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I understand there's only one company that actually does the North Korea tours (although a lot of other tour agencies will allow you to book through them). I am wondering if they have an option to enter via train instead of by plane, especially considering that the North Korean national airline has a very low safety rating.

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Air Koryo had the last accident with fatalities in 1983. So what makes you think it has low safety rating? –  Anixx Mar 4 '13 at 12:05
    
I would say that this is a good reason. I have actually taken this flight once and I feel it adds to the experience, since you get your own newspaper and food. If you travel with this swedish agency you take the plane in and train out. –  steffea Mar 5 '13 at 10:32

6 Answers 6

up vote 16 down vote accepted

Yes you can!. There is a Dutch travel agency that apparently sells a 5-day tour by train into North Korea. Unfortunately their website is Dutch only, but Google Translate seems to produce some understanding text, but then again I might be biased since Dutch is my native language.

Update

There is yet another Dutch travel agency that offers train journeys into North Korea It seems that with both companies you have to combine it with a journey through China or with the Trans-Siberian railroad.

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First, if you are traveling on an American passport, the answer is no. If you're a dual citizen (United States and another country), you can probably enter by rail on your second passport, but mentioning that you're an American would be a very bad idea.

There have been rumors of North Korea opening up domestic trains to U.S. citizens, but I haven't seen this confirmed anywhere.

If you're not an American citizen, or at least not traveling on an U.S. passport, the answer is yes. There are a few tour operators who organize train trips to the DPRK, but it should also be possible to buy a train ticket in Beijing directly. You can find information on the train times here:

http://www.seat61.com/NorthKorea.htm#.Ux-mMV46ntk

It appears that the train runs four times a week and is usually reliable.

Be sure to obtain a visa for travel to North Korea before departing.

As a previous answer mentioned, the story of two Austrians who used the Moscow-Pyongyang sleeper car is widely available on the web, including at http://vienna-pyongyang.blogspot.com/

I thought their journey was fascinating (and extremely dangerous), but I wouldn't recommend attempting to use this route today.

Edit: Air Koryo does indeed have a terrible reputation. However, they've purchased a few new planes which are running on the Beijing-Pyongyang route. Their Tu-204 aircraft are now approved to fly into the European Union, though they don't operate a route to Europe at this time.

A better option than Air Koryo is Air China, which does operate to Pyongyang several times per week. They fly a modern fleet which is considered quite safe.

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I am the COO of the only American direct provider of North Korea Travel (there are several American resellers and overseas competitors)

Typically, travelers fly into Pyongyang at take the train out of North Korea by way of Dandong China. In the past, this option is not available to Americans. In 2014, Americans may be able to take the train domestically within North Korea, and we plan to begin offering itineraries that include those options.

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I have to put in a word for another Dutch agency, VNC Travel who arranged my trip in 1999. It was all done via email, in English, and it all went off without a hitch. The train ride was very interesting, much more than the plane would have been. I have fond memories of a middle aged North Korean man, out of the blue, giving me a bottle of beer for breakfast!

enter image description here

P.S. Just to be clear, my train trip was to and from Beijing.

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Here's a detailed description of the 2008 trip of two Austrian and Swiss railway enthusiasts to North Korea by train via the (only a few kilometers long) border to Russia, the connection mentioned in Mark's answer.

It's a fascinating read, but I get the impression that the only reason these guys were allowed in was that no Western tourist had tried this before, the North Korean officials were completely surprised and bewildered that someone could and would do it, and since they could not find any explicit order telling them what to do in this case, they decided to stick to the general rules where a valid visa and a valid train ticket allows you entry.

I think the probability is pretty high that such an explicit order has been issued meanwhile. Even if not, another official my decide barring entry in case of doubt is a safer course of action.

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I have read that the loopholes exploited by these guys was quickly closed by the North Korean authorities, and from what I know of North Korea from talking to people who have worked with escapees it's quite likely that anybody that allowed them to get as far as they did have probably suffered in punishment. –  hippietrail Dec 17 '11 at 13:15

Well...assuming you have a visa to get in, and assuming the tour company can meet up with you, and assuming the North Korea government allows you to travel on your own...

North Korea - by Train

Train K27/K28 connect Pyongyang to Beijing in China via Tianjin, Tangshan, Beidaihe, Shanhaiguan, Jinzhou, Shenyang, Benxi, Fenghuangcheng, Dandong and Shinuiju four times a week. There is only one class on the international train between Beijing and Pyongyang: soft sleeper. It can be booked at the station in Beijing, but reservations must be made several days in advance. Your tour agency will usually do this for you, unless you are travelling on work purposes. It has been increasingly difficult to book space on the Beijing–Pyongyang route, so confirm your tickets well in advance.

Once a week train K27/K28 also conveys direct sleeping cars from Moscow via China to Pyongyang and vice versa. The route is Moscow - Novosibirsk - Irkutsk - Chita - Harbin - Shenyang - Dandong - Shinuiju - Pyongyang. Departure from Moscow is every Friday evening, arrival at Pyongyang is one week later on Friday evening. Departure from Pyongyang is Saturday morning, arrival at Moscow is Friday afternoon.

There is also a direct rail link into Russia, crossing the North Korean/Russian border at Tumangan/Khasan. This route is served by a direct sleeping car Moscow - Pyongyang and vice versa and runs twice monthly (11th and 25th from Moscow), arriving Pyongyang 9 days later. However, since the mid-nineties this has not been an officially permitted route for tourists, and KITC refuses to organize trips using this route; two Western tourists have been successful in taking this train into North Korea, but report that further trips on this route would unlikely be successful.

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The first part of your answer is mostly what I was referring to, not just if there is a train line, but if it's actually possible to take it :p –  victoriah Dec 17 '11 at 2:06

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