Nova Scotia

North Korea a vacation destination for Nova Scotia man

Most of us wouldn't think about North Korea as a place to go for a vacation, but a young man from Nova Scotia did just that last month.

Andrew Nowlan went on 5-day 'Victory Tour' in Pyongyang, North Korea

Nowlan went on a five-day tour in Pyongyang which was centred around the country's celebration of the end of the Korean War. (Andrew Nowlan)

Most of us wouldn't think about North Korea as a place to go for a vacation, but a young man from Nova Scotia did just that last month.

The famously repressive regime hasn't been known for extending a friendly hand to foreigners, but this year the country is actively promoting its tourism industry, including building a brand new ski resort.

Andrew Nowlan lives and teaches in Japan. He's been to more than 60 countries in his extensive travels.

"It's one of my passions, I love to go abroad, eat different kinds of food, meet different people and North Korea was a place that always interested me," Nowlan said. 

Nowlan went on a five-day "Victory Tour" in Pyongyang, North Korea, which was centred around the country's celebration on July 27 to mark the end of the Korean War.

Nowlan and 15 other people were escorted around the city where they got to see some aspects of the culture up close. 

"The experience was quite different from expectations, I think based on what you see in movies and on TV, you expect it to still be perhaps like the famine era," Nowlan said. "But in fact Pyongyang is quite an attractive city."

Upon arrival, Nowlan and the other tourists had to claim all of their electronics, which were then searched by the customs agents to make sure there was no sensitive material on them — such as books that were critical of the regime.

"Luckily I didn't have anything that was too controversial," he said.

After the two hour search, they were brought to their island hotel by three tour guides, or "minders" and a driver. 

"They were with us at all times," Nowlan said. "The last person to go to sleep, if they were in the bar having a drink a minder was there with them. And then first thing in the morning if you were up a couple hours early, one of them would be waiting in the lobby."

Dog soup

Nowlan said they were there to be hospitable and help them, but also to keep them from straying from the hotel grounds. 

Throughout the entire tour, the group of 16 had to travel together, there was no option to go off on their own.

"They wanted to keep us within their control."

Nowlan also said that statues, murals and other reminders of the North Korean leaders,Kim Jong-il, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-un were "omnipresent", along with propaganda music. 

"Even if you're day-dreaming a little bit when looking out the window, you're quickly brought back to the reality of where you are," he said.

Trying the cuisine of North Korea was also part of the experience on Nowlan's tour. He even tried the two delicacies: dog soup and dog penis — which was grilled and sliced, and served with green onion on top. 

"Since I was there and it was a once in a lifetime experience I just decided to go for it," he said. "I wouldn't try it again, but I'm glad I tried it once."

Nowlan said he would like to return to North Korea if the country opens up to allow tourists to go in and fully experience all of the culture without the limits of guides.

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