Sunday, April 23, 2017

How we travelled to North Korea (and returned back!) - #3

This is the third post of the blog post series of our recent travel to Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) a.k.a North Korea. We traveled as a tourist family consisting of my wife, our 3 year old son and myself to this secluded country just to get an experience of what it feels like to be there.

Please note that my family and myself have a neutral political opinion about the country or the current situation there. This blog series does not indicate any kind of support/opposition towards their regime.

Click here for the the first post. 
Click here for the second post.  
Click here for the fourth post.

The Day of Pyongyang and Kaesong

Our tour guides met us at the Hotel reception. We were escorted to our van and the 2.5 hour road trip to the DMZ began. A few ground rules were laid out to us:
  • Do not take photographs of the military personnel.
  • Do not take photographs at security/military checkpoints.
  • Do not take photographs of buildings under construction.
  • Do not take photographs of 'people-working-hard' or of 'people-wearing-not-so-good-clothes'.
  • Do not take cropped photographs of Kim Leaders. The photograph must be complete and nothing should be cut out.
  • Do not loiter around. Always stick with the tourist guides.
The distance from Pyongyang to the DMZ is around 170 kms. Its a long drive with only landscapes, farms and empty roads. Our guides explained us the Korean history and a few anecdotes of President Kim Il Sung to keep us engaged.
The KITC Tourist Van we were allocated for the tour.

The Arch of Reunification. The President Kim Il Sung had a dream to re-unite Korea again.

Empty roads heading to the Kaesong village. We didn't see any other vehicles except the tourist buses and military vehicles.
We stopped mid-way for refreshments. No shops seen on the way. This was a makeshift arrangements for tourists only.

At the DMZ, the DPRK officer explaining their perspective of the Korean War and Armistice agreement.

Notice the concrete line passing through the huts. That divides Korea into North and South.
The building on the other side belongs to South Korea. Strangely, no South Korean/US guards were to be seen. This was a bit odd and disappointing. At the same time it seemed as if they are 'up-to something'. Quite a scary thought.

The only photograph of officers that I took, with permission. Yes, there are quite a lot of brave tourists who take photos of what not in DPRK. I am not that brave. :)

The DMZ buildings were studded with photographs of the Kim leaders visiting the DMZ. The mural in the background is the last signature of President Kim Il Sung before he died.
Tourists are free to buy hand painted propaganda posters and printed postcards. Here's a sample that suggestively depicts the aggression of DPRK towards USA.
The next stop after the DMZ was a quick lunch, followed by a visit to the Kaesong Koryo Museum.

The traditional 'Korean Thali'
One of the several wedding photo shoots around the Koryo museum.
A traffic police minding the roads in Kaesong. Day of the Sun banner in the backdrop.

The drive back to Pyongyang started. It was exactly the same drive, played in reverse. We stopped at the same point for refreshments and passed through the empty roads. The guides engaged us in some facts about their country. We asked a few questions, but knew our limits as well as theirs. Its best not to get into any awkward situation.

Our guide did not seem pleased on a reference to Coca Cola during conversations. I was then recommended to try the 'Korean Coca Cola'.
The Pyongyang city tour was pretty much visiting the most popular attractions and a few souvenir shops.

A view of one of the few Metro Stations.
The Metro Riders of Pyongyang
Supreme Commander Kim Jong Il watching his citizens use the Metro.
A Pyongyang local reading the newspaper at a metro station.
The tall building in the center is our Hotel.
Pyongyang City
The Kim Il Sung Square from the Juche Tower.
The view from the Juche Tower. Notice the symmetry.
The lady traffic officers in Pyongyang are quite popular with their unique way of managing traffic. We requested to stop the van at this spot. Our guides denied the request.
The bronze statues of Mansudae Grand Monument. Notice the tourists bowing on the left.
Every visitor has to bow before these statues to show their respect. If you bring a flower bouquet, the gesture is appreciated by Koreans.

It is said that a Japanese journalist mockingly asked a random kid about the weight of these bronze statues. And the kid replied that the weight of these statues is equal to the weight of all the hearts of Korean people. The name of the boy is unknown to this date - but this anecdote is quite popular among the Koreans. Patriotism is duly appreciated - but on a lighter note, the boy could have a promising career in writing cheesy Bollywood movie scripts.

Local public hanging out near the Arch of Triumph
Outside the Kim Il Sung Stadium of Ideals
Pictures of President Kim Il Sung and Supreme Commander Kim Jong Il at all major buildings. Citizens wear badges of their pictures as a sign of respect. I have been told that every household has these pictures too in their living rooms.
Taxi on Pyongyang streets.
The day ended with a good dinner at a Korean Hotpot Restaurant. We came back to the room for a good night's sleep. The TV was switched on. Al-Jazeera showed some old news of sanctions on DPRK. Maybe it was recorded earlier and re-broad casted in the hotel. We were not sure of what was happening in the outside world.

The local channel showed about the military prowess of the nation and some socialist-patriotic musical concerts played in loop. Watching TV was like a bizarr dream. We had no clue that we would have to watch this stuff for several hours the next day.

Click here for the the first post. 
Click here for the second post.  
Click here for the fourth post.