Inside North Korea – Travel Blogger Interview with Agness and Cez
This interview series features interviews with travel bloggers and writers. If you are a travel blogger and a writer and have something to share with your readers, please get in touch with me at [email protected] I look forward to hearing from you!
In this travel blogger interview, let us meet Agness and Cez, the adventurous travel duo of eTramping, a travel blog full of incredible resources and knowledge for everyone looking for intense and unique travel experiences across the world. Agness and Cez both originally hail from Poland. They have been exploring the world since 2011 and it doesn’t seem like they are planning to stop anytime soon. They love visiting unique travel destinations such as Tibet and Antarctica.
Apart from these two destinations, Agness and Cez have visited North Korea, a mysterious country that has been a hotbed of the news or decades. I asked them to share their experience and they revealed so much about North Korea than what this country has been portrayed as on news media. From the unique culture and history, to the people, the food, and the daily life, I have learned so much about this country through their travels, and their experience has inspired has me to visit North Korea too!
Welcome, Agness and Cez! Tell us about yourselves, your blog, and your adventures.
Agness: We are best friends, originally from Gdańsk in Poland, and back in 2011 we both sort of had this separate epiphany that we didn’t want to slog through 9 to 5 jobs anymore. I set off for China that year and Cez joined me shortly after. We knew we never wanted to go back to the grind! Etramping was born out of that, a desire to travel long-term and to sustain ourselves while doing so. Seven years later, we’re still going strong!
When did you first start thinking about visiting North Korea and what inspired you to visit?
Cez: We’ve both got a passion for going off the beaten track, and I for one always wanted to go to North Korea and Agness was really keen too. It’s just one of those bucket list destinations that had always been at the back of our mind. I think many serious travelers would say the same – it’s not always about visiting resorts or taking the easy or “safe” route. You have to challenge yourself. We’re inspired to go to the places that other people don’t.
How long were you both in North Korea and what did your itinerary look like?
Cez: We were there a total of six days. We went with Tongil Tours, and they took care of everything. We had two guides and a driver. One was originally from Texas but he’d lived in Asia for over 10 years and he spoke Korean fluently. He had a set itinerary for us, taking us around the sights you’re allowed to see. We were shown the famous landmarks, monuments, and museums, as well as had the chance to mix with the locals. While it is prearranged, what you can and can’t visit, the guides are super friendly and relaxed. It was a fascinating experience.
What is your favorite place in North Korea?
Agness: For me, it was experiencing the North Korean DMZ. I’ve been to the South Korean version previously, so it was really interesting seeing the contrasts. We met an official translator who deals with any necessary conversation with the outside world in the region – such as ourselves. But he didn’t say a word in English the whole time we were there!
Cez: I’d have to say the magic show we attended was my overall favorite moment. We were the first Westerners to view the spectacle, and it was really well performed. I just got this tremendous buzz from seeing something not many people get the chance to see.
On your website, you mentioned that “tourism can have a positive effect by allowing local people who overcome these negative stereotypes and come into contact with new ideas which they otherwise wouldn’t.” What does the daily life of local people look like and how has this trip has impacted them the most?
Agness: we understand that many people might think a visit to North Korea is playing right into the hands of the regime, that all your money goes directly to funding tyranny. But much of it goes to helping the guides and their families and those who work in the steadily blossoming tourism sector. As we’ve seen in the news recently, we’re on the cusp of historic change within the Korean peninsula, and promoting tourism in DPRK is one great way to ensure the rest of the world learns the positives about the country, while North Koreans learn about the positives of the rest of the world.
Cez: It’s true we weren’t permitted to see much of the country or the general population, and you hear stories of their daily life being extremely hard and, of course, of NK’s poor record with human rights. But there were glimpses here and there, and opportunity to reach out and make contact. If you shut tourism down completely then these people are lost; but, by steadily chipping away, barriers can be broken down, and we can only see positives if even one North Korean learned something new about the outside world. A snowflake can cause an avalanche.
Can you share anything new that you have learned about North Korea from this trip?
Agness: Everything was new! It was fascinating to be inside such a secretive country, guided everywhere we went, only seeing what we were allowed to see. This sort of pantomime for foreigners was really interesting and heartbreaking at the same time.
Cez: I think their love of ten-pin bowling was really cool. There was a strangeness to it, people enjoying themselves! The wider world generally believes it’s hell on earth in there, but really they’re just trying to get on with things like the rest of us.
I had no idea people in North Korea love ten-pin bowling. What are your fondest memories of your visit?
Cez: For me, it was this moment at the magic show I mentioned previously. As I said we were among the first Westerners to see something like that and, naturally, we stood out like sore thumbs! There weren’t many seats left so we were separated and I sat next to a Korean woman and her young boy. He suddenly grabbed my water – it’s part of their culture to share things – and so I let him drink. But his mum wasn’t happy about it at all! Still, he held my hand for the entire performance. It was a really interesting moment – the curiosity of the child and the fear of the mother. I hoped I made a good impression though – and gained a friend in the process!
Agness: I was interviewed on national TV too – so that was fun! We had a good laugh about that afterward!
You both mentioned, “North Korea has a lot of very unique food”. What is the most unique food you had in North Korea that other travelers need to try?
Agness: Food in North Korea (and Korea in general) is amazing. It’s so eclectic and you’ll be spoiled for choice when visiting a restaurant. They also go out of their way to make everything really comfortable for you, so everything is over-the-top as they believe this is what Western hospitality is like. Food-wise, you’ve obviously got kimchi, which is their national dish of fermented chili peppers and vegetables on cabbage, but I think we both loved these steamed buns filled with bean paste. They were delicious!
Cez: I loved the warm noodles in chicken broth and ginseng, but honestly there’s not enough time to explain all the flavors on offer. They have one of the best diets in the world. Also, it’s hard to remember the names of everything!
Kimchi is my favorite food too! Did you have any disasters?
Agness: I think the only disaster I had was when I dropped my phone in a toilet and flushed it by accident. I’ve lost all the data and the phone never turned back on.
Cez: That and the SD card we bought didn’t fit into our camera, which obviously means the world is ending!
Oh, no…that is not a fun experience. For anyone who wants to go on a tour to North Korea, what should they expect and how can they maximize their experience?
Agness: Go with an open mind, with curiosity, and with kindness. Treat people with the utmost respect – remember you’re an ambassador for your own country. This is general advice for anywhere you go really, but it counts for a lot somewhere like NK.
Cez: You’ve still got to behave yourself there, so listen to your guides at all times – if they tell you to do something, you do it!
Agness: And wherever possible, try to reach out to the locals. Share your knowledge and experiences. Make connections even if only for a moment – it might change someone’s life!
Thank you Angess and Cez for sharing your travel experience in North Korea. Enjoy your coming travels!
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