All travellers to the North need a visa, and it is a process that can take several weeks. In my case I applied a few days before Christmas and didn’t receive my approval until five weeks later. The approval period doesn’t normally take that long, but since I had applied for a visa extension, there was a bit more work involved. The visa application form is not long yet it asks so much. Journalists and photographers, whether professional or semi-professional, are not allowed to travel to North Korea on a tourist visa and the visa application makes you swear on your life that you are not in either profession in any capacity.
Since I am going to be in a tour group of unknown size but not comprising more than twenty people, I was hoping to have a chance to see the capital city, Pyongyang, on my own without a crowd rushing me through museums and stores. The North Korean tour guides have a reputation for sweeping tourists through museums without so much as stopping to allow the visitors to look at the exhibits. I am one who does not like to be rushed through museums (or bookstores) so I wanted a few extra days in Pyongyang after the time allotted my group tour. I therefore sought approval via the North Korean embassy in Peking to stay in the country for three extra days.
My contacts at Koryo Tours informed me that simply asking for a three-day extension is not enough. The North Korean authorities would need to know what I intended to do during that time, so I had to draw up an itinerary and then forward it to Koryo. The trouble is, I had to decide which museums I wanted to see a second time before I had seen any of them even once. Koryo was not optimistic about a three-day extension, and when my request was denied, I worked on a one-day itinerary. Fortunately the authorities approved my one-day visa extension, and for my final day in Pyongyang I, alone, will be accompanied by two guides as they take me through museums, bookstores and the central stamp shop at my own pace. Since I will be an individual traveller, there will not be a bus provided, and I will have to take cabs with the guides. I will certainly take a North Korean cab ride at least once, but will request that we walk through the capital as much as possible.