Watch My DPRK Documentary: An American Tourist in North Korea

Watch My DPRK Documentary: An American Tourist in North Korea

Today I’m excited to publish the documentary I shot last April 2015 in North Korea with Filmmaker Justin Martell and Uri Tours Owner Andrea Lee. We’ve been working hard for the past few months to assemble everything, and here’s the result.

More on my exploration of North Korea are on the main blog post: Exploring North Korea and Running the Pyongyang Marathon


Voiceover transcript, for reference:

JEFF I’m Jeffrey Donenfeld, and I am an adventure travel consultant, interactive technology strategist, and expedition photographer.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, also known North Korea, has always seemed mysterious. In April, I decided to check it out for myself – and to run the 2015 Pyongyang Marathon in the process.
To get into North Korea as a tourist, it’s necessary to join a tour group. I traveled with expert tour operator Uri Tours, and specifically did their Pyongyang Marathon Beijing Departure Long Tour option.
Our initial meeting as a group was the night before at a restaurant in Beijing, and then most people stayed together that night in Beijing in a hotel.
The next morning, we departing Beijing for the DPRK via the country’s official airline, Air Koyo, on a Russian-made Antonov AN-148.
The ride was smooth; refreshments included sandwiches and beer, and the entertainment consisted of a concert DVD of the Moranbong Band.
After landing in Pyongyang, we were greeting by our guides from the Korean International Tour Company and boarded a coach bus to the the capital of the DPRK, Pyongyang.
We checked in at the Yanggakdo Hotel in the center of the city, on the Taedong River.
After dinner with our tour group in the hotel’s dining room, it was off to bed to get some rest for the Pyongyang Marathon.
JEFF After the marathon, my group returned to the hotel to clean up and have lunch in the rotating restaurant atop of the Yanggakdo Hotel. The view from the top is spectacular, with Pyongyang stretching into the distance.
At the Mansu Hill Grand Monument, the huge statues of leaders Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung dominate, surrounded by memorials to the Japanese Occupation of Korea and the Korean War.
At the Pyongyang Victorious War Museum, our tour guide wore a military uniform, showed our group relics from the Korean War, and took us aboard the captured US Navy Ship Pueblo.
Afterward, we had dinner at a restaurant on the other side of town – traditional korean hot pot! And, of course, lots of beer.
Next we checked into Koryo Hotel, the second largest hotel in the DPRK. The lobby was grand, and with leader Kim Il Sung’s birthday approaching, it was full of Kimjongilia and Kimilsungia.
The rooms are soviet-style kitsch replete with a smoking lounge, comfortable beds and a tv with 3 channels running your favorite DPRK music videos and soap operas.
JEFF The next morning we had breakfast and headed south to Kaesong, a city right on the border with South Korea.
As we approached the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, there were giant, colorful posters promoting unification of North and South Korea.
We were bused down a long, isolated road and entered the Joint Security Area.
We were also shown the armistice agreements, one in Korean, the other in English, preserved under glass.
There were also numerous displays chronicling the many visits the DPRK’s leaders have made to the DMZ to inspect the front line.
Our KPA guide lead us to the actual Military Demarcation Line. The feeling was light and jovial – but with the undertone that it could turn serious quickly.
After exiting the JSA, we visited the Koryo History Museum which is located in the city’s former Confucian academy, and contains priceless Goryeo relics and cultural artifacts.
Next to the museum is the Koryo Stamp Shop, where you can purchase DPRK themed posters, along with postcards and stamps so you can send a one of a kind keepsake to your friends back home.
Before leaving, we enjoyed traditional Kaesong cuisine at the Janamsan Hotel.
The subway cars are soviet built, and, though vintage, they run well.
The Pyongyang metro stations are grand, and each one having its own artistic motif and elaborate mosaics depicting the leadership as well as life in North Korea
In the station, there are central displays with the day’s newspaper.
The annual Kimilsungia flower show is held in honor of Kim Il Sung’s birthday – and featured an entire hall filled with some of the most intensely arranged and ornate flowers I’ve ever seen.
That night we enjoyed some of the best beer in town at the Taedonggang Craft Brewery bar. There are seven different beers available, conveniently numbered 1-7, from lightest to darkest. Of course, the bar also has a healthy supply of Korea’s most popular liquor, Soju.
JEFF The next morning we checked out of the Koryo Hotel and southwest to Mount Myohyangsan. It is a beautiful mountain, and I had a great time hiking it with the group.
After our hike, we enjoyed seafood and fresh clams at a restaurant in the port city of Nampo. After serving the food, the staff changed into costumes, and performed an entertaining song and dance routine.
After lunch, we chartered a private boat and cruised 15 kilometers down the Taedong River to the West Sea Barrage, a sprawling 8-kilometer long system of dams which blocks off the Taedong river from the yellow sea.
After a day on the water, we arrived at the remote Ryonggang Hot Springs Resort in Onchon, outside of Nampo. The bathtubs in our rooms filled up with water from the hot springs, which was advertised as “healing” and “therapeutic.”
JEFF We took a beautiful early morning ride through Onchon, passing many cooperative farms, we passed through Nampo and arrived back in Pyongyang where citizens were enjoying The Day of The Sun, birthday of the country’s founder Kim Il Sung, and the biggest Holiday in North Korea.
First we visited the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, a mausoleum where leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il lie in state.
After a lunch that consisted of North Korea’s signature dish, cold noodle soup, one member of group jumped into a soccer game with the locals, while I made some new friends.
Next we took a stroll through the iconic Moranbong Park, where we were greeted by the locals and even invited to dance with them.
We went across town to Mangyondae, Kim Il Sung’s birthplace, and toured a nostalgic recreation of the hut where he lived as a boy under Japanese occupation. We toured the site alongside a large group of boys who looked to be the DPRK’s version of the boy scouts.
All week we had been seeing the locals practicing dance routines, and finally we got to see what they had been working on; an extravagant, choreographed dance routine in the center of Pyongyang.
JEFF The DPRK is a place like no other; an enigmatic socialist time warp, filled with beauty and intrigue. I have traveled extensively, but my trip to North Korea with Uri Tours will remain by far of my most amazing travel experiences.

Super special thanks to Mike & Anne from HoneyTrekRTW Packing List for their support in spreading word of this doc. They rock!