After somewhat of a restless night Sunday morning comes early. The alarm wakes me up at 6:00 AM, too early for a vacation day. It’s for a reason though that I’m waking up this early: I will be visiting the Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun, the place where the former Korean leaders lay in state. On this first full day we will also visit the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum, boat Pueblo and a science center. At the end of the day we will make our way to Kaesong, a town close to the DMZ.
Kumsusan Memorial Place & a cold hotel
The clock has barely struck 8 when we’re already in the bus on our way to the Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun. It’s an early rise because this way we will be able to avoid the big crowds on this Sunday. The Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun is a popular place for North Koreans to visit as this is where the bodies of Kim Il-sing and Kim Jung-il lay in state. This place is like a place of worship for the Koreans, therefor it is very important to them to visit the Palace (on a regular basis).
When you visit, it is recommended you dress nicely, in a somewhat formal way. It isn’t compulsory, but it will be highly appreciated by the Koreans, especially your guides. Inside the palace you aren’t allowed to take pictures, but outside it is okay. The hallway towards the most important part of the palace is filled with photos of the leaders. Hundreds of them. Music is playing and people walk, side by side, from one place to the other.
Once in the room where the leaders are (they lay in 2 different rooms) we line up in rows of 5. We take a bow. Next we walk, counter clockwise, around the leader and take a bow on both sides of the resting altar.
It is a very bizarre experience, walking in these rooms, seeing the bodies, having to bow and being surrounded by a lot of other people. I feel uncomfortable being here. For the Koreans it is such an important place, both Kims mean so much to them, while I have my own ideas about them and about how they ruled their country.
Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum
About an hour and a half later I stand in front of the ‘Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum’. Another place where I’m not allowed to take photos inside. Our guide takes pride in showing us around the museum. When she tells about Kim Jung-un and how he visited the museum a few times to give advice a big smile appears on her face.
We start the tour with watching a movie about the war against the Japanese, but we’re only 5 minutes in when there’s a power outage. Something that will happen more than once. Our guide isn’t worried at all: “Don’t worry, that just happened because it is Sunday.”
Today’s lunch. Koreans only eat these kind of dishes on holidays, not on normal days.
After lunch we spontaneously visit a kind of Science Center. Is is new in Pyongyang and nobody can exactly tell me what it is and what the purpose of the place is. When we enter we are required to take a bow in front of the large painting of the leaders.
The Science Center is packed! There are hundreds of children walking around. They’re reading books, playing computer games, but most of all they are having fun hanging out with their friends.
When we leave the Science Center and get on the bus. Before we hit the road again we need to wait for something, nobody knows why. I take my chance and switch the lens on my camera (55 mm for 300 mm) and get off the bus to walk towards the river. There are a lot of people out fishing on the river; a perfect sight to take some photos. Unfortunately, I can only snap a few because it doesn’t take long for our guide to come out of the bus to tell us to get back on again and stop taking photos.
This is the hotel room we arrive at after a three hour drive from Pyongyang to Kaesong. It isn’t far, but the roads in North Korea aren’t great. They’re full of holes and bumps. Whenever we enter a new province we’re being stopped. Soldiers check the paper work of the guides and make sure everything is okay. Even though there are no soldiers entering the bus, it is a strange feeling to be checked and controlled like this.
When we arrive it is late and cold. On top of that I am pretty exhausted from all the things we did that I completely forget to take pictures during dinner. After dinner we go to our room; a room that reminds us of a similar room we stayed in 5 years ago when we were traveling through the Sichuan province. The room is cold, we can see our breath and only one of the two electric blankets is working. Same story, just a different place.
This was the first full day, stay tuned for day 2! Don’t forget to watch the vlog!