Media coverage of North Korea is often fascinating and sometimes terrifying, but the accuracy of such reports is questionable. As tourism to the isolated communist country increases, more travelers are deciding for themselves.
Catherine Blair, a 33 year old primary school teacher from the U.K., became fascinated with the country after watching a documentary on the North Korean Mass Games. In 2013, she visited North Korea and met her current boyfriend, an Australian that was on the same tour.
"I certainly didn't expect to meet someone on the trip, but I guess it wasn't totally unlikely considering the type of person that would go on a trip like that," she said. "Everyone had fairly similar personalities and travelling backgrounds... Still, it's an unusual place to meet someone."
North Korea has been open to tourists since 1998, but many people aren't aware. In 2011, authorities pushed to welcome international investors and the press - an attempt to stimulate the depressed economy.
Interest in North Korea is growing, companies that specialize in organized tours - the only way tourists are permitted to travel there - said.
"Demand for our business is now ten times what it was a decade ago," said Simon Cockerell, general manager of Koryo Tours, a Beijing-based tour guide company specializing in North Korea. He estimated that 5,000 westerners and 30,000 Chinese visited North Korea over the past year, but noted that many Chinese visit on day trips.
"The country will always attract the more adventurous type of traveler, but there is definitely room for this market to grow," he said.
A different perspective
Sophia Khan, a 23-year old post graduate from the U.S., told CNBC her trip to North Korea last year altered her preconceptions about North Koreans.
North Koreans live under a totalitarian dictatorship regime led by Kim Jong-un. They are unable to use the internet, prohibited from travelling abroad and face many other restrictions.
"I had gone assuming everyone would be a robot, that they couldn't smile or find humor or have personalities," Sophia said. "I let everything I'd read in the press allow me to subconsciously assume they were anything less than human."
However, she found North Koreans bubbly and inquisitive: "Waitresses would shriek when I said I was from Los Angeles and proceed to sing Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears and Madonna songs to me. A few of the North Korean men would openly flirt, as well, which I found shocking."