Travel North Korea – Pyongyang – Part 3

Travel North Korea – Pyongyang.
Pyongyang, North Korea.
24 June, 2017 (cont’d).

Travel North Korea - Pyongyang

There is a lot of color flavor in Pyongyang.
The 105 storey 330 meter pyramid shaped 30-year unfinished Ryugayong Hotel lingers in the background.

* (For the previous part, click here: Crossing from China to North Korea – Part 2)

After I met my North Korean guide Kim at the train station, the first thing he did was take my passport away from me.  Since I was the only English speaker on the trip, I would have my own personal guide while the Chinese would share theirs.

Travel North Korea - Pyongyang

Arriving at the train station in Pyongyang, North Korea.

My guide Kim would be by my side during the day no matter what I was doing for the next five days from morning until evening as I would  travel North Korea.

Kim was the last face I would see before I went to bed and the first person I would greet in the morning once I headed downstairs for breakfast.  He would provide information and an explanation for everything.

Travel North Korea - Pyongyang

My first steps into Pyongyang, North Korea. It is a city of gorgeous colors.

Here are some North Korea things:
– The population of North Korea, also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is 20 million people.
– Pyongyang, the capital, has a population of 2.5 million people.
– There are hardly any cars in the streets of clean and quiet Pyongyang.  Think of your own city at 04:00; that same amount of traffic is the equivalent of rush hour in Pyongyang.  There has never been a traffic jam in the history of time in Pyongyang.  (The traffic jam fact is not one from Kim.  Neither is the rush hour traffic reference!)
– The leaders of DPRK since 1945 have been ‘President’ Kim Il Sung (1956-1994), succeeded by his son, ‘Chairman’ Kim Jong Il (1994-2011), succeeded by his son, ‘Marshall’ Kim Jong Un (2012 to present).
– I made a reference to Kim Il Sung and Kim immediately corrected me with, “President, Kim Il Sung.”  I wound be careful to not make the same mistake again so as not to offend my guide.
– The Korean War began on June 25th, 1950 and the current ceasefire began on July 27th, 1953.
– DPRK is of course a dictatorship to the foreign eye, but to the North Korean’s, it is governed by the Worker’s Part of Korea.  The symbols for the WPK are: a ‘Brush’ for the intellect, a ‘Hammer’ for the worker, and a ‘Sickle’ for the farmer.
– Kim told me that the only rules are: a) that I can not take photos of any soldier in North Korea (this would prove to be difficult as they are everywhere all of the time) and b) I would have to ask permission from any civilians if I wanted a photo of them. 
Travel North Korea - Pyongyang

Grand People’s Study House and Fountain Park.  Kids having fun after school.

Now, I had made the decision when I was coming to travel North Korea that I was here to see what they wanted to show me.  Of course I would have loved to have gone off this barely-beaten path, but that would not be an option, so I was here to see their ‘presentation.’  I had decided to take it in just as it was shown to me.  There could be incorrect information in some of these articles, but what I am writing is North Korea through the eyes of a North Korean, and North Korea as my eyes viewed it with very little previous information.  I was there to take it all in as it is and as it looks.
Travel North Korea - Pyongyang

There is a lot of color flavor in Pyongyang. The only greys are the unfinished buildings.  The 105 storey 330 meter pyramid shaped unfinished Ryugayong Hotel looms in the background.

We were loaded onto a bus and driven around the city.  I was amazed by the appearance of Pyongyang.  When I decided to travel North Korea, I was expecting a typical grey and communist looking city.  It is not that at all.  The city is full of very tall apartment flats, and all of them are painted.  The skyline of tall buildings comes in blue, yellow, green, red, pink, orange…  Everything has a color.  Pyongyang is the most colorful city I have seen in the world outside of Latin America.

Travel North Korea - Pyongyang

My seven-year-old English speaking pals.

Our first stop was Fountain Park where two children walking along were smiling at me.  I said, “Hello!” to them.  One of the boys asked, “Hello, how are you?”  The other asked, “What is your name?”  I was amazed they spoke English.  Kim told me that English is now the second language of North Korea.  English is more important than Chinese or Russian.

Travel North Korea - Pyongyang

Kim Il Sung Square. You can see photos of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il on the building.

We made a stop at Kim Il Sung Square where important functions take place.  There were slogans on the tops of the buildings saying in Korean, ‘Long Live the Worker’s Party of Korea’ and ‘Long Live DPRK.’ Our next visit was to the Grand People’s Study House where Kim told me inside of the building exists a book from every language in the world.

Finally, we made our way to the Tower of Juche Idea.  My guide told me that ideology of ‘Juche’ is, “The capacity to shape our destiny.”  That is nice.  I was told that the Tower of Juche Idea is tallest stone structure in the world at 170 meters, 20 meters of which are the flame on the top.

Once Kim and I had been together for about an hour I began to ask him about his life. 
He told me that in DPRK:
– The government gives a couple free housing once they are married.  There are never bills or rent to pay.
– The bigger the family, the bigger the house.  Should you want a bigger home to live in, have another child and expand your whole life.  A bigger family equals a better house.
– Education is all free in DPRK.  Want to be a doctor?  Want to be a plumber?  It is all free to study.
– All healthcare is free for life.  DPRK healthcare includes dentistry.
– Tickets given allotted for the meat, rice, eggs and cloth they are given.
– Kim told me everyone is also allotted tickets that entitle them to one free liter a beer each day.

Now, just think about that for a second.  One liter of beer a day.  If you saved them all for Saturday, you would have enough tickets for 14 different 500ml beers every week.  Imagine if you did not do anything for a month.  That would be 60 of them.  Now, how about it you went two months without going out and you had 120 tickets for 500ml of beer…

Imagine the party you could throw?  You could invite everyone you knew and tell them to invite their friends as well.  People you do not even know could crash your party and you would be able to happily supply them with a free party.  This beer-ticket rationing system seems pretty good to me…

I asked Kim if anyone has long hair like mine.  He told me, “No.  It is not our tradition.  Short haired people are called ‘smart.’  People with long hair, not smart.”  I could see where this was going.  I decided I would play the fool for the tour.  Smart people end up getting themselves into trouble anyhow…

Everyone loaded into the bus and we were taken to a restaurant where there were two big beer bottles on each table for every four seats.  We had been combined with another Chinese tour group and there was another young guy in our group named Wu Zheng Yu.  Wu Zheng Yu and I drank all of the beer at the table.  All of the beer…

I am not sure if Wu Zheng Yu knew what he was getting into when he decided that he would be my partner in crime, but we put back a lot of beer.  Wu Zheng Yu eventually stopped cheers-ing me when he realized I would drink my entire glass after the ‘cling.’

Somewhere along the way through dinner he realized that I was mischief…

Travel North Korea - Pyongyang

The pre-organized fancy restaurants in Pyongyang.

I made a lot of friends quickly at the dinner table.  Perhaps that was in part because of the effort I made to give a shit about everyone that I was sitting with.  I made all of the Chinese around me write down their names in my notebook and tried hard to remember how to pronounce them.  It made me shine in their eyes.

People in other cultures really appreciate it when you make a genuine effort to know who they are.

Travel North Korea - Pyongyang

My dinner gang. (Notice the word ‘beer’ beside Wu Zheng Yu’s name so I would remember which one he was.)

As dinner finished, a North Korean guide approached me and asked me in Spanish where I am from.  I had told Kim earlier that my second best language is Spanish, but I speak similar to a three-year-old…a young three year old.

Kim mentioned this to a Spanish speaking North Korea guide, and when the Spanish words of that guide came at me, I had a hard time putting my brain into Spanish gear.  The language sort of blindsided me and I was extremely unprepared to try to speak it.  I was in North Korea and a local was speaking Spanish to me…  It was so strange that it took me a moment to even be able to respond.  The guide told me that he gets about 10 Spanish tourists a year.  He learned the language in university, just as Kim had learned English with thoughts of working with international business before the idea of being a tour guide entered his mind.

Travel North Korea - Pyongyang

Inside the Yanggakdo International Hotel.

The bus took us to our home for three of the next four nights: the Yanggakdo International Hotel.  Kim told me it was not just a five star hotel or a Michelin star…it was in a ‘special class’ of hotel on its own.  There were two special classes of hotel in Pyongyang, and we would be staying at the best on in the city!

Travel North Korea - Pyongyang

Relatively dark Pyongyang from my 40th floor room.

The Yanggakdo International Hotel is 47 stories tall, and it had a revolving restaurant and bar at the top for a panoramic view of Pyongyang.  I was given a room on the 40th floor to take in the city and the sights.

The hotel had a beautiful entrance and I realized it was the kind of hotel that I never stay in.  Fancy chandeliers and giant fish tanks are not important to me.  I am generally happy enough with a mattress which I will not catch crabs from, a door that locks, a shower with hot water, and a floor attached to the walls so that the cockroaches do not come around so much.  That enough for me…

Travel North Korea - Pyongyang

Teaching Kim to smoke cigars in the 47th floor revolving restaurant.

I took Kim and a Chinese girl named Jo to the revolving restaurant on the 47th floor where I bought them beer.  The big-beer were a reasonable $4.50, and I smoked a cigar in celebration of my arrival.*  The restaurant was the epitome of 1980’s brown décor.  It was awesome.  When I went for a walk around inside of the restaurant, I found all of the staff gathered around a television watching a North Korean drama from the 1970’s, though it is also possible that the drama was actually filmed last year.  There is just no way to measure what is what with advancements in technology in North Korea…
* Of course I could smoke a cigar inside of a North Korean the revolving restaurant!

Travel North Korea - Pyongyang

Check out that telephone in my room! 1980’s amazing!

We were the last people to leave the revolving restaurant and I could not help but notice that Wu Zheng Yu did not make it up for a drink after I had asked him… 

Eventually I made my way to my room and found that only four of the eight elevators of the best hotel in Pyongyang were in working order.  When I realized I was going to need water for the morning, I headed back up to the restaurant and the revolving part of it had already been shut down rendering it only ‘a restaurant,’ and one that was about to close.  Power saving thriftiness!

Travel North Korea - Pyongyang

Luxury 1980’s rug in the Yanggakdo International Hotel.

I tried to get back to my room by taking the stairs and ended up in a strange corridor where I know I was not allowed to be.  There seemed to be costumes hanging on the walls.  I had promised my friend Rhett that I would behave when I was in North Korea, but I it is hard to control my wandering spirit…  I knew enough to get out of the corridor and headed back to my room where I wanted to see what was on North Korean television.

Travel North Korea - Pyongyang

Television in my room in the ‘special-star’ Yanggakdo International Hotel.

There were two TV channels and both were very snowy.  The first snowy channel was all about the hotel.  The second channel was an English channel with news that us foreigners are allowed to see in North Korea.

The best hotel in Pyongyang, I knew this was going to be interesting…



A few more photos for Travel North Korea:

Travel North Korea - Pyongyang

Random television screen outside of the Pyongyang train station.

Travel North Korea - Pyongyang

Fountain Park.

Travel North Korea - Pyongyang

These huts are for selling flowers to put at the bronze statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, but the statures were having maintenance repairs and so we were not allowed to visit.

Travel North Korea - Pyongyang

Fountain Park. In the background sits the unfinished, 105 storey, Ryugayong Hotel, also known as the tallest unoccupied building in the world.

Travel North Korea - Pyongyang

The symbol for the Worker’s Part of Korea: a ‘Brush’ for the intellect, a ‘Hammer’ for the worker, and a ‘Sickle’ for the farmer.

Travel North Korea - Pyongyang

‘Long Live the Worker’s Party of Korea’ and ‘Long Live DPRK.’

Travel North Korea - Pyongyang

The DPRK badge.

Travel North Korea - Pyongyang

Dining with the Chinese, just before I made Wu Zheng Yu (black shirt) over-drink.

Travel North Korea - Pyongyang

That taxi collection would later seem peculiar to me as I hardly saw a taxi for the rest of the time I was in North Korea.

Travel North Korea - Pyongyang

Amazing nightstand in my hotel. I could not pick up any radio stations.

Travel North Korea - Pyongyang

The river running through Pyongyang and the Tower of Juche to the right.



For the next part, here is the link:
(Barely) Backpacking North Korea – Part 4



For the entire series, here are the links:

The North Korea Decision – Part 1

Crossing from China to North Korea – Part 2

Travel North Korea – Pyongyang – Part 3

(Barely) Backpacking North Korea – Part 4

A Visit to the North Korea DMZ – Part 5

Mt. Kumgang North Korea – Part 6

Life in North Korea – Part 7

Travelling Pyongyang North Korea – Part 8

Exiting North Korea – Part 9

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