Exploring North Korea and Running the Pyongyang Marathon

Exploring North Korea and Running the Pyongyang Marathon

2000px-Flag_of_North_Korea.svgThe Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), aka “The Hermit Kingdom”, has always seemed like a mysterious land. The timing on my lap through Asia worked out perfectly, and I decided to check it out for myself – and to run the 2015 Pyongyang Marathon in the process. In short: exploring North Korea was an interesting look into an isolated kingdom, I ran my best marathon ever – 3:34, and took over 2500 photos and 3 hours of video, edited and presented below.

Accessing North Korea

uritours-1-main-rgb-large-300x99To get into North Korea as a tourist, it’s necessary to join a government-sanctioned tour group. Normally I tend to plan my own solo travel, often planning only a day or two ahead – so joining a tour group was a bit of departure for me. However it’s really the only way to do it, and actually, it was a great experience joining a proper tour group – even if our every move was overseen by a group of government guides.

I traveled with expert tour operator Uri Tours, and specifically did their Pyongyang Marathon Beijing Departure Long Tour option. Before deciding to go to the DPRK with them, I did a bit of research on all of the companies running trips, and decided on Uri Tours for a number of reasons: They had a marathon-specific tour, which included both entry into the 2015 Pyongyang Marathon, as well as a more typical tour component. They seemed like they were a smaller company, with a bit more of a personal touch – my pre-sales emails were handled quickly and with a personal vibe. Finally, their CEO Andrea Lee seemed like a genuinely cool person, and took responsibility for leading the tour herself. During the trip I got to know her a bit, and it’s obvious that she puts everything she can into making these tours great. I’d certainly recommend Uri Tours for any of their itineraries. (Uri Tours Pyongyang Marathon Photo Album)

My experience exploring the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – North Korea

north-korea-mapDuring my time in North Korea, I took close to 2500 photos, and around three hours of video. After a bit of editing, I’ve narrowed it down to 150 key photos, and a long video collection. This photo essay is a bit longer than my normal photo essays – I’ve chosen to include more images than I normally would, to give room for the many, many interesting aspects of the DPRK.

I was shooting on three cameras – an Apple iPhone6 smartphone, Sony RX100mk3 compact point and shoot camera (which I love very very much), and a GoPro Hero 4 Silver Action Camera. Photos from all three cameras are mixed into this collection. (Also on Flickr)

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Flying to North Korea



Running the 2015 Pyongyang Marathon

16675477780_b054d58142_oThe main attraction for this trip was to run the 2015 Pyongyang Marathon. This was the second year that the marathon was open to foreigners, so it was a fairly new experience for everybody involved. It’s such a new thing for North Korea to be opening this to foreigners, that in the weeks leading up to the even, they actually suspended foreign entries, as they worked out the kinks in the system. In addition to my group from Uri Tours, there were also a bunch of other tour groups there – totalling about 200 foreign runners in total. For details on the exact marathon route, be sure to check out the Uri Tours Pyongyang Marathon Route post.

Uri Tours Marathon Promo Video

During the first two days of my exploration of North Korea, I worked with filmmaker Justin Martell to shoot a brief promo video for Uri Tours. It includes footage shot by Justin, Matthew Galat, and myself.


Video from inside North Korea


Throughout my trip, my group was flanked by a North Korean videographer, who tracked our every move on camera. At the end of the trip, he delivered a tripped out video diary, complete with a voiceover narrative, and the real star of the show, the synthy North Korean theme music, overlaid on most of the video. In the old school style of trip videos, this one is long long long and is mostly raw footage of me and my group exploring various parts of the country. The voiceover is a great example of the kind of stories and vibe that the tour had.

DPRK Tourism Video

DPRK Playlist – all videos, and raw clips of almost everything….

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7 responses to “Exploring North Korea and Running the Pyongyang Marathon”

  1. Wow, what a long read! Great article though, amazing to go to North Korea! I went to Myanmar (Burma) before the political reform and imagine that there are some small similarities to your trip to NK. I really want to go to North Korea some day too.

    1. Thanks for reading, Nigel. Burma is indeed wonderful as well – here are a few photos! https://www.jeffreydonenfeld.com/blog/tag/myanmar/

  2. Wow, what a window into this “secret” country. Thanks for sharing Jeff! I did notice that same bottle of Songaliquor was also on your bedside table in your hotel room, lol. And with regards to your Pin before I read the caption I assumed you were rocking a Kim Pin!