale skin, for example, and appearance is obviously important to many people regardless of what they are from. But the coincidence between two of the more popular surgeries (nose and eye-lid) and a White Western appearance cannot be over-looked, as well as the admiration for White models. I notice peculiar things like White Western models plastered over posters for all manner of things and I find it hard to believe that this would happen in, say, England in reverse with lots of Asian models, even though England is more culturally diverse.
My wife also believes that many Korean women, in particular, admire a White Western look and this is one of the reasons why some of them choose to have plastic surgery, and she is always right.
My Conclusion: Obviously, high rates of plastic surgery in Korea are not solely or even mainly motivated by a longing for a White Western look, but I believe it is a factor. Korean people look just fine to me (I married one!), they need not admire a White Western look, but many surely do.
I will be brief because I have covered this at some length before, here, here, and here! This subject has animated me because hierarchical respect culture, in my opinion, is the worst aspect of Korean culture and is the part of the culture I have seen cause a lot of hardship, stress, and suffering on Korean people and at times I think can be dangerous.
SCE: A suspicion of the involvement of Korean hierarchical respect culture in miscommunication in the cockpit is justified as a possible explanation for crashes of Korean airliners.
The blanket assertion that Korean culture is the sole cause for crashes is wrong. And certainty in saying it is the cause before evidence is in, is also wrong. However, there is some history regarding Korean airline crashes and odd breakdowns in communication and pilot error. There is also the experience many people have of living in Korea and dealing with the extreme discomfort of talking to and questioning superiors and elders that most Koreans have (people in all countries experience this, but I believe that in Korea it is magnified). My wife once recanted a tale of how this actually jeopardised a patient life on the operating table when she was a nurse and often speaks of a strong dislike for the rigidity of Korean respect culture in all relationships, but especially working relationships.
My Conclusion: The everyday behaviour of Koreans, the logic of the hierarchical etiquette system, and previous history mean that it is justified to hypothesise/suspect Korean cultural involvement in plane crashes, when no clear mechanical fault is easily identifiable. This theorising can also rightly be attributed to Korean airlines, even though it is not often used as an explanation for crashes of airliners from other nations given the logic, history, and evidence involved.
Nationalism and Japan
SCE: Koreans are so nationalistic and bitter they are overly petty and ridiculous about a range of issues involving Japan.
I am mostly on Korea's side when it comes to issues with Japan. Many in the pro-Japanese camp will say they have apologised again and again, but Korea just doesn't take notice and they want Japan to beg and grovel. I happen to think, however, that the Japanese government are regularly insincere with their apologies and don't back apologies up with any action, as well as constant denials of obvious wrongdoings in the past. The "Comfort Women' issue is a perfect example of this. And now the Japanese are even thinking of taking back an old apology, they are clearly in the wrong and Koreans are right to be upset about their handling of the 'Comfort Women' situation.
The problem is, though, many Koreans appear to enjoy shooting themselves in the foot and alienating possible supporters by going over the top in their hatred of Japan and by constantly reminding everyone of why they are upset. Dokdo is a great example; the foreign community are just tired of hearing about it and we don't really care. I personally think that, as a gesture of goodwill for past misdeeds, the Japanese government could be gracious and hand it over to the Koreans, I am on the Korean's side in this.
What turns me off, however, is the propaganda about Dokdo, especially to the young. I once saw a kids swimming tube with "Dokdo is our land" written all over it in a supermarket (I thought this was distasteful to say the least) and I know it is taught to kids in school. Nationalistic passions and hatred are stirred-up in the young about the subject and I find this must be unhelpful in building better ties with Japan in the future and coming to an amicable agreement. Teach Kids about history, sure, but there is no need to bring a political issue of land ownership into the minds of often young children.
My Conclusion: Yes, the Japanese are essentially to blame, are quite snidy, and they seem to do their best to rile South Korea, but by continually stirring-up hatred of the Japanese (particularly in the young) and by refusing to take any moral high-ground and do any forgiving whatsoever, it is all a god-awful mess of sometimes quite daft and petty nationalism, the kind no one around the world wants to be seen choosing sides on or getting involved in.
Nationalism and Sport
|Matt May http://www.flickr.com/photos/35237094679@N01/4357288771/|
SCE: Koreans are sore losers in the international sports arena and are prone to influencing officials or being unfair if they see a chance they can win.
One should be careful not to discriminate to all individuals when using cultural explanations, and this is a perfect example. Kim Yun Ah (legend), for instance, was a class apart and incredibly gracious in accepting her silver medal in the Sochi Olympics, despite what many thought was a dubious and unjust judgement. The public reaction, however, although admittedly better than in the past, was still rather obsessive. An estimated 90% of the 1.5 million signatures on change.org, (now about 2 million), for example came from Koreans. When you think of all the great injustices of the world that languish behind a figure skating decision, it is pretty telling of an inability to move on and maybe taking a sporting event a fraction too seriously. Also at Sochi, there were online threats to a British skater who mistakenly took out a Korean medal favourite in the speed skating. I couldn't imagine the same situation occurring with the fans of most other countries.
On the impartiality side of things, it has to be noted that one of the worst examples of cheating in any games by a host nation was in Seoul in 1988 (explained in last week's post). In 2002 also, there were question marks raised about Korea's route to a surprise semi-final. So the last two major international sporting events in Korea = two major sporting controversies and accusations of unfair officiating, one blatant and one slightly more arguable. It doesn't mean anything like that will definitely happen in Pyeongchang in 2018, but I think some suspicion is justified when you combine past history, the still high level of nationalism in Korea, and the overreaction generally to international sporting failures and the over-importance of sporting success.
My Conclusion: Korea as a nation do appear a little preoccupied with proving themselves in the sporting arena and this means they will undoubtedly come under the spotlight when they host sporting events. Only a clean Pyeongchang in 2018 will allay suspicions and Korea have a chance to prove the doubters wrong in 4 years time.
Koreans in the Way
SCE: Koreans have no spatial awareness and no manners and that is why they bump into others and get in our way.
Personal space manners, I believe, are a manifestation of cultures based around the individual, like those in Western countries. As a visitor to Korea, one must accept that many Koreans will not place such a high regard on personal space because of this. Manners are also different from place to place; there are probably many examples of Korean people thinking Westerners are very bad mannered too.
That said, there are times when giving personal space is practically important and when it is not done can cause major problems and unfairness. I see driving in Korea as an example of this and queuing also. An acceptance of the culture does not mean that we aren't sometimes majorly inconvenienced and even put in danger by such a lack of spatial etiquette.
To give a couple of anecdotes; I have been playing squash for about 20 years or so and have played thousands of games without a major incident. In 4 years of living in Korea, and playing only a handful of matches in that time, I managed to get one of my teeth knocked-out by a Korean player's wild dangerous swing (a high standard player who should have known better). I also had a friend from orientation who was knocked down on a bus by a pushy Ahjuma and briefly lost consciousness because he fell so hard he hit his head (he's quite a big guy too, it must have taken some shove). This sort of thing appears to be a common foreigner gripe in Korea.
Accidents can happen anywhere, but is it just a coincidence these happened in Korea?
My Conclusion: The accusation of a lack of spatial awareness maybe over-simplified and insulting, but there probably does need to be some general improvement in matters regarding personal space manners and awareness in some of the Korean population for reasons of safety, practicality, and fairness.
These are examples of generalised conclusions and opinions about groups of people, i.e. Korean people. I personally don't think there is anything wrong with this and I would be perfectly open to accepting any of the many negative aspects of British culture also and their explanatory power in how many British people act. But one must be careful not to discriminate and draw conclusions about every person you meet. It is unfair, immoral, and stupid for example, to judge the next Korean person you meet who has had plastic surgery as wanting to look like a White Westerner.
People are complex and they are individuals and must be treated as such, everyone should have equal value and equal rights. However, culture can and does affect individual's behaviour and real patterns can be observed and conclusions drawn in certain situations. It is popular to deny that this is the case and sometimes to insinuate racism against people who think it (but only when conclusions are drawn about non-Western cultures in my experience), but just because it's popular doesn't make it true.
I'm posting saturday's post late because I was out having fun lol....
It was quite a long saturday, it started with a mid afternoon interview for a Job, I was supposed to prepare a 10 minute English class for kindergarteners, I got there at 2pm and it was like a massive event, there were 8 Korean teachers and we were 2 Foreign teachers, the Interviewer went on for about an hour explain god knows who in Korean, making jokes, asking questions and jus explaining things... then he just pointed at me and told me I would start with my presentation, by now I was shaking because the other teachers had Way too many cool materials, I had 2 lousy songs, cards and colorful tiny letters for some games, so, I had to win them over with my charm and brain -ha!!!!- instead of start a Fake class, I explained how will I do the class, how I was going to interact with the kids and win them over, I sang a little bit of my 2 songs and when I was done, the 2nd teacher -korean- took over, she got up, removed her jacket and was wearing a bright yellow dress with a speaker and her cute nametag, she was bright, loud, could dance and sing...god, by now I realized how bad I did it... then the other foreigner took her turn and it was as bad as mine lol, we listened to the rest of the Korean teachers who by the way, were equaly nervous, shaking and forgetting things but always being bright and positive...
The interviewer said I did good and had a good kindy teacher face -LOL- but I needed to learn songs and dances and make more face-hand gestures, I agree 100% and by watching the rest of the teachers I got a better Idea of what to do next week when I go back.
We then ate Ice cream and waited some more, it was almost 4 hours after that I was sent home and I was told I would have to go back next week... It's pretty scary, I mean, I know the English is on a very Basic level but entretaining 4-7 year olds is not an easy job... Much less if you are not easy to be all loud and cute all the time, I guess I need to study some Aegyo hahaha.
Finally at 6pm I was ready to go and meet Sally and my sister for dinner, we are a Trio of BBQ lovers, we go to BBQ Buffets and now we know not to eat rice or Jjeon or lots of water because we'll get full faster, we just grill and eat meat with some veggies lol, we were there for a bit over 2 hours...Ahn -Sally's friend- joined us and we had a great time pigging out on meat, we even finished the lil gas tank on the portable stove -we are not even sorry-, we then were going to get Ice cream cuz Ahn wanted to go see the Ice cream boy who according to him is supper hot, except he is like 19 and not Hot but just Cute in a "he is my lil bro" kind of way, by then we had decided to hit the Karaoke close to home because it was only 10,000Won an hour, we bid goodbye to Ahn and took the subway to Hoegi station, right in front there's an Avenue L mall, 2nd floor and you'll find the classiest Karaoke ever, the price is now 12,000 but still is super cheap -most places go from 20-30,000- we only payed for an hour but depending on your score you can get extra time, we got 10 more minutes, we rocked 2NE1, Bigbang, Snoop Dog, Limp Bizkit, M2M, Spice Girls and some Pitbull lol, we then walked home but kept signing on the way. I bet people thought we were drunk but NO, we didn't drink ANY alcohol tonight, I had a great time with those 2, I just with Sally was a bit older and knew older songs because we finished our Karaoke session with Justin Bieber's BABY..... OMG ~~ LOL.
Thank you girls for such an amazing night, and well...see you tomorrow for 2NE1's afterparty!!!!!
Learn two new idioms - "이해 가다" and "이해 안 가다."
"Understanding goes" and "understanding doesn't go?" Something like that, sure.
You can check out the video right here.
Also if you haven't done so already, check out my Kickstarter project which is still running. I'm creating a book to learn the Korean language that's easy to use, in-depth, and fun! We've passed our first stretch goal of $5,000 in backing, and are approaching the next stretch goal of $7,500, which will enable me to afford to add a complete verb conjugation chart as an appendix, including examples of every grammatical form covered in the book, as well as bonus appendixes for Korean learning methods and study tips. Also this will help to create additional practice conversations throughout the book.
You can see my Kickstarter project by clicking on the image below. I'd love if you could share this with your friends as well, because the more we can raise the more I can afford to add into the book.
FOLLOW ME HERE:
SUBSCRIBE BY EMAIL:
I didn't blog yesterday because I stayed home ALL day u_u, I know I'm lame but bleh....
This week was full of weird things, interviews, work, babies, rice, more rice, unexpected calls, spring!, emails, more work and finally more interviews lol.
And its because of an interview that I wont be able to go volunteering tomorrow :(, so, I guess next month will have to be.
Sunday will be a 2NE1 day, hopefully Oppa will come with us to the party^^, monday we are going to Lotte World with Baby Bro!!!!! and thursday we are flying to Osaka!
So, hopefully I'll bring you better posts soon!,forgive my lame posts but I'm not used to blogging everyday.
This just in from the What in the Holy Hell Were You Effin’ Thinking Department. Fingers are pointing at elements of Japan’s right wing for responsibility in vandalizing The Diary of a Young Girl and other books related to Anne Frank.
Yes, you read that right and yes, this is Sweet Pickles & Corn, not The Onion.
Reports say that more than 300 copies of the books have been found at public libraries around Tokyo with pages torn out or slashed. Library officials said the first case was reported a year ago, but that most of the vandalism appears to have taken place this month.
Nothing has been proven, and no one has claimed responsibility, hell, for all I know it could have been the neighbors trying to stir things up, or maybe it was Pat Buchanan making a move in his twilight years, but suspicions are strong that the page-rippers are conservative or rightist elements that have been pushing revisionist views of Japan’s wartime and colonial history.
Asian Studies professor Jeff Kingston, of Temple University’s Tokyo campus, is one of those leaning towards it being the work of the right wing.
“Twenty-first century Japan is in the throes of a culture war led by right-wing reactionaries who feel emboldened under Prime Minister Abe. The vandalism might be a colossal coincidence, coming so close to the uproar over the kamikaze letters — but I doubt it.”
An Abe administration spokesman has condemned the vandalism (that’s not to say that they might not revise their views later) and Tokyo police are investigating.
Aside of the asinine act of destroying books, or the possibility that it was Apple trying to build iBook readership in their continuing tumble against Amazon, one thing is certain: Whoever did it conceived an incredibly stupid plan from a geopolitical angle —regardless whether the intent was to stir dissent or to build support for rising conservative views in Japan. News of the literature lynching has only strengthened Japanese who are fighting to reign in Abe and his ultra-conservative crew.
“The Japanese public has loudly and widely repudiated the vandalism of Anne Frank’s diary. Overwhelmingly, this is seen as a repugnant act contrary to Japan’s norms and values. It’s a signal that core values remain robust despite the era’s culture wars,” Kingston says.
Wow! check it out! Banning “Advanced Learning”
I am not sure if President Park has ever read the Korean constitution.
(1)All citizens shall have an equal right to an education corresponding to their abilities.
(2)All citizens who have children to support shall be responsible at least fort heir elementary
education and other
education as provided by Act.
(3)Compulsory education shall be free of charge.
(4)Independence, professionalism and political impartiality of education and the autonomy of institutions of higher learning shall be guaranteed under the conditions as prescribed by Act.
(5)The State shall promote lifelong education.
(6)Fundamental matters pertaining to the educational system,including school and lifelong education, administration,
finance, and the status of teachers shall be determined by Act.
Why do I even worry about the antics of President Park. If she wants that bill to come into law, it will be immediately annulled by simply invoking the constitution. You cannot fight the private education industry with the LAW, it is not possible unless you change the constitution. Who are her advisers. If she would give me half their salary, I could come up with a far more effective deterrent to excessive spending in private education,without having to resort to bullying tactics. I really wonder what the hell is going on in their minds.
The government’s actions are simply said, not incentive compatible. If they truly want to liberate the parents from exhaustive expenses on education, you don’t resolve it by putting a lot of energy in closing down businesses, you provide an alternative. In this case, quality public education. But Korea doesn’t have the budget for that, that is why individual parents are paying for it. Ergo sum, it’s cheaper to try and break the hagwon industry.
If President Park would be successful in closing down my business, due to all those extreme measures, what will happen? The same that happened with Prohibition and the War on Drugs. It will go underground and it will become a crime. Not only will it become a crime, the costs will go up even more dramatically due to higher risk for the entrepreneurial spirit. I have no problems with regulations that are sensible, it just forces the business to respect basic rights of the individuals and reduces potential abuse. But pushing the law a bit too far will only create more criminals and no real solution to the problem.
What could kill my business outside of this obnoxious attempt? The solutions are obvious, but they require huge amount of willpower from the people and the government on changing the way society in Korea is stuck together.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea: a socialist paradise guided by the hands of the eternal president Kim Il Sung… or an Orwellian state of impoverished people oppressed by the whims of the world’s only communist dynasty.
Well, it might surprise you to know that you don’t have to be an ex US president, a UN dignitary, or even Dennis Rodman to visit the world’s most isolated state. Quite the contrary actually, for just about anyone can on an officially guided tour.
Isn’t it dangerous?
Definitive numbers are hard to come by, but it is believed around 3 ~ 4,000 intrigued Western holidaymakers venture above of the 36th parallel each year, as well as thousands of more Western tourists. As for any danger, who can say? Most horror stories that emanate from North Korea rarely involve tourists, so it’s probably no more hazardous than anywhere else. Obviously, if you plan on dashing across the DMZ or tiptoeing across the Chinese border, then, well, you’ll likely end up in a labour camp for the next 50 years.
The nuclear antics of last year thrust North Korea back into the media limelight, and garnered Kim Jong Un the same cartoon-villain reputation as his father. So any potential plans to visit North Korea will likely be met by desperate pleas from family and friends to reconsider. You’d expect the UK Foreign Office to echo their cries, however their travel advice states “there is currently no immediate increased risk or danger to those living in or travelling to the DPRK.” Though they do add that the situation could change quickly.
So how do we go?
As mentioned earlier, anyone wanting to take in the sites of the workers’ paradise of North Korea has to do so as part of an officially recognised tour group. There are actually quite a few such companies operating out of Beijing, due to the proximity of the North Korean embassy and the fact that China is the only place from where you can enter the country legally.
Two of the most renowned specialists offering tours of the DPRK are Koryo Tours, whose connection with the north stretches all the way back to 1993, and the backpacker centric Young Pioneer Tours. Both offer group / individual excursions in and out of the country pretty much year round. Tours are based around North Korea’s national holidays, city breaks in Pyongyang, the elaborate Arirang games, sacred mountains, and of course gaudy communist architecture (including mandatory trips to the statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il). The cost of each tour depends on it’s length and time of year but are generally between €1,000 ~ €2,000. Again transportation costs depends on the company. American nationals have no choice but to fly into Pyongyang, while other nationalities can either fly or take the train from Beijing.
It seems things are gradually changing in North Korea as this year marks the first time group tours can visit during the freezing winter months. Also many of the restrictions imposed on visitors have been lifted, meaning travellers can now bring their phones, most cameras, and MP3 players inside. Just don’t bring anything from the South!
Viva la Revolucion
The big philosophical question you might want to ponder is whether or not the money you spend inside the country will be used to prop up the regime. The country’s record for human rights abuse certainly raises an eyebrow. However, North Korea’s problems run so much deeper than the few hundred Euros your trip will inject into the economy. The people inside have little to no idea of what goes on in the outside, so anyone visiting the DPRK is essentially an ambassador for the rest of the world. Upon your return home not only will you have traveller bragging rights for the rest of your life, but also a rare insight into the world’s most bewildering nation.
A note from the Editor-in-Chimp: I originally wrote this article for Travel Wire Asia. You can read it there too, if you like.