Feeling the atmosphere of the country is more fascinating for me than only visiting and seeing museums, monuments, and parks. FYI, all tours are controlled by KITC (Korea International Travel Company) owned by the government, so I assumed that they just want you to see what they want you to see. I was there for 6 days and here I reveal where I have been.
- The bus taking my group around the city and our local guides have waited outside the airport building. Your passport is collected until the day you leave the country. I saw the locals from the bus along the way to the city center. They were doing their normal life, mostly farming, tiny and looked poor.
- Before check-in into hotel, we stopped by at Mansudae Grant Monument to see closely the bronze statues of former North Korean Leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. You are suggested to present a bouquet of flower. Here, the first moment I’ve been anticipating happened, lining up and bowing to the (statues) leaders. You have to respect the statues by no crazy pose while taking pictures.
- We stay at Yanggakdo International Hotel, one of the best hotels in Pyongyang. As you are not allowed to wander by yourself, the hotel has some options to kill your time after dinner: bar, karaoke, swimming pool, bowling, billiard, and ping-pong. I tried bowling and ping-pong.
- Your group is not the only one. There are more other groups from different tour companies, so it is also a good time to see different people, out of your group mate.
- We visited Kumsusan Memorial Palace (Mausoleum) in the morning to see the dead body of Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung. They are placed in separated rooms, and all visitors should bow from three sides of their bodies, except the head part. After that, we’re guided into a room displaying all souvenirs, medals, and certificates from the other countries. Clearly, this palace is a place to display the glory and greatness of the leader. FYI, to visit this place you should wear formal clothes, and leave your belongings, including camera and cellphone. You may bring them until the deposit-shelf room. Yeah, they didn’t put our gadget into locker. Who’s gonna steal it, anyway. Yet, you can have them afterwards and take as many photo as possible outside.
- Before lunch at one of local restaurants located in the city center, we went to Revolutionary Marty’s Cemetery. You will look bronze busts of people taking part in the liberation from Japan. Again, you can buy flower and should bow to the main tomb at front.
- After lunch we felt the ambiance of the city by walking to a shop selling books and souvenirs. It is walking distance to Kim Il-sung Square where you can see the large symbol of communism.
- As checking out for a night, we headed to Kaesong City. In the middle of the way, we visited twin-domed tomb, called Tomb of King Kongmin, listed as UNESCO World Heritage in 2013. Then, we’re check-in into a traditional hotel called Minsok Folk Hotel where we slept on the Korean mattress. The rooms are bungalow made of wood, and it provided you a mosquito net. If you’re interested, here you can order a bowl of dog meat soup for your dinner.
- We visited Panmunjom/DMZ. Interestingly, the area guarded by the military was not too intense. There will be officers taking you to the buildings and explaining about the the zone, its history, and its function. This area has souvenir shop, by the way.
- On the way back to Pyongyang, we stopped by at Three Charters for National Reunification, went up to Juche Tower and saw Monument to Party Foundation. Then, before dinner we hanged out at brewery at Taedonggang No 3 Bar.
Day 4 (The National Day)
- We tried metro, as called the deepest metro in the world. No wonder I felt like jumping into the past. We stopped at 2 stunning stations and saw decorated platforms: mosaics, chandeliers and former leaders as wall painting.
- Getting off the train we saw the Arch of Triumph, walked to Victorious Fatherland Liberation War (Korean War) Museum, including USS Pueblo, the US espionage ship. Ironically, this museum and its collection are quite spectacular to build in a poor country.
- After lunch we watched Pyongyang Circus, and then joined the locals to dance in the city park. Amazingly, the park was so big and green, we were even little bit lost. After that, we watched hundreds of students dancing in order to celebrate the independence day of DPRK at War Victory Monument Park. The girls wore full color traditional costumes while the boys wore white shirt and black pants. The young guys looked awkward since they might not know each other.
- Before dinner, we were taken to a funfair and trying some rides. It is walking distance from the dance location, and it is a great place to interact with the locals. As foreigners, you pay in euro, dollar, or RMB, and no need to line up with the locals.
- Visiting some museums, national library, and going city tour by local bus. However, the tour was less exciting since it was private tour, so the locals couldn’t join us. After lunch, we just spent a time on a parked boat by Taedong River before playing at Bowling Alley.
- In the evening, we had farewell dinner at a duck restaurant. Then, we sneaked peek the video taken by the cameraman. It was like documentary film, and we laugh seeing our expression during the trip.
- While some of us took a plane, the others and I took a sleeper train to go back to Beijing. We were placed in four-bed cabin with door, but in different class the cabin had six bed without door. It took about 22 hours from Pyongyang and stop at some stations, though it was a good way to see countryside of North Korea. It was my first time having sleeper train, and I loved it!
- Since the train is public transportation, you will see other tourists, the locals, and the Chinese. There will be about 2 hours stop in the border for passport check. Your passport will be returned with no stamp, but your visa will be taken. No evidence that you have been in North Korea, unless your photos. There are random check of your luggage and your gadget. Yet, do not worry to much and just relax as the officers can be friendly.
There is no internet access in this country. But believe me, you won’t even miss that.