North Korea, officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, long has been called “the Hermit Kingdom,” as the ancient Korean monarchy was known. The moniker long irritated DPRK officials, though 25 years ago when I first visited it was more accurate. There weren’t many Western travelers and engaging in common American activities, such a jogging, which I did every day, garnering stares from virtually everyone—though, even more weirdly, virtually no one made eye contact. On this trip, in response to an invitation from the Institute for American Studies of the Foreign Ministry, there were few stares.
Unfortunately, the Trump administration plans to ban travel by Americans to the North as of September 1. That’s a mistake, since U.S. visitors both educate North Koreans and are educated by North Koreans. It is a process that encourages social transformation and long term change in the DPRK, which is desperately needed in a system of monarchical communism which holds an entire population in bondage.
Although more Westerners visit the North today, Beijing remains the primary entry point. You can fly in on Air Koryo, as I did, or Air China, though the latter is known to adjust its service to reflect both economics and politics. Perhaps someday American airports will display Pyongyang as a destination. But not in the near future, since it soon will be illegal for Americans to travel to the DPRK. At least, their passports will be tagged as invalid for travel there. But Pyongyang could accept them anyway. I suspect Americans will continue to visit, just as Americans routinely traveled to Cuba illicitly despite the only recently modified ban.