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Right, part 2 of the North Korean blog posts! I’m trying to bring my mind back to the state it was after I just got back, which is a bit of a challenge as I’ve been immersed in a pretty stark contrast in lifestyle the last few days whilst I’ve been in Mongolia. Any how,
If you’re coming across this post without reading part 1, please have a quick gander here, if only just the first few paragraphs, to grab an understanding of how, in my opinion, not every little part of a trip to the DPRK can be represented on a personal blog.
So as well as visiting the usual places of interest such as the many monuments and historic sites, YPT shook up the itinerary and took us on a ride of the North Korean subway. We don’t even have a fookin’ subway in New Zealand.
In the above photo is Aram, who was with us taking footage for his project DPRK360, shot with a 360 degree view Go Pro. Check it out at DPRK 360.
A Korean woman on the subway, quick to pronounce Rayelle as her new friend! Some of the Koreans do speak a bit of broken English.
Most of the trains come from Eastern Germany and are pretty bad-ass, opening windows and all. The escalators are seriously huge; the subway is quite some way below the surface. I remember being told they had to keep digging in order to find usable ground.
When we popped out of the subway we found ourselves right next to the Arc Of Triumph, built to commemorate the resistance to Japan from 1925-1945.
A shot of some of the KITC buses. They’re comfortable as (I write this having just spent 6 hours rammed inside a Mongolian bus – take me back!).
We also visited the birthplace of Kim Il-Sung. This place is kept extremely tidy and is a place of extreme reverence for the Koreans. There’s music playing well before you get to the house to set the mood. Everything that the family used back then is kept well preserved. These types of places all have their own guides who usually speak very good English and run you through everything there is to know.
Me drinking, or spilling, some of the fresh water from the well at Kim Il-Sung’s birthplace. Below is a photo of a theme park that was situated almost right next To Kim Il-Sung’s birthplace. Nobody on it that day, though.
One thing I didn’t really think I’d be visiting when I booked this trip was a big-ass cave. We walked through a door and down a hall to get to the caves, where we were met by another Korean guide who showed us through what turned out to be one of the most impressive labyrinths I’ve ever seen.
We were stopped every wee while to hear an explanation on the significance of a certain part of the cave. Most of them were pretty damn hilarious, not least of all the stalactite formations below, which resembled ‘man and Women’s private parts.’ She asked some of us if we could spy a stalactite of a similar shape to our own junk. It was funny as hell.
Schlongs above, curtains below. NOT what I was expecting out of North Korea.
We stayed a night in a joint called the Chongchon Hotel, which is in Hyangsan. This place had heated floors as well as bars on different levels. The dinner here was also pretty good by North Korean standards. Every time we had lunch or dinner throughout the trip the Koreans offer you beer, which is included; can’t complain about that.
Great photo of Mariana, innit.
A lot of North Korea looks quite barren at this time of year, but some of it is quite beautiful. I’m not sure about the legitimacy of the Monk that guided us around one of the Monasteries up this mountain.
Ever seen the movie ‘The Castle?’ (If you haven’t, uppercut yourself and acquire it right now). Well, The Friendship Exhibition is one hell of a Pool Room. There are two parts to it, one for gifts to Kim Il-Sung and another for Kim Jong-Il.
Unfortunately, no photos are allowed inside. Your cellphones and cameras are taken off you before you go through a security check and taken on a tour. There are thousands of gifts throughout the halls. Legend says Kim Jong-Il built this place in 3 days.
It’s fortified by some serious doors. Inside there are loads of gifts from around the world (not necessarily governments), with a huge chunk of them coming from Russia, including a plane. Yes, a plane.
Like most places that attract tourists, there’s a souvenir and food shop on site.
I liked the wording of this stuff enough to take a photo of it.
Korean kids waving hello at the bus. I asked our guide, Ms Kim, about families and marriages in North Korea. Marriage usually happens within a year of getting engaged, and there are ages in which people usually get married, but I can’t remember exactly what they are.
On the way back from the Friendship Exhibition we stopped in at an after school learning facility, where we walked around and checked out the children practising or performing in art, music and dance. The children playing the harps all had fixed smiles on their faces and played in perfect unison. It was quite something to watch.
I was blown away at the embroidery that some of the children were stitching together. You could buy the finished products downstairs in the shop. I already had my fair share of North Korean souvenirs, however..
The reception of the Yanggakdo Hotel, where we stayed most of the time. This is the hotel in which most tourists stay when visiting North Korea.
The view from my room. I should have taken a photo on a nice day. You can’t just leave the Yanggakdo at night, but to keep you entertained there is a bowling alley, a ping pong room, a billiards / pool room, a couple of supermarkets, a Karaoke club, a souvenir shop, several bars, a massage parlour, a post shop, a swimming pool and a barber. Enough to keep you busy.
Something I found mildly amusing was how the price of beer varied between the bowling alley, the pool room, the ping pong hall, the Karaoke club and the supermarket, all of which were about 30 seconds from each other, yet nobody seemed to mind us carting in stacks of cheap beer from the supermarket to the Karaoke room. Bloody good.
Some of the girls singing Spice Girls in the Karaoke joint. Many a hangover was initiated at this place.
When one flag just doesn’t cut it, install 15 of them in the same place.
Above is a photo of the exterior of The Palace of The Sun. Out of all the revered places we visited, this one was the most respected. This is where the bodies of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il lie in state. We had to dress in formal wear as well as follow a set of rules, which included things like no hands behind your back or in pockets, nothing in your pockets, no condoms, gum, cigarettes, nothing. No photos were to be taken inside. There are many halls which are connected by travelators on which you’re not allowed to walk, only stand. Some of the halls include trains and cars which were supposedly used by the leaders. There are a metric shit-load of medals, awards and accolades awarded to each of the deceased throughout their lives, all of which are on display. We also had to bow several times during the visit.
The Revolutionary Martyr’s Cemetery, which pays tribute to those fighting against the Japanese.
Above are photos taken outside the War Museum, a place which has had a butt-load of cash invested in it. You go through the whole place on a tour, which was unfortunately a bit too rushed to stop and read everything. It’s an impressive museum and is obviously focused on showing the Korean perspective of the war and the oppression of the US Imperialists. Unfortunately photos weren’t allowed inside, but outside was OK.
I’m going to knock this post off with a few photos of a night we had at the Karaoke bar. Below is a photo of myself and Mr Pang, one of the guides which accompanied our group. This guy is a champion. We drank some beer, before getting up on the microphones and singing the Titanic theme song at volume before sitting down underneath two TV’s, one showing the Karaoke lyrics and the other a military demonstration.
Mr Pang would take control of the microphone at random intervals on the bus and give his insights on topics like tomorrow’s weather (“If it is cloudy, it might rain, and if it is sunny, it will be warm”) or how to get to our destination quicker (“Men, put your arms out and we fly the bus, women will cook dinner”). I miss Mr Pang.
Thanks for reading part 2! I’ll knock out the rest of it in the next few days while I plan my next desert tour here in Mongolia.