For some North Koreans, the most exotic vacation possible is closer to home -- the coastal town of Wonsan, about 200 kilometers to the east of the capital.
Here, North Koreans looked to be enjoying a laid back summer holiday at the beach.
Minus a few obvious differences, it could have been a scene from another part of Asia. Everyone looked relaxed and happy. People were swimming, sunbathing and playing ball games.
Small sail boats that had the North Korean flag printed on their sails were available for hire. The stretch of beach I visited was fenced in and Westerners were allowed to walk around freely within that perimeter.
This was the closest I could get to ordinary North Korean people and it was in sharp contrast to the poorer, harsher views of rural life I got during the trip east.
Back in Pyongyang, before my departure, there were signs of outside influences slowly emerging.
There was the city's first hamburger shop, which the locals refer to as McDonald's. Two Italian restaurants had also recently opened.
One of those, a pizza restaurant, was the venue for my last night in the country.
Inside, a woman with a microphone stood engulfed in cigarette smoke. She sang one Italian classic hit after another -- with almost no accent.
As in other parts of Asia, karaoke is a way of life in North Korea, usually existing hand in hand with cigarettes and alcohol.
Three young women in tight skirts were running the kitchen, sweating while working with a brand new pizza oven.
Most customers were tourists like me, business people or embassy staff -- the price for a pizza is too high for most North Koreans.
Like other North Koreans I'd met or photographed, I felt from the staff a distinctive curiosity, tinged with a shyness of not knowing how to react to the increasing numbers of visiting foreigners.
They all seemed genuinely friendly, polite and well educated.
For me, North Koreans seem to be no different than any other people.