Dispatches and excerpts of my writing, including features which have appeared in my books and in publications such as the Smithsonian and TIME magazine.

Yuri Irsenovich Kim a.k.a. Kim Jong Il is dead, but where was he born?

Mount Paektu Kim Jong Il

From the very start, Kim Jong Il’s life has been shrouded in mystery. According to official North Korean biographers, the Dear Leader was born on Mount Paektu under a double rainbow and the appearance of a new star in the heavens. Earlier this year I visited the bizarre and eerily beautiful volcano-lake which straddles the China-North Korean border. Since ancient…  read more.

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Journey to North Korea, Part III

Journey to North Korea, Part III: The NoKo Chocolate Factory By Tomas van Houtryve On the final day of my first trip to North Korea, my guides reached out to me. “We are trying very hard to get investors into the DPRK.” They asked me to recruit people at home interested in doing business in North Korea. I already had…  read more.

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Journey to North Korea, Part II

Journey to North Korea, Part II: The Packrat Dictatorship By Tomas van Houtryve After dinner at the end of my second day, I was pulled aside by my guides. The interrogation lasted for four hours. The most grim-looking of our minders, Mr. Chung (I have changed the names of my North Korean minders for their protection), was bad cop. “We…  read more.

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Journey to North Korea, Part I

Journey to North Korea, Part 1: The Majesty and the Mustache By Tomas van Houtryve (Originally published on TIME.com on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2009) In 2007 and 2008, Tomas van Houtryve visited North Korea by infiltrating a communist solidarity delegation. In the first of a three-part series, he reports on the elaborate ruse required to enter the isolated country. One…  read more.

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Uncovering the CIA’s Legacy in Laos

© Tomas van Houtryve

VIENTIANE PROVINCE, LAOS – We set out at nightfall. Four thin Hmong men dressed in faded khaki uniforms and clutching AK-47’s, those ubiquitous hallmarks of the world’s most troubled regions. There was no moon when we crawled out of our hiding spot between thickets of bamboo and onto the lightly graveled road through the jungle. After sizing us up, the…  read more.

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The Fall of a God King

KATHMANDU, NEPAL – My first experience with King Gyanendra Shah was in February 2004. He was scheduled for an official visit to the city in Nepalgunj, which is quite possibly the least charming place on earth. Nepal is a stunningly beautiful country — green hills terraced with rice patties, and a backdrop of the jagged Himalayas. But Nepalgunj is the…  read more.

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Nagarkot massacre

BHAKTAPUR, NEPAL – I saw the 12 victims’ bodies illuminated by a dim torch and shards of light form the full moon. Their faces looked twisted and ghostly. They had been lined up outdoors on blood soaked mud. The rioters had arranged themselves at the end of an alley leading to the hospital, and started fires with anything they could…  read more.

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Airborne in Afghanistan

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN – With the fat double blades of the helicopter churning air through the cabin, I looked across to see the tense faces of 19 and 20-year-old American soldiers. Under their Kevlar helmets, and dust goggles, and behind their bulletproof vests were sweaty foreheads and rapidly beating hearts. Only one man, the Special Forces commando, seemed cold, his eyes…  read more.

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