The first out of a series of 5 North Korea blog posts has been published! Blogs seemed a good way for me to share a lot of photos of our trip and share some of the stories at the same time. Besides these blogs there is Miguel’s blogpost with first impressions of North Korea and later we will publish a budget post about this trip. That’s all the talking, let’s look at the photos!
On a bright Beijing morning I set out for North Korea. Our Travel Agency arranged a bus for us to Terminal 2 of Beijing airport. Checking in went smooth and soon I had made it to the gate. I couldn’t help but smile a little when I saw I had the choice between two airplanes. On my left side a KLM one and on my right side the tail of the Koryo Air plane. After some thinking I decided to board the Air Koryo plane.
Flying Koryo Air
The plane we flew with wasn’t the newest available and didn’t look too great to me. My mind was sending me mixed feelings of trust and uncertainty. Eventually the trust won; I was sound asleep even before taking off. The take off woke me up as it wasn’t the smoothest one I’ve experienced in my life. At first me (and a few other people on the plane (identified by their loud screeches and nervous laughter)) thought it was the airplane, but soon it turned out to be turbulence. Halfway through the flight we were offered a burger as lunch, but I politely passed on that one. This was the advice I had gotten from our tour guide, who earlier had described the burger as ‘somewhat dodgy’ and since it seemed a bad idea to start the trip with food poisoning I decided to pass on the burger.
Customs in North Korea is pretty strict. Before entering the country you need to report all the electronics you are taking into the country and the quantity. When you’re bringing your laptop or iPad, expect them to take a look at your devices and check the content. By doing so they avoid people taking certain things (South Korean books, bibles, etc.) into the country.
It took quite a while before my luggage showed up at the luggage belt. The Koreans who I was sharing the plane with had all brought a lot of things from China. About an hour and a half after touch down I finally got on the bus that was going to take me around North Korea.
Arch of Triumph
The first stop after we left the airport was the Arch of Triumph. Our guide Khang was very proud to show us the arch, a gate built to commemorate the Korean resistance from Japan, from 1925 to 1945. Khang is proud of the arch for two reasons. First of all because the arch honors Kim Il-sung and his role in the fights for independence, but also because this Arch of Triumph is taller than the Arch of Triumph in Paris.
Above is a picture of our hotel room in Pyongyang. All together we slept 3 nights in this room (every other night). The other nights we stayed in other hotels. The room was decent; there was running hot water, a working shower, a toilet and the room was heated. We did have regular power outages though… Something not worth complaining about as there are a lot of place in the country (and even in the city) where there is no power at all. We slept in a room at the 38th floor and had a decent view over the city. Some of the other floors were used by other groups, but most floors of this luxury hotel in Pyongyang aren’t being used at all.
After dropping of our stuff in the room it was time for dinner. I’m not sure what to say about it… It looks a little sad, doesn’t it? Fortunately I had expected meals to be like this, so there was no real disappointment. And hey, I never eat 4 courses, so in that way it was pretty fancy!
After dinner it was time to explore the hotel. In the basement we found a long hallway (well, more a tunnel, to be honest) with all kinds of doors giving access to a variety of entertainment. In the photo you can see the karaoke room (where you write down the numbers of the song you’d like to sing on a piece of paper), but there was also a table tennis room, a swimming pool with sauna, a hair salon and a pool room.
We decided not to play pool or sing songs yet, but to call it a night and to go back to the hotel room. First of all because we had an early start and were pretty exhausted from all the impressions we had had so far, but also because the next day was going to start early with an 8:00 am departure from the hotel.
North Korea Blog
Hopefully you enjoyed reading this first Blog about our trip to North Korea. Stay tuned for part 2 in which we will visit the Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun (where Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il lie in state) and the ‘Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum’.