As promised, here’s round 2 of pictures from our trip to North Korea.
If you haven’t already, be sure to head over to part 1 first to read the introduction and get some background.
Alright, here it goes:
Pyongyang’s tram system
The guides did their best to make sure we only saw the ‘nicer’ parts of the city, but occasionally we ran into some parts that they probably preferred we didn’t document (such as this bathroom just outside the entrance to the metro)
A strange (though not entirely uncommon) sight in Pyongyang
Pyongyang apartments, a propaganda mural, and the infamous Ryugyong Hotel
Throughout the trip, our guide regularly threw out phrases like “American imperialists” and “supreme leader Kim Jong-un.” According to one of our guides, these postcards said things like “If the Americans provoke a Korean War, they can’t avoid being smashed by our country.”
Despite often hearing things like this, I never at any point felt singled-out as an American or as though our guides (or the local people) felt any ill-will towards me. I think this is one of those cases where the distinction between the people and their government is extra important.
Many of Pyongyang’s metro stops were extravagantly (albeit old-fashionedly) decorated
North Korean commuters (plus a few very tall foreigners) riding the metro
Rodrigo making friends inside the metro
As you must visit North Korea with an organized tour, all your accommodation will be arranged for you. Here’s a quick glimpse into just one of the hotels that we stayed in.
While in Pyongyang, we stayed at the Yanggakdo Hotel, which is located on an island on Pyongyang’s main river.
Since you aren’t allowed to leave the hotel after returning from your day out (justified in the words of our guides: “it’s better if you don’t leave the hotel because the locals can’t speak English and you might be inconvenienced”), the hotel is full of other activities to occupy your time. One of those is bowling (and a sign that looks like it hasn’t been updated for a few decades).
Inside the bowling alley in the Yanggakdo Hotel
One of the strangest days of all was our visit to the “Kumsusan Palace of the Sun,” or the mausoleum of the late leaders Kim il-Sung and Kim Jong-il. While we had some basic ‘rules’ to follow on our day-to-day basis (don’t wander too far from the group, pay your respects, etc.) you could tell that the guides were more tense than usual on this day.
First, it was requested that we dress up. When we entered the mausoleum, we went through security (I was instructed to take my scarf off because it was too “casual,” apparently) and had to leave anything we were carrying behind – including cameras.
From there, we took a MASSIVE sequence of slow-moving walkways and escalators to actually get to the heart of the building. While on the walkways, we were asked to whisper, not lean on the handrails, and stand still (as opposed to walking…like a normal person would do).
For this reason, it felt like we were on the moving walkways FOREVER given little to do but whisper to our other tour group members or admire the numerous Kim-family portraits and photos lining the never-ending hallway.
Eventually, we approached the low-lit hall that housed the bodies. First, we passed through a windy “sanitizer” and then we were ushered into the room where we were expected to bow, in groups of 4, at the feet, the left side, and the right side of each body…skipping the head.
As you can probably imagine, photos were not allowed inside, meaning that we only captured moments from the outside.
A group of DPRK soldiers coming to pay their respects at the mausoleum.
In honor of Kim il-Sung’s birthday, we were taken to an elaborate flower exhibition made just for him.
Roses, communist slogans, and North Korean rockets – what a combination
A horrendously-photoshopped image of an Indonesian representative presenting a flower ‘specially created’ for Kim il-Sung – called the Kimilsungia (it’s actually a real flower that’s actually named that….google will tell you all you need to know).
The entire Kim il-Sung birthday flower extravaganza
Spotted: the Brazilian ambassador to North Korea’s car
Posing with our tour guide at the “Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum” (yes, that’s the full name) in Pyongyang – during our visit, we watched a video that gave some ‘alternative facts’ to the history behind the Korean War that most of us probably learned.
This included claims that pre-Korean War the United States was occupying South Korea under military rule (and thus North Korea had to intervene) and that the number of American troops that died or surrendered during the war was right around 405,000 (official estimates in the real world: around 35,000).
Part of the tour included a ‘Captured Weapons Exhibition.’
An American tank destroyed by the North Koreans and captured during the Korean War
This is the USS Pueblo – an American spy ship captured by the North Koreans in 1968….and proudly on display today.
USA and North Korea in a single shot
Our next stop for the day was this Sci-Tech building in Pyongyang, as seen from above.
Korean schoolchildren milling about the outside of the science building.
Computers within the sci-tech center
The sci-tech center’s web page on DPRK’s intranet. Since the internet as we know it is completely inaccessible in North Korea, they have created their own in-country intranet…full of only material that has been approved by the government.
A replica DPRK rocket in the center of the science center
Unfortunately, this is blurry…. but this guy is one of the most famous actors in North Korea!
View of Kim il-Sung Square from the top of the Juche Tower
Plaques from apparent “Juche” communities around the world
Local North Koreans preparing for a performance in honor of late leader Kim il-Sung’s Birthday
Performance at the base of the Juche Tower in honor of Kim il-Sung’s Birthday
The performance from up above
Workers marching under the portraits of Kim il-Sung and Kim Jong-il
Rodrigo decided to brave a DPRK haircut. And no, contrary to popular belief, North Koreans do NOT have to choose from a list of state-sanctioned haircuts. The poster here just serves for some (super stylish) inspiration.
The haircut in process
Some more stylish inspiration….this time for the ladies
Monument to the Worker’s Party in Pyongyang. It represents the worker (with the hammer), the peasant (with the scythe), and the intellectual (with the paintbrush). The slogan on the buildings to the left and the right of the monument is “100 battles” and “100 victories.”
Seeing the Monument to the Worker’s Party up-close
Locals dancing in traditional Korean attire on their day off in honor of Kim il-Sung’s birthday.
A model in the making
A couple of our tour group members joined in on the fun.
Some friendly ladies welcomed us warmly…
…and against my better judgment, pulled me in to (awkwardly) join them!
A local Korean artist embracing the celebration and the sunshine.
North Korean families relaxing at the park for the birthday celebration.
The finale of Kim il-Sung’s birthday celebration: fireworks above the Juche Tower
Alongside the claims to the world’s largest stadium and largest abandoned building, North Korea is also home to the world’s tallest Arch of Triumph (yes, it’s even taller than it’s more famous counterpart in Paris!).
Pyongyang’s arch from another view
Stay tuned for parts 3 and 4 of this photo series: Beyond Pyongyang.
PS: Want to know how to visit North Korea on a budget? Then check out our article here.
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