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The political climate in North Korea (DPRK) has significant changes in the last few years, allowing the overland travelers to self-drive / self-ride into North Korea with their own vehicles and bikes then out of the country. Join us for one of the lifetime drive to this secretive country then see what it is like there.
NOTE: Due to the cold weather and heavy snowfall during winter in North Korea, this trip is best to take from late March to early November.
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DAY 01: ONSONG BORDER – RASON
Welcome to North Korea, the Hermit Kingdom. Our Asia Senses local guides will be awaiting at the WONJONG or ONSONG BORDER checkpoint then providing with the border custom clearance and documentation for you to drive in.
Onsong lies along the Tumen River, which forms the border with China. To the north of Onsong is Jilin Province, China. Onsong also contains the northernmost point in Korea. The land of Onsong is mainly mountainous, although a part is flatland. It has a continental climate, and is the region of Korea with the longest winter, except the Kaema Plateau.
The border clearance process takes 2 hours. After that, start this North Korea self drive tour with a drive towards downtown RASON and enjoy lunch at the Rason International Trade Agency. After lunch, we visit a foreign language book store and souvenir shop where guests have a chance to see and even buy DPRK books written in other languages, including English. Then we’re off to a local kindergarten to watch an entertaining musical performance by the students. If time permits, continue on a walking tour of the Rajin city before having dinner and free at leisure at your hotel.
Overnight in Rason.
Rajin Hotel Imperial Hotel & Casino
DAY 02: RASON – CHONGJIN – KYONGSONG
After breakfast in Rason, travel to CHONGJIN. Located approximately 100 km south of Rason along the coast, this is North Korea's third largest city and called the 'city of iron' owing to its status as a major centre of heavy industry. Arrive in time for lunch.
After lunch, guests set out to explore the city. First up is a visit to a local kindergarten where children wow guests with singing and dancing. Up next is a trip to Pohang Square, the center of the city, where guests stop by giant bronze statues of Comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, erected in 2014.
Then travel to KYONGSONG, which is 30 km away, and is known for its famous natural hot springs and ceramics. Visitors have the option of visiting the hot springs, believed to have a variety of health benefits, and a place visited by thousands of Chinese guests every year. The night ends with dinner and rest at the hotel.
Overnight in Kyongsong.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
DAY 03: KYONGSONG – SAMJIYON
In the morning, we head out on a 5-hour scenic drive to SANJIYON. Upon arrival, have lunch in a local restaurant in the town.
Following lunch, start the sightseeing in Samjiyon town with a visit to the powerful Rimyongsu Waterfall created from the waters of Lake Chon flowing out from the ground-water zone and through the cliff. We will then visit the Samjiyon Revolutionary Museum which is displayed materials on the final attack for Korea's liberation army in the Musan area.
Then we visit the Samjiyon Grand Monument, a massive bronze monument (19.7 m) of a young Kim Il-Sung. This is the second-largest monument to Kim Il-Sung in North Korea. The impressive monument is standing on the shore of Samji Lake with Mount Paektu as background. Have dinner and free at leisure.
To begin the North Korea Overland Tour today, we drive to MOUNT PAEKTU, the highest mountain (2750 m) of the Changbai and Paektudaegan ranges. It is also the highest mountain on the Korean Peninsula and in northeastern China. It is regarded as the origin point of the first Korean Kingdom and is sacred in both North and South Korea. We will hike or take the incline railway for 2.5 euros to the top (1 hour hiking).
Mount Paektu was formed by volcanic eruption towards the third period of the Cenozoic Era and the crater Lake Chon in the center is one of the deepest (and surely most beautiful!) mountain lakes in the world. If weather permits we can hike down to Lake Chon which measures about 384 meters in depth.
We will then have a high-altitude picnic lunch before hiking to the Paektusan Secret Camp, headquarters of the anti- Japanese revolutionary struggle and the birthplace of General Kim Jong Il. We will see some preserved items from his early years, Jong-Il Peak and other odes to the camps revolutionary history such as monuments and famous slogan trees.
After lunch, drive south towards Hyesan. Along the way, there is a chance to stop and take pictures of Amnok River Gorge at Chongun Rock, or 1000 Soldier Rocks. Arrive in HYESAN in the late afternoon.
Overnight in Hyesan.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
DAY 05: HYESAN – HAMHUNG
In the morning, leave Hyesan, the Overland North Korea Tour takes you to Hamhung the industrial center of the country in the eastern part. En route, enjoy a scenic drive through the highlands above Hamhung to reach Pujon Highlands, traditionally considered as one of the ‘Eight Great Sights of Korea’.
Explore to the Pujon Stone River, a multi-kilometer river of boulders running down the side a mountain and the Okryonsan Revolutionary Site - a base for anti-Japanese guerillas during the colonial period. This region was the sight of some of the most brutal fighting of the Korean War in the middle of the unusually cold winter of 1950. Notice how the local architecture differs from the lowlands beneath.
After lunch, continue to HAMHUNG, arrive in the late afternoon. Upon arrival, check in your hotel then visit the exterior of the Grand Theatre and Central Square, the largest theatre building in the country.
Continue to Home of Ri Song Gye, home of the first king of the Ri Dynasty (1392-1910) who extinguished the Koryo Dynasty, only to be then ousted by his own son. A traditional hall and pavilion and associated naughty stories of the former king’s retirement years – some not appropriate for the youth!
In the morning, we visit the Hungnam Fertilizer Factory, a massive chemical-industrial plant producing various kinds of fertilizers. Tour of the plant control room, production facilities, and packing plant - just don’t light up next to the Ammonium Nitrate! Stop to visit the Mount Tonghung, home for several attractions: Kumchon Pavilion, Hamhung Wall, Sonhwa Hall, Haebang Pavilion and some other old buildings.
Kumchon Pavilion is the northern general's terrace built in 1108, it functioned as a commanding post in wartime and a watch tower in peacetime. It was first built during the Koryo Dynasty and rebuilt in 1613 in the period of Ri dynasty. Hamhung Wall is at the moment only part of the wall is preserved. It used to be single in mountain area and double in the field and flat areas. The present wall was rebuilt in 1108.
Meanwhile, Sonhwa Hall is on the southern slope of Tonghung Mountain is Sonhwa Hall, dating from 1416, but rebuilt in 1764. It also has the Chingchong Pavilion. It was the main building of the government office of the province in the period of Ri dynasty. Several building were there but only this Hall and the attached buildings have remained until today. The Hall was first built in 1416 and rebuilt in 1764.
In the afternoon, it is the time to relax on the beach. You can celebrate the barbecue party on the white sand of the beach, then see the locals playing games and football cheerfully.
Drive south to WONSAN, a major port city on the East Sea, stopping at scenic spots along the way. Afterwards, stroll into the city of Wonsan and have a guided tour of the Revolutionary Sites that played a prominent role in the fight against Japanese occupation and the Korean War.
Get a tour of the Wonsan University of Agriculture, touted as the top institution for agricultural development in the country. The DPRK’s premier agricultural university set among beautiful hillside scenery. Tour the grounds and the neo-Romanesque teaching hall, originally built by Germans living in the area in the early 20th century. Continue to Kangwon Province Art Gallery, a small art exhibition selling artwork by local artists, followed by a visit to Songdowon International Schoolchildren’s Camp, a classic socialist summer camp where Korean and international children can spend two weeks learning socialist values and teamwork.
Visit the Wonsan City Docks which includes a central square and bronze monuments to the Great Leaders. Walk along the pier between dozens of fisherman to the Jangdok Islet where you can buy seafood that was caught just seconds ago by local vendors. We will get a picturesque view of the Wonsan skyline from here. Enjoy a city leisurely stroll through Wonsan before settling in for dinner at a local seafood restaurant.
Start the Self Drive North Korea Tour today with a 2.5 -3 hour drive south along the East Sea coast to the scenic MOUNT KUMGANG, the ‘Diamond Mountain’ noted in East Asian history and famous in Korean legend. Home of some of Korea’s most spectacular natural landscapes and best hiking.
Upon arrival, explore the Samil Lagoon, a charming green-water coastal lagoon lined by pine forests. Named for the ‘three-day’ stay (sam-il) of a king in days gone-by to take in the full beauty of the area.
After lunch, spend the afternoon hiking in the Mount Kumgang area – ‘The Diamond Mountain’ – a series of peaks and canyons rising above Korea’s eastern seaboard and regarded since time immemorial as one of the most scenic regions in East Asia. A 8 km (round-trip) hike to a scenic ‘Nine-Dragons’ waterfall will take us through forests, along mountain streams and by emerald pools.
Drive back north to Wonsan in the morning then visit Former Wonsan Railway Station Revolutionary Site which was used as a preserved Japanese colonial era train station, waiting room, guesthouse, and the train which future President Kim Il Sung rode to Pyongyang during the liberation of the country in 1945. Spend time to relax before we leave for Pyongyang capital. Watch North Korean countryside life go by as we head back to PYONGYANG.
Upon arrival, head over to the Mansudae Grand Monument, an important site famous for its large, bronze statues of President Kim Il Sung and Chairman Kim Jong Il. It is customary to bow and lay flowers here. Stroll through the Mansudae Fountain Park, a serene meeting spot for students and an often used backdrop for wedding photos.
Continue to hotel for check in. For dinner, you will be treated to an evening cruise on the new full service ferry, Mujigae, docked on the Taedong River across from the Juche Tower. Another choice is to visit the Mansugyo Beer Bar, a new standing bar serving seven type of local beer. This bar is popular with locals after work.
If your day coincides Thursday or Sunday, start your North Korea tour this morning with a visit to the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, the grand mausoleum where the late leaders lie in state and the most solemn location on the itinerary. Please note formal dress is required. Men are required collared shirt with tie, dark non-jean pants, and dark shoes. Women required covered shoulders, knee-length dress or pants, and closed toed shoes.
NOTE: The Palace is open on Thursday and Sunday; and closed during May - June period.
Afterwards, take a walk in the Kim Il Sung Square, the 3rd largest public square in the world and home to many of the North Korean military parades broadcasted internationally during important holiday events. Stroll in relaxed manner through the city to the Foreign Languages Bookshop which provides the best chance in the DPRK to pick up postcards, publications, posters and other trinkets that make perfect souvenirs. Then visit the Grand People’s Study House, an extensive library used to further education and the heart of study on the national Juche ideology. The viewing deck here provides a great photo opportunity of the Kim Il Sung Square and Taedong River!
After lunch, visit the Mangyongdae Native House, the birthplace and childhood home of President Kim Il Sung, a traditional Korean house in a beautiful natural surrounding. We will then head deep underground to take a 5-stop ride on the Pyongyang Metro, the deepest metro in the world with stunning artwork reflecting the name of each station. Ride six stations on the Chollima Line.
We’ll then learn about the DPRK’s defining ideology, the Juche philosophy, on a visit to the iconic Tower of Juche Idea. For those who wish to take the lift 150-meters to the top, you’ll enjoy the best views in Pyongyang city. Have a photo stop at the massive Monument to Party Founding, built to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Workers’ Party of Korea, featuring the hammer, sickle, writing brush which represent the workers, farmers, and intellectuals.
Afterwards, pay a visit to either Golden Lane Bowling or Meari Shooting Range and then follow up with a casual evening walk on the new Ryomyong Street, home to Pyongyang’s most extravagant apartment complexes and opened in just April 2017 to international media attention. For dinner, have Korean Bibimbap and get the chance to taste local Korean draft beers at the Taedonggang Microbrewery.
In the morning, enjoy a 2.5 hour drive south along the 'Reunification Highway' to the historic city of KAESONG then will head for the DMZ where we’ll hear from our guides a perspective of the Korean War that often gets discredited or unheard. Your North Korea tour package is not complete without a visit to this historic place. There is an opportunity to make a stop at the Monument to the Three Charters of Reunification, a large stone archway over the highway memorializing joint agreements between north and south.
At the DMZ, explore Panmunjom Armistice Village, shake hands at the exact place that the Armistice Agreement was signed between UN forces and the DPRK in 1953, and wave hello to the South at the blue houses in the Joint Security Area. Here we will be accompanied by military guides from the Korean People's Army. Afterwards, we will head to the Koryo History Museum or Kaesong Koryo Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage site, to learn about the Koryo Dynasty (where the name Korea originates). You’ll also have a chance to pick from the most varied range of stamps, postcards, local ginseng, souvenirs, art, and more in the country at the Koryo Stamp Shop.
For lunch, enjoy Pansanggi, a historic Kaesong cuisine traditionally served for royalty. It is made of 12 dishes served in brass bowls fit for the kings of old. The more dishes, the more distinguished the guest! Afterwards, stop at the original Sonjuk Bridge, a UNESCO site.
Take this chance to visit the tomb of King Kongmin, the 31st king of the Koryo Dynasty, a talented statesman and prolific painter, and his Mongolian wife. The tomb was recognized as A UNESCO World Heritage Site.