North Korea, an enigmatic hermit kingdom, is a great source of mystery and intrigue for most of the world. Although its doors are mostly closed to outsiders, the country’s shopping experience is still an interesting one for those who find a way to visit it. Whether you’re looking for souvenirs or everyday items, there are plenty of interesting products to pick up in North Korea.
Where should you begin? Here’s a guide to the most unique things you can buy in the North Korean markets. For those who do go and make a purchase, you’ll want to remember that North Korean won is the only accepted currency, and that the exchange rate is highly variable, so it pays to do your research ahead of time.
First, start with something iconic: propaganda. You can find it everywhere in North Korea, from posters to books. Posters usually feature heroic images of past leaders Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-il, and slogans championing the North Korean state. Books, on the other hand, often display the achievements of the Korean revolution, as well as state-approved literature.
As a souvenir, many visitors buy North Korean stamps. North Korean stamps often feature images of North Korean landmarks, like the Chonji Lighthouse, as well as photos of present-day North Korean leaders. North Korean stamps are a great way to bring home a reminder of your trip.
In North Korea, you’ll also find unique clothes and accessories. Unisex jackets and scarves often boast of slogans in support of the North Korean government, and you will find a variety of hats, like the beloved Pyongyangcap. Also make sure to check out North Korean watches. These watches, which come in a variety of sizes and styles, are both fashionable and useful.
Maybe you’re in the market for something else? You should consider the beauty products, like cosmetics and perfumes, that you can find in most North Korean stores. Keep in mind that most products are designed with traditional North Korean tastes in mind, and may not meet Western standards. However, they are a great way to experience North Korean culture.
Finally, North Koreans take pride in sharing their culture, and it’s a great idea to buy traditional North Korean crafts as a souvenir. If you’re interested, you can bring home a piece of folk art such as hand woven fabric, Japanese-style porcelain, and furniture carved from local wood.
If you’re want to take home a part of North Korean history, then you should definitely visit some of the many iconic monuments. The statues of past leaders Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-il, as well as the tombs and memorials dedicated to the two of them in Pyongyang, are a sight to behold. You can even pick up souvenirs from these monuments, including traditional rocks and tokens with images of the two.
Another interesting historical site is the former American Embassy located in Pyongyang. Here you can find a range of artifacts from the era when North Korea and America still had diplomatic ties. It’s also a great spot for photographs to capture the poignant history of North Korea’s past.
Finally, North Korea is home to some remarkable architectural sites. There is the Ryugyong Hotel, a skyline-dominating hotel in Pyongyang that has been under construction for nearly three decades. There is also the Arch of Reunification, a two-pyramid structure at the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), built to commemorate the end of the Korean War.
Food lovers will want to take home a taste of North Korean cuisine. Traditional North Korean dishes include galbi (Korean-style beef short ribs), bibimbap (a rice bowl topped with vegetables and beef or pork), and soondae (blood sausages).
For a truly unique dining experience, you should try Pyongyang-style cold noodles, which consists of thin wheat noodles served in a cold beef broth. It’s a beloved dish in North Korea, and something you’ll definitely won’t be able to find anywhere else.
Another interesting dish is Pyongyang-style mandu, a ravioli-style dumpling that can be served either boiled or fried. It’s often served with a spicy red sauce, and is well worth a try if you find yourself in North Korea.
Lastly, don’t forget to take home some traditional North Korean snacks. Knockaenggagi, a sun-dried squid snack, is a popular one. If you want something a bit sweeter, try hangwa, an assortment of traditional Korean candy, or hancho-pop, a popcorn-style snack.
Korean ginseng or joheong is another interesting product you can buy in North Korea. Since ancient times, Joheong from the Korean peninsula has been used in traditional Chinese medicine. North Korean ginseng is particularly prized for its earthy flavour, and is popular among North Koreans and Chinese alike. Look for authentic joheong in traditional markets, or you can pick up some more processed variants in regular stores.
For those looking for pure ginseng, you can also check out North Korea’s many factories that produce pure joheong-infused tea, capsules, or extract. Do look for products that come with a certificate of origin, as this will help assure you of the quality. It’s also worth noting that you’ll need special permission from the authorities to export this product out of the country.
Art from North Korea
Some of the best souvenirs that you can take home from North Korea are works of art. There are traditional Korean art pieces, as well as state-approved works with musical and political themes.Another interesting souvenir is a painting or a print of North Korea’s much beloved mountain, Changbaishan.
Photography is another great way to capture the unique landscape and culture of North Korea. However, due to restrictions, foreigners may only take photos of approved locations and must show the contents to the authorities. It’s best to use a high-resolution camera, as prints displayed in a local photo shop will be inspected.
Finally, prints of North Korean propaganda art are becoming more popular as a souvenir. Propaganda prints typically feature North Korean heroes, like Kim Il-Sung, as well as sayings from past leaders. They can be a great conversation piece and truly evoke the spirit of North Korea.
Musical Instruments and Accessories
Another interesting thing you can pick up in North Korea is instruments and accessories. North Korea is known for its traditional music, and you can find a range of traditional instruments like Gayageum, Piri, and Daegeum. You can also pick up some accessories like band uniforms, reeds, and sheet music.
If you’re an audiophile, then you should also check out North Korea’s many vendors of vinyl records and cassettes. North Korea has a growing music industry, and you can find recorded albums showcasing local artists and orchestras. You may even be lucky enough to find some rare recordings of North Korean classical and folk music.
For those who are more tech-savvy, you can check out North Korea’s growing selection of electronic gadgets. From smartphones to tablets and laptop computers, there are now a growing number of products available in North Korea. Do bear in mind that due to the North Korean government’s tight control over the internet, these gadgets may have limited capabilities outside of the country.