REGENT HOLIDAYSNorth Korea tour: A trip to the hermit state is 'truly unique', Carl Meadows says
And despite the authoritarian regime’s reputation for brutality and the ongoing security crisis, Carl Meadows said he feels safer walking around the hermit kingdom than he does in the UK.
The travel specialist has made more than 20 trips to North Korea since first visiting in 2005 during the rule of Kim Jong-il.
He said although the country “may feel like it is close to war”, its residents have sadly come to accept the constant threat of conflict as “business as usual”.
He told Express.co.uk: “Foreign meddling in the Korean Peninsula has meant that Korea, both North and South, has been occupied, at war, or at the brink of war, for over a century.
On a day to day level I feel safer walking around in North Korea than I do here in the UK; I have never had any problems or issues whatsoever
“Decades of living as a colony of Japan, followed by the division of Korea by the USA and USSR, then the Korean War and Cold War means that those in the North have only really ever known a situation of being at ‘the brink of war’.
“So yes, the country may feel like it is close to war, but it has felt like this for over a century; thus being ‘at the brink of war’ has sadly become ‘business as usual’.”
Following Kim Jong-un's recent nuclear and ballistic missile tests, the Foreign Office advises against all but essential travel to North Korea.
But Carl, who is the senior Asia travel specialist for Regent Holidays, said Kim's regime is receptive to opening more of the country up to visitors.
And his last trip in June saw him escort a British group on a 17-day trip - their second tour of the reclusive state.
REGENT HOLIDAYSCarl Meadows has spent more than eight months leading tour groups in North Korea
REGENT HOLIDAYSThe Juche Tower in Pyongyang was reportedly designed by North Korea’s first leader, Kim il-sung
He said: “Arranging tours to North Korea isn’t easy – everything is based around personal relationships with our partners, our friends out in the country.
“We constantly strive to push the boundaries of what is possible, trying to increase the range of options and possibilities within the country.
“The government is normally quite open to our ideas and suggestions and the country is slowly opening up, one step at a time.”
But costing upwards of £1,825 per person for a nine day tour, a visit to North Korea is not cheap.
Only a handful of specialist travel agents operate tours, and independent travel is impossible.
REGENT HOLIDAYSCarl said is he able to speak more frankly to North Koreans after spending so long there
Foreign groups are required to have government minders with them at all times, and visitors are forbidden from taking pictures of anything which could display the country in a negative light.
But after years of working in North Korea, Carl said he is “trusted a little more than conventional visitors” and is able to speak much more frankly with the government guides.
However he said the ongoing security situation is not usually a topic of conversation.
He added: “On a day to day level I feel safer walking around in North Korea than I do here in the UK; I have never had any problems or issues whatsoever.”
Asked for his personal highlight from his 20 plus visits to the hermit kingdom, Carl said having the chance to see how the country has developed over the years was the most rewarding aspect.
REGENT HOLIDAYSThe North Korean government is reportedly keen to open up more of the country to tourists
And he insisted the lives of ordinary North Koreans had “undoubtedly improved over the last decade”.
He said: “There are so many things that I find unique about the country.
“In a world where the word unique is bandied around everywhere, North Korea is one of the few places that is truly ‘unique’.
"Hiking in the spectacular mountains, enjoying genuine exchanges with locals who have no real idea of the outside world and touring the country by helicopter are all bizarre – but commonplace experiences for visitors."
But he admitted a visit “isn’t for everybody”.
REGENT HOLIDAYSDespite its reputation, North Korea is home to some stunning scenery
He said: “It is a trip into a world unlike any other.
“You should disregard most of what you have been told of may have read about this fascinating and beautiful country and, if you have an open mind, should consider a visit to make up your own mind.
“North Korea has its problems, it is by no means perfect, but I am adamant that there are far worse, far more questionable governments and nations in the world, many of which we happily court here in the UK for big business.
“Due to increased sanctions from the UN, unless something gives, the country will only become further isolated from the international community.
“Tourism is therefore one of the only open channels for much needed cultural exchange between the North Korean people and the outside world.”