December 8 2013 Latest news:
Monday, October 7, 2013
It would not top many people’s list of holiday destinations – but Norwich grandparents Michael and June Woodhouse have just returned from a trip to North Korea.
It’s the latest in their unusual choice of destinations that has also included Iran and Libya.
Very few British nationals visit North Korea, which is known as the impossible state, and is technically still at war with its southern neighbour, South Korea, as the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice and not a peace treaty.
The Woodhouses, from Marston Lane, in Eaton, Norwich, visited at the time of the celebration of the 65th year of the founding of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), but were not allowed to see the military parade.
Mr Woodhouse, 71, said: “Over the last few years we have expanded our holiday horizons and the visit to the impossible state was on the list and just had to be undertaken.
“We are doing it now before we get ancient and cannot travel. When that happens, we will explore England.”
The couple booked the holiday last year, and unsuccessfully tried to change it when they found out their eldest daughter was expecting twins.
They learned she had given birth as they waited in the departure lounge at Heathrow.
“That was the last word we had about the birth until our return as telecommunication from the DPRK to the outside world is forbidden,” Mr Woodhouse added.
He picked North Korea as a destination partly because he flies model aircraft and met several North Koreans at the world championships.
He added: “It was not straightforward going. We had to write out our CVs, checks were done, and we needed visas. We could not fly to North Korea. We had to go to China first, and then on to North Korea.
“The first shock in North Korea is the international airport at capital Pyongyang.
“Much paperwork was required before we as ‘guests’ – there are no tourists in the DPRK – were allowed in. Our group of 15 was ushered on to the coach by our guide and two students or minders.
“The ‘guest’ has to be in a group, no straying is allowed and leaving the hotel at night is forbidden. The next shock was the traffic. There was none and this was the capital city.
“Our hotel was 5-star, DPRK standard, which translated as basic. The food was plentiful but far from a gourmet feast. However, we had the distinct impression that we, as guests, were getting more and better food than the general population.”
The couple were able to see the massive buildings and the statues of the past leaders, but Mr Woodhouse said there was little social interaction or commercial activity.
He said: “We went to the demilitarised zone on the 39 parallel at Panmunjom.
“The Korean War is a major focus in the DPRK, as they are still at war and still waiting to fend off the western aggressors. We were segregated from making actual contact with the local inhabitants.
“We saw the Arirang Festival mass games display at night and this was spectacular; 100,000 people performing in strict unison with lights, fireworks, and all to marshal music.
“Our itinerary also included a collective farm, plenty of pictures of tractors but only hand labour in the fields planting rice.
“We also visited a school where the children put on a special concert for us, which was well choreographed, but with little spontaneity.”