Want to fly to North Korea’s shiny new airport? No you don’t. But here’s how

Now Boarding
North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, accompanied by his wife, Ri Sol Ju, and other officials, walk on one of three jet bridges at the new Terminal 2 at Pyongyang Sunan International Airport. KCNA/Reuters
Flying into Pyongyang’s new Terminal 2, you may find yourself questioning if the reports about North Korea’s ailing infrastructure are even true. The brand-new facility, opened last July, resembles a modern terminal with expansive glass, jet bridges, spacious boarding areas, duty-free shops, and flat screens all over. Even signage is written in English, and there’s an “Internet room” for surfing the Web (if only it was actually hooked up).

The photos, released by North Korea’s state media agency, shows the country’s supreme leader, Kim Jong Un, touring the terminal. While the photos – and the airport itself – is part of North Korea’s propaganda machine, used to promote the country under a different light, the terminal does seem to have a legitimate purpose of accommodating the influx of tourists.

In a nation known for its totalitarian rule and harsh punishments for anyone who defies it, tourism might be the last thing anybody thinks about. But thousands of tourists do visit the Hermit Kingdom each year, and many arrive from Western countries.

Travelling to North Korea isn’t as relaxed as a flight to Tahiti, but it’s doable – albeit with a lot of guidelines. Tourists must go through approved travel agencies, and visitors’ movements are tightly controlled and monitored. Even camera photos, particularly of Western tourists, are inspected before they leave. But for the adventure seekers who want to experience a destination only a few have, here’s how you can buy a ticket into Pyongyang’s shiny new airport.

So you want to visit North Korea? Think twice

In case you haven’t heard, the United States and North Korea (officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK) don’t exactly get along. It’s also worth considering the ethics of travelling there (human rights violations, economic inequality, etc.) Many Americans have also been arrested and detained for whatever reasons North Korean officials can come up with. According to the U.S. Department of State, North Korea has even detained Americans who were visiting legally and part of organized tours.

Now Boarding
Kim Jong Un and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, tour a shop selling luxury goods. KCNA/Reuters

The State Department heavily advises citizens against going there. Unlike many Asian and European countries, the U.S. has no diplomatic relations (i.e., embassy) with North Korea, so you’re mostly on your own if something goes wrong.

So you still want to visit North Korea?

Despite the advisory and scary language, U.S. policy doesn’t actually restrict citizens from vacationing in the DPRK (customs and border control might ask you a lot of questions when you get back). If you do make it there, the State Department encourages citizens to check in with the U.S. embassy in Beijing (most flights into Pyongyang originate from China) and the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang. (Journalists and citizens of South Korea, however, cannot utilize the tourist visa.)

Don’t even think about crossing into North Korea via the Chinese border.

While North Korea has eased its policy on foreign visitors, you must go through one of the authorized travel agencies. Uri Tours, which facilitated former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Dennis Rodman’s visits, is your best bet. The U.S.-based agency has a terrific website that explains the ins and outs of travel in North Korea, and is the only U.S. agency that handles flights for Air Koryo, North Korea’s airline. All bookings are done online (PayPal accepted), and tours start at around $500 per person.

Nearly every foreign visitor requires a visa for entry (they will also need visas when transiting through China). Don’t even think about crossing into North Korea via the Chinese border; otherwise you might end up in a situation like journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling did. If you want to play it safe, the key things to remember are to follow your tour guide’s instructions, take photos of things that are permitted (nothing involving the military), and never wander off.

Flying on Soviet jets is part of the charm

Uri Tours describes Air Koryo as an airline with a “history of over 50 years in flight.” Others call it the worst airline on Earth. Skytrax, the airline-ranking agency, lists Air Koryo as its only one-star airline. But, since Pyongyang International is the airline’s hub, Air Koryo services nearly all flights to the new terminal, so you don’t really have a choice (Air China, a Star Alliance airline, does offer some flights.)

Now Boarding
A view of the new terminal. It’s small in comparison to other major airports, but few airlines actually serve it. KCNA/Reuters

But flying on Air Koryo does present the rare opportunity to ride on Soviet-made aircraft, like the Tupolev Tu-204 or Ilyushin Il-18. Even Russia’s Aeroflot has retired these planes and opted for Boeing and Airbus jets, so flying Air Koryo is a bit of a step back in time – which in itself is part of the fun (we hope).

Technology circa 2000

North Korea isn’t a technology wasteland, but its IT infrastructure is going to feel a bit dated. Koryolink, the country’s only wireless provider, runs a 3G network, so don’t expect blazing speeds.

According to Uri Tours, the 3G network does allow access to the Internet, so you could send an email, tweet, or post a photo to Instagram. Uri Tours claims it has tested the service and that it works. There’s also Internet access (after all, this is the country accused of masterminding the Sony hack), but don’t expect the same experience as you would stateside.

Seeing how the DPRK censors everything, the government will monitor all your online activities. To avoid any extra scrutiny, it may be best to leave the smart devices and computers back home, and travel as low-tech as possible. Just because you can bring in an iPad or laptop, doesn’t mean you should.

Next page: North Korea’s must see tourist destinations


3DMark’s Port Royal lets you benchmark ray tracing on Nvidia’s RTX cards

UL is adding another benchmarking utility to its popular 3DMark suite to help gamers measure their graphics card's ray tracing performance. You'll soon be able to measure how Nvidia's RTX 2070, 2080, and 2080 Ti stack up.

Trash at 'Super Smash Bros. Ultimate'? Use this guide to train up and get good

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the biggest game in the entire series, and it can be overwhelming for newcomers not used to the universe-colliding fighting game. Here's what you need to know when you're starting.

5G’s arrival is transforming tech. Here’s everything you need to know to keep up

It has been years in the making, but 5G is finally becoming a reality. While 5G coverage is still extremely limited, expect to see it expand in 2019. Not sure what 5G even is? Here's everything you need to know.
Movies & TV

'Stranger Things' season 3 teaser reveals the new episodes' titles

With a sophomore season as strong as its first, Stranger Things is now moving on to season 3. Here's everything we've learned so far about the Netflix series' upcoming third season.
Social Media

#ThrowbackThursday is only the start: Instagram hashtags for every day of the week

Not getting your hashtag fill with #ThrowbackThursday or #ManCrushMonday? Here's a list of some of the more popular Instagram hashtags, so you can outfit your next post with the proper tag, regardless of what day it is.

From DSLRs to mirrorless, these are the best cameras you can buy right now

From entry-level models to full-frame flagships, many cameras take great photos and video. The best digital cameras, however, push the industry forward with innovative sensors and improved usability, among other things. Here are our…

Photographers can now customize the layout of Lightroom Classic controls

Tired of scrolling past Lightroom tools that you don't use? Adobe Lightroom Classic now allows users to reorganize the Develop panel. The update comes along with new sharing options in Lightroom CC, and updates to the mobile Lightroom app.
Social Media

Instagram could be making a special type of account for influencers

Instagram influencers fall somewhere between a business profile and a typical Instagram, so the company is working on developing a type of account just for creators. The new account type would give creators more access to analytical data.

Best Products of 2018

Our reception desk has so many brown boxes stacked up, it looks like a loading dock. We’re on a first-name basis with the UPS guy. We get new dishwashers more frequently than most people get new shoes. What we’re trying to say is: We…

These are the best action cameras money can buy

Action cameras are great tools for capturing videos of your everyday activities, whether it's a birthday party or the steepest slope you've ever descended on your snowboard. These are the best money can buy.

Canon holiday sale features the Rebel T6 2-lens kit for just $449

If you have a budding photographer in your life in need of a real camera, the Canon EOS Rebel T6 could make the perfect gift. Canon is currently offering the camera in a two-lens bundle for just $449 through December 29.
Emerging Tech

Light, speed: Lighting kit for DJI Mavic 2 lets you fly and film in the dark

Lume Cube, maker of small battery-powered LED lights for mobile photography, has announced a new lighting kit built specifically for the DJI Mavic 2 -- the first of its kind. Already our favorite drone, this makes the Mavic 2 even better.

Leave the laptop at home, the iPad Pro is the travel buddy to take on vacay

The iPad Pro is a powerful tablet that's perfect for creatives and professionals. How does it fare when traveling with it as a laptop replacement? We took it on a two week trek in Japan to find out.
Social Media

Instagram’s 2018 year in review shines a light on where our hearts are

What did Instagram users share the most in 2018? A lot of heart emojis, heart face filters, and heart GIFs. The platform recently shared the year's top trends, including hashtags like #fortnite and #metoo along with a few surprises.
1 of 2