As a photographer and journalist, the idea of pursuing real mysteries of the World has always excited me. My interest in the unseen, unexplored lands has led me to research North Korea. There is really very little information on and very few photos of this mysterious country behind closed doors. The information on the internet also seems untrustworthy. So what is the real truth about North Korea?

In this article, I will share my experiences and photographs of North Korea. My desire to visit North Korea was kindled when I visited South Korea two years ago. Since then, I had the chance to go over some of the articles and photos by those who have recently visited the country. There was one piece of information concerning tourists who wished to visit North Korea that was certainly correct, and that was you couldn’t just travel to this country on your own and enter at will. My trip this April was no exception.

I had to join a tour organized by the tour company “Dünya Değişmeden” (“Before the World Changes.”)

I had heard of the tour organization from journalist Coşkun Aral, who also joined our group of 15 to visit North Korea fort he first time. But the two of us had special permission to enter this curious country openly as journalists.

It’s easier to obtain a North Korean visa than most people think. You fill out a couple of forms and provide a few documents, and the tour company does the rest. Our visas were issued by the North Korean consular agency in Bulgaria. You can fly to North Korea from Russia (Vladivostok) or from China (Beijing). We chose to take the 90-minute flight from Beijing to Pyongyang. You need to join a pre-arranged government tour to travel around Noth Korea. It is prohibited to travel alone, and you can’t even leave your hotel without the accompaniment of the official guides. So you can’t just wander around the streets and sit in a park for a few hours. We stayed at the famous Yankkado Hotel as most tourists do in Pyongyang. Our entire group stayed on the 23rd. Floor. We spent 6 days in North Korea, following the pre-arranged itinerary and guided by 2 official guides who were assigned to our group. The itinerary included locations that were permitted for tourists by the government. For example, when we visited the Pyongyang Subway, one of the deepest in the World, our entry station and our destination were previously determined by the government. There is no such thing as spontaneity in these itineraries. Naturally all government employees are extremely kind and helpful so as not to create any negative opinions about their country. Military zones, government buildings, the police force, government stores and a few more locations are not allowed to be photographed. But you can still secretly take photos, and I was able to photograph quite a few soldiers, either from our tour bus or using a zoom lens. But if you are caught photographing in prohibited zones, they warn you not so kindly, and they may check and erase your photos.

North Koreans have been living in total isolation from the rtest of the world for a long time. Internet access as we know it is prohibited. It is impossible for an ordinary citizen to leave the country. There are only two TV stations that are controlled by the government. Even visiting the capital city of Pyongyang is a distant possibility for most Koreans. Throughout the trip it was obvious that Kim Il-Sung, the founding father of the country held a very special place among North Koreans. Every adult has a pin on his or her left lapel with the photo of their leader. Every official building and many corners of the city have monuments and memorials for their leader. North Koreans have great respect for their culture and traditions. Everyone has a job in the country and unemployment is not an option. Pyongyang city center is full of multi-story residential buildings. The homes here are allocated by years of service to the government, occupation and the number of children. There is no concept of ownership and housing is free or a small fee is charged. Although the lack of private ownership seems strange to us, we are told that there are no homeless in the country and the government takes care of all its citizens. The streets in Pyongyang are quite wide, some avenues have five lanes each way. Some of the sources that I read before going to North Korea said that there were hardly any cars and traffic poliçe guided the traffic in empty streets, but this was not exactly the case. Maybe things have changed in the last 3-4 years. Some streets even have traffic lights. Of course there are almost no privately owned vehicles.

Let’s talk about some of the places we have visited in our North Korea tour. The Kim Il-Sung Square is one of the most important spots in the country. All of those huge military parades take place here. The Public Education Palace, Mansudae Park, Art Houses, Korean War Museum, Juche Tower, Korean Workers’ Party Monument, Moranbong Theatre, Kaesong City, Sariwon Park, The Reunification Monument,

The Arch of Triumph, a primary school in Pyongsong city, giant statues of Kim Il-Sung and his son Kim Jong-Il, the Kumsusan Palace and the leaders’ mausoleums, the Panmunjom village on the South Korean border and the Demilitarized zone on the border were some of the places we visited.