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NORTH KOREA

expedition handbook

DATES: 21 May02 Jun 2018 COST: £3,599 TEAM CLOSES: 23 Mar

This Handbook contains everything you need to know about this epic Secret Compass expedition to North Korea. Read on to discover our ethos and team-centred approach and for the nitty gritty like flight and visa advice, insurance requirements and kit recommendations.

Use the buttons below to ask questions or to apply for this team or, once approved, to secure your spot on this team with a Booking Form and a £400 deposit.

Key Facts

  • Arrive: by 1800 on 21 May into Beijing.
  • Depart: leave Beijing any time from 1500 on 2 June onwards.
  • Insurance: Ensure you have comprehensive cover.
  • Docs: send your flight, insurance and passport copy in.
  • Balance due: 90 days before departure on 21 February 2018.
  • Find FAQ and Testimonials online.

Aim

The physical aim of this epic expedition is to trek North Korea’s wilder National Parks, whose peaks include Mount Myohyang – the Mysterious Fragrant Mountain – and Mount Kumgang. Both have been nominated for UNESCO protection. Myohyang is named after the mystical shapes and inexplicable fragrances found locally and it is deemed a sacred site; local legends call it the home of King Tangun, forefather of the Korean people.

The secondary, cultural aim to this expedition is to visit North Korea’s religious and monumental architecture, its cultural centres in capital Pyongyang and this secretive state’s troubled southern border with South Korea.

Highlights

  • Climb Myohyang’s highest peak: the Mysterious Fragrant Mountain.
  • Explore Kumgang’s dramatic landscapes reaching 1638m.
  • Aim to camp out (a very rare activity) in wild North Korea.
  • Visit capital Pyongyang and its monumental architecture.
  • Visit the Demilitarized Zone on the southern border.

Flights

You need to organise your own international flights. We have a unique partnership with Student Universe (a specialist division of the Flight Centre Travel Group and no, you don’t have to be a student to use them). The dedicated Secret Compass team understand us, our destinations and use global buying power to save you money and offer security along with a 24hour assistance helpline. Fill in a free Flight Quote Request Form or call (UK) 0844 560 9799 for assistance in booking international flights.

It is advised that you book a flexible flight ticket that can be changed for fee or refunded if the expedition dates are changed or if it is cancelled for any reason. You need to be at the team hotel in Beijing by 1800 on the 21 May 2018 and the expedition officially ends after we arrive back into Beijing on 2 June 2018 after 1500.

Insurance

Insurance that provides cover for emergency repatriation in case of a medical emergency is compulsory for all expeditions. You should be aware that many standard insurance policies may not cover you adequately for all aspects of a remote expedition and so we strongly recommend that you purchase a suitably designed insurance policy.

Secret Compass cannot comment on the suitability of your cover so if you are in any doubt please contact your policy provider and ask them to confirm that you are covered to our minimum standard (below).

  • Emergency medical repatriation (to home country) including any associated expenses abroad of at least $500,000.
  • Activities: ensure that any activities carried out on the expedition are included, these could be trekking, horse riding, rafting, MTB etc.
  • Geographical region: check the geographical region you are going to is insured (often the US and Canada or countries such as Afghanistan are not insured).
  • Foreign Ministry advice: check your insurance is not sensitive to any travel warnings issued by your respective foreign ministry. In the UK, many insurers will not insure you when the Foreign Office warns against travel to this area. Foreign Office advice will not necessarily mean we cancel an expedition or do not travel to a particular area. Please check @FCOtravel and Travel Aware.
  • Dates: make sure the period of cover begins at the departure and ends at the return to your home country. Many flights take a day or two and time zones vary. Insurance companies may prejudice claims due to this.
  • Pre-existing medical conditions: disclose any to your insurance company and to Secret Compass.

Prior to travel Secret Compass will require the name of your insurance policy provider, their 24-hour emergency contact number and your policy number. For full information on travel insurance and links to suggested companies, please visit the insurance page on our website.

Visas for North Korea

Visas are required for all travellers to North Korea. Secret Compass will request the relevant information from you and submit your application for processing. (Booked teammates will receive a separate visa advice document in due course and in good time to get organised.) Once approved, your passport will be submitted to the embassy/consulate for the full-page visa sticker. Your passport should be valid for the duration of your visit and have at least one blank page. US citizens can only pick up the visa stamp produced by the North Korean embassy in Beijing.

A representative of the embassy will bring the stamps for the passports to the hotel on 21 May. Other nationalities may choose to collect their visa stamp in Beijing but must inform Secret Compass of this request when submitting visa information – similarly you must collect the visa stamp before the official start of the expedition. Visas remain your responsibility.

Please note: We currently advise citizens of the USA not to travel to North Korea due to restrictions the USA are intending to place on their own citizens from 1 Sept. 2017 – if you are US citizen interested in the trip please check online for up to date information.

Visas for China

The expedition will start and end in Beijing. British nationals and citizens of 51 countries can enter the Beijing city limits visa-free for 72 hours from the airport if they are transiting to a third country. If you are extending your stay or travelling outside of the city, you will require a visa, six months passport validity and 2 blank pages. Please check the visa requirements for your nationality as visas are your responsibility.

Passports

You should have a passport valid for the duration of the expedition and your travel dates with two spare pages left, and it is recommended to have six months remaining before expiry. Please send a clear, colour copy of your passport to Secret Compass ahead of the expedition and carry photocopies with you on the expedition in a safe place.

Day 1: May 21 – Beijing

Arrive in Beijing and make your way to the team hotel by 1800 to meet your leader. Welcome meal and expedition briefing. US team members to pick up visas from North Korea embassy representative.

Day 2: May 22 – Pyongyang

Transfer to airport. At approximately 1300 Fly Beijing – Pyongyang. Met by guides & driver and transfer to Taedonggang microbrewery for drink and briefing from local guides. Restaurant Dinner & transfer to hotel.

Day 3: May 23 – Pyongyang

Sightseeing in Pyongyang (Grand Theatre, Kim II Sung Square, Foreign Language Bookshop, Mansudae Fountain Park and Grand Monument, Pyongyang Metro, Arc of Triumph, Morabong, Juche Tower). Highlights include laying a wreath of flowers at the statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, and spectacular city views from the top of the Juche Tower. Drive to Myohyang (2.5 hours).

Day 4: May 24 – Myohyang area

Visit International Friendship Exhibition and Buddhist temple. After lunch conduct an acclimatisation trek in the Sangwon Valley.

Day 5: May 25 – Myohyang area

Full day trek up to Piro Peak (1909m), the highest peak in the region, travelling via various peaks such as Onson, Hyangro, Chonthap and Wonmang. Camp in hammocks below the ridgeline.

Day 6: May 26 – Myohyang area

Continue trek to Piro Peak, summit mountain and descend back down the valley and have a traditional Korean BBQ dinner at the Hyangsan Hotel, before driving back to Pyongyang in the evening.

Day 7: May 27 – Mt Kumgang area

Full day drive to Mt Kumgang through the mountains and along the coast. Opportunity to visit traditional Korean spa.

Day 8: May 28 – Mt Kumgang area

In the morning will be a three-hour hike in Manmulsan, climbing up very steep ladders and trails for amazing views at the summit. In the afternoon visit Samil Lake & Sea Kumyang (which is in the DMZ).

Day 9: May 29 – Mt Kumgang area

Full day hike to Sejongbong, via Kuryong Waterfall (7-8 hours). Optional walk extension (90 mins) to Fairies Pools, site of famous Korean Legends.

Day 10: May 30 – Masikryong

Drive to Masikryong Ski resort (stop at Wonsan en-route for lunch).

Day 11: Jun 31 – Masikryong

In the morning trek to the top of the Masikryong Ski Resort. Drive to Pyongyang in the afternoon and have dinner in the city.

Day 12: Jun 1 – Pyongyang

Daytrip to Panmunjom/DMZ (SK border). Visit Armistice Talks Hall, border, Koryo History Museum & Stamp shop, Monument to the Three Point Charter for National Reunification. Farewell dinner in top Pyongyang restaurant.

Day 13: Jun 2 – Pyongyang-Beijing

Transfer to airport and fly to Beijing. Team free to depart after 1500.

About Secret Compass itineraries

Please remember that this itinerary acts as a framework plan. It provides guidance as to our intentions but may not be followed religiously. This is an adventure and by definition the outcome is uncertain. The leadership team will adapt, flex and change the plan depending on the numerous frictions you may encounter along the way.

Fitness

All our expeditions are achievable by people with an active and healthy lifestyle. However, it is an arduous expedition that will test you and at times you will be sore, tired, hungry and possibly wet! You must be prepared physically and mentally for the expedition and for living in basic conditions for the duration. Please ensure that you train for the expedition and arrive fit and ready to go! You will be required to be fit enough for the following.

  • Grading: 180°
  • Daily activity: varies, up to approx. eight hours.
  • Walk: up to 25km a day.
  • Carry: up to 20kg.
  • Terrain: uneven terrain and mountain paths at altitudes up to 1909m. Paths can be very steep with exposed sections and ridge lines.
  • Climate: from 15°C to 25°C. Can drop to near zero when camping.

Previous experience

Although there are not many consecutive days of trekking on this expedition, a good level of fitness will be required to carry your full camping and personal equipment up steep mountain paths.

Medical

Vaccinations. Please seek advice from your health professional on recommended vaccinations. The NHS website Fit for Travel and Travel Health Pro are useful sources of information.

Dental. It is strongly recommended that you have a dental check up prior to departure. Dental problems far from help are VERY unpleasant!

Money

North Korea. Euros, Chinese RMB and US dollars are widely accepted, even where prices are in NKWon. The official exchange rate is 1Euro:140Won although in reality expect in the region of 1Euro:9000Won. All currency must be declared when entering/leaving North Korea. Credit cards and cheques are not accepted and you cannot import or export local currency. As a tourist, you will not be able to purchase anything in Won apart from a supermarket in Pyongyang.

China. Credit cards are only accepted in major cities, you may struggle to find ATMs outside of cities and Scottish and Northern Irish bank notes will not be exchanged.

This expedition is all-inclusive so you won’t need much money – only if you want to buy a beer in the town and some souvenirs on the way or if you are looking to extend your trip in China.

The following is Secret Compass’s recommended kit list for the 2018 expedition to North Korea. On the trek to Piro Peak you will be required to carry all of your own kit for this expedition along with a hammock, and a share of group equipment such as food and cooking equipment and the medical and safety equipment. Secret Compass will supply all the safety and group equipment.

Discounts

Secret Compass have arranged team members discounts with Cotswold Outdoor, Nordic Life, Outdoor Hire and Expedition Kit Hire, details of these will be sent through on booking.

Baggage and sleeping

  • RUCKSACK: 40-50ltr, all your personal gear needs to fit easily into this pack including a share of group equipment.
  • DAYSACK 30-40ltrs: A well-fitting rucksack that will carry essentials such as waterproofs and water on day treks.
  • DUFFLE BAG OR SUITCASE: For the rest of your equipment. You will be travelling between a lot of hotels on this expedition and is handy to have a larger bag when not on the overnight trek.
  • WATERPROOF RUCKSACK LINER: Sealable ‘canoe’ or ‘dry bags’ made by Podsac or Ortlieb. You need a large one to line your rucksack.
  • SMALL DRY BAGS: To keep everything organised and dry within your rucksack.
  • SLEEPING BAG: Rated to at least comfort 0C. Down is lighter and more compact than synthetic options but also invest in a waterproof stuff sack.
  • SLEEPING MAT: Inflatable roll mat, and consider a ¾ length for fitting in the hammock. Bring a repair kit.

Clothing

  • 2 x LONG SLEEVE SHIRT: Quick drying long sleeve shirt or top (not cotton).
  • 2 x LONG TREKKING TROUSERS:  Thin trekking trousers that dry quickly and are comfortable.
  • 1 x MID LAYER: Fleece or equivalent.
  • 1 x LIGHTWEIGHT DOWN JACKET: It will be cold in the evening when camping.
  • 1 x WATERPROOF JACKET AND TROUSERS: Gore-tex or equivalent.
  • 1 x WALKING BOOTS: Must provide ankle support and be worn in before the expedition. Please consult your nearest outdoor store for advice on choosing the correct boot. Consider lightweight scrambling boots with a well-protected toe box.
  • 4 x HIKING SOCKS.
  • SANDALS: Around camp and river crossings. Not flip flops.
  • WIDE BRIMMED SUN HAT.
  • WARM HAT FOR EVENINGS.
  • 4 x UNDERWEAR:  Sport or cycling-styled shorts don’t chafe.
  • SWIMWEAR.
  • SMART CASUAL CLOTHES: For when visiting important monuments.

 Eating

  • 1 x MUG.
  • 1 x SPOON: For when eating out of the ration packs.
  • 1 x ROBUST WATER BOTTLE: Nalgene or Sigg are good brands.
  • 1 x CAMELBACK: You need to be able to carry a minimum of 3 litres of water in a combination of camelback and water bottles.

Health and Hygiene

  • WASHBAG, TOOTHBRUSH AND TOOTHPASTE, RAZOR, DEODORANT.
  • SOAP: Anti-bacterial and BIODEGRADABLE.
  • TRAVEL TOWEL/SARONG.
  • WET WIPES OR BABY WIPES.
  • ANTIBACTERIAL HAND GEL.
  • TOILET PAPER.
  • TRAVEL TISSUES.
  • SANITARY PRODUCTS.
  • LIP SALVE WITH UV PROTECTION.VASELINE: Keep readily available on to prevent chafing skin and heel friction blisters.
  • VITAMINS.
  • AFTER SUN/MOISTURISER.
  • FACTOR 30+ SUN CREAM.

Small First Aid Kit

A team medical kit with a comprehensive primary care provision will be carried.

  • A WATERPROOF BAG OR TUPPERWARE BOX: Keep kit dry and safe.
  • PAINKILLERS: Ibuprofen and Paracetamol.
  • ZING OXIDE TAPE AND SMALL SCISSORS.
  • MELOLIN DRESSING PADS x4.
  • 2 x CREPE BANDAGE.
  • COMPEED BLISTER PADS: Please note that Compeed produce several similar looking blister packs for corns, etc. Please ensure you purchase the standard/original item.
  • DIAHORREA TABLETS: Imodium.
  • DIORALYTE SACHETS OR SIMILAR REHYDRATION PACKS.
  • ANTISEPTIC WIPES.
  • ANTISEPTIC CREAM.
  • PIRITON TABLETS: For allergies.
  • EURAX CREAM: For bites.
  • ANY MEDICATION YOU NORMALLY USE: Find out the generic/chemical name for your medication in case you need to source more in-country. Please also check that your medication is legal in your destination. You MUST make Secret Compass aware of any medical conditions before you travel.

Other

  • WATCH.
  • HEAD TORCH AND SPARE BATTERIES: Petzl Tikka heard torch or equivalent. 
  • SUNGLASSES: With UV-filter lenses.
  • PENKNIFE: Make sure this is not in your hand luggage.
  • GAFFA TAPE: For emergency repairs to your kit, you can take some off the roll and wrap it around something else in your kit.
  • SPARE BOOT LACES.
  • SMALL SEWING KIT.
  • RE-SEALABLE PLASTIC BAGS: For dirty washing, wrappings etc.

 

Our approach

Secret Compass organises expeditions, not sightseeing tours. Our expeditions are team-centred, flexible and dynamic. Teams are managed on the ground by Secret Compass staff: industry-leading professionals and guides of the highest calibre. They put the structure in place for your team to have an incredible experience while achieving your expedition’s aims. Our people are as passionate as you are about achieving the extraordinary in the world’s wildest places. Secret Compass teams often go to places that others don’t. This makes our expeditions truly different, taking you beneath the skin and beyond the headlines of the world’s most remote reaches. Inspired by history’s great explorers and challenges, you’ll be set ambitious goals and will overcome similar hardships to those experienced on the audacious journeys of the past.
Remember this is not an organised tour. It is an adventure. More often than not expeditions don’t run smoothly! The nature of the areas we operate in mean that we will encounter a number of challenges that we expect everyone to meet and relish. Friction and hurdles are all part and parcel of an arduous expedition and also to our success as a team. These make the journey more interesting and are often the best and most amusing parts when looking back. Each expedition is thoroughly reviewed on its return and team members will have the opportunity to provide feedback which helps to inform planning for future expeditions.

Local partners and bureaucracy

Our teammates can only achieve the extraordinary with the help of people in the communities we travel through. NGO and aid workers, guides, fixers and interpreters all work extremely hard and are generous in their hospitality to us and our teams: visitors in their land. They are crucial to our success. Please remember and respect that their perspectives and concepts of time, environmental responsibility and customer service might differ to yours. Occasionally there is no established protocol for outside visitors which means we encounter local power struggles or disagreements. Our leaders have years of experience in delicate negotiations like these and conversational chess – especially through an interpreter – and these interchanges are often memorable parts of any expedition.

Infrastructure and natural events

The areas we travel to often especially remote. Transport infrastructure can be ageing, inadequate or non-existent. Flooded roads, collapsed bridges, fallen trees and vehicle break-downs are all par for the course. Our teams thrive on overcoming challenges like these – be prepared to get stuck in and push occasionally! Natural phenomena like desert sand storms, early monsoons, landslides across key routes, winter coming early, gale force winds and driving snow can all make for a more interesting time on the expedition.

Food

In some areas our teams explore, we rely on local food sources. This can often be outstanding (but can also be very average) and we always make the best out of the resources available. In other cases, we will supply filling and high-calorie dehydrated expedition foods (ration packs).

Part of a team

Secret Compass fosters a team mentality across all its expeditions and projects. Like all teams you will have a leader who will give direction to your progress. Crucial to your team’s success – especially when the going gets tough – is the attitude of the teammates working together to achieve the aim. You really are part of a team, not a cosseted guest on a tour. We ask teammates to muck in and help out any aspect of the expedition, from fetching water and helping to prepare and cook food, to carrying some group kit and equipment if required. The working language of all teams is English.

Typical teammates

There really is no typical expedition member, though everyone needs to be fit, healthy and ready to take on the expedition’s aim by the time of departure. Participants range from 21 to 65+ in age and come from all over the world. Backgrounds include contract workers and engineers, IT specialists and students, teachers and literature lovers, journalists and keen photographers and so many more. What bonds our pioneering teams is their shared spirit of adventure and their sense of humour and positive outlook. A good teammate looks on the bright side when the 4×4 breaks down, the rain comes early and when a meal is distinctly pedestrian. Our teammates help each other, look out for each, encourage each other and help each other when needed. Our teams have done us proud in working together to achieve their common goal: the aim of the expedition. If this sounds like you, you’ve come to the right expedition company.

Teammate mentality

You need a robust, spirited and can-do attitude to cope with demanding days and rough camping in rugged and wild places. You’ll cover good daily distances (generally carrying your own kit and equipment), eating expedition foods or relying on local food sources. These elements combine to create the unique character of each expedition. On expedition, challenges, frictions and changes to plans are inevitable. Teammates should meet and relish these as an integral part of any arduous expedition and its ultimate success. Such things make the journey more interesting and are often most memorable parts when looking back.

Risk management

Secret Compass is an expedition company not a tour company. Expeditions contain inherent risk. This is part of the appeal for teammates. We do not make expeditions safe as, by definition, that is impossible. We construct and implement a three-staged risk management approach to reduce risk to what we perceive as a tolerable level.

  1. Risk assessment.
    We conduct a thorough risk assessment of potential hazards and threats that may be encountered on the expedition and provide recommendations to reduce the likelihood of harm occurring/ severity if it does occur.
  2. Safety plan.
    As part of our expedition plan, we detail actions to be taken to implement and resource the recommendations of the risk assessment. This includes a detailed medical and communications plan.
  3. Delivery.
    The expedition leader is responsible for dynamic risk management on the expedition itself.

Key risks.

Key risks encountered on this specific expedition include accidents (slips, trips or falls on steep terrain) whilst trekking and personal behaviour (if team members do not follow the advice given by the expedition leader during the safety brief). If you would like to see the full Risk Assessment for this expedition, please email info@secretcompass.com

Incident management and medical

As part of the safety plan, Secret Compass has a full incident and emergency plan for medical and other emergencies. This will be discussed in full at the arrival brief, so everyone is aware what action will be taken. In summary, incidences are usually managed on the ground by the expedition leader in the first instance with remote support from Secret Compass’s 24 hour Operations Room before evacuation to the nearest appropriate medical centre.

Informed consent

It is your responsibility to understand the risks associated with adventure travel in remote areas. You also must understand that medical evacuation will take an extended period of time (potentially up to one day) and will require wilderness extraction techniques and long carries by stretcher. In-country search and rescue and emergency services are very basic or non-existent and the expedition will rely on internal resources for medical evacuation. By joining this expedition, you accept the risks associated with the venture. If you require any more information on specific risk management for this expedition, or would like to speak to us about our medical planning prior to the trip, please get in touch.

Testimonials

Read team Testimonials or watch this short video featuring expedition teammates (filmed on location in Ethiopia) for an insight into life on expedition.

 

Cultural background

North Korea exists as an isolated communist nation run along the principles of ‘Juche Idea’, a philosophy aimed at developing self-reliance. In the light of numerous international sanctions, this philosophy has become a necessity as well as a political ideal. North Korea was divided from South Korea at the end of the Second World War, a division cemented by the Korean War of 1950-53 (and technically ongoing). The ‘Great Leader’ Kim Il Sung was elected as the head of the country after the end of the Japanese occupation in 1945 and built the country into the ‘People’s Paradise’ of the 1960s and 1970s. His son Kim Jong Il, served as leader until his death in December 2011, and ensured his father’s image was idolised in propaganda, songs, posters and the badges of his image that everyone wears. Kim Jong Un, the son of Kim Jong Il, formally took over the country in April 2012.

General

Despite what is often popularised in Western media, North Korea is actually very welcoming to tourists, treating them as honoured guests of the state. However, visitors are not permitted to walk around unescorted and you must not attempt to ‘sneak out’ or evade your guides. Discussions of sex, religion, history and politics must be handled sensitively and only if originally brought up by your guide – do not push the discussion. Distribution of religious material is strictly prohibited and is the leading cause of deportation of visitors.

Photography/filming

Professional journalists or photographers are not permitted on this expedition. Any team member wishing to write about or publish their experiences after the trip are asked to consult Secret Compass first – this is to protect the North Korean guides, their families and their futures. Please ask before filming or taking any photographs – usually it is clearly marked where you may/may not use camera equipment but if in any doubt, please check with your guides.

Ideology

The ‘Great Leader’, his ideology and his descendants are celebrated throughout North Korea with the mausoleum of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang being the most revered site in the country. Any criticism, or discussion that may be perceived as criticism, of the supreme dignity of the leaders or their ideology is unacceptable in the eyes of the state. The political system is comparable to a religion worshipping the ‘Great Leader’ and his successors, there are times when the team will be expected to make offerings of flowers and show respect to statues etc.

Clothing

Typical North Korean dress is on the smart side of casual, particularly in Pyongyang. Jeans and scanty clothing are not appropriate. Weather in the mountains is notoriously changeable so you should bring layers of trekking clothing and suitable footwear.

Restrictions

Team members should not possess any of the following when entering North Korea (customs officials will search computers/phones etc):

  • Any foreign publications, digital materials, films or such items that include any content that could be considered by the DPR Korean authorities to be against the supreme dignity, ideology, system or culture of the DPR Korea.
  • Any films made in the Republic of Korea (South Korea), or such similar materials.
  • Any publications, digital materials, films or such items that include any contents that could be considered by the DPR Korean authorities to be of a pornographic nature.
  • Any religious books or texts, other than necessary items required for their own daily use.
  • Any stand-alone GPS device.

Terrain

This expedition will cover a variety of terrain from dirt tracks, steep ridgelines, fixed ladders, exposed sections and marked trails. Very few people get to walk to the Piro Peak area, and is very steep. The trek to Mammulsan is very steep with near vertical sections, but these have fixed, protected ladders.

Weather

May will be pleasantly warm, averaging 19°C although nights are cooler. It should be reasonably dry the but the team should be prepared for rainfall. The highest point on this expedition will be 1909m.

Transport

You will have the same team bus for the duration of the expedition which will be driven by a professional driver, however the roads are awful after almost 50 years of neglect and lack of funding.

Accommodation

The team will stay in a variety of accommodation from guesthouses to a modern and luxury ski resort. This will be based on twin rooms. When camping the team will be using jungle style hammocks, due to the lack of flat ground for tents.

Food

Generally the team will be eating well in hotels and restaurants, vegetarians should be aware that there may be a limited menu at some venues. North Korean cuisine varies by region but will often include cold noodles or rice, spiced broths and ‘banchan’ – side dishes with a strong flavour eg. Kimchi. Lunches will either be in restaurants or packed lunches on the trail. When camping, the team will be eating dehydrated rations which Secret Compass will provide.

Communications

Due to restrictions in North Korea communications with the team are limited. For emergencies, Secret Compass staff will be carrying a mobile phone with an international sim card and local staff will have mobile phones with local sim cards.

Unfortunately, routine communication between team members and family/friends is not possible – please reassure them that no news is good news! If there is an emergency and someone needs to contact a team member, they can contact Secret Compass’s Operations Room on +44207 096 8428 who will endeavour to pass a message on within 24hours.

Cell Phone. You may take a mobile phone into North Korea but it will not work without a local (expensive) SIM card. If necessary you should be able to make outbound calls from most hotels during your stay.

Here are some frequently-asked questions that are specific to this expedition. Read our general FAQ too for questions such as ‘how do I join an expedition’ and more. Can’t find your answer? Contact SCHQ.

Is it possible to visit North Korea?

Yes, it’s positively encouraged.

Is it safe to visit North Korea?

2017 has been a tumultuous year of international relations for the DPRK, the country has rarely been out of the news. Despite the negative media portrayal of the DPRK in the West, we deem the country as perfectly safe to visit for culturally sensitive travellers looking for a unique travel experience. In the three decades that our partners have worked in the country, they have never encountered a single issue where one of their clients was in any danger or the victim of any crime. In our opinion, North Korea is one of the safest countries in the world to visit and this will be our third expedition there.

However, in August 2017 the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (UK FCO) changed their travel advice on visiting the DPR Korea, and for the first time advised against all but essential travel to North Korea. We must stress to all persons interested in booking our North Korea expedition, that your visit may be contrary to the advice of the UK FCO (or your own government if not a UK Citizen), and that changes in the UK FCO’s position on tours to North Korea (as with several other countries that Secret Compass expeditions visit) are not grounds for cancellation. We always work closely with our partners in the region and the ultimate decision on the safety of travel to any region is one taken between our office and partners in country.

As and when the FCO advise against travel to the DPR Korea, any conventional travel insurance policy you may have will likely be invalid for the expedition. However, specialist insurers should be able to provide you with cover and we have some recommendations here.

Can I get a visa?

Citizens of a great many nations can apply for a tourist visa to visit North Korea with relative ease. Check online to see if you are eligible to apply. We currently advise citizens of the USA not to travel to North Korea due to restrictions the USA are intending to place on their own citizens from 1 Sept. 2017 – if you are US citizen interested in the trip please check online for up to date information. Secret Compass will oversee the visa application process for booked teammates. Booked teammates will receive a separate visa advice document in due course and in good time to get organised.

Are we really camping?

The expedition intends to include one night’s camping in a North Korean national park. Your kit list will outline the necessary kit and equipment for this phase. The rest of the time you’ll stay in comfortable hotels.

Will our phones be censored?

No, but North Korea is a secretive, closed state as is well documented. Secret Compass will provide to booked teammates in-depth advice on what can and cannot be brought into the country.

How can I find out more?

Apply for this expedition team using the button on this page to receive your Expedition Handbook with fuller details. The Application page explains the joining process. Secret Compass is then on hand to answer any questions or to firm up your place on the team.

Will there be ‘phone signal or Internet?

Your mobile phones will not work in North Korea and there will be no access to wifi or to the Internet for the duration of the expedition. In Beijing your phones will work and there is plenty of access to wifi, however many sites are still blocked by the government such as all Google platforms and apps, and Facebook. Secret Compass will issue cultural information to booked teammates including what it is and is not appropriate to  bring into the country.

Can I arrive a day late?

As the Plan outlines, there is an included flight (from Beijing to Pyongyang) and in-country briefing planned on arrival in North Korea that all teammates need to be present for, so start and end dates for this expedition are fixed.

Does North Korea have a dress code?

While trekking, sensible trekking clothing as outlined in the Expedition Handbook’s kit list will be fine. In the cities, smarter clothing than for a ‘backpacking’ trip are required such as button-down shirts and smart trousers for men and modest outfits (covering shoulders and to below the knee) for women.

Can we take pictures?

Photography is generally allowed in North Korea though there are restrictions. Your in-country and Secret Compass staff will let you know when and where photography is and is not appropriate and their guidance must be adhered to. Certain camera lenses are also restricted, do your research prior to arrival.

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