Tagged: Pyongyang Times

[DPRK] Chapter 3: Some Solid Scenery

[This is the 4th post in a series of blog posts about my adventures in the DPRK from 11 August – 17 August 2013. You can find previous posts here.] 

Rolling green hills and peaceful lakes aren’t quite what comes to mind for most people when you think of the DPRK. With all that’s in the news, we often forget about what else the country has to offer. Much of my time in the DPRK was spent travelling between cities and towns, and we saw plenty of beautiful scenes and nature’s touch everywhere.

Sweet sunsets.

Sweet sunsets.

Mountains everywhere

Mountains everywhere

Getting in quite late, our first clear view of the city was from our hotel. Our hotel, the Yanggakdo Hotel, is on an island and is an impressive 47 floors high. Here’s the foggy view from the top floor. It only got better from here.

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From the 48th floor.

Foggy days ahead.

If you prefer moving pictures:

This was a stopping point on our way from Pyongyang to Wonsan. Gorgeous mountains and lakes!

Mountains and Lakes

Mountains and Lakes

If you prefer moving pictures:

One of my favourite parts of the trip: A walk along this long pier which proved to be a spectacular view in itself. Locals come here to set up DIY barbecue sets and chill out with their friends. #nofilter

A pier.

A pier.

Perfect picnic spot.

Perfect picnic spot.

I sat by the beach and wrote instead, but the water must’ve been a good escape for my friends who were unused to the weather. Singapore had me well-trained for the North Korean sun.

Beach time!

Beach time!

Ulim waterfalls. Also a good spot for a swim and a picnic lunch.

A swim or picnic by the falls.

A swim or picnic by the falls.

Most of the best views we saw were on the way/at towns and cities away from Pyongyang. It’s kind of like driving to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve from Queenstown.

Flowers everywhere, a couple of hours from Pyongyang

Flowers everywhere, a couple of hours from Pyongyang

Standing tall and proud.

Standing tall and proud.

We drove out to the west to have a look at their barrage. It’s just a bit more impressive than ours.

Nampho West Sea Dam

Nampho West Sea Dam

Le wild barrage

Le wild barrage

Again, really nice view from up here. I attempted to get up to the lighthouse but was spotted by guards.

The road on the way to the DMZ.

Looks like it could be another big city.

Looks like it could be another big city.

Way up high in the middle of Pyongyang city:

A look at the streets on the way out of Pyongyang:

And a reminder: 1 Korea. Reunification1

One Korea

One Korea

Previous: The People of Pyongyang

For your own DPRK adventure, get in touch with Young Pioneer Tours and check out their schedule for next year.

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DPRK: Getting In

[This is the 1st part in a series of blog posts about my adventures in DPRK from August 11 – August 17 2013]

Flags fly high in the DPRK

Flags fly high in the DPRK

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has a reputation few countries can compete with.

Perhaps it is because we understand so little that we speak so much; DPRK has one of the lowest tourism rates in the world, but possibly the highest number of armchair critics and experts. Numerous times this week I’ve been assured that my now first-hand observations and opinions are flawed because they contradict Documentary XYZ your friend’s brother’s girlfriend watched in 1982.

The low but increasing tourism rates, made possible by travel companies like Young Pioneers Tours (whom I would highly recommend for an amazing adventure, but more about that later) is the first indication of changing times in the DPRK. It is no longer a far-fetched and almost impossible feat to enter the less-visited side of Korea. In fact, you’re almost assured of a visa (Unless of course you’re South Korean or a journalist).

Americans needn’t worry either – there were plenty of US citizens around, and your visa (slipped into your passport) is taken at the airport when you leave the country so your passport remains unmarked. (Unless you’re me, who insisted on a big sticker in my passport at the SG embassy. )

Fill out ALL the forms!

Fill out ALL the forms!

The adventure began right here in Singapore; we’re one of only a few countries that has a DPRK embassy. Coincidentally, the embassy is a few minutes from where I live, and my first (known) experience with a North Korean local to pick up my visa was surprisingly friendly and warm – an indication of what was to come over the next week.

We'll be seeing a lot more of these two.

We’ll be seeing a lot more of these two.

It was with great excitement and slight apprehension that I made my way to KL, where I met a group of people I’d quickly become connected to in this adventure we were about to take on. Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, Switzerland, France, USA, Indonesia – 20 somewhat mismatched strangers about to take on a most feared and mysterious land.

Part of the draw for this trip, for me, was the direct flight from KL to Pyongyang. Somewhere so far away suddenly seems so accessible when it’s just across the border (KL is a 1-hour flight from Singapore).

Now, I’d heard a bit about Air Koryo, but I wasn’t expecting 7 hours of  Korean cartoons and fish burgers disguised as vegetarian meals. My Advice: Bring energy bars and snacks, and bring your own in-flight entertainment. Some in my group say no electronic devices were allowed, but I didn’t have any issues with an MP3 player, subject to the usual flight rules.

Bring Snacks.

Bring Snacks.

Poster Girl

Poster Girl

The highlight of the flight was definitely getting a copy of the Pyongyang Times, a local English newspaper. Reading about the “crafty tricks of Japan” kept me severely amused for some time.

The crafty tricks of the Japanese

The crafty tricks of the Japanese

The plane lands and you’re in – you’re officially in what many have called a Hermit Kingdom, and this is where your surreal experience really takes off.

Landed

Our Korean guides, part of the KITC (Korea International Travel Company) group, gave us a genuinely warm welcome, hospitality that would last through the next 7 days. In just the first few hours, what Mr. Huxley said was already proving to be true.

“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” – Aldous Huxley

Next:

[Chapter 1: Bright Lights and City Sights]
[Chapter 2: The People of Pyongyang]

References:

Young Pioneer Tours
Embassies of DPRK

Air Koryo