Beijing to Dandong Train
My journey started with a train ride from Beijing to Dandong, border city to North Korea. During the 14-hour train ride, I was assigned to the middle bunk. No one can sit straight when you are in the middle or top bunk and if you’re a claustrophobic, then you definitely cannot take this ride. On our way to Dandong, there was a small commotion: one of the passengers was panicking and he did not want to continue on his trip to Pyongyang. He said that once the group arrives in Dandong, he will take the next train back to Beijing; and, when asked why, he confessed to our guide that he is a blogger, and he has written about North Korea before on his blog.
Panic Attack. Almost.
People were still asleep when I jolted out of my sleep. It was about 5:00 am and I looked out the window; all I saw were trees without their leaves and nothing but fog in the background. No houses. No man-made structures. Just bald trees and the white fog. It felt so creepy and I asked myself “Am I in North Korea, already?” My heart started to beat faster and faster. I’m terrified. Thoughts of backing out of the trip are already running on my mind. I ended up just closing my eyes and returning to sleep. When I woke up at around 6:30 am, the view was much better and I was welcomed with buildings and houses from the outside of the train.
It was around 8:00 am when we arrived in Dandong. I texted my sister that they might not be able to contact me for the next three days as most of the messaging apps I use are blocked in China. I told her I will send her another message three days from now because no one in my family knew of my plans. I did not want them to worry about me seeing as there’s no Internet connection and mobile signal in Pyongyang.
Train to Pyongyang
We transferred to another train in Dandong. The train crossed the China-North Korea Friendship bridge from Dandong, China to Sinuiju, North Korea. After crossing the bridge, the North Korean immigration officers entered our train to check our passports and visas.
After checking our passports, another immigration officer entered our bunk to inspect our phones. I handed my phone to the IO, but it was locked so he asked me to open it for him. The IO inspected my phone for about 5 to 10 minutes. At this point I was already praying; my hands were very cold, but I tried my best to gather myself and keep my cool. I have a Bible app on my phone and I forgot to hide it! The thought of not being allowed to enter is already crossing my mind and what would make it worse is if they arrested me for it. Nobody is allowed to bring religious books/materials as well as any pornographic materials to North Korea. I was so nervous that I ate 6 pieces of bread and almost emptied a liter of bottled water, just to distract myself while the IO inspected my phone. When the IO handed me back my phone I almost cried in relief, but I needed to keep it to myself.
They then checked our cameras; I was surprised to learn that the immigration officers knew how to use different types of cameras. From simple point and shoot ones to the more complex SLRs. The German lady I shared my bunk bed with tried to assist the officer on how to operate her SLR, but the officer refused and did it on his own. I handed my GoPro to the officer, but surprisingly, he did not know how to operate it. He looked at the name of the brand for about 5 seconds; He was probably trying to memorize the make and model of my camera with the intention of adding it to their list that they needed to learn. Then he gave me back my camera.
They also checked our laptops, books and bags. I learned from one of the passengers that when his laptop was returned to him, it had an application installed with Korean words on it. When the immigration officer asked if there were books with us, the German lady handed her fashion magazine to which the IO checked every page. The whole immigration process took 3 to 4 hours but it largely felt like an entire day. When the train started to move and everyone realized that the whole process was over, everyone was shouting and celebrating. It took us another 4 hours to arrive in Pyongyang.
North Korea Visa