I travelled to Kim Jon-un’s North Korea twice – a mistake I made when sending a postcard could have gotten me in trouble

I travelled to Kim Jon-un’s North Korea twice – a mistake I made when sending a postcard could have gotten me in trouble

A SEASONED traveller has revealed what life is really like in “wild” North Korea after he visited it two times.

Gunnar Garfors, 48, has travelled around the world, stopping at every country twice, including the “controversial” places like North Korea.

SWNSA backpacker has travelled to North Korea and said it was ‘surreal’[/caption]

SWNSHe revealed that Kim Jon-un’s face was everywhere he turned[/caption]

SWNSHe explored the capital in 2009 and was struck by the blatant propaganda[/caption]

The authoritarian state had its borders closed for tourism since 2020.

North Korea had one of the strictest lockdowns during the spread of Covid-19.

But recently, the country has welcomed its first visitors since the pandemic – a group of Russian tourists.

The country’s broadcaster posted footage of welcoming a delegation from Primorsky Krai, Russia to the resort near Wonsan.

In the light of the news, Gunnar has shared some advice for people who wish to visit the secretive state – and the strict rules they must follow to avoid punishment.

Gunnar first visited Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, in 2009 – and stayed for five days.

He travelled with a group of friends from Facebook and his girlfriend at the time.

He said that phones are confiscated upon landing as the internet is banned in the country and the itineraries are strictly planned – with “little room for impulsivity”.

The group was also assigned two guides for their entire stay who kept them company “at all times”.

North Korea fiercely protects its image in front of foreigners, and its citizens from the foreigners’ tales.

“Even if you’re alone, you still need two guides with you at all times.

“The government doesn’t want people to break from their groups and start telling local people what the rest of the world is like.

“They’re fine, they’re mostly there to look after you – but also want to keep you in line.

“Even guides need to take bathroom breaks, though, and as soon as one breaks away from the group, the other usually begins to ask questions, like what it’s like to live in other countries,” Gunnar said.

During his stay, he mostly explored Pyongyang, visiting sites like the USS Pueblo – an American warship.

He also visited North/South border where he tried to strike a conversation with as many locals as he could – albeit unsuccessfully.

Most of them barely speak English and have been instructed to avoid talking to foreigners.

“You can talk to people here and there,” he added.

“Mostly bar and restaurant staff, or workers in shops – but managers have trained them on how to avoid unauthorised communication.

“This means there’s strictly no discussing the outside world – people aren’t allowed to ask us about where we come from or what we do.

“There are lots of things we can’t ask, either. We have to be careful when talking to locals about their own history – and we certainly can’t question their way of life.”

He called his experience “surreal” as he witnessed a blatant propaganda meticulously curated by Kim Jon Un.

“A very dramatic voice” narrated Gurran’s tour to the captured American warship, telling stories of the “heroic North Koreans and the awful, nasty Americans”.

Kim’s face appears everywhere you turn with every newspaper, stamp, painting, and statues displaying images of the “great leader”.

Gunnar, a journalist from Oslo, said: “He’s like a sort of demi-god, he’s absolutely everywhere.

“Walking through Pyongyang is like walking through a scene from a propaganda film – you realise everything you’re being told is warped.”

“It wears you out quite quickly, being told propaganda all the bloody time. It’s a truly bizarre country.”

If tourists want a “break” from Kim Jon Un’s face, he also suggests they spend a few days in South Korea.

The second time Gunnar visited the country was eight years later – and some stark changes had been made in that time.

Tourists were allowed to keep their phones, purely for the purpose of taking photos.

Pyongyang had been modernised – but the countryside, which Gunnar was able to visit, stayed the same.

He said: “It really hits you in the countryside, you get a feeling the city is for all the ‘important’ people.

“It’s fairly modern in Pyongyang now, you’ve got decent food, modern skyscrapers, and decent culture.

“But in the countryside, people have nothing.”

He described the scenes he saw of local farmers using their hands for digging with no tools, tractors or even animals to assist them.

Gunnar has also made a grave mistake which can be seen as a “disrespect” to the North Korean leader.

Creasing or folding a newspaper with a picture of the dictator on the front is considered a highly offensive act – and stealing anything bearing his image is a serious crime in the eyes of the government.

Gunnar’s mistake involved none of that but instead an innocent letter sent to a friend was what could have gotten him in trouble.

When he sent a postcard, Gunnar turned the stamp with Kim’s face on its side to make more space for text.

But when it arrived in Norway, the stamp had been turned right-way-up, covering up most of the writing.

Gunnar said: “There’s a rule – the great leader’s image must not be turned on his side on any letter or postcard.”

The traveller said that North Korea was a safe country to visit, and surprisingly accessible to the foreigners – as long as they follow the rules.

SWNSHe visited the border but attempts to speak with locals were unsuccessful[/caption]

SWNSThe traveller said that the capital had been modernised[/caption]

SWNSBut every step of his trip was monitored by two guides[/caption]

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