I decided to take a short trip to North Korea as my birthday gift for myself. It was quite pricey but worth it. No complaint all.
Feeling the atmosphere of North Korea is more fascinating than only visiting and seeing museums, monuments, and parks. Fyi, I went on tour and all activities were controlled by KITC (Korea International Travel Company), owned by government.
I assumed that they just wanted you to see what they wanted you to see. I was there for 6 days and here I reveal where I have been.
- We arrived at the airport, and our local guides (3 guides and 1 driver) have waited outside the airport building. After say “Hi”, we were heading to the city. One of them briefed us about the trip along the way, and collected our passport until the day we left the country.
- Before checking-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. We were suggested to present a bouquet of flower. Here, the first moment I’ve been anticipating happened, lining up and bowing to the (statues) leaders. We were allowed to take pictures, but still, respect the statues by no crazy pose.
- We stayed at Yanggakdo International Hotel, one of the best hotels in Pyongyang. We had dinner here. As tourist should not wander around without permission, the hotel had some options for killing time after dinner, such as bar, karaoke, swimming pool, bowling, billiard, and ping-pong.
- Our group was not the only one. There were more people from different tour companies stayed in the hotel as well.
- After breakfast, we visited Kumsusan Memorial Palace (Mausoleum). We should wear smart clothes and left our camera and cellphone behind. Though, we may have them until deposit-shelf room. They didn’t put them into locker. Who’s gonna steal it, anyway. Yet, you can take as many photo as possible outside.
- Here, I witnessed the dead bodies of Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung. They were placed in separated rooms. All visitors should bow from three sides of their bodies, except the head part. After that, we’re guided into a room displaying all rewards obtained by the leaders: souvenirs, medals, and certificates from other countries.Before lunch at one of local restaurants located in the city center, we went to Revolutionary Marty’s Cemetery. We looked bronze busts of people taking part in the liberation from Japan. Again, we were suggested to 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 was our first time moving from one place to another without the bus. It is walking distance to Kim Il-sung Square where you can see the large symbol of communism
- Then we headed to Kaesong City, where we would spend the night. In the middle of the way, we visited twin-domed tomb, called Tomb of King Kongmin, listed as UNESCO World Heritage in 2013.
- We stayed in traditional hotel made of wood called Minsok Folk Hotel. It consisted of bungalow which its bed was Korean mattress completed with a mosquito net. If you’re interested, here you can order a bowl of dog meat soup for dinner.
- We visited Panmunjom/DMZ. Before seeing the border, there was an officer taking on our bus on the gate. He friendly smiled to us. Then, he directed us to the building where we would have explanation about the place. There was also souvenir shop if you want to by mementos.
- We went to some buildings related to the history of the place before entering the blue building, a peace chamber between South Korea and DPRK. Again, we could take pictures here, but not the guards. Though, there was no tension at all. We even finally could ask the guard to take picture with us.
- 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, Taedonggang No. 3 Bar.
Day 4 (The National Day)
- We tried metro which was known as the deepest metro in the world. No wonder I felt like jumping into the time capsule to the past. We stopped at 2 stunning stations and saw decorated platforms: mosaics, chandeliers and former leaders as wall painting. What made me happy here, I looked the locals closely. Nothing weird though.
- Getting off the train we saw the Arch of Triumph, walked to visit Victorious Fatherland Liberation War (Korean War) Museum, including USS Pueblo, the US espionage ship. Ironically, this museum and its collection were quite spectacular to build in a poor country.
- In the day, we watched Pyongyang Circus and 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. They seemed having fun.
- 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. Yet, as foreigners, we didn’t have to line up with them.
- Visiting some museums, national library, and going city tour by local bus. However, the tour was less exciting since it was private tour, there was no any local people joined us. After lunch, we just spent a time on a parked boat by Taedong River before going to Bowling Alley.
- In the evening, we had farewell dinner at a duck restaurant. Then, we sneaked peek the video taken by the cameraman followed us during the trip. Funny.
- We left after breakfast. While some of us took a plane, the others and I took a sleeper train to go back to Beijing. We placed a four-bed cabin with door. But in different class, the cabin had six beds without door.
- It took about 22 hours from Pyongyang and stop at some stations. I liked it because it was a good way to see countryside of North Korea. It was my first time having sleeper train, and I loved it!
- The passenger were not only tourists. There were the locals and the Chinese.
- It was like 2 or 3 hours stopped in the border for passport check. Our passport was returned with no stamp. Even our tourist card was revoked. No evidence that I have been in North Korea, unless my photos. There were random check of our luggages and gadget. Nothing to worry, anyway.
We had no access to the Internet. But believe me, you won’t even miss that.