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Unfortunately, going into North Korea sometimes yields the impression that you’re entering a giant theatrical display; and those who are not designated actors are off-limits.
However, this act of theater is actually very thin. If you happen to get a bad group of guides (it’s never happened to me), then you might find your access to the general public is off limits. However, by establishing trust with your supervisors and demonstrating that you’re not some kind of loose canon, you’ll find that you’ll suddenly be given permission to meet, greet, and hang out with various locals.
All photos were taken in April 2013 and are copyright to Cyrus Kirkpatrick, all rights reserved.
Click on any image to expand it
The spirit of Pyongyang (“city in the flat-land”) has endured for thousands of years, and despite being continually shattered by warfare, it always springs from the ashes in some unique way. The form the city has taken in the last century is perhaps the most peculiar in its 5000 year history; it is now a city of forbidden sights – a showcase capitol of a socialist utopia that never quite achieved its promise. It is a city filled with lights, grandiose monuments, amazing breweries, high-quality restaurants, hard-working people, and dark secrets.
Next week I return to the mostly frigid conditions of Pyongyang and the regions around the infamous “Central City”. This trip is marked by political turmoil and what appears to be another extended winter, with freezing conditions at night and a chilled air in the daytime. Will the skies be gray and filled with a dwindled sense of hope after international sanctions, or will it be the same happy and bustling place I experienced during the jovial 100th anniversary festival last year?
My expectations lean toward the former. This is one of the more turbulent periods in the North’s history, and I don’t know if there’s going to be the same charm I experienced the first time around.
But what I am excited about is the opportunities that accompany this trip. A major focus for me is the creation of new media out of the country to further cast a light on the people of the North, and this can be done through film and photo. Challenges include the same issues I faced last time, namely working with limited production equipment and trying to edit together a video when it’s all finished. However, with new lenses and hopefully better audio equipment, I aim to make this project a bit higher quality.
As usual, I am hearing a lot of negative feedback from friends and family, as North Korea is not your typical destination, and most wonder why I would choose to ‘vacation’ in such a place. The truth is that this is not a vacation. While I really enjoy being an adventurer, I am trying to do some type of work that I hope somewhere, somehow, pays off – whether through increasing awareness of the plight of North Koreans or perhaps even to eventually help fund an existing charity.
Personal, Mental Notes:
- Bring more backup camera batteries this time.
- Fill out my antibiotic prescription and take it with me. Last time I lucked out, but eating North Korean food can be a gamble. However, it’s still not as bad as Thai street food.
- Be thankful I can walk. I broke my leg almost 5 months ago now. It’s still harder to walk up stairs and do certain movements, but I am mostly healed.
- If I can find a second digital polaroid between now and tomorrow, that’d be great. Jordan’s was a big hit last time, and it’s needed to help lighten the mood, especially if I am trying to take portrait style pictures of locals.
- Keep some pictures on my cam from Arizona to show my guide and others who have maybe never seen / heard of saguaros before.
On the 6th of April I’ll be back in the USA, and I’ll begin the process of unloading all of the media produced from within the DPRK. Stay tuned.
The humid, coastal / tropical conditions of the gulf of Thailand is beginning to get to me as I start to miss the lovely Arizona winter climate. Out here, it’s 85 fahrenheit every-day, and when I step outside my face drips with sweat.
But, I also realize I am on the swan song of my months in Thailand, and I’ll probably miss a lot about this country, including even the atrocious weather. I only have so much time left to make an impact with more cool photos and videos, while simultaneously I have to start thinking about my next job abroad and where else I can adventure (aside from my return to North Korea at the end of March).
It’s hard to leave a country you’ve adapted to. To leave means I must say goodbye to my girlfriend who I’ve been with for months through various arduous trials. She was there when I broke my leg in November, and helped nurse me back to health. Today, as I walk normally after a surprisingly fast recovery, I cannot take for granted that a few months ago I thought I’d be leaving Thailand in a wheelchair.
I’ve had a lot of crazy experiences out here. From the awesome friends I made in Bangkok, to my not-so-awesome experiences at an office-based job that completely fell to pieces. I’ve dealt with crazy farangs (that is – crazy British expats), crazy bar girls, and crazy Tuk Tuk drivers. But, even the crazy stuff has helped define my experiences in a positive way.
From going deep into Isaan, to the giant Buddha art of Ko Chi Chang mountain, there’s a lot of sights to see in this place. But, to understand Thailand you have to look beyond the tourist nonsense that everyone is over-saturated with, and get to know the Thai people – whether through new friends, or maybe a new lover. The Thai people are enigmatic – lots of smiles, but most certainly a level of poverty that influences their behavior – sometimes in a very negative way. But, nobody is perfect, and it’s impossible to leave this country without a ton of new friends and family.
I never really thought much about Thailand before my opportunity with a travel company brought me here. Now, inevitably, I will return here. The low cost of living is a major draw, but my need to stay in-touch with new friends and surrogate family ensures my eventual return.
My last chapter involves going to Phi Phi island in the pristine Phuket region, one of the nicest places on Earth (which means it will be swarming with tourists). After that a final reminiscent week in Jomtien / Pattaya, then back to America.
As some may know, I am returning to North Korea in just over six weeks from the date of this post.
It’s admittedly an unusual time to go, given their nuclear detonation this week. Some elements of the DPRK government remain completely outside the realm of logic and reason. I wonder how much the latest sanctions and provocation will affect their tourism industry.
That being said, aside from the strange political time to enter Pyongyang, this trip is going to be very interesting for a lot of reasons. The first reason is because we will be accompanied by a very well-known TV channel. That is all of the details I can disclose about this, but there’s going to be some very interesting material being produced about the country very soon, in particular during our trip.
The trip is also bound to be memorable as I am again going with famous dating coach Jordan Harbinger from The Art of Charm, and renown North Korean photographer Joseph Ferris from An American in North Korea. Odds are, it will be another crazy and eccentric good time.
Post Your Requests
All that being said, if you found this page from Reddit or elsewhere, I wanted to provide an opportunity for people to post requests (within reason) and I’ll see if I can fulfill some of them.
This may include pictures of specific things in the country, or how you’d like to see me interacting with locals.
For space reasons, I cannot make large purchases for you. But, if there’s a specific item like a North Korean magazine or one of their many souvenir books about their eccentric Juche philosophy, then contact me ahead of time at the below e-mail. I would need payment ahead of time to make the purchase after I am in North Korea, plus shipping after I return to America.
If you want North Korean shampoo, I may be able to smuggle one or two little bottles out of the Yangakkdo hotel for you. It’s surprisingly high quality.
I won’t be able to fulfill every request, but I can definitely handle a few. Don’t be angry if I can’t or am unable to complete a request.
These photos chronicle life in the far northeastern rural countryside of Isaan. Many of the people in these remote towns are rarely exposed to farangs (foreigners), so it was an especially unique opportunity to join with a family for an annual celebration.
This celebration involved their family house being cleared out so that a troupe of Buddhist monks could visit and bless everybody in the neighborhood. Just about everybody within several kilometers arrived at this small farm to tithe with the monks and pray.
The celebration also included an Isan custom where new arrivals to their community are blessed by a priest, while all of the local women tie pieces of string to the wrists of the arrivals to further enhance their luck. I counted forty pieces of string on my wrist by the end of the ritual.
Most striking was a magnificent temple we visited very close to the farmhouse. The Prha Maha temple was more grandiose than even the temples of Bangkok. And, it was completely off the ‘tourist map’. Just to find the place I had to pay a local to drive me there, and she had apparently not seen a Western person in many years.
Together with the Thai family, we drove further west toward the border with Laos, where I went shopping at some obscure marketplaces directly opposite the Laos border, and then payed homage at another temple.
The entire region of Isaan shares many similarities with the country of Laos, including both cuisine and linguistics. In fact, many residents of this country are bilingual and speak both standard Thai and their own regional, Laos-inspired dialect.
This makes for a very unique culture that is equal parts sovereign and independent as it is a dynamic and unmistakable part of Thailand.
Here’s your chance to get a new perspective about Thailand, in particular the Chonburi district that contains the famous city of Pattaya, a place filled with crime, intrigue, and sordid amounts of sex. Most of my articles, however, are more of the family friendly sort. Guaranteed before I leave here, and once I learn to walk again, I’ll have a grittier perspective about my days in the City of Extremes.
http://www.mydestination.com/pattaya/travel-articles/721183/going-bananas-in-pattaya Everything you never wanted to know about Thai bananas.
http://www.mydestination.com/pattaya/travel-articles/721186/hot-times-in-pattaya Smoldering hot Thai food, what’s going on with that?
http://www.mydestination.com/pattaya/travel-articles/721189/street-smarts-in-thailand How to get around in the terrifying world of Thai traffic.
http://www.mydestination.com/pattaya/travel-articles/721240/eat-drink-and-dont-be-broke How going to Thailand can be a super affordable vacation idea.
http://www.mydestination.com/pattaya/travel-articles/721298/a-journey-into-wat-khao-din My first experience exploring a Thai monastery.
http://www.mydestination.com/pattaya/travel-articles/721305/6-wonders-in-a-few-hours Some of Thailand’s most awesome locations and things to do, all within a couple hours of each other.
http://www.mydestination.com/pattaya/travel-articles/721338/exploring-koh-sichang A trip to the remote island of Koh Sichang and the ruins of an old king’s vacation retreat.
http://www.mydestination.com/pattaya/travel-articles/721391/legend-of-wat-tham-yai-prik One of Thailand’s most interesting and remote monasteries on Koh Sichang.
Probably a lot more to come. Stay tuned.
(This video has created some controversy in my e-mailbox. In response, please see my rant about preconceived notions of North Korea that I’ve dealt with since returning.<)
George Orwell couldn't make this stuff up.
Although there are nice parts of North Korea, some that I detail at my main photo-journal page North Korea Uncloaked, there is also some very creepy parts about the country as well.
These loudspeakers seem common in Pyongyang, and are used to organize rallies of troops across the mysterious city. We were looking out across the river from the massive Juche tower (Sorry about the camera shake. No tripod and my little camera moves around like a #$%#).
Imagine waking up to this every morning. Yes, I do think North Korea is absolutely dripping with evil. Although, the North Koreans themselves are surprisingly pleasant, good-natured people.
This was taken April 2012, shortly after their failed satellite / rocket launch.
Support my work chronicling North Korea and other places in the world by becoming a citizen photo-journalist yourself and purchasing a Canon Rebel t3i from my affiliate store below, and I’ll make a tiny percentage of the sale. Buying a good DSLR was one of the best purchase decisions in my life. Even with a cheap lens, I still produce great images on the t3i because this professional grade camera has such a good sensor.