North Korea Suspends Tourist Visas 3

Air Koryo Taxiing

North Korea has suspended issuance of tourist visas until September 9th. In North Korea, 9th September is “Day of the Foundation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”. This year marks 70 years since the state was founded. Whilst the reason for the halt is currently unclear, there are a few theories floating around the internet.

Air Koryo Landing
Air Koryo is the North Korean flag carrier. (Image: Fedor Leukhin)

The most likely explanation is that tourist capacity has already been reached for the period until 9th September. A tour guide is required to accompany each foreign national any time they are outside of their hotel. A representative of Koryo Tours said:

This suggests to us that this is an issue with the general capacity of the country to receive visitors in September and as various high-level state delegations are expected to go to Pyongyang in September that a higher power in the country is simply pressing pause on tourism until it is clear to them who is coming in such delegations and how many people.

Pyongyang Airport

If you are lucky enough to get a tourist visa to North Korea, you’ll arrive at Pyongyang Airport. The airport has two runways, however, since 2013 only one is in use. 01/19 is 4,000m long and 60m wide. Despite only having two airlines serving 3 scheduled destinations the airport has two terminals. Terminal 2, the international terminal was opened in 2015, while the domestic terminal (terminal 1) was opened half a year later in 2016. Air Koryo. The only international operator to regularly fly to Pyongyang is Air China, with a service operating from Beijing.

A satellite photo of Pyongyang Airport
A satellite photo of Pyongyang Airport (Source: Google)

Air Koryo

Air Koryo is the North Korean Flag Carrier. The airline is the only airline to be awarded 1 star by airline comparison site Skytrax. Air Koryo operates international flights between Pyongyang and Beijing, Shenyang, and Vladivostok. One of the things Air Koryo is most known for is its infamous inflight food, the “Koryo Burger”. Despite being described by some as “the worlds most disgusting burger”, this treat filled with mystery meat attracts many people toward the airline.

Due to the sanctions placed on North Korea, Air Koryo is forced to fly with old outdated soviet aircraft. The airline’s fleet of 19 is mostly made up of Antonov and Tupolev with 8 Ilyushin aircraft. In March 2006 Air Koryo was banned from flying to and over EU airspace, due to a poor track record of maintenance. However, in March 2010 the EU reversed its decision, allowing only the airlines Tu-204s to operate in EU airspace.

Air Koryo Taxiing
An Air Koryo Tu-204 taxis (Image: Fedor Leukhin)

Summary

Whilst North Korea is not currently issuing tourist visas, it seems like a must visit for ultra adventurous aviation enthusiasts and foodies alike. The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth office advises “against all but essential travel to North Korea (DPRK)”. With this in mind, it may be worth seeing how Kim Jong Un’s pledge to commit to denuclearisation and ending the Korean War pan out before booking travel. I certainly think that North Korea could be a very interesting destination to explore under slightly less volatile circumstances.

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