Photographs: DPRK (North Korea)
I visited the Democratic People's Republic of Korea with a friend at the end of May 2011, roughly six months prior to the
death of Kim Jong-il. Our desire to visit the three operational amusement parks necessitated a private rather than a group tour, but we followed a fairly typical itinerary otherwise; the only major sights missed were the Mansudae Grand Monument and Kumsusan Memorial Palace, both of which were closed for maintenance at the time.
If you find these pictures interesting I'd strongly recommend watching both
A State of Mind and the recent documentary by Michael Palin; both show off a side of a fascinating country not often covered in western media.
This is what a DPRK tourist card looks like.
The DPRK uses the
Juche Calendar, which starts with the birth of Kim Il-sung in 1912.
Display at the check-in desk in Beijing.
A lucky shot; the DPRK
Ilyushin-62 with a Korean Air 777 in the background. The Il-62 dates from the 1960s, though this particular aircraft was built in 1979.
Arch of Triumph was built to commemorate the Korean resistance to Japan from 1925 to 1945. It is ten metres taller than the Arc du Triomphe in Paris.
Another shot of the Arch of Triumph. The Korean writing on the top is the
Song of General Kim Il-sung.
Kim Il-sung Stadium dates from 1926. The original structure was destroyed during the Korean war; the building seen here was reconstructed in 1969.
This enormous mosaic, located across the road from the Arch of Triumph, was erected in April 1982 to commemorate Kim Il-sung's seventieth birthday.
This 150 metre high tower broadcasts signals for Korean Central Television.
My room at the
Yanggakdo International Hotel, located on an island in central Pyongyang.
Taedongdang Beer is locally brewed using equipment acquired from Ushers of Trowbridge. It's not bad at all!
Tower of the Juche Ideology is 170m high and can be seen from much of Pyongyang. The Rungrado 1st of May Stadium can be seen in the background.
It looks particularly pretty when lit up at night.
This is the Yangakkdo International Hotel as seen at night time. We were told by our guides that it was okay to walk around the island, but to go no further without one of them.
A view of Pyongyang as seen from my hotel room. The towers on the left are the
Koryo Hotel, one of the nicer hotels in the city. The pyramid shaped building on the right in the distance is the Ryugyong Hotel, a 105-storey structure that began construction in 1987. At the time this photo was taken the exterior was being glazed by the Egyptian Orascom group.
Revolutionary Martyrs' Cemetery is a collection of 130 bronze statues commemorating those who fought in the war with Japan.
One of the sculptures on the way into the cemetery.
A randomly selected statue. The rest follow the same pattern.
The view from the top of the cemetery looking towards Pyongyang.
"The noble revolutionary spirit displayed by the anti-Japanese revolutionary martyrs will dwell forever in the hearts of our Party and our people." - Kim Il-sung, October 10, 1985
Kwangbopsa is a Buddhist temple dating from the fourth century. It was rebuilt in the eighteenth century following a fire.
Historical monument outside the temple.
This statue is one of a number within the temple walls.
The inner sanctum.
Taesongsan Funfair is the oldest of the four amusement parks in Pyongyang. It is located in the north-eastern corner of the city.
This mounted warrior is one of many to be found in the funfair.
Entrance to the Kwansong Tancha roller coaster. The text above the station is a motivational slogan, exhorting patrons to be fearless in their duties.
The ride is a standard layout Jungle Mouse manufactured by Japanese firm Sanoyas Hishino Meisho.
My guides certainly appeared to enjoy the experience!
I'm assuming that these characters are found in DPRK children's stories.
Bumper cars (or perhaps cats).
Attack the enemy target game.
Flying machine ride, with Air Koryo markings on the individual vehicles.
They brought our tour van right into the park. In the background you can see
Kwansong Yolcha, a large family coaster that was out of order at the time of my visit due to flood damage. It has since been repaired and repainted into a glorious yellow.
The Mansudae Fountain Park is an urban park that opened in 1976 as an extension to the nearby art theatre.
Young children paddling in the water.
Grand People's Study House is the largest library in the DPRK. It has a total floor space of 100,000 square metres and space for up to thirty million books.
Mansudae Assembly Hall is the seat of the Supreme People's Assembly.
The Ministry of Foreign Trade building featured prominent portraits of Marx and Lenin. Both have since been removed; the department is now known as the
Ministry of External Economic Relations.
My guide told me that this was the Ministry of Education. The characters at the top read "The Democratic People's Republic of Korea"; the portrait is of a young Kim Il-sung.
Symmetry is very important to the Koreans, hence the fact that the buildings on both sides of the
Juche Tower are the same size and shape.
The Golden Lane Bowling Alley is the biggest facility of its kind in the DPRK.
While the exact vintage of the equipment is unknown, it's fair to say that the graphics on the scoring computer hark back to a simpler time.
This parkland leads to the Mangyongdae Native House, where the Great Leader Kim Il-sung spent the first years of his life.
The Great Leader's house.
Monument explaining the details.
Monument to the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War is a collection of monuments depicting soldiers of the various branches of the Korean People's Army.
The park has about twenty monuments like this one.
The war officially concluded on 27th July 1953, known locally as Victory Day.
The park was opened on the 40th anniversary of that day. Kim Il-sung dedicated it to the "Korean People's Army and Korean people who defeated the US imperialists and its allies during the Fatherland Liberation War".
The Kaeson Funfair had just been renovated at the time of my visit.
The hardware was supplied by Italian manufacturer Zamperla.
The star attraction is a so-called Volare. Though the type is not known for its comfort, this installation rides remarkably well.
The park also has a sixty metre high shot-and-drop tower. My guides decided not to ride this!
Another view of the Arch of Triumph, lit up at night.
USS Pueblo was a spy ship captured by the DPRK in 1968. This monument tells the story.
The boat is open for tours.
It's fair to say that computer technology has moved on a bit since this ship was built.
The official apology issued by the United States, and a translation into Korean.
This is one of two
M2 Browning 0.50-caliber machine guns on board. This design has stood the test of time; first developed in 1933, it is still in service today.
One hundred metres under Pyongyang lies the world's deepest metro system.
The stations are beautifully ornate and feature elaborate artwork on the walls. Seen here is Puhung Station.
A train has just departed, hence the empty platform; I wanted to capture the artwork rather than another train shot.
The architectural style in Yonggwang Station is completely different. It was one of the last to be completed, opening on April 4th 1987.
My tour took me as far as Kaeson Station. Recent photos show that the interior has been
This mosaic was visible on the far end of the platform.
This map shows the portion of the system I saw. I'm given to understand that more recent visitors have traversed the entire network.
The exit from the station gave another glimpse of the Arch of Triumph.
My next stop was the
Tower of the Juche Ideology.
The ground floor has a collection of placards from supporters of the Juche Idea.
Looking out at Pyongyang from the tower observation platform.
Monument to Party Founding presents the hammer, the sickle, and calligraphy brush.
Leaving Pyongyang behind, we drove to the city of Kaesong. En route, we stopped at the beautiful tomb of King Kongmin.
My guides told me that this was the only tomb in Korea not to be damaged in the wars.
Perhaps these guardian statues had something to do with it?
One of the great joys of touring in the DPRK is the ability to enjoy sites without hundreds of other visitors getting in the way of photographs.
The next stop was an observation post close to the border where we could view the South Korean army positions and the 240km long concrete wall separating north and south.
One of the South Korean positions. Unfortunately the zoom on my camera wasn't quite good enough to capture the business end of lots of loaded weaponry.
We stayed in the Kaesong Folk Custom Hotel, a traditional facility rather different to the Yangakkdo in Pyongyang.
Sleeping on the floor may be traditional, but it is not conducive to a good night's sleep!
High above Kaesong lies a public park.
The Great Leader looks out over the city.
Kaesong is full of older Korean buildings, quite different in style to the modern construction in Pyongyang.
Sonjuk Bridge was built in 1290. A famous Confucian scholar was assassinated in the area in the distant past.
Across from the bridge was this building housing two guardians.
We also called in at the Kaesong Koryo Museum.
The museum was constructed inside buildings that once housed an academy of confucianism.
Part of the museum collection.
Next, we visited the DMZ proper. This is the building where the armistice treaty was signed which halted the Korean War.
Kim Il-sung worked for reunification of Korea until the last days of his life.
Looking over the border into South Korea, as the soldiers of both sides watch each other suspiciously. The dividing line is exactly half way between the blue buildings, where the ground surface changes.
This was one of the more interesting meals I was served during my stay.
Arch of Reunification was built in 2001 to commemorate Korean reunification proposals put forward by Kim Il-sung.
Statue outside the Pyongyang Children's Palace.
Painting in the lobby showing the Great Leader and General Kim Jong-il surrounded by children.
Learning the art of calligraphy.
Playing the accordion. Though definitely not my favourite instrument it's fair to say that this ensemble was absolutely superb. Weird Al Yankovic could get lessons here.
There were four Grand Pianos in one room, with children who could not have been more than eight years old learning to play the same piece together. An imperialist chocolate bar was visible as a reward.
The guitar ensemble was fine, if not quite to the level of some of the others.
Another group of students was learning to play the
Gayageum, a local equivalent of the zither.
After touring the facility, we were treated to a concert performance. This was absolutely incredible to watch.
One of the performers singing about the joy of owning a pencil.
Though I didn't get a good photo of it, a definite highlight was a full symphony orchestra made up of children that would give many adult orchestras a run for their money.
The next stop was at the
Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum.
Every museum of this type has its own perspective on events.
There were plenty of artefacts on show.
Some of the weapons captured by the DPRK from its enemies.
One portion of an enormous painting within the museum depicting scenes from the war.
Mangyongdae Funfair is the oldest of the three in the DPRK. It was criticised by Kim Jong-un during an inspection in May 2012, and was overhauled soon after.
Preparing to ride the Double Loop Coaster.
Though the ride track was a little rusty, the comfort level was absolutely fine.
On the opposite side of the park is a single loop coaster.
This ride was great fun, and running flawlessly.
The design of this Ferris wheel will be familiar to anyone who has visited Japan.
Kwansong Tancha (Mad Mouse).
Pyongyang's approximation to a McDonalds, also serving close equivalents to KFC (Korean Fried Chicken?)
This photo could be any western fast food outlet, though it would probably be somewhat busier. The guides said that peak time is in the evening.
The burger was pretty close to the genuine article; the only real difference was a spicy sauce geared at the local palate.
The Pyongyang Railway Museum charts the development of rail in the DPRK.
Coaster enthusiasts will appreciate this one; this is a list of all railway stations visited by the Great Leader Kim Il-sung, complete with dates. Maybe I should have a sign made for
A model of Pyongyang's main railway station.
Vintage rolling stock dating from the 1930s.
Acrobatics at the Pyongyang circus. The backing music was provided by a military band, who can be seen in the right hand side of the picture.
The circus is run by the army.
The city has a western-style coffee shop that is foreign-owned, and serves imported soft drinks.
Our final dinner was at Pyongyang Number One Duck Barbecue, widely regarded as one of the best restaurants in the city. Patrons heat their own food on a miniature grill built into the middle of each table.
A shot of the lobby of the Yanggakdo Hotel.
At the time of my visit the hotel had an attached golf course. It was demolished shortly after my visit to make space for a Chinese-funded health complex.
Our guides and driver; note the DPRK badges that all three are wearing.
The plane back to Beijing was a Tupolev 204-300, which you can really only experience in Russia or the DPRK. It has much in common with the Boeing 757.
Some of the rest of the Air Koryo fleet parked at the airport.
Goodbye Pyongyang; I hope to visit again some day.
Back in Beijing at the end of a truly fascinating trip.