When visiting North Korea you can either enter by plane or train from Beijing. If you are American you HAVE to go by plane.
We chose to take the train as it was so much cheaper although it does take a lot longer.
Here’s what to expect:
You get the 17:25 train from Beijing Railway Station that arrives in Dandong the following morning. You have the choice between hard or soft sleeper (double check with your tour company beforehand which one you’re getting but most will be hard sleeper – you can upgrade to soft but it’s pretty pricey!)
Soft sleeper: 4 beds per cabin (2 bunk beds). Softer mattress. Cabin door closes so it’s quieter.
Hard sleeper: 6 beds per cabin section (2 bunk beds – top, middle & bottom bunks). No cabin door so can be noisy.
We had a hard sleeper. These trains aren’t particularly pleasant but they could be far worse.
-There’s a squat toilet at the end of each carriage which was fairly clean but didn’t always smell too great.
-You and anyone on your tour will be pretty much the only westerners on the train so you may find that people stare at you ! Just smile back at them !
-There is a restaurant carriage which serves drinks, beers and food but I bought my own food onto the train as I heard the train food isn’t too great.
– The Chinese people you are sharing your carriage with may be pretty noisy. We had two people next to us playing TV shows out loud on their phone whilst they were sat next to each other ! So the sounds were just clashing! In the morning about 6am someone started playing terrible Chinese pop music too. And God help you if you have a baby in your carriage.
-The worst part is that smoking is allowed in the areas between carriages. Chinese men smoke like chimneys so there was constantly a horrendous stink of cigarette smoke that would waft down the carriage. Thankfully, it’s less smoky at night when everyone’s sleeping but you will leave the train feeling like you’ve smoked a pack of 20 cigs.
Once you reach Dandong you’ll have an hour or so to grab some food. There’s small supermarkets next to the station. There’s also a KFC a few minutes away if you don’t fancy Chinese breakfast.
Then you board the Korean train.
These trains feel even more cramped than the Chinese one. It’s a 3 bed bunk system again but at this point you probably won’t want to sleep and instead look out the window and catch your first views of North Korea. There are chairs in the corridor too which are ideal for looking out the windows.
You travel for around 10-20min before stopping at the border crossing. The guards board the train and check your cameras, phones, laptops etc. and sometimes they’ll also look through your bags. The checks felt quite random- some people were checked very thoroughly and others not so much. They can even look through your recently deleted folder so make sure anything naughty is well and truly deleted!
They take your passports here and from now on your tour guides will keep hold of them. You don’t leave the train at the border crossing and you can be waiting here for a couple of hours.
You do get to see glimpses of small towns on the route to Pyongyang but it’s mainly countryside. Here are some pics of the views from the train. I travelled in late December so it was pretty snowy:
This train arrives in Pyongyang about 18:30 but can be earlier depending on any hold ups at the border crossing.
Do check out my other North Korea blog posts: