GEORGE TOWN: Sarawakian Reuben Teo set off for North Korea in 2014 as the country, which is much shrouded in mystery, had piqued his curiosity.
The 31-year-old web designer and landscape photographer, based in Kuala Lumpur, has no regrets about his choice, and even returned for another holiday last year.
Teo said he had always been fascinated by unique places with photos and stories to tell.
“North Korea has been in my mind ever since I was exposed to documentaries and news about the country.
“Always painted in my mind were propaganda, military and stern people. I didn’t know whether it was all real.
“Fuelled by curiosity, I decided to see it with my own eyes.
“As a landscape photographer, I wanted to take photos of the place to share with everyone as I find it amazing,” he told the New Straits Times.
And so, Teo set off on a 12-day trip in 2014, and a personalised six-day trip last year. He took his wife, Fann Saw, 27, on both trips.
He said he got to visit Pyongyang and other parts of the country, such as Kaesong, Pyongsong, Wonsan, Hyangsan and Samjiyon.
Contrary to popular belief, Teo said it was easy to gain access to the country, especially for Malaysians, as no visa was required, he said.
He, however, advised those who were keen to engage with an authorised travel agent to do the paperwork. The only restrictions were religious books and publications that were critical of North Korea.
As far as Teo remembered, life in North Korea was simple.
“They do not have our contemporary luxuries, but the people are surprisingly nice and courteous.
“They are extremely hospitable and always welcomed tourists to their country.
“There are skyscrapers, especially in Pyongyang and Wonsan, but not as many as in Kuala Lumpur. Nevertheless, their cityscapes are unique because their architectural style mixes Korean and Soviet-era architecture, which looks like they are stuck in time.”
Teo said he visited most cities on the outskirts of Pyongyang in a mini van, adding that the roads in the outskirts were not smooth.
“I even got to ride in a Soviet-era Ilyushin Il-18 aircraft to see Mount Paektu up north bordering China.”
He said what was unique about North Korea was its lack of advertisements and gigantic billboards in highways, making the city look clean.
“Fashion in North Korea is also stuck in time. This includes clothes and hairstyles.”
He said the interior of the subway system in Pyongyang was gorgeous and clean, with no graffiti and garbage. Each subway station had a unique design and was decorated with murals and mosaic art.
“Also interesting is that landscapes in North Korea are beautiful, mainly because they are left untouched.
“It is by far one of my favourite places to take landscape photos and enjoy a great view,” he said, adding that he was scheduled to lead a photography tour to North Korea at the end of next month.