A Tourist In North Korea - dswphoto
Day 4.

I made it down to breakfast just after 7am and enjoyed some kimchi with egg, bread, fish and tomato on the morning of day 4.


And back on the bus again just after 7:30am.


Today's plan was to drive south from Pyongyang to begin the drive south to the Korean Demilitarized Zone / DMZ before returning to the capital again. We would then drive west for a one night stay at the RyongGang Spa & Hotel.


Passing over the Taedong River as we begin the drive out of the city.


More pastel coloured buildings and a very empty highway.


As we left the city we stopped for the obligatory checkpoint. Residence in Pyongyang is a priviledge for North Koreans and entry in and out is only for the chosen few.

We then joined the convoy of tourist buses for the drive to the DMZ on the Reunification Highway.


Farmer and bullock.


It was great to finally get out of the city and see the countryside.


After about ninety minutes we stopped at a rest stop.


Where we could use the bathroom and buy some snacks.


And some North Korea cigarettes including the 7.27 brand (named after the date of the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement which brought a cease fire to the Korean War). We would be visiting the site of the signing later today.


I grabbed a can of iced coffee for 2 euro (and made in Singapore).


Admiring the scenery as we continue our drive to the border.


Ms. Chang said that there had been a lot of rain recently and you could see a few landslides and crops that had been washed away.


Looking over to a small bridge lined with large concrete blocks that would be used as tank traps in case of invasion from the south.


A mural on a pillar after we arrived at the border area.


And the obligatory souvenir shop stop.


Hand-painted propaganda posters for sale for €30 each. A lot of the posters used to have anti-American and anti-West slogans but since the recent Kim-Trump détente they had been replaced with more benign themes.


After getting the shopping out of the way we started our tour. Our military guide showing us the North Korea side of the Joint Security Area (JSA).


Back in the bus where we passed along a narrow lane lined with concrete barrels, again in case they needed to block the road for invading tanks.


Outside the building constructed to house the signing of the Korean War Armistice Agreement on the 27th of July, 1953.


The table where the negotiations took place.


And where the final agreement was signed by representatives from the USA, North Korea and China.


The original Korean text of the armistice agreeement. The agreement was in three different languages; English, Korean and Chinese. On display was also the original English text and we were told that the Americans were too ashamed to take it home.


The building also houses the North Korea Peace Museum. Photographs from a visit by Marshall Kim Jong-un.


A photo middle-left of the USS Pueblo along with the surrender of its crew in 1968.


After a short bus ride we arrived at the Joint Security Area (JSA). I had an immediate sense of déjà vu from my trip to the JSA from the South Korea side back in 2013.


The Joint Security Area (JSA) is often simply referred to as Panmunjom, the former village that was situated here just north of the border between North and South Korea.

The concrete slab just beyond the North Korean soldiers demarcates the border with South Korea. It was hard to comprehend that the bustling city of Seoul with 9.8 million residents was only ~70 kilometres away. While at the JSA my cellphone also briefly managed to pick up a South Korea mobile signal.


One of the DPRK border officers. He was a bit reluctant to have his photo taken but luckily didn't protest too much once I snapped away.


And a photo with our DMZ military guide. He was quite friendly and easygoing and was happy to pose for photo's with each of the groups.


We then made our way back to the DMZ entrance for one more dose of souvenir shopping.


After our tour to the DMZ we headed to the nearby city of Kaesong.


And where we went for lunch for a traditional meal of Korean royal court cuisine (Joseon Wangjo Gungjung yori). Consisting of twelve dishes served in bangjja bronzeware and washed down with a shot of soju. I also opted for the optional dog soup (bottom-middle) for some extra protein. A great meal and definitely fit for a king!


At Songgyungwan, and along with eleven other sites in Kaesong is on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.


Opened in 992 AD, Songgyungwan was the highest educational institution established during the Koryo and Choson Dynasties.


Since 1987 the complex now houses the Koryo Museum.


After being destroyed by fire in 1592 during the Imchin War, it was rebuilt to a Confucian standard in 1602.


Ms. Chang with a model of the original Songgyungwan prior to its destruction by fire.


A diagram showing the relative value of slaves and cattle in units of silk. It was interesting to see women valued 20% more than men!


Souvenirs.


They also had quite a comprehensive Philatelic shop including plenty of stamps of the Eternal President.


A traffic guard coping with rush hour on the drive out of town.


A row of pastel apartment buildings as we leave Kaesong.


Boys washing their clothes in the stream.


It was interesting looking out the window catching brief glimpses of rural life in the countryside.


Another idealised mural of Eternal leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il spreading their enlightened knowledge on the best farming techniques.


At the Arch of Reunification on the outskirts of Pyongyang where we wandered into middle of the near empty Reunification Highway to take a photo. In the form of two Korean ladies each wearing the traditional Joseon-ot dress while holding a map of a reunified Korea.


And back in central Pyongyang again.


At the Pothonggang Hotel where we stopped for a quick break in the city.


And the obligatory Supreme Leader inspection walkabout photo in the hotel lobby.


They also had a hotel store inside.


Selling everything from local candies to M&M's. All the prices were in local currency but you had to pay in foreign currency at the set exchange rate. The prices were quite reasonable however.


We then left Pyongyang via the Youth Hero Motorway. Opened in October 2000, Ms. Chang said it was named after the many youth that built the road.


An inspiring agriculture slogan by Kim Il-sung on the hill above a cooperative farm which we would visit tomorrow on our return to Pyongyang.


After about an hour drive from Pyongyang we arrived at the RyongGang Spa & Hotel.


And the rather spartan interior of my room. The bed was rock hard again too! Each room came with their own bath though to soak away the aches with the hot spring mineral water.


And the large indoor swimming pool.


After the dog soup for lunch it was time for our second dose of interesting North Korean cuisine, petrol clams! Helping to stack on the stone slab the freshly caught clams (with their mantles turned upwards so no petrol would seep in) from the nearby Korea Bay.


Our bus driver and now expert chef Mr. Lee spraying liberal amounts of flaming petrol onto the carefully placed clams.


And gingerly trying the finished product. They actually tasted pretty good with not a hint of petroleum aftertaste!


After the petrol clam experience we headed inside the hotel resturant for dinner.


Enjoying some North Korean beer to wash it down with.


While some of they guys got carried away with the cheap soju I retired to my room for a relaxing soak in the hotspring bath at the end of day 4.



Day 5.

After a good sleep despite the hard bed, I put on my swimming trunks for an early morning dip in the hotel pool.


An interesting breakfast with toast, apple and a hash brown. The coffee wasn't too bad too.


A couple of the guys had drunken a little too much cheap soju and were a little slow getting to the bus so I checked out the hotel billiards room.


An old school rotary telephone.


And a photo in the lobby of late Kim Il-sung giving his blessing to the hotel.


At 8:30am we were all ready to go again. Except someone forgot their glasses and after a quick u-turn we were finally able to get going at 8:45am.


Workers catching a ride to work in a trailer towed by a tractor. This seemed to be quite a common method of transport and we saw about ten of them as we made our way along the country lanes.


Passing more farmworkers at the start of their day.


Driving along the West Sea Barrage, built in the 1980's to close off the Taedong River from the Yellow Sea. On the distance on the top-left is the P’i Do Lighthouse, the tallest and most powerful in North Korea.


The lighthouse tower is 33 meters high and shaped like an anchor.


A model of the barrage at the visitor centre. We then sat down to watch a video of the construction of the West Sea Barrage. Despite being a propaganda video it was quite interesting to watch, especially with the significant manual labour and thousand of workers used.


The tidal barrage is a eight kilometre long system of dams, three lock chambers, and 36 sluices.


Soldiers running along the top of one of the dam bridges. The goal of the barrage was the prevention of seawater mixing with the fresh water of the river, improving the water supply and allowing the irrigation of additional land.


The dam allows the passage of ships up to 50,000 tons.


Looking over to a coastal fishing village.


Back on the Youth Hero Motorway again and on our way back to Pyongyang. A train engine on the railway tracks to the right.


At a monument to Kim Il-sung at Chongsan-ri Cooperative Farm, who visited the farm many times to dispense his famous on-the-spot guidance.


A lady picking vegetables in between the green houses. The cooperative farm grows rice, beans and other vegetables over 1,000 hectares.


Bicyclist. The farm supports and employs ~2,000 families.


A short drive away at the Kangso Mineral Water Factory.


A patriotic poster outside the plant to motivate the workers.


Plaques above the entrance memorialising the visits of Kim Il-sung (left), Kim Jong-il (middle) and Kim Jong-un (right).


The main control room which surprisingly was highly automated.


Unfortunately the factory was not operational today with the National Day weekend.


The Plant Manager explaining the production process to us with Ms. Chang translating.


Photographs of the three Kim's during their visits to the plant.


All of the bottling equipment was imported from Italy.


The final product on display next to a single bottle of Perrier, meant to show that it is similar quality to the famous French brand.


A short walk from the factory in a wooded area was a building flanked by cartoonish bears holding bottles of the mineral water.


The building housed a display of the water source, showing the bubbling naturally carbonated water from the deep undergound aquifers.


We then got to try and buy a few bottles. Not quite Perrier but pretty close!

At a park on the outskirts of Pyongyang with a happy bride and groom.


The park was popular with families out to escape the city. Mercedes definitely seem to be the popular choice for the well-heeled class of Pyongyang.


A couple of large dragon sculptures amongst the trees.


A group of senior citizens enjoying a picnic and dance.


And enjoying a picnic of our own with a hamburger, chicken and fries and a can of Chinese cola.


We then drove into the city to do an activity I had been really looking forward to; a ride on the Pyongyang Metro.


Heading through the ticket gates at Puhŭng Station.


And down the escalators.


The Pyongyang Metro is one of the deepest metros in the world.


The metro is completely undergound and the track lies at over 110 metres deep underground.


Up until 2010 tourists were only allowed to travel between Puhŭng and Yŏnggwang Stations, resulting in a myth that the two stations comprised the entire system and that the passengers were all actors.


Puhŭng and Yŏnggwang Station are however the most finely decorated in the system and were also the last two to be completed when the metro system was built in the 1970's.


The Pyongyang Metro consists of two lines; the green Chollima Line of which the Puhung Station is the southern terminus of.


Since 1997 the Metro has used former German rolling stock from the Berlin U-Bahn built between 1957 and 1965.


A mural of Kim Il-sung on the metro wall. On the right was one of the new Metro trains introduced in 2015 and proudly built in North Korea.


Boarding the train for one-stop from Puhŭng to Yŏnggwang Station.


A gentleman wearing a badge of the two Eternal leaders.


We then got out at Yŏnggwang Station to stop and take in the beautiful socialist architecture.


Departing and arriving passengers.


There were no real restrictions on what we could and couldn't photograph.


A man dressed in black with some of the beautiful murals behind.


A lady about to pass through some of the every grand pillars.


Passengers exiting one of the older East German trains.


Platform guard. We then boarded the train for the four stops to Kaesŏn Station.


A lady's face lit by the faint glow of her cellphone. It was interesting to see quite a few people with them, and although they were a definite sign of prosperity they were not a symbol of freedom given the restrictions of being unable to call outside the country or to access the worldwide internet.


Standing room only.


Waiting to board.


An illuminated and golden statue of Kim Il-sung as we got off embark at Kaesŏn Station.


The Platform guards were a little camera-shy but I managed to sneak up on this unsuspecting one.


About to disembark.

The shining lights of an arriving train.


Couple.


Schoolgirl.


Baby.


We then headed back up to street-level.


Going down.


And back above ground.


Kaesŏn translates as 'Triumph', named after the stations location by the Arch of Triumph (Kaesŏnmun).


Snack shop. We then hopped back into our awaiting bus to head to Juche Tower.


At the base of Juche Tower with our local guide. Juche translates as "self-reliance" is the official state ideology of North Korea.


Inside the entrance of the tower was numerous tribute plaques from the world. The local guide had them all memorised and was immediately able to point out the one from New Zealand for me.


Buying a ticket to the tower for €5.


Squeezing into the elevator for the ride up to the top.


The view from the 170 metre tall tower, looking south to the Taedong River with the infamous Yanggakdo International Hotel on Yanggak Island visible in the distance.


Looking east to Kim Il-sung Square and the Grand People's Study House.


The towering 330 metre tall Ryugyong Hotel. While constructed started in 1987 and topping out in 1992, it wasn't until 2011 when its glass cladding was completed. The hotel still remains unopened however.


Okryu Bridge stretching across the Taedong River with Rungra Island just behind. Also visible in the distance is Pyongyang TV Tower.


Looking north-east to Tongdaewon-dong with the shadow of Juche Tower below. Also visible top-left is Rungrado 1st of May Stadium on Rungra Island.



It was a great vantage point to see the country's fondness for pastel-hued buildings.

East Pyongyang with a government building adorned with portraits of the two Eternal leaders directly below.


It was quite eerie to see how empty the city looked with almost no one in the park below and the almost car free streets.


We then descended back down to the tower to admire the exterior. Like the Arch of Triumph, the tower was built in 1992 to commemorate the 70th birthday of Kim Il-sung and is comprised of ~25,500 bricks, one for each day of his life.


In front of the tower is a 30-metre high statue consisting of three figures each holding a tool; a hammer (the worker); a sickle (the peasant); and a writing brush (the "working intellectual").


Looking across to the many new city skyscrapers. You can certainly understand where the nickname 'Pyonghattan' comes from!


After another short bus ride we arrived at the Monument to Party Founding for another dose of grandiosity and socialism with its large hammer, sickle and calligraphy brush.


Zoe and Mr. Ju with the towering Ryugyong Hotel in the distance.


Ms. Chang translating the text on the surrounding lower belt: "Long live the leader and organizer of the victories of the people of Korea, the Worker's Party of Korea!".


Built in 1995, the monument reaches to a height of 50 meters to signify the 50th anniversary of the party.


On the inside of the belt were bronze reliefs showing the history of the party.


After travelling across the city we arrived at the very grand Mangyongdae Children's Palace on Kwangbok (Liberation) Street.


Opened in 1989, it is the largest of the 'palaces' in North Korea dedicated to after-school activities for chosen students.


Smiling portraits of the two late Kims again.


The Palace is run by the Young Pioneer Corps for children under 15.


"Children are the king of the country". Young pioneer members are the most gifted children in the country and are sent in order to develop their talents through extra-curricular activities and to showcase their capabilities as evidence of the superiority of the North Korean system.


And the very vibrant interior! The Palace was recently refurbished on the orders of Kim Jong-un.


The sprawling palace is divided up into different rooms specializing in the particular talents. We were then taken into each room to watch the children practice their expertise.

Girls performing ballet.


Complete with uncomfortably forced smiles.


Students playing the 12 stringed gayageum.


It was quite mesmerising and slightly unnerving to watch them play so beautifully and perfectly, especially at such a young age.


Next was the calligraphy class.


Korean calligraphy is also known as Seoye.


The carefully laid out calligraphy brushes.


Writing in Hangul, the native Korean alphabet.


We then moved on to the Computer lab.


With the PC's running Microsoft Windows XP Professional.


A teacher overseeing Physics class.


Models of ICBM's on the shelf.


The model rockets made complete sense once I realised they were learning about ballistics!


In the gymnasium where the boys and girls were playing volleyball...


...and basketball.


Young gymnasts poised at the bar.


And practising their dance routine.


A map of the Korean Peninsula with a model of Intercontinental Ballistic missle as we finish our tour to the very interesting Mangyongdae Children's Palace. It was also definitely one of the more surreal experiences of the trip!


We then headed to a local restaurant for a quick dinner before getting ready for our second dose of the Mass Games!




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