One of the many unique things about travelling to North Korea is that you can’t go independently. An unavoidable aspect of every tour is that you are assigned “guides”, assigned by the North Korean government who run your tour.They come in two’s, often a man and a woman. Outside of the hotel, you go everywhere with these guides, you can’t leave their presence. They set and plan your entire group itinerary on your behalf and it always proves to be very well organized. However, these people are not be feared. They are human, nor are they cold or “robotic” and on your North Korea tour you have the potential to forge a good relationship with them, to leave a good impression on them. This article gives advice on how you can best work with them and forge a trustworthy relationship. The better the relationship with your guides are, the more freedom they will give you.
1. Bring Gifts
The greatest way to build a good starting impression with your guides is to bring gifts. Male guides prefer cigarettes (normally lambro), female guides provide chocolates. Gift giving is a strong custom in Korean culture. This is not compulsory, but it is a good way to hit the ground running, especially given that people tend to have so little luxury wise in North Korea (unless you’re the elite)
2. Obey the rules!
In North Korea, obedience is everything. That’s probably an understatement. Obey the rules and standards that the guide sets you. Not only does it keep you out of trouble, but most importantly it keeps them out of trouble. If something goes wrong, your guides will be in more trouble than you are and that is seldom a nice outcome in North Korea. Thus, be mindful of them when you’re thinking about “doing something”. Do not deliberately attempt to wander off, do not try to “convert” them against North Korea, do not attempt to leave the hotel at night and so on. If you are obedient, then the guides will grow to trust you and be willing to let you see more things.
3. Show Respect
Whilst in North Korea, have respect for North Korea. Although that may seem an outlandish thing to do, it is only fair if you go to a country to respect their customs and culture. You don’t have to sing flowery praises about the regime, but just have respect for it by keeping your mouth shut and being open minded. Bow when asked to bow, do not make jokes about the leadership, situation or the politics of the country, try and put yourself in North Korea’s “shoes” and “point of view”. As you show respect, again you will be able to forge a better relationship with your guides, better trust and a more complete understanding of the country.
4. Talk to them
Your guides are human, they aren’t brainwashed robots. You can talk to them, you can get to know them. They have thoughts, they have feelings and they have opinions (even if they are unable to be honest with all of them). It is possible to make a friend with them, to touch their lives and even talk to them about the outside world (providing it is not criticizing their regime). The impression you leave on them is essential, you are likely the only contact with foreigners some of them will ever have.