Since my first trip to North Korea back in 2015, many people have told me: “You only see what the regime want you to see” Fair enough, we do always have two local guides with us and there are certain restrictions in terms of where we are allowed to visit. However, when being asked my comeback is quite often: “What is it, you want to experience which you think you are not allowed to? Commonly, we then start chatting about visiting the countryside, leaving Pyongyang and not just going by bus through two major cities. Going out, discovering and feeling the countryside of North Korea up close. Being allowed to enter a country is one thing but how do you manage to get up close and personal?
After meeting Oliver from BehindHandlebars I had no doubts – the best way to get up close and personal within a country is by biking.
The first ride – Through Pyongyang
Our first day in North Korea was a national holiday. Therefore, we were not allowed to bike during that day. On the second day though we were allowed to bike and we were all very excited! The new bikes were ready and we were about to ride our bikes through the capital of North Korea, Pyongyang.
On my previous trips, I most commonly sensed the city vibe through the windows of the bus. Even though I basically could see the same things it made a huge difference being on the bike. I started noticing the smallest of details and made eye contact with numerous people. I noticed school children taking care of their chores, fishermen by the bank, footballers practicing, construction workers waving and most importantly; Other cyclists who rang their bell, because we were riding our bikes too slowly compared to their pace. It was like being a part of the North Korean everyday life and rush hour. An everyday life which the stereotype says is non-existing – yet here we were right in the midst of it. The bike ride ended at Juche Tower. Time to load the bikes into the bus, because we had to drive towards our next route.
Biking on the highway
The second route on the bike was on the 6 lane highway between Pyongyang and Nampho. Yup, it is true. The highway.
Never have I ever biked on a highway before and firstly I actually thought it could be a tad bit dangerous. But in North Korea, there are not that many cars and almost none outside of Pyongyang. Therefore, it was quite safe.
Besides being safe, it was a tremendous experience. I felt free like a bird. Since my first tour back in 2015, I have never felt as free and uncontrolled as I felt when we were riding our bikes along the highway. To be able to ride my bike, feel the wind blowing at my face and just feel the nature. Those things were utterly amazing!
The incredible Korean nature
Even though it was truly amazing to ride on the highway it was far from being the highlight of this bike tour in North Korea. I have been told quite frequently that North Korean nature should be incredible. Most commonly it has been North Koreans who have told me that though and they tend to be quite positive about their own country. In addition to that, regularly I am not a big fan of nature. It is actually quite rare that I go somewhere to experience nature. Regularly I am much more interested in meeting the local people. I discovered that is not the only way and nature can definitely be a pull factor as well. It happened the day we climbed Mt. Kuwol. A mountain in the western part of North Korea. The entire group was supposed to climb to the top of the mountain with an altitude of 477,4 meters.
I remember when we reached the summit. My breathing was heavy. I really struggled to catch my breath. Even though I thought I was in quite a good shape I probably should have biked a bit more before departure. It was tough! It was exhausting! But it was definitely worth it!
Especially the moment when Mr. Rim brought out a picnic basket. Korean gimbap and other Korean specialties with a cold Korean beer on the side. It really was the cherry on the top.
We arranged this bike tour in collaboration with BehindHandlebars. A bike tour in North Korea to be able to show the country from a completely different point of view. Behind the handlebars. You can read more about how we established the trip here. By clicking that link you can also see more pictures and video content from the bike tour and hear what Oliver from BehindHandlebars thought about biking in North Korea. If you are interested in joining our next bike tour in North Korea, read more.