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Here we go, my third and final piece on my trip to North Korea! If you’ve read part 1 and 2 you would have seen that the week was pretty non-stop in terms of places to visit and things to do. If you haven’t read parts 1 and 2 you can find them here and here.
Regardless of your perception of North Korea, you can’t come away from a tour denying that the DPRK boats its fair share of impressive buildings and structures. One of the places we popped in to was the Science and Technology Centre. Located in Pyongyang, the centre is shaped like an atom from above and has a giant rocket as the focal point inside the building.
There are displays, interactive games and models for a variety of different subjects, ranging from mining and CNC lathing, to telecommunications and submarines.
I found a book on the Dodge Viper. Didn’t spot any cruising around the streets, unfortunately.
A couple of us got inside this submarine and had a play. It moves around as you dive into the sea and crash into bull sharks on a rig displayed on 2 computer screens.
The lower level of this place had pretty much every kind of interactive toy you could imagine. It was more like an arcade than a technology centre.
Following out visit to the Science and Technology Centre, we had the option of heading along to the Meari shooting range which most of us elected. This place was renovated (like a lot of buildings in Pyongyang) in 2014 and provides a number of available activities, like archery, target practise, and shooting at a live chicken locked in a cage with a .22 rifle. You can then take the chicken home for dinner. Did I mention you can buy a beer too drink while you unload a few clips?
I elected not to shoot at the trapped chickens, but traded 100 Chinese Yuan for 31 rounds which I fired at a 25m target with the silver gun gifted to the range by Kim Jong-Un.
Ms Kim initiated a rule early in the tour that the last person on the bus must either tell a 5 minute joke or sing for the rest of the bus. As such everyone took the microphone at some point during the week. Here is Roman and Tobias performing something in a language that I can’t understand.
A duck restaurant we visited where we were provided bottles of Soju to accompany our dinner. Good times!
Most trips to the DPRK will involve a visit to the DMZ, the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. We got up early to embark on the two-and-a-half hour journey south. Several of us had stayed up late the night before with the idea of catching up on sleep once we settled into our seats. All hope of that was lost as we soon found out the road was more akin to the Himalayas than a concrete path for vehicles. Props to our driver for negotiating pot holes, mounds of dirt and humans.
There are several military checkpoints on the way to the DMZ. No photos allowed. Once we got there, we were given a quick briefing about which each of the boundary lines are and what each building is.
The road from the briefing point through to the DMZ. On either side there is a whole lot of farmland, with a huge DPRK flag erected in the middle of a field to be seen from the south.
This is the North Korean guide who took us through the buildings and showed us where the armistice agreement was negotiated and signed.
This is the line between the North and South. The line runs through the middle of the blue buildings so you can actually stand, or sit, with one foot (technically) in each country. That big building in the photo above belongs to the South. As we stood up the top of the building on the north side where that photo was taken, you can hear Northern propaganda being blasted across to the South with huge speakers.
After our visit to the DMZ we stopped in at a town on the way back for a spot of lunch. It was here that we had the option of trying dog soup. When in Rome, err, North Korea..
This is a typical set up for lunch or dinner. The bulk of the food is waiting for us when we arrive, and is set out on many different plates. I also tried ‘acorn jelly’ at this restaurant. D-, would not trade again.
I’d give the dog a solid 4/10. It was like oily, over-cooked pork.
You can buy beer from almost anywhere you visit on the tour. Some of it is local, some of it imported from places like Singapore.
The photo above is taken in a place called Sariwon. This city was recently opened to tourists. Here we walked up to the look out pagoda to check out the view.
Bicycle is the main mode of transport in North Korea. You do have to be careful taking photos of random people as they aren’t really used to the concept.
In Sariwon we also got the opportunity to try this type ofKorean alcohol called Makgeolli. It’s made from rice or wheat and served in a bowl. It’s about 6% alcohol.
This is a North Korean orphanage. We didn’t get the chance to visit it, though.
Troy, our YPT guide, offered us the chance to go and view a North Korean film in a local cinema which was down the road from The Yanggakdo hotel. What made it more special is that he organised for one of the actors to come along for a meet and great with a question session. The film, Order No. 027, was shot in ’86 and is about a group of soldiers sent across the border into the south on what is essentially a suicide mission, but they happily risk everything for the Great Leader.
You could buy a DVD of the film and have it signed by the man himself. He was pretty stoked to see us all there, and told us he had a lot of females chasing him after the film was released.
On our final day of the tour, we went on another city tour to see some more of the sights and also to check out the dancing and celebrations that were going on for Kim Il-Sung’s birthday.
This is the monument to Party Founding. It’s 50 metres high to symbolize the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Worker’s Party of Korea. The hammer, sickle and brush signify the workers, farmers and intellectuals. Behind the monument, the lettering on top of the red buildings form the words “Ever Victorious.”
Forget Red Bull. You need REAL BULL. Enriched not with vitamins, but with something that doesn’t taste good.
We visited a place which our ever-friendly guide Ms Kim coined ‘PFC’ or Pyongyang Fried Chicken. It was a nice change from the Kimchi (fermented cabbage) that you get with most meals.
We toured through a park which was filled with people eating, dancing and singing. They invited us to join and if you declined you were pulled in anyway.
At night, we headed along to the mass dances, where organised dances take place in birthday celebration. They encourage foreigners to join in, which leads for a bit of awkward stumbling as you try to learn the dance on the spot.
This lovely lady was highly impressed with my moves. I wasn’t allowed to try and teach her the Sprinkler.
A Korean micro-brewery. Only one choice of beer here and it wasn’t bad, actually.
That night we headed back to Kim Il-Sung square (the big square where you see the military demonstrations being carried out on TV) to watch the birthday fireworks being carried out across the river. We were allowed to roam freely around here and to just meet back at the bus.
The fireworks signified an end to our 8 day tour. That night, final celebrations continued in our hotel which made for a particularly hungover 24 hour train back to Beijing the next day. As we made our way back I tried to process everything that I’d witnessed and observed over the last week. As mentioned in the beginning of part 1, it’s seriously difficult to put everything into words. You hear a lot about North Korea from the western world, and most of it isn’t good.
We saw a lot on this tour and had many chances to interact with locals. There is, however, a lot of North Korea that we didn’t and will probably never get to see. I’ve tried to cover off what the tour entailed as opposed to a critical viewpoint of a country that is the centre of a lot of criticism, speculation and mystery. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it somewhat as much as I enjoyed my visit to the DPRK.
If you’re looking to visit the DPRK yourself, I can highly recommend Young Pioneer Tours; check out their website here.
(Shot in the train station as we left).