A Glimpse into the World's most secretive Country
in Pyongyang (North Korea for Beginners)
This was the first time after many years I
have been highly excited to explore a new travel destiny. I have
chosen North Korea, of which it is said to be hidden behind
concrete walls. Only mentioning this name made people give me an
odd look followed by the question: "Why not South Korea?"
International news on North Korea do not really support any
tourism development (neither do the news for Myanmar)...
Having been in Myanmar for over 20 years, it was
time for me to discover another 'off the beaten track journey',
another country with restricted access and different policies
how to behave.
My first surprise was in the plane of the
national carrier Air Koryo. It was full! Yes! With about 80% of
foreign travelers; mainly from Europe or Asia, but also US
citizens, who are only allowed to visit this part of the world
during the famous mass games which are yearly held in August and
I later heard there was an international film festival
in Pyongyang. Another reason for full hotels and
Swiss Miss at the DMZ
As for me (and probably for most of the other
travelers), it was the first time to enter North Korea.
After the 90 minutes flight I went through a fast
immigration procedure and had to wait a while for my
luggage. Customs was fast again and before I could look
around for my guides, they stood with a big smile in
front of me: "Are you Miss Myriam?"
I must admit during the whole trip I never
had to wait for anything, all was performed like directed by a
Swiss clock. But no time to rest neither!
The travel itinerary I had, was created by myself. Only very few
detailed travel information can be found in the web. So I tailor
made my own travel program and hoped
it was interesting enough to later offer to my clients!
Meanwhile I have much more ideas how to even improve my initial
itinerary! From 3,4 days to 12 days - we promise you, there will
not a second of boredom!
My second big surprise was the condition of
the cars! I was told that there is also a joint venture between
FIAT and NK government and they are using the 4 wheel drive
cars. Due to the increase of tourism there is a bit of lack of
cars now and I 'only' got a nice saloon car, but perfect for my
However, I was not informed that I had two
guides for myself waiting for me in Pyongyang - meaning: Twice
tipping! (I also was not informed that THE currency travelers
should use is the Euro and NO WAY the US$. Although I asked I
got the reply from the agent dealing with this, that it is no
problem to use US$ - maybe he thought we do not mind having to
change US$ into a very inconvenient Euro exchange rate...).
Anyhow, after a short introduction I learned that Ms.
Khun Song was still a student and an assistant to the
very professional Ms. Hyon Sun Kim, the tour guide. Both
young ladies were very well educated, talked fluently
English, and had a wonderful smile.
They were very pleased when they found out that they did
not have to teach me too much of their do's and many
don'ts, which in fact reminded me on my first visit to
then Burma in the early 80'ies.
Swiss Miss in
The next morning was dedicated to the Late Leader's Kim Il-Sung's
mausoleum. Hundreds of workers in dark blue or black cotton
suits and women in bright pink yellow, green, blue coloured
traditional dresses were queuing with us together; but they let
us foreigners first in. There was a Singaporean group, some
French, Swiss and German travelers as well as a group of
Americans who were in front of me. It is quite a journey getting
into the mausoleum. A moving walkway took me down a long
corridor - and believe it or not, I was floating towards the
late leader. I had to turn right and go through an underground
tunnel and then left again, finally entering the mausoleum
building. I walked through several huge halls with a background
sound of patriotic music. I got a little sound device which I
had to hold to my ear. I am not sure if this voice belonged to a
North Korean citizen, I would rather guess it was a VERY
American sound, dramaturgically telling me tales of the people
when Kim Il-Sung 'fell asleep', as in North Korea he is not
considered dead. Last not least I had to pass a kind of wind
tunnel, oh my, my hair was totally out of order when I entered
the room where the preserved Kim Il-Sung lies in a glass coffin.
I knew I had to bow 4 times. I had my both guides flanked left
and right of me and only had to copy the 2 American couples in
front of me (also flanked by their guides) who seemed to be in a
rush to end this exercise as soon as possible. I admit, for us
Western a once in a life time experience, but every country its
King Tangun's mausoleum was next on my program. I have chosen it
to just experience the contrast of the two mausoleums. It was
not less impressive, to say so! King Tangun was the founder of
the first ancient state of Korea and he is resting on top of Mt.
Hanui at the foot of Mt. Taebak; rebuilt in 1994 (October Juche
83) his mausoleum is a bit similar to the Egypt's pyramid.
King Tangun's Mausoleum
White stone statues of his four sons are
standing on both sides of the steps leading
up to the mausoleum of the central section.
The contrast of the white giant granite
pyramid to the blue sky was indeed
breathtaking and the fact that I was the
only traveler there, made this place very
unique for me.
Before I was heading with the girls to Kaesong we had a short
visit to Kim Il-Sung's birthplace, located in a park. It had a
reconstructed straw-roofed village house where Kim Il-Sung was
supposedly born and spent his early years. Koreans come here
every day to express there loyalty to Kim Il-Sung and his
family. After that they enjoy some time in the large park with
its swan lakes, a small zoo, a monorail and a kind of Luna Park
(under renovation at the moment).
At about 3 p.m. I continued my journey to Kaesong which is
connected to Pyongyang by highway and about two and a half hours
away. Driving on a 4 lane highway with cars passing every once a
while was another awesome experience for me and I honestly
enjoyed this smooth ride through Korea's countryside.
I could go on and on and on, but I think you should experience
your own travel impressions! Come and unveil yourself the
mysteries of a country, known as the most secretive on this
planet earth, but which is slowly dismantling its concrete walls
for the curious traveler.
P.S. Oh, before I forget... I met
Alessandro from Milano in front of the elevator at Yanggdon
Hotel. During breakfast he listened to my stories of the Strand
Hotel in Yangon and I found out that he published the most
amazing photo book on North Korea. If you want to see more than
a glimpse of the beauty this country has to offer: Go and buy
" Korea. An impossible journey?". You will love it! As he
is updating his website at the moment, you may order the
book at www.ibs.it
(Just digit "corea" and "belgiojoso").
Arirang Video 2
© 1999 Myriam