Rows of apple trees and distant mountains
DPRK,  Food & drink,  Nature Photo Challenge

Apple farming in North Korea

When you visit North Korea you put yourself in the hands of your guides. There is no option to choose your itinerary day to day beyond the rough outline proposed by your tour company at the time of booking. And even that can change, as we discovered when a tropical storm hit the southern part of the country where we were staying at the time.

I touched on the aftermath of that storm in a previous post. But it isn’t just storms that can affect your plans. While in Wonsan our guide was happy to discover that a new ‘attraction’ had been opened to tourists. And we were to be the first group she would take there!

It was a one hour drive out of town to this new attraction, Kosan Fruit Farm, an apple farm. Yes, in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea they are proud to show off to their small number of visitors the success of their agricultural and industrial initiatives. Any that are less successful are of course firmly out of bounds!

Man on a bike and large mural of another man among blossoming trees
Arriving at the farm

Visiting the farm

Like many of the visits we went on in Korea this was again surprisingly interesting, mainly for the scale of this state-run farm, which is the largest fruit farm in the country. How many farms elsewhere have their own iron fence making factory?! Or viewing platforms from which tourists can properly appreciate the wonders of the operation?

Panoramic shot of flat farmland

Views from the visitor viewing platform

Small white houses with gourds drying on corrugated roofs
Older workers’ houses with gourds drying on the roofs
Group of bungalows in front of a hill
New workers’ houses

We were given various facts and figures about apple production. I failed to absorb most of these because I was too busy taking photos. But I did gather that the apples grown here are developed in North Korea from better-known foreign varieties and that this is the biggest such farm in the country.

Large billboard with slogans in Korean and drawings of farm workers and apples
Slogans to motivate the workers

Messaging is everything here, directed mainly at the workers but also to some extent at foreign visitors. Huge propaganda board extol hard work for the sake of the country and its people. Meanwhile the roads are lined, as everywhere in rural North Korea, with cosmos flowers, seen as a gift from the people to the Supreme Leaders

Pale mauve and white flowers in a dense flower bed
Paths edged with cosmos
Tasting the apples

I hope Denzil will accept some photos of these apples for his Nature Photo challenge this week on the theme of ‘Edible’. I can confirm that is exactly what they were!

We were invited to pick and try the apples. I was a little wary of what seemed to be a liberal spraying of pesticide, but gave mine a good polish and a rinse with some water. I have to say it tasted good, perhaps especially because we had had very little fruit during our tour. However we were slightly taken aback to be charged for the apples after re-boarding the bus. We’d assumed we were being given them as a sample (as had our guides). But they weren’t expensive, so we didn’t mind paying for the treat.

I visited North Korea in 2019


  • Yongin

    Hi Sarah. Really enjoyed your articles on North Korea! They were so interesting and informative! Also loved all the pictures and videos! Both my parents grew up in Pyongyang area before the war. I recently learned that my great grandparents used to own an apple orchard near where they lived. I just googled apple orchards in North Korea and your blog came up. You’ve inspired me to visit some day to pay homage to my ancestors. 😊 how long was your trip and do you have recommendations on a tour company/guide? I live in the US. Thanks!!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      How nice to hear from you Yongin! I’m sure you’d find it fascinating to visit North Korea, given your heritage. Unfortunately the borders are still closed, as they have been since Covid. As it happens I was just talking yesterday with the UK guide who accompanied us on our trip (we also had the compulsory two North Korean guides) and he told me they are hopeful the border will reopen fairly soon, although it’s difficult to get accurate information out of the country (and if anyone could do it, he could, as he has excellent contacts there and has visited numerous times). His feeling is that when they do reopen it will be for more limited visits, just taking in Pyongyang and the southern area around Kaesong and the DMZ. We were fortunate to go on the last trip from the UK before Covid, and the country at that point was gradually opening more areas to tourism so we were there for 17 days and saw as much as it was then possible to see. We travelled with Regent Holidays, a UK based company, but since all tours start in Beijing there would be no reason for you to go with them. However, can I ask if you’re a US citizen, as if so you are not permitted to go there by your government. At least, that was the position pre-Covid, you will have to see what rules apply once it’s possible to travel there again. Do message me if you have more questions!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I’m sorry, somehow this ended up in my spam and I only just spotted it! In North Korea you have no choices about the itinerary, whether to leave room or not, change it or not. You are completely in their hands. But you are guaranteed that every day will be a very full one and all incredibly interesting!

  • leightontravels

    Such a unique experience Sarah. The landscape is really pretty, the houses so snugly situated among the greenery. The propaganda board is a work of art but also just makes me feel a bit sad. Charging you for the apples? A bit pathetic but not at all surprising I guess.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      One surprise about North Korea is how beautiful the landscapes are – I must share more about that one day. Yes, those propaganda boards are works of art in a way and I find them fascinating but I agree, also sad that people are told how to think and feel in that way. As for the charging, I suspect it was simply a case of not thinking about how that would look to us rather than meanness. One thing you can say about that country is that on the whole they treat their guests well 🙂

  • margaret21

    Well, this bit of community pride is a bit unlike the community apple days to be found in most (rural, anyway!) areas in the UK in September or October each year, with apple pressing, apple ID and exhibitions for people to wander in and out of as the fancy takes them!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Very different indeed – and yet I sensed there is genuine pride here (especially as, with limited knowledge of the outside world, they believe what they are told, that they are growing the very best apples in the very best way!)

  • Teresa

    Wow, North Korea, that’s awesome! Thanks for documenting your tour and sharing with us a place that I may not be able to see personally.

  • maristravels

    What a great story. I especially liked the punchline – you had to pay for the apples. I must say your photograph of the fruit makes them look delicious. Mind you, we have a somewhat similar experience at one of the wine places in the USA where we were offered a glass of wine on a terrace overlooking the vineyard and then asked to pay for it. I had to use all my wiles to calm my husband who was incandescent by then as we’d had three days of constant demands for tips wherever we went in this part of California, especially in the bars where he’d collect the drinks from the counter. Service? What service?

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Mari, glad you enjoyed this tale 🙂 I’m used to the fact that tipping is expected in the US, regardless of the level of service, but it’s not the norm in North Korea at all. But this wasn’t a tip, it was a price per apple!

  • Anne Sandler

    It’s interesting that you were permitted to view the apple farm. I’m guessing the No. Korean Govt. is trying to put their best forward. Even though your visit was totally contreolled, I’m so glad you shared your wonderful pictures with us.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Oh yes, definitely trying to put their best forward, and conceal their worst! When you visit you are treated as an honoured guest but one for whom the house has been beautifully cleaned and tidied, with any embarrassing objects and dirty secrets hidden away in a locked spare room!

  • Rebecca

    It’s incredible you got to visit North Korea, considering that Americans like myself have since been banned from visiting (and it looks to be that way for a long time…). The apple farm is an unexpected stop compared with the megalopolis tours in Pyongyang, but fascinating to learn about, even if it’s scripted with heavy propaganda and the fact you had to pay for your “sample” in the end. Truly an experience in a country that you’ll never forget.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Yes, this is a very different side to North Korea. We deliberately chose the longest tour available as the shorter ones don’t stray far from Pyongyang and that city is so unlike anywhere else in the country that if it’s the only place you visit you can’t really feel you’ve learned much about the country. As for being banned, prior to Covid the country was as open to Americans as to Europeans, but your own government banned you from visiting, presumably out of concerns about safety. Yet it really was a totally safe place to visit, as long as you stick to the rules (which aren’t onerous) 🙂


    Wow that is some extent of apple farm – makes Kent looks like someone’s back yard! I can’t believe they charged you for the tasters, but I guess production control is watched like hawks. A bit different from a tequila tour where they keep pouring the freebies down your throat even when you’ve had more than enough.

  • Alison

    I’m still in awe Sarah that you visited North Korea, so far you are the only person I know who’s been! The apple looked perfect, fancy being charged 😂

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