One of the strict rules as a foreigner traveling into North Korea is that you are not allowed to obtain the local currency, or “won.” It’s simply not allowed. There are no “money exchange” offices where you trade in your US Dollars or Euros for North Korean Won.
That’s why I’m kind of giddy about having a few thousand North Korean Won in my possession.
How did I get it?
Our tour had the luxury of visiting a North Korean department store, a stop that actually wasn’t even on our itinerary. I’m not sure how our group leader worked this out, but all of a sudden we were told “no photos” as we pulled up to The Kwangbok Area Supermarket. Here we were actually allowed to exchange our US Dollars and Euros for North Korean Won, shop at the store (buy stuff), but then had to convert any of our existing Won still in our possession back into our country’s respective currency.
Only one problem, I forgot to give my North Korean Won back. I got caught up in the moment.
The department store visit was actually one of the coolest parts of the trip, and a rare and precious bit of time where us foreigners could actually wander freely among the locals. When I wasn’t ogling the random assortment of goods from tennis rackets to silk pajamas, in this pristine, 1970s-looking four-storey building; I was trying to make eye contact with the local shoppers, enjoying seeing their reactions when they discovered an “outsider” was among them. One of my favorite parts was enjoying a North Korean hot dog–a hot dog prepared a little differently that what I’m used to seeing in the US.
Anyway, back to the North Korean currency…so yeah, I was enjoying myself so much when all of a sudden I realized I was late getting back on the bus and everyone was ready to go. So I hurried out of the store and into the bus, only realizing I had a stack of North Korean money still in my jeans pocket after we were three miles away. Crap! What the heck was I going to do with it now?
I thought about turning it in to our group leader, destroying it, or just stashing it somewhere at the hotel. I opted to hide it inside a book and pack it in my luggage, and just pray that I didn’t get busted when I left the country. Immigration did indeed search my bags upon my exit of North Korea–and I about had a panic attack–but luckily they didn’t spot the contraband dinero. I made it back into the US with something that very few people in my country have in their possession: North Korean Won.
If you’d like to purchase some, I’m offering a $5,000 Won bill for $4.99. Plus shipping and handling, the total is an even $10.00. The bills are brand new, without marks, tears, or even a crease. Mint condition. I’m guessing they will be worth something one day. If you’re interested, just drop a comment below and I will email you.
I can’t even sell these on eBay…because of the U.S. sanctions against North Korea, I’m not allowed to post these on any auction site. These are truly impossible to find.
*** UPDATE: SOLD OUT!!! I didn’t even get to keep one for myself 🙁 ***