north korea WILL happen

I’m not going to get all romantic or nostalgic and say, “it’s a place I’ve always dreamed of” because it’s not. It’s not my Galapagos Holy Grail; it’s not even close. It is, however, an important piece of my World Puzzle. And one day, I’m determined to put that piece in place.

I figure, the world is what it is. As with anything, you take the good with the bad. There are two sides to every story and whatnot. But the key is always to form one’s own opinion. I understand that in North Korea, travellers are subject to propaganda and only propaganda, and it could be very hard to see how the ‘99%’ live in such a place. But even so, to witness whatever I could with my own eyes would be fantastic.

I know some people who agree with me and I certainly know some who don’t. I completely understand why it wouldn’t be on everyone’s list and I realise that timing is key. I won’t, for example, be heading there on my honeymoon or at a time where I can only take a week or when I just “need a holiday”. I’m sure it’s not that kind of place.

I guess half of the appeal is to be able to say I’ve done it, and to have the passport stamp to prove it. Plus, the following excerpt from the DFAT Smart Traveller website makes the whole thing feel a little James Bond-esque:

“Showing disrespect, including in jest, to the country’s current or former leadership or their families is a crime in the DPRK. Foreigners in the DPRK are closely observed by the authorities, which may include searching belongings in hotel rooms and monitoring telephone and facsimile services…

Photographing roads, bridges, airports, rail stations, seaports, or anything other than designated public tourist sites can be perceived as espionage and may result in confiscation of cameras and film, and/or detention. Photographing scenes of poverty or other things that may cause a negative impression of the DPRK may also result in confiscation. You should ask permission before taking photographs in the DPRK, including of officials, soldiers or other people. DPRK guides can provide permission to take photographs. Attempts to engage in unauthorised conversation with DPRK citizens may be viewed by security personnel as espionage.

My ignorant 15-year-old self would say, “pretty cool, huh?”

photo courtesy of flickr/Joseph A Ferris III and this article from


Does anyone remember Couchsurfing? For those who don’t, it’s a website where you can meet other backpackers and the basic concept is that anywhere in the world you have a couch to crash on. It’s a great way of seeing the world for those on a budget, and offers the chance to hang out with locals in each place you visit. For more insight read Brian Thacker’s Sleeping Around; it’s great.

The reason I bring it up is because once, a long time ago, a young guy wrote to me from Aleppo, Syria, via the site. He was the “Ambassador” for Aleppo, which basically meant he had hosted a lot of couch surfers in his time, had a really good rating, and his passion was to show tourists around his hometown. Being 19 or however old I was, Syria wasn’t really on my to-do list yet, but I was really interested in what he had to say and I was fascinated and inspired by the passion he had for his home.

Of course, I can’t turn on the television, radio or internet now without hearing about the violence currently occurring in Syria and more recently Aleppo in particular. It always saddens me when these things go on, as they always do, and I have followed news on the Arab Spring closely (I’ve had to anyway because of my job). However, I think it’s so easy for us to be vaguely saddened by what’s happening but then to be able to ignore it because we have more important things to deal with right here.

I find myself thinking about this young man, so ecstatic about the city he was lucky enough to call home, and wondering where he is now and what he’s doing. I can only hope and pray he’s okay, and that he’s either fighting the good fight if that’s what he feels is right, or he’s in a much safer place. Either way, I hope he’s still teaching people about his country and reminding them of its place in the world.

He gave me a different perspective on a part of the world that was unknown to me, and for that I will be forever grateful. I hope thousands more are lucky enough to be given the same opportunity.

photo courtesy of Reuters