A brief introduction
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) or North Korea as it is better known, has always fascinated me as a place. Just the way it is run, the fact no-one really knows what goes on there, as well as the control the State seem to have on the population and the media. Probably what the Soviet Union was like before the break up. I had spoken to two Wales Supporters (Rhys and his Dad Tim) last year in Brazil and they had recently retruned from North Korea. So they sort of convinced me to visit there myself.
Many people seem surprised to find out that there is a tourist industry in North Korea, for months I have had numerous reactions to when I told people I was going to North Korea. Ranging from ‘Don’t you mean South Korea?’ to ‘Why do you want to go there?’ The latter I cannot answer as it is difficult to explain, just like trying to explain to non football fans why I like watching 22 men kick a ball around some grass.
A company ‘Koryo Tours’ have been running trips to the Socialist State for almost 20 years now. The DPRK love to have a celebration, they celebrate anniversaries of almost anything related to North Korea (I mean their massive army has to have something to keep themselves occupied!). The tour I was booked on was the ‘Victory Day Tour’, Victory Day in North Korea is on the 27th July and it is the day North Korea ‘won’ the Korean War (1950-1953) even though the War has never officially ended as only an armistice was signed in 1953 – but more on that later on.
The only way to get to Pyongyang (The capital of DPRK) is to fly from Beijing, China, so I thought I would have a week of sightseeing there and a week before that I spent some time in Seoul, South Korea. I had never really fancied visiting China before and personally I was not a fan of Beijing, I found the locals rude, almost got killed crossing the road every day (green lights for pedestrians mean nothing) there were just too many tourists around the place and hardly anyone could speak English. Apart from that it was great……
There was a pre-meeting at the Koryo Tours Office a day before I was due to fly to North Korea to go through all the dos and donts and to meet the other eager travellers. It was all common sense stuff really, but having to be without the Internet for 5 days would be my biggest challenge! The only thing on the original itinerary that wasn’t going to happen was a visit to the Mausoleum of the eternal President Kim Il Sung and his son the Supreme Leader – Kim Jong Il. so I had packed my shirt, tie and shoes for nothing!
Flying into the unknown
I left my hostel in Beijing for the airport on Saturday (25th July) where Rich from Koryo Tours gave everyone their Visas for the DPRK, unfortunately we were not allowed to keep them after we left the country. Koryo Air is the only Airline that flies to North Korea, according to Google it is the only ‘One Star’ Airline in the World (whatever that means). A step onto the plane allowed me to meet my first ever North Korean person, the Stewardess. The easiest way to tell is because every North Korean from the age of about 14 wears a badge of the Leader/Leaders on the left of their clothing (close to the heart).
The plane was a Russian type plane, but it looked fairly new, so I was quite confident it would get there – even though I don’t usually have a fear of flying. Throughout the flight the TV screens were showing a famous North Korean Women Orchestra band – the Moranbong Band. Though I’ll put it like this, I am glad the flight was only just over a hour! The propaganda music and brainwashing seemed to have started already and we hadn’t even landed.
My plane ticket
About halfway through the flight though I experienced the worse turbulence in my history of flying, the plane was rocking from side to side and up and down and the wings were looking like they were going to break as we flew through a thunderstorm. Thankfully it all calmed down after 5 minutes, but speaking to people afterwards they also thought it was going to crash. I was just glad I was leaving North Korea by train! Phew.
Plane food – it was edible at least
The plane TVs showing the Moranbong Band
Now for what seemed the longest customs experience yet, I had to fill in 4 different forms to enter the country. On one you had to state any electrical items you had in your possession, so this included any mobile phones, iPods, cameras and tablets. North Korean customs are always very interested in any books you may have, not because they want to improve their English, but in case any books you may have are detrimental towards their country. We were told in the pre meeting to delete any copies of ‘Team America’ & ‘The Intrerview’ from our hard drives. The Customs guard was looking at my YouTube app, but as there is no such thing as WiFi or the Internet in North Korea so it is very unlikely that anything would’ve worked!
The plush new airport in Pyongyang – bustling with people………
After everyone got through customs with no problems there was a chance to look around the newly opened airport (which only seemed to have Western tourists there and no locals). A lady called Vicky from Scotland, who works for Koryo Tours, would be our non North Korean guide for the next 5 days and had been to North Korea 14 times previously. Vicky would be in charge of 18 tourists from all different parts of the World, the Group known as ‘Group B’. My new DPRK Family.
We were also introduced to our North Korean guides – Mrs Che, Miss Yu and Mr Paek, the coach was very comfortable, had good air conditioning and a driver who hadn’t had an accident in 30 years – which was reassuring. It was just a shame about the awful rain, which I was hoping wouldn’t ruin my trip. Another person who would be joining us for the next 5 days would be a cameraman (unable to remember his name) where it was possible to buy a DVD after the tour had finished. I have never had anyone film me on my holiday before.
The Yanggakdo Hotel
It was still an interesting drive to our hotel, straight away there were the propaganda murals and the portraits of the ‘Great Leaders’, which would start to become a common theme throughout the trip, as well as a lot of cars, which surprised me, but so many more people were walking and cycling. The hotel is only one of a few in Pyongyang, it was called the Yanggakdo Hotel which is on an Island in Pyongyang (sometimes referred to as Alcatraz). We arrived at the hotel late evening and my new roommate for the next few nights would buy a guy called Janos, a German living in San Francisco. There were two groups of people on the Victory Day trip and meeting for dinner in the downstairs restaurant gave everyone a chance to meet each other properly for the first time. One guy, David, in our group was celebrating his 70th birthday – What a place to celebrate it!
The view from my hotel room
Without being able to access the Internet for the next few days, I would also not be able to wander around the city alone, which is something I like to do when I visit a new place, so this would be fairly new territory for me. The only place you were allowed to be unattended was in the hotel itself, where there were facilities such as Bowling, a Swimming Pool, a Casino and a few shops and bars. I just wanted to sleep after a tiring day of travelling and a busy day to come the next day.
The first full day in the DPRK
I had only been in North Korea one night and already the constant propaganda music and sights of the Leaders had led me to dream about meeting Kim Jong Un, it had worked already!
Sunday (26th July) would be my first proper day in North Korea and I was intrigued to see what the day would have in store. Firstly I rang home to find out who Wales’s opponents were in the World Cup Qualifiers (and obviously to let my parents know I had arrived safely).
Me at Kim Il Sung Square
The first stop in Pyongyang was – with pictures of the Leaders on top of the building, named after their country’s founding leader (of course), it is usually the scene for the Military parades and dances using seen on the news in the West. There were people practising here for Victory Day the following day. There was also a hustle and bustle around Pyongyang, althought it did have a ‘Truman Show’ type feel about it and I was Jim Carrey, but I’m sure this wasn’t the case. Just after everything you read and see in the news to be among North Korean locals at first was a bit surreal. In all honesty it looked like any other city in the World, just without the animals.
We went into a Foreign Language Bookshop which sells propaganda stamps and posters (another common theme on the trip). One of the guides, Mr Paek, pointed to the ‘Barclays Premier League’ badge on one of the number of Swansea shirts I had taken with me and he had heard of Manchester United, but didn’t seem to believe me when I said we beat them twice last season!
Propganda postcasrds – They really don’t like the U.S.
As I’ve mentioned before the ‘Great Leaders’ are on nearly every street corner and there is no avoiding them even if you wanted to. There is an Eternal President who is Kim Il Sung, the Supreme Leader Kim Jong Il and the Dear Leader Kim Jong Un – all very confusing sometimes. Kim Il Sung died in 1994 and Kim Jong Il died in 2011 and on Mansu Hill there is a monument called the Mansudae Grand Monument with two bronze statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. North Koreans from far and wide purposely visit it to pay their respects.
The Great Leaders (in full view)
They walk in lines of four and bowing simultaneously, there were incredibly choreographed. All of us in ‘Group B’ had to do the same but obviously less choreographed, I can’t personally say I agreed but like when I go into any sort of church, I am always respectful. The North Koreans take offence if a photograph is taken with any part of the Leaders ‘cut off’ so we had to make sure they were both in a full frame.
The Great Leaders and Great from Swansea
We had a walk in a local park and visited the apparent birthplace and childhood home of Kim Il Sung. called Mangyongdae Native House. After a trip to the local supermarket, where you could actually buy food items with local Korean Won (Euros, Chinese RMB & US Dollars are the only currencies tourists are allowed to use) there was an option to go bowling at the local Bowling Alley.
A walk across the bridge
We were all given an option to walk, which I jumped at the chance to do, our guides seemed to trust us enough already which was great. There were about 6 of us who walked with our North Korean guide Miss Yu under an underpass and across the Okryu Bridge. It was very busy as most North Koreans don’t have cars, so most walk everywhere. They must be one of the fittest people in the World, we didn’t get too many funny looks and some kids waved at us from the opposite side, they were probably just as intrigued as us.
What Pyongyang also has are female traffic wardens and they fascinated me, they were so choreographed with their arm and head movements. There is a video on YouTube from a year ago which is worth a watch: here
The colour of their uniform changes with the seasons and currently the wear white (and a not so flashy rain jacket in the wet weather). Sometimes they would salute as a car drove past, which I guess meant that there was an important person inside. But I really could’ve watched their routine for hours.
The Pyongyang traffic warden in her white coloured attire on a busy day
A few of us went bowling in an Alley with no air conditioning, I also forgot to check what size ‘9’ in Korean translates to. I wasn’t very good, but I was amused at the old style computer system they had there – like something from the late 1980s.
After the bowling we all took a visit to the Juche Tower – ‘Juche’ is the ideology created by Kim Il Sung (who else!?) and if I am honest I don’t understand it really. But it basically the religious, political, social and economic ideology of North Korea – sometimes called ‘Kimilsungism’
The Juche Tower
The Juche year in the DPRK is currently ‘104’ (started from Kim Il Sung’s birth in 1912 – there is no ‘0’ in the Juche year).
The views from the top of the Juche Tower were quite impressive, we were lucky with the weather, so there were some great views of Pyongyang to see. Vicky then decided it would be a great idea for anyone who was last to return to the coach, as a punishment, would have to sing or tell a joke on the mic. From this moment on I was determined not to be the last person on the coach!
Views from the top of the Juche Tower on a glorious day
To finish off the long day, we went to a Kaeson Theme Park, built in 1984, as we had paid more than the locals to get enter the Park we were able to bypass the queues – not something I was particularly keen on. I didn’t go on any of the rides as I will admit to not being that confident of the safety checks – if thay do any. It was great to see the reactions of the North Korean children who were intrigued by a group of foreigners. Some had probably never seen foreigners before, especially if they come from cities outside of the capital. Some of the children waved back to us, some looked scared and ran away (I have that affect on people) and some seemed shy. Steven and Josh from our Group were showing the kids how to ‘High Five’ each other.
The DPRK Military practising for their October 10th parade
After a 12 hour day of activites it was back to the Yanggakdo Hotel for some much needed rest before ‘Victory Day’ was upon us.
Victory Day (Monday 27th July) was here and originally we were all going to head to Kaesong (a city near the South Korea border) for the night. But as what invariably happens on these North Korea trips, there was a change to the itinerary, the North Korean guides had seen that there would be a firework display at 11pm and we were going to watch that instead and head to Keasong the following morning. I didn’t mind either way, but some on the tour were disappointed we couldn’t stay in the hotel in Kaesong.
First up in the morning was a visit to the Three Revolutions Exhibitions, a museum that showcases the three revolutions on Kim Il Sung (that man again!). The ideology, the technical and cultural at the three revolutions. Throughout the part of the Museum that we went to showed, in detail, the advances the DPRK has made in industry, technolgy and agriculture – The musuem also had a full size statue of the Eternal President on display.
Up next was a ride on a local tram, we would only be sharing this tram with other tourists – unlike the Underground Metro, which I’ll mention later on. All the trams have white stars on the side, the reason is that for every 50 kilometres the tram travels without a crash. One star can be added onto the side. It is supposed to make people have confidence in the driver and the safety of the tram. Though if a tram does crash, the stars get painted over and the process starts again!
A North Korean tram emblazoned with the stars
The tram ride was like any other in any other city, the locals looked disappointed as a tram approached without stopping though.
As it was Victory Day, it seemed an appropriate time to visit the ‘Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum’ (yes really). Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photos inside the grounds. Why, I am not so sure, but it was a very impressive museum and it took just 10 months to build.
The English speaking female guide we had was very authoritative at first and came across as quite intimidating, but as with most of the guides that showed us around these things, it was as if a switch was flipped somewhere as she was laughing and joking later on. We got shown tanks, planes and weapons that the North Koreans had captured from the U.S, British and Germans. She also seemed to take great pleasure in showing off that they captured the U.S. ship – USS Pueblo. The USS Pueblo was captured in 1968 with 83 crew members and eleven months later they were all released after receiving an apology letter from the U.S. Army Lieutenant, also saying they wouldn’t spy on the DPRK in the future.
Outside the gates to the Museum, with what felt like the whole of the DPRK Army!
When I went to Seoul two weeks previously, I went to their Korean War Museum, it was very good (and I don’t like Museums usually). In that Museum it was said that Kim Il Sung liased with Josef Stalin and invaded South Korea on 25th June 1950 and without the Chinese help and the Russians providing them with the weaponry, North Korea would probably not be like it is today. So I was interested to see how the North Korean side would tell the story.
I was not surprised, after bowing (again), in front of the massive Kim Il Sung gold statue (noticing a theme here?) we all watched a video called ‘Who provoked the Korean War?’. To cut it short, it was said that it was the U.S. Imperialists who provoked the War for various reasons. The Wall Street Crash was one reason given, yet I’m sure this happened in 1928 – 20 years previously.
The U.S.A were constantly referred to as the ‘U.S. Imperialists’ and blamed mainly them for the War, as they killed so many innocent North Koreans. No mention was given to how many innocent people North Korea killed and only when Saken, from our group, asked our guide when did the Chinese help, our guide then provided us with the information. I am not sure which side is totally true, but with these things usually it is somewhere in the middle. But I found it interesting to see the stories from both museums from both sides.
After this we took a visit to the ‘Arch of Triumph’. It was built in 1982 and the monument was built to glorify and honour Kim Il Sung’s role in the military resistance against Japan for Korean Independence. Near to this was the Kim Il-Sung Stadium, where a lot of events are held, including football. Unfortunately there were no football games on when I was there, I will have to plan better next time!
Mass Dacning at the Pyongyang Indoor Stadium
If you’ve never seen anything on North Korea before, they do love to put on a show. The Mass Games – which now mysteriously doesn’t happen anymore – was a sight to behold. Instead we went outside the Pyongyang Indoor Stadium where we all watched some ‘Mass Dancing’. Personally, I have to say it was spectacular, all the men were smartly dressed in white shirts and a red tie (as well as the badge depicting the Leaders) and the Women were in traditional colourful dresses. Apart from the propaganda music it was a very good spectacle, with what must have been close to a thousand people taking part. There were no North Koreans watching where we were, just tourists, but apparently there were other similar Mass Dances going on all over the city.
Tourists were also given the chance to dance with the North Korean dancers, I was born with two left feet so decided just to watch. Our three North Korean guides, plus Vicky from Koryo Tours, took up the opportunity and joined in the dancing circles. If I wanted to, it was possible to wander off and no-one would’ve known where I had gone, again it just showed that the guides trusted everyone and I was glad this trip it wasn’t as restrictive as I had originally thought it would be. I did feel sorry for the North Korean Mass Dancers, who had probably been practising all year for this day, only to dance with a tourist who didn’t have a clue on the routine! (Spot the odd ones out in the photos)
Some of us in Group B went back to the Hotel for a few hours before setting off to watch the fireworks, this was another chance to mingle with the locals. About 10 of us were in the capable hands of Mr Paek who took us to a bridge overlooking the river, the ideal spot to watch the ‘Victory Day’ fireworks. As the fireworks started, more vehicles on the bridge stopped to look, this was the first time I actually saw the North Korean Police Force. I wasn’t sure if such a thing existed. The fireworks were impressive in parts, but no different to anywhere else in the World, I guess.
A view over Pyongyang and the Victory Day fireworks
Back to the hotel we all went after guiding our guide back to our coach, as he was taking us the wrong way! It is common in North Korea for power outages to occur at random time, this time it happened when a few of us were in the lift. This is the first time it has ever happened to me, usually I prefer to walk but I didn’t fancy walking up 34 flights of stairs!
So an early start beckoned for ‘Group B’ as we headed to Kaesong, it is a military road most of the way, so it was quite eerie not to see many cars for the 2 hour journey. Looking out of the window (The guides had no issues with us taking photos either) this is what I expected North Korea to look like, not the showcase capital of Pyongyang. I didn’t see anything that looked like real poverty, just typical farming communities. The roads were very bumpy and there were people employed to maintain the roads, but by hand. On either side there seemed to be a lot of crop growing and I saw my first sight of animals in the DPRK, a few dogs and some sheep and cows.
Outside of Pyongyang life looks a little different
Kaesong is mostly famous for having the DMZ (Demilitarised Zone. The DMZ is a strip of land across part of country set up after the Korean War, separating South Korea and North Korea. It is the most heavily militarized border in the World.
We first visited another Stamp shop (got to love lots of propaganda stamps) before and then we picked up a guard who was on our bus, again he looked a very serious figure but the switched was flicked somewhere and he smiled! We tried to get him to sing, as he was the last on the bus, but he refused as he was on duty! We were shown the buildings where the armistice was signed by the U.S. and Koreans, they say it is the first and only time that the Americans have ‘lost’ a War.
The DMZ – South Korea is behind the blue buildings and where mobile phone signals exists
Considering then DMZ is supposed to be one of the most dangerous borders in the World, it didn’t seem very intense at all. Most people were laughing, chatting etc. Some even taunted Americans who were on the Southern side of the border. It is apparently more tense if you do the DMZ tour from the South Korea side. Most of the guards seemed happy with the gifts of cigarettes given to them by tourists. I was happy I managed to have a phone signal for the first time (I didn’t have any messages, so no-one had missed me that much it seemed).
Classic ‘eyes shut pose due to the sun’ photograph
Up next was a visit to the Concrete Wall and another North Korean guard accompanied us on the coach. This one though was happy to sing for us, some Korean song but in fairness he could’ve been singing anything. Then he nominated Vicky to sing and so on, so I was wondering how I was going to get out of singing at this point.
Our singing guard
Now I had never heard of the ‘Concrete Wall’ before, the DPRK say it is the equivalent of the Berlin Wall built by the South Koreans, but the South Koreans deny its existence. In fairness, we were all given binoculars and no-one could really see this wall through them. I suppose we’ll just have to take their word for it.
A picture on the wall showing the location of the ‘Concrete wall’
So our brief trip to Kaesong was over, we did stop off for some quick photos at the ‘Arch of Reunification’. It was opened in 2001 to commemorate Korea Unification signed proposals. Interestingly, Mrs Che, our North Korean guide told us that as these proposals went well they see Korea as one. As you maybe able to see on the picture below, Korea on the map encompasses both North and South Korea (North Korea always wirte South Korea with a small ‘s’).
Another possibly unknown fact is that at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, North and South Korea came out in the opening ceramony as ‘One’ Nation, holding the Unification Flag. Since then though, there have been changes in Presidents in the South and talks have never really got going again.
(From Google). Korea unite as one at the Sydney 2000 Olympics
It was back to Pyongyang for food at restaurant ‘Number 1’ (we had eaten at restaurant Number 2 the previous day – this was not good for my OCD). The food up until now had been a mixture, but it seemed common for the waitresses to bring out the food on plates and dishes and then 10 minutes later more food would turn up when you’re already full! Plus I still couldn’t get used to using chopsticks.
After food it was a drive to a new Industrial city of Pyongsong and I had to give a rendition of ‘Take me to the Vetch Field’ on the microphone (thankfully there is no video footage of this, though I may have a chance of me winning North Korean X Factor). Vicky then wanted us all to sing a song together and we ended up changing the words of the well known song ‘YMCA’ to ‘DPRK’. (The making of an ‘R’ is quite difficult, I can tell you).
From Pyongyang to Pyongsong and back
The hotel in Pyongsong was called the Jangsusan Hotel and unsurprisingly had a full length painting of the Leaders in reception (though the hotel in Pyongyang surprisingly didn’t), but they did sell Coca Cola at the bar (this particular can was imported from Denmark). Throughout my trip so far, we had kept being told that the DPRK was a self sufficient country, yet 99% of the food and drink was imported from other countries – usually China or Japan.
Wednesday 29th July would be my last full day in North Korea and a visit to Pyongsong was on the itinerary. It is an Industrial city, so not really many good photo opportunities but if I hadn’t had enough photos of the Great Leaders I was presented with another opportunity. With the Kim Jong Il statue newly built especially for ‘Victory Day’ two days previously. (A quick Google check confirms that there was one statue there before).
Look more statues!
We went to a factory that made ‘Ripcurl’ skiing jackets, yet on the label it said ‘Made in China’ apparently putting ‘Made in DPRK’ is not allowed as they have a Trade embargo on them. After that we headed to a local school called Kim Jong Suk Higher Middle School – Named after Kim Il Sung’s first wife.
The children had coincidentally broken up for the holidays just a day earlier, but there were students in the school who were there for ‘extra studies’. The children seemed to be of a higher class and spoke very good English, a few asked questions to some eager volunteers from ‘Group B’. Paul from Liverpool was up first and as he is about 6 ft 3, questions about him playing Basketball were asked along with ‘Who is your best friend?’.
‘Tall’ Paul talking to North Korean schoolchildren
When the subject of sport came up, one North Korean girl said something along the lines of ‘Our Great Leader says that playing sport is very important in this country’. I wasn’t sure whether she said this for our benefit or whether she really did believe it, I suppose we’ll never know. But after seeing so many images and references of the ‘Great Leader’. I could see how people can think this way.
Paul presented one schoolkid with a Liverpool shirt. Jonas from London was up next and he supported Crystal Palace, but no child in the room had heard of them. He was asked to sing a song, I would have liked to have told these children about how Swansea City are the Greatest team the World has ever seen, but I don’t like speaking in front of a crowd.
Just your usual propganda poster at the school
After the visit to the school it was off to lunch at our hotel in Pyongsong and the short drive back to the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. One of the things I wanted to do on this trip was go on the Underground Metro system as I had heard good things about it. This time we were allowed to be on the Metro carriages with the locals, but apparently initially this part of the tour was originally only for tourists until the rules get more and more relaxed over time.
Not your usual looking Metro station
The Metro system in Pyongyang is the deepest in the World, mainly as this is the safest place to be if there ever were to be a Nuclear attack.
Who needs a phone metro app when you can have a light up one instead?
I have not been to Moscow before, but apparently chandeliers and the paintings are what appears at their Subway stations. Believe it or not there was a Statue of Kim Jong Il (Pyongyang is running Skopje in Macedonia close to the number of statues it has). Impressive paintings were on the walls of most of the Metro stations. What I thought was nice was that when we all got onto the Metro, some North Korean children (after being asked by their Mother) all got up for us to sit down. How sweet.
There was a visit to an art gallery and where they make all the Leader statues before heading off to the library where there were some good views of the city from the balcony. Lastly was a stop at a micro brewery where we watched a preview of our DVD on the big screen. It is basically just a film of everyone from Group B taking photos, but with added propaganda music (of course!). If anyone wants to come to the Premiere let me know, it’s more of a comedy than a Tour Holiday video! But a good memory in years to come I’m sure. Then it was off to another pre arranged restaurant for more food and I managed to avoid the dancing again.
There he is again!
The journey out of the DPRK
Thursday 30th July, this was to be the end of my North Korea trip and the part where all of us in the group would head off in different directions. Some were flying back to Beijing, some were on the 22 hour train ride back to Beijing (yes really!) and myself and a few others were stopping off in Dandong – a town on the DPRK border.
This was the only time our North Korean guides seemed flustered as they got everyone on the train, I didn’t take a photo but I, along with Paul, Bente, Linda, Jonas and a random Chinese man would all be in a 6 bed room on the train. I definitely wasn’t travelling first class. It is the first time I have ever been on a train with beds in.
The journey took about 4 hours from Pyongyang to Dandong, but the customs check took 3 hours alone. As there are no X-Ray machines and a lack of guards, all the checks had to be done by hand. Our passports were handed in and taken away and we all just had to wait. Only my suitcase was checked, sometime they check what photos you have taken on your camera.
Arriving into Dandong on the train
When we arrived in Dandong, our passports were taken away again and then swiftly given back and my North Korean adventure was over. I will mention Dandong briefly as my fingers are now getting tired. This must be the longest blog I have ever written. It was fascinating to see how close the two places were to each other, but the differences were very noticeable. In DPRK all the women were immaculately dressed all the time, the Koreans are very image conscience. In China not so much.
On the Chinese side of the river there are high rise buildings and on the North Korea side there a run down houses and not much to see at all. You’d think it would be easy to swim across and in reality it is, but it’s not really worthwhile for North Koreans to do this. Without any papers connecting them to China, they would immediately be sent back to the DPRK. So it’s not worth the risk. I just wander what they think when they look over and see Dandong from the other side of the river.
China on the right, DPRK on the left
There is a fair bit of trade that goes on between China and the DPRK with a new bridge for lorries built, but not in use yet. I would’ve liked to have gone to the Dandong War Museum, but it was closed for renovation, there were two bridges that the U.S. bombed during the Korean War that tourists can visit now, it was in 1953 that the Chinese helped DPRK during the War.
So all in all I am really glad I went to North Korea and it didn’t rain, thankfully, I’d like to thank Koryo Tours and Vicky especially for making the trip so fun and interesting. Even though the original itinerary didn’t always go to plan but these things happen and you just have to accept it. It was definitely less restrictive than I thought it was going to be which was great and I loved the interaction with the locals, on the whole all the North Koreans I met were very friendly.
Loved these murals at every turn
A few of the activities and shops we visited just seemed to be done to ‘kill time’, but again that’s just the way it goes sometimes and these things are out of people’s control. It was good to mix with like-minded people.
Regarding the food, the choices for food in the DPRK are, as you’d expect, quite limited. Our guides would purposely pick restaurants for us to eat in, and unless you were a vegetarian, you had to eat what you were given. The food was never the best, but I didn’t go on the ‘Food tour of Pyongyang’ trip, so just had to make do (it’s a good way to lose weight though, I lost a stone in total). A free beer was given to everyone every time we ate. No matter what time of the day it was!
Don’t ask me what all this was!
I would like to thank all of Group B who were like a new family for 5 days, I love meeting different people from all different parts of the World. It would be interesting to see what North Korea is like in 10 years time, whether they will open up more to the rest of the World, but there didn’t seem much discontent there among the residents. I will probably go back one and would encourage anyone who has a slight interest in the place to visit. Apart from the lack of contact with the outside World it really is a fascinating and unique experience.
Group B at the Mansudae Grand Monument
From top left to right:
David, Janos, Steven, (me), Jonas, Josh, Stefano, Brecht, Herman
Miss Yu, Sacha, Andre, Paul, Vicky, Jenny, Mrs Che, Saken, Phillipe, Bente, Megan, Mr Paek, and Linda