North Korea – Inside the Hermit Country (Part 2)

Contents     Part 1     Part 2     Part 3     Part 4     Part 5

 

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The Dark Pyramid
The weather conditions make the Ryugyong Hotel look rather sombre and mysterious. Not sure if it’s the photo, but to my eye, it looks like it is slightly leaning to the right.

 

 

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View from Workers Party Monument
Opposite the Workers’ Party Monument can be seen typical residential blocks over which lurks a large propaganda sign.

 

 

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Quaint street scene in Pyongyang
Too surreal for words…

 

 

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Mother and child near Pyongyang
Mother and child in park near Mangyongdae, the birthplace of Kim Il Sung.

 

 

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Ms Wu and Julia at Worker’s Monument
Ms Wu was one of our guides and Julia is a Russian friend of mine who now lives in Sweden.

 

 

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Children in Pyongyang
Children with umbrellas on a rainy day in Pyongyang.

 

 

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Field trips for youngsters in mountains
Two to three hours north of Pyongyang by bus lies the mountain resort of Mt Myohyang which is popular with hikers and school groups. Here’s a group of youngsters doing a field trip hike. Not sure what they were using the megaphone for though!

 

 

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Picturesque temple
Phyohun Temple is one of many beautiful unspoilt temples in the Mt Myohyang area.

 

 

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Portrait of Kim Il Sung
One of countless of billboard portraits portraying the Great Leader.

 

 

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Karaoke in North Korea?
I’m coerced into doing a karaoke performace, quite badly, at the Hyangsan Hotel at Mt. Myohyang. I think it was ‘Hey Jude’ by the Beatles. There wasn’t much else except for heroic Korean ballads. The soju caught up with me at this time!

 

 

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Hotel in mountains
The spooky Hyangsang Hotel reminded us of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. I experienced a big moment of panic when I misplaced all my documents somewhere deep in the bowels of this building. Frequent power outages discouraged us from using any of the lifts! I donated my torch most kindly to the guide during our Dinner During Darkness.

 

 

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The Arch of Triumph
Yes, this is a little bigger than the one in Paris!

 

 

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Sungri 58
This seemed to be a common way of people-transport in North Korea.

 

 

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The Ryugyong Hotel
Massive 104-floor 330m high Ryugyong Hotel with 9 revolving restaurants was never completed and probably never will be. Can be seen everywhere in Pyongyang.

 

 

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At the Embroidery Museum
Just after we entered the room, the lights miraculously turned on while these ladies were doing this work. I’m hoping that this was purely a coincidence.

 

 

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Embroidery Museum
Lurking in the shadow of the ominous Ryugyong Hotel is the Embroidery Museum where fine needlework can be seen at work.

 

 

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Elaborate embroidery
This tapestry is of Manyongdae, the birthplace of Kim Il Sung. The needlework is very good indeed.

 

 

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More elaborate embroidery
The colours and the details are astonishly amazing. They were offering these for sale, but I was running out of room for souvenirs.

 

 

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Empty road from Tomb of Tongmyong
Many roads are immaculately laid out adhering to strong symmetrical patterns. Traffic is a little sparse though.

 

 

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Details of temple roof
I love those little intricate details.

 

 

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Fantastic oil painting
As with many of the tourist sites in North Korea, we had the whole of the Tomb of King Tongmyong to ourselves. This is an oil painting inside one of the walls of the adjacent temple.

 

 

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Statues at Tomb of King Tongmyong
Lonely statues are guardians of the tomb of King Tongmyong.

 

 

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Motorway service station
Halfway between the very empty road between Pyongyang and Kaesong is, perhaps, North Korea’s only motorway service station.

 

 

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Inside the motorway service station
Mr. Kim (our guide) to the right explaining that here you can buy a bottle of liquor with a snake in it.

 

 

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Main road from Pyongyang to Kaesong
Empty road from Pyongyang to Kaesong near the border between South Korea and North Korea. Although the road surface is not of the highest quality, no expense was spared in constructing tunnel after tunnel, viaduct after viaduct to create an almost straight 200km road. This is Korea’s equivalent of a Roman road. I was explaining to one of the guys in the group that this probably the only motorway in the world I could crawl on my hands and knees and not be worried about being run over!

 

 

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Seoul is only 70 km away
Lonely cow tries to enter the demilitarized zone (DMZ). Although impossible to get to by this route, the sign indicates that Seoul is a mere 70km away.

 

 

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Propaganda at DMZ
Reunification is a dream shared by many Koreans on both sides of the border. With massive differences in ideology, it is unclear how this can be achieved.

 

 

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One of our guides at the DMZ
A friendly face is put on for us. In fact, they were probably genuinely happy as there aren’t many tourists around!

 

 

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DMZ tour
The guide at the DMZ gives us a presentation about how the border at Panmunjom is laid out. Pay attention now!….

 

 

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Friendly tour guide
Another DMZ guide speaks to our guide, Mr Kim.

 

 

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Portrait of Kim Il Sung at DMZ
One of our guides, Ms Wu, poses below a portrait of Kim Il Sung in the building where the 1953 armistice between North Korea and the United Nations was signed.

 

 

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Curious exhibit at the DMZ
Apparently, there was an incident involving this axe between North Korean and American soldiers in 1976. Without seeking permission from the North Koreans, two Americans decided to chop down a poplar tree which was blocking their view of the North. A little skirmish took place and the axe was grabbed by a North Korean who then killed one of the Americans. The details are not at all savoury.

 

 

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Our guide at the DMZ
Our guide at the DMZ poses in front of a memorial to the late Kim Il Sung.

 

 

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Me sitting at ‘the most dangerous place in the world’
The MDL (Military Demarcation Line) goes right through this building. The only place where you can visit both North and South Korea. Tourists from South Korea enter here at a different time and are not allowed to sit at the table as we were. Visits to the DMZ from the north are far more relaxed than those from the south I was informed by another tourist who went from the South.

 

 

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World’s Most Politically Dangerous Place
The low sill of concrete represents the MDL (Military Demarcation Line) where the Koreas are divided. The tension is so great here, you could practically hear a pin drop. As soon as we arrived here, a platoon of soldiers from the south side stared at us through binoculars. It would be VERY unwise to try to cross this line!

 

 

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South Korea in the background
The building behind me is the more modern South Korean lookout building at the DMZ. There is a definite sense of competition between the two sides as to who has the more impressive facility. The same holds true for the oversized flagpoles on either side of the border. You’d need a typhoon to get any movement out of these flags!

 

 

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 Hospitality at the DMZ
The advantage from visiting from the North is that one feels that they are invited with a full meal waiting for you just after the tour.

 

 

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The Karaoke Colonel!
An amusing episode. While we gave a lift to the colonel back to Kaesong, he offered to sing a little karaoke to us. They were heroic Korean songs of course!

 

 

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Even Ms. Wu had a go!
She was the star as you can see!

 

 

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At the Concrete Wall …. drenched!
The North Korean colonel on the right offered us a little tour of the concrete wall where each side shouts and displays propaganda at each other. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see anything because of the fog and torrential rain. Might as well be hiking in Wales!

 

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