The world's most unlikely tourist destination

It's unlikely you would have heard much good news about North Korea lately. There are never any feel-good stories coming out of that country, tales of people banding together against adversity, or improvements in living conditions, or even any viral videos of cats. 

It's all Kim Jong-un playing evil dictator, his pudgy fingers poised over weapons of possible mass destruction; it's marching rows of creepily obedient citizens worshipping their leader; it's ludicrous stories of that leader's golfing prowess. 

And yet – I want to go there. I really, really want to go there. North Korea might seem the most unlikely tourist destination, possibly on the entire planet, but I want to visit. You might require a personal government chaperone to stop you taking photos of non-approved monuments and actually talking to people who live there, but I still have a burning desire to see it.

Because travel, for me, is about seeing things with your own eyes. They don't necessarily have to be good things. They just have to be interesting things. And North Korea might be the most interesting of all. 

Because where else can you find a country that's so completely removed from the rest of the world? Where else can you visit a place that seems so bizarre as to be almost unbelievable?

Are the people there as obedient and straight-laced as they seem? Is Kim Jong-un universally loved, or feared, or despised, or laughed at? What do you do for fun in a country that seems to count baiting the Western hemisphere with fake reports of atomic bombs as recreation?

There's only one way to find out: go there. See it with your own eyes.

This is not a tacit approval of Kim and his military buddies. There are some travellers who would advocate a boycott of places like North Korea. They would rightly point out the human rights abuses in that country, or the general level of oppression, and tell you that any visitors to North Korea would be showing their support for the regime.

But to my mind, travellers' boycotts have the opposite effect of what's intended. You might be trying to demonstrate your disapproval of a government or a regime, but by refusing to visit, you're increasing their power. 


The thing about travel is that it's a two-way interaction. When you travel you support local businesses – you buy fruit from the guy on the side of the road, you buy clothes from the local boutique, you stay in family-run hotels or homestays. 

And more importantly, you talk to people. You interact with the world around you. You share your stories and they share theirs. 

Everybody comes away from the experience that bit better educated and more informed. Maybe it helps locals see that there are better ways of running the world. Maybe it helps travellers see another way.

Regardless, travel is a two-way communication that changes everyone's life in small – or maybe huge – ways.

The minute you start boycotting countries, you cut people off from that. You cut off the normal, everyday citizens – the ones you say you care about, the ones who are oppressed – from not just the financial support of tourism, but from the educational experience of meeting people from other parts of the world. 

These cultural exchanges change people and influence them. It alters their world view.

How much more difficult is it to hate, say, the US, if you know plenty of Americans and  you count them as friends? That goes for everyone in the world. Isolation breeds contempt. Travellers should be doing everything they can to fight against that.

So, yes, I want to go to North Korea. I want to see this place with my own eyes and make my own decision.

I'd like to go to Saudi Arabia, too. It's another isolated land, maybe misunderstood, maybe not. But I'd like to talk to normal people and gain a window into their lives. I'd like to know if the stories of their country are true. 

I'd visit any country, in fact, no matter how oppressive its regime. What's the point of punishing people who are already oppressed?

When you travel, the whole world wins. 

See also: The countries not influenced by Western culture and why you should visit them

See also: 143 visits - the Westerner that keeps going back to North Korea

Watch: Beauty and the Backpacker

It's luxury degustation versus campside cooking as Ben Groundwater and Emma Markezic take an epic, 1000-km road trip through Western Australia. Ben and Emma travelled as guests of Tourism Western Australia.