4 days in North Korea
I Arrived at Pyongyang international airport for a four day trip into the DPRK (North Korea). Immediately Upon arrival, it seems like you have almost stepped into another world, one entirely unfamiliar to the globalised and modernised Beijing that i had just left about an hour and a half earlier. Customs is surprisingly unproblematic and soon enough your ever helpful, friendly and vigilant guides are there to greet you. I was whisked, via the impressive Arch of Triumph, to my hotel. The hotel I stayed in was the 50 floor Yanggakdo Hotel, which turned out to be an impressive urban wilderness of a building. Inside the grandiose hotel lobby lay floor after floor of near emptiness and silence. The views from the window on the 47th floor were nevertheless impressive, but it was clear there would be no queue for breakfast.
I arranged my visa through a British, Beijing based, tour company called KoryoTours, although they arrange group travel, mine was an individual trip as I wanted to travel in solo, although you are guided around the country at all times. Breakfast consists of several dishes, served to me in splendid isolation in the restaurant, seemingly the only guest (there were a few others somewhere). Then it was time to tour Pyongyang. First stop on a very rainy day was the Mansudae grand monument, statues of Kim II-Sung and Kim Jong II, as a tourist you lay flowers here as a mark of respect. After this, i was taxied to a number of the many Iconic landmarks of Pyongyang, in all their soviet style grandeur. I was taken into the metro, reminiscent of Moscow's, which has two "showcase" stations accessible to foreign visitors. Next a small coffee shop which served delicious tasting hot chocolate, then a trip to the monument of Party foundation, then up Juche tower for a Panoramic view of the city and sweeping views across Kim II Sung square. The itinerary was full on but not overpowering.
I was reliably informed that traffic in Pyongyang had increased recently, there were a few more cars in the city centre then I had expected and even some traffic lights. The traffic ladies of Pyongyang are still very evident however, in their splendid white uniforms, they preform manuvouers and turns and twists which somehow make them appear as if the (reasonably light) traffic were being conducted rather than directed.
The following day we headed some 100 miles outside the capital to Kaesong. Passing the conductors/traffic officers as we went we very quickly came on to more bumpy terrain, in our 2 and a half hour drive we saw one car pass us.......the roads were empty, more empty then the Yanggakdo Hotel which by day 3 of my visit was now accommodating a few other visitors.
The countryside was lush, green and pleasant. As we approached our destination I was struck by another observation, the cleanness of the area and the city, which was true also of Pyongyang. Kaesong has impressive views from the top of the hill looking back down into the town with the statue of Kim II Sung having the best vantage point of all, his image dominates the town from the hill. Kaesong is the former Capital at the time of the Koryo Dynasty. Outside the city I am afforded stunning views of this mountainous region when I am taken to visit the Tomb of King Kongmin, all of this without the attendant mass of people that accompanies many stunning places around the world. Heading back to the capital city of Pyongyang I get to visit Km II Sung square in the late afternoon after the long drive back. The portraits of the now familiar images of the leaders overlook the square, recognisable as the backdrop for the military parades.
My final day and I am taken from the hotel to the airport. The images that celebrate the strengths and achievements of the DPRK's brand of Communism/Socialism, the statues, monuments and artwork of Pyongyang rush by. This little visited nation may well be enigmatic, but that is only part of its charm. It also has much to see and even more to recommend it to any curious traveller. It is an Amazing place to visit.
Many thanks also to Koryo Tours who secured me a visa to travel with very little fuss, they were all really helpful and a special thanks to Amanda Carr.