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North Korea Shopping and nightlife

Shopping in North Korea

As a communist country, North Korea is not the place for scratching that retail itch. However, there are a few state-approved souvenir shops and booths – usually attached to museums or within hotels – that offer a heady mix of tacky tourist trinkets and one-of-a-kind mementos.

Popular souvenirs and gifts include North Korean stamps, propaganda posters and postcards, obsolete currency, local artworks that glorify the regime and a locally-produced tourist map (and guide) of the country. Less popular but equally prevalent souvenirs include the varied items of shoddy embroidery, the copied cassettes, CDs and DVDs, the tourism t-shirts and the selection of panacea tea products (such as the 'Hangover Chaser Tea with liver booster').

Perhaps the most interesting purchases of all are the propaganda books, which are printed in multiple languages. Two particular highlights include Kim Il-sung's musings on his own Juche philosophy (often beautifully packaged), and a tome for locals revealing the horrors of living in present-day America, where women and black people are constantly in fear of their lives.

Your tour guide may also conduct a tour of North Korea's most decadent department store, offering a fascinating insight into the luxury products on offer to the country's elite. However, you are unlikely to find anything here that you'll be able to take out of North Korea.

Please note that credit cards are useless in North Korea – you cannot pay by card and there are no ATMs anywhere in country. If you do plan to shop, bring US dollars with you in cash.

Nightlife in North Korea

Like everything in the country, tourist access to nightlife is strictly controlled. In reality, most visitors' experience of North Korean nightlife will be confined to their hotels. Those staying in Pyongyang's 47-storey Yanggakdo Hotel can enjoy foreign drinks in the hotel bar, or karaoke in the hotel nightclub, while anybody staying in the city's soon-to-open Ryugyong Hotel may enjoy even more in-hotel entertainment options.

The same is true throughout the rest of the country – it is only in the hotels that tourists are able to unwind with a beer or glass of wine. Nevertheless, there is some limited after-dark entertainment offered to tourists by the state. These include taking in a show at Pyongyang's Moranbong Theatre, oohing-and-aahing at the impressive state circus, and watching the latest Chinese release at the International Cinema.