November 25, 2009

Vienna to Pyongyang by train

Most travelogues to North Korea are the same because most trips to North Korea are the same, out of necessity. This blog writes of a train trip to North Korea made special by the fact they entered via Russia unescorted. As a result, they were able to see some interesting things both at the border, as well as traveling across the country.

Starting here is an interesting read about that strange area of the world where North Korea, China and Russia meet. In that area, bordered by the two countries that have sustained it historically, North Korea seems far less reclusive. If your interest in North Korea, like mine, comes from the fact that the country is a black hole from which little emerges save a handful of North Koreans in Russia, as well as relationships with obscure African countries, these depictions of North Korea in the ordinary will interest you. If not, the posts are mostly pictures that are worth seeing anyway.

There are obvious issues to be raised in traveling to North Korea, since the overpriced tour packages, priced in Euros, will really just help keep the government afloat. Nevertheless, the experience of traveling to North Korea might help to humanize North Koreans, who are typically portrayed as a single, creepy mass alternatively hypnotized or pulverized by what is now a dynasty of dictator-gods.

A Russia-North Korea trip is especially interesting for the way it travels through two of the least-known areas in the world: the Russian Far East and, of course, North Korea. The Russia-North Korea border, along with relations between the two countries, is a bit of a time warp, like those Japanese soldiers who emerged from the jungles thirty years after World War II.

The border is a small one, but so are the distances. From Seoul to Vladvistok is just 800 km, meaning it's a drive you could make in a day across a unified Korea. These travelers do see North Koreans in Russia for whatever reason, and there is this haunting documentary about North Koreans in Russia.

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