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INTRODUCING NORTH KOREA
Local Name: 북한
Other Name(s): Chosongul, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, DPRK
Following World War II, Korea was split, with the northern half coming under Communist domination and the southern portion becoming Western-oriented. KIM Chong-il has ruled North Korea since his father and the country's founder, president KIM Il-song, died in 1994. After decades of mismanagement, the North relies heavily on international food aid to feed its population while continuing to expend resources to maintain an army of about 1 million. North Korea's long-range missile development and research into nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and massive conventional armed forces are of major concern to the international community. In December 2002, North Korea repudiated a 1994 agreement that shut down its nuclear reactors and expelled UN monitors, further raising fears it would produce nuclear weapons.

North Korea is by far the most closed nation in the world, and not much is known about life inside the Hermit Kingdom. It is surrounded by myths and rumors, many having been created by its government. Even inside the country it is impossible to know where reality ends and fantasy (and lies) begins, a distinction even more difficult to make for the local population who have been isolated from the outside world for over 60 years. A visit to North Korea is a journey like no other. You cannot interact with the local population, and you'll have two guides watching you every step of the way. But you can still be assured that you will experience plenty that will let you marvel long after you have left the country.

When going to North Korea remember that there are some things you'll have to leave behind. Your cell-phone will not be very popular with North Korean customs. The same goes for newspapers and magazines, characterized as imperialist propaganda. Laptops, DVDs, CDs and other electronic equipment will also be found suspicious by the customs officials. If you're an avid photographer bringing too much equipment might raise the suspicion that you're a journalist. Though, on the bright side, most tourists are not very thorougly searched on arrival.

Once inside North Korea there is one rule you should never forget. The North Koreans take their leaders very seriously, so never ever insult neither Kim Il-Sung or Kim Jong-il. You will at least be deported, and might even get the chance to see the inside of a North Korean prison. On the positive side, your guides won't expect you to show quite the same amount of devotion for the leaders as the poor North Koreans have to show.

No matter how you enter North Korea you will be greeted by the smiling "Great Sun" Kim Il-Sung within a short time of your arrival. Even though he's been dead for more than 10 years his picture still watches over "his" people in almost every place't disrespect the guy or his son while in North Korea. The poor North Koreans can be imprisoned and even executed for doing this. Even as a foreigner you could face imprisonment for just one snide comment.

For a country with a population of 23 million North Korea does not have many connections to the outside world. Train K27 departs Beijing four times a week for its 28 hour journey to Pyongyang. There is also a weekly departure to Moscow, along the Trans-Siberian. The only alternative to trains is flying, using the national carrier Air Koryo. Independent travel to North Korea is not permitted, so you have to travel as part of a guided tour.