By drewbert 99 Comments
Hey everybody! Here are my photos from North Korea that I showed on last week's live stream. It was an incredible experience, one that I would recommend to anyone who wants to travel somewhere out of the ordinary. Guides are required for anyone who visits North Korea, and the tour company I went with, Koryo Tours, could not have done a better job. Our western guide, an affable Canadian named Chris Graper, I'm sure would be happy to answer any questions you guys have about traveling to North Korea. Here's his info:
Air Koryo planes on the tarmac of the Beijing airport.; Checking in.; Tickets!; Air Koryo's Safety Information Card.
Aboard a Russian airplane operated by North Korea. Can't say I wasn't a little nervous.; Our first stop (no photos allowed until now), the "Arch of Triumph." Yep, just like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, only bigger.; The birthplace of the father of North Korea, Kim Il Sung. Images of this house show up all over the place in North Korea.; We climbed a hill and got our first look at the capital, Pyongyang. It looks smoggy, but the air felt a lot cleaner than Beijing.
Our first meal. Overall, the food in North Korea isn't the best, but it's totally edible and there were many dishes I would eat again.; North Korean beer is actually pretty good. Like a cross between Tsingtao and PBR, but less metallic.; My friend Wayne, who joined me on the trip (he speaks Mandarin, helpful in case we needed to escape to China).; The lobby of our Pyongyang hotel, the Ryanggang.
Our room in the Ryanggang.; Our room came complete with an inoperable Chinese radio. Still looks pretty cool, though.; The cozy halls of the Ryanggang Hotel.; Energy saving light bulbs are EVERYWHERE in North Korea, which I guess is understandable.
At the breakfast buffet. There's not a lot of fresh fruit or juice around, so this is actually orange Fanta.; Breakfast at the Ryanggang, including what was labeled as "french roast bread" and "omelete with eggs." Also, "hard" boiled eggs seem to be subjective.; Driving to our first stop of the day, admiring everyone dressed in their best clothes for the holiday, the 100th birthday celebration of Kim Il Sung.; Tons of kids!
On our way up the steps of the war memorial.; Our North Korean guide, Mrs. Kim, laying flowers at the foot of the memorial.; The war memorial celebrates the men who fought with Kim Il Sung in the revolution against the Japanese.; Suddenly, we turned around and saw this. Felt a little strange to be an American here, surrounded by thousands of North Korean soldiers (green is army, black is navy and air force).
Cars are common but not abundant in Pyongyang, though most are fairly modern. White plates (on nearly every car we saw) denote government issue.; The site of an international celebration between North Koreans and citizens of friendly nations (Russia, China, etc.). One of very few traditional-looking buildings in Pyongyang (since the city was virtually leveled in the Korean War).; Some girls prepare for a performance in the celebration.; Look at this dude's camera!
A small army provided music for the festivities.; Hi!; Nearby were some freshly-painted amusement park rides. Not sure if they were operational (we did see one roller coaster in operation later in the trip).; After I took this photo, the owner of the bike came and took it away. Don't think he liked me photographing it.
More amusement park rides.; A nearby aquatic center.; The pool for the aquatic center. They didn't like me taking this photo, either.; From there, I climbed a hill, and at the top was a lake with dozens of people in rowboats, just hanging out.
Ferris wheel.; Quick shot of some farmland. Tractors are DPRK-made, and the North Koreans take great pride in them since, after all their cows got blown up in the Korean War, they apparently pulled together and made their own tractor, saving their agriculture in the process.; We stopped to take some shots of the mausoleum.; Nearby, some kids were playing (note the paper gun).
I gave them some San Francisco chocolate. They were so polite! They bowed and everything! (photo credit: Wayne); My attempt at a close shot of a typical apartment building in Pyongyang.; This kind of stuff is everywhere, it's awesome!; On our tour bus, our guide got a call and announced that we had been allowed to attend the military parade. I could barely contain myself. This is us approaching the parade route.
People waiting for the parade to start.; I still can't believe they allowed us to attend this, though I guess demonstrating their military power to westerners is kind of the point. In any case, it was incredible!; The soldiers were hardly the stoic automatons you see on the news footage. Their genuine excitement and pride was easy to see.; Hello, ladies...
Trucks!; I had expected parade-goers to be there just because the state told them, and they may well have been, but their enthusiasm was so genuine it was infectious! It's clear they are very proud of their country. I have never experienced such true patriotism.; Check it out guys I'm on this armored thing!; Even the brass cracked a few suppressed smiles.
Time to step it up.; Look how pumped this guy is!; Driver Guy is not about to be left out of the festivities.; Heads up: this is what North Korean landing craft look like, in case Homefront ever comes true.
Note the traffic lights. There are very few in Pyongyang, and they're fairly new, but they work.; Guard dudes keeping the peace.; Now it's a Party.
I want to see that guy's photo. "Here's a bunch of white people at our parade. I think we're getting to them."; Drew, don't turn around. There's a tank behind you.; The ground rumbles when these things roll by.; A tank changed gears or something right in front of us, blanketing the crowd with exhaust. Mr. Guard Man still kept an eye on me, though.
Can't imagine this did wonders for the pavement.; Bring the kids!; Eventually, rockets and missiles started showing up.; Like these.
They just kept getting bigger.; Underneath the camo is a giant missile. Earlier, these were uncovered when the parade went past Kim Jong Un.; To our surprise, we left one parade, and ran into another! Not hard, considering most of the main streets in Pyongyang were blocked off because of it.
Most of the people around us were schoolkids.; Ladies love a man in uniform, especially in North Korea.; Look how far this procession extends!; One of my favorite shots. Her shirt reads "D.P.R. Korea, DPRK, Juche."
Wayne, fitting in a little too well.; Lots of waving!; More waving!; Flowers!
Some citizens enjoying their day off in the park.; If you haven't gathered, North Koreans, especially kids, are really wavy!; Seeing animals was rare in Pyongyang, but we did see the occasional goat herd.; We stopped at a restaurant for lunch. This is about par for what our eating establishments looked like.
Pyongyang light rail.; Taking a trip down into the Pyongyang subway.; This is the biggest escalator I have ever seen in my life.; Pyongyang subway station.
Subway train!; My parade sunburn starting to show.; Locals.; Our stop.
These loudspeakers are constantly blasting messages and patriotic music. Also, on our way up, a kid coming down said to his mom (in Korean), "Look! The Americans have come!" Our North Korean guide explained that, to North Koreans, all white people are assumed to be Americans.; The scene as we emerged from the subway.; Entrance to the subway.; A sign advertising holiday festivities.
A rare LED propaganda screen.; Chris equated the North Koreans' interaction with propaganda to announcements a landlord might post on the bulletin board of your building: you glace at it, but it's not really a big deal.; Mangyongdae Children's Palace, where children practice extra-curricular activities and hold performances.; This performance was unbelievable. Each kid up there is a prodigy. A five year-old girl performed the best drum solo I have ever seen.
Did you know North Korea invented the Space Shuttle?; Lots of streets in Pyongyang look like this, but not all of them. A few streets could be described as "bustling," and we even ran into a couple traffic jams.; Murals like this are everywhere. Many times we witnessed large groups of North Koreans walk up and bow simultaneously.; Some traditional Korean BBQ.
Kim Il Sung Square at night! If you've ever seen footage of Kim Jong Il or Kim Jong Un presiding over a military parade, this is where the magic happens.; Kim Jong Il forbid his likeness to be put anywhere while he was alive, presumably not to draw away from the glory of Kim Il Sung. Since his death, however, the two are rarely seen apart.
Across the river is the Tower of the Juche Idea. Juche loosely translates to "self-reliance" and is the driving philosophy of Kim Il Sung and the Party.; Some newly-erected apartments in the background. Felt like Vegas.; We were at the hotel's gift shop when the attendant pointed behind us and said "Kim Jong Un! Our leader!" Everyone stopped to watch. This was his first time giving a speech.; Watching a replay of the parade, airing on both TV channels. That's right, both.
Pyongyang railway station.; The one with the star is for the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea). The red one is for the Workers' Party of Korea.; Kim Il Sung Square by day, getting ready for more festivities.; Ever wonder how the soldiers stand in such perfect formations?
We visited a bookstore for foreigners, where books were printed in English.; I'd say their depiction of tourists is pretty accurate.; Some of "Kim Il Sung" and "Kim Jong Il's" writing.; "President" Kim Il Sung is usually depicted wearing a suit, while "Generalissimo" Kim Jong Il usually wears military clothing.
The exterior of this building, the Ryugyong Hotel, was completed only recently, despite construction starting in 1987. It is 105 stories tall.; Rollerblades!; I wish our museums had names like this.; Our museum guide in front of the obligatory mural of Kim Il Sung. Pretty sure there was one of him or Kim Jong Il in every building we went into.
The museum is all concrete. As a result, it was COLD, at least 10-20 degrees colder than outside.; We watched a brief video about the Korean War, where we learned that after WWII America fell into a depression and, in their desire to colonize Asia, began the Korean War.; Our guide explained that once the North pushed US forces to the southern tip of Korea, the US countered, leading the North to execute a "strategic retreat."; Also, towns are "liberated," not "captured."
Some North Korean instruments of war.; North Korean plane.; Stars on the fuselage, as you can probably guess, denote how many planes the pilot supposedly shot down.; US weapons. That image of the US soldier bowing his head shows up in a lot of North Korean propaganda.
US vehicles.; US planes.; A captured US helicopter. This shows up in propaganda as well, and the picture of the surrendering American is pretty widespread in North Korea.; Tanks!
US soldiers surrendering their weapons.; Upstairs was a gigantic, rotating, 360-degree diorama of a battle scene, made up of physical elements seamlessly blended into a 2D painting.; A scene from the diorama.; It's tough to tell, but the tank is a model, bu the house and soldiers are painted. Pretty impressive.
We bought flowers to lay at the feet of the statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il (to be polite).; Walking up here, an old North Korean man wearing a grey suit and a chestful of medals, most likely a Korean War veteran, made eye contact with me (a stereotypically blonde-haired, blue-eyed American) and bowed politely. I was floored, and quickly bowed back.; Laying flowers.; Tie required, smile optional. Honestly, it would have felt weird to smile. The mood was very reverent.
The statues are gesturing across the river to the Monument to the Worker's Party Foundation.; Korean hot pot! (Water boils in the pot and you throw in raw meat and veggies until it cooks, then you fish it out and eat it with rice.); An apartment building.; One of the famous Pyongyang Traffic Ladies. Still images don't convey their mesmerizing robotic movements.
Driving out to the port city of Nampo, we passed a whole lot of countryside.; Lots of bikes in North Korea, but most people walk everywhere, even on the highways.; The road between Nampo and Pyongyang, according to our guide, was "built by our youth." It... is not very smooth.; Train!
We stopped to help another bus with some mechanical trouble. This kid looked at us like we were aliens.; Dump truck!; Arriving in Nampo.; Cargo ships like this, which one associates with international trade, were strange to see in North Korea, but apparently they do quite a bit of trade with African nations.
Rad.; Our hotel in Nampo.; The lobby. Also, that marble? Not marble. Wallpaper.; Inside was a board with a bunch of photos.
Scenes from Kim Jong Il's funeral.; According to the US and South Korea, this rocket never actually made it to space. The day before we arrived in Pyongyang, another rocket, Unha 3, also failed. In a rare move, North Korea admitted the failure.; I like this one.; A generator, just in case. I don't know if it was due to the holiday or what, but we only had 3 power outages, none lasting longer than five minutes, which Chris said was unprecedented.
The hotel bookstore.; Salt fields. Salt is apparently one of North Korea's main exports.; Lots of farming was done by hand, though there were some oxen and the occasional tractor.; Driving along the West Sea Barrage, which separates fresh from salt water, and supposedly prevents the surrounding area from flooding.
Look who greeted us at the barrage monument!; The monument by the West Sea Barrage. Dude for scale.; The view from the monument.; A view of the barrage control station and locks.
After visiting the monument, our guide allowed Wayne and I to walk down to sea level. For a moment, we felt untethered in North Korea.; Most signs we saw in North Korea were hand-painted.; The whole place gave me some serious Half-Life 2 vibes.; A view of the monument from the barrage, with obligatory Kim Il Sung.
Close-up of the locks.; Back at the hotel in Nampo.; Before dinner, we fired up some "gasoline clams" (actually, it's rubbing alcohol). Simply arrange the clams hinge-up, light a piece of paper on them, and pour on the alcohol using a bottle with two small holes in the top. Eat them when they open. Serve with soju.
They were delicious! I've really got to try this myself sometime.; Our dinner: chicken (not sure which part), fish in a sauce, potatoes, potato salad, and bread.; Recycle!; Our room in Nampo.
We had these awesome knife switches in our room.; Breakfast in the morning. Nothing was warm, of course, but I liked that potato pancake.; Our hotel staff was so nice!; Leaving Nampo.
North Koreans will tell you that these are decorative. In reality, the bases are dynamited in the event of a foreign invasion, causing the blocks to topple onto the road, creating a roadblock.; Hmm...; Lots of this kind of stuff in the countryside. It seems like they're operating at about an Amish level.; Locals on their day off.
On our way to our first stop of the day, a glass factory.; The factory itself.; Some nearby messaging.
Get to know your coworkers! Third row, third from left: the female AK-47-toting guard who waved us in to the factory (we were not allowed to photograph her).; North Koreans aren't all that concerned with safety, so they let us just run around the factory. No hard-hats, no railings, just fun!; Factory control center.; Factory floor.
I found a mirror.; It was a big place!; Glass on the rollers. It gets rolled to a cutting arm, then the excess drops away...; ... and ends up outside.
Like I said, the place is big.; Motivational posters of North Korea.; When you do see oxen, they're almost always skinny.; Back in Pyongyang. This line is for a flower exhibition. It's hard to see, but the line goes from the left side of the picture, down to the monument in the back, up the right side, down under the street, and continues on the other side. I felt bad cutting.
The entrance to the flower exhibition.; Foreground: Kimilsungia. Background: Kimjongilia. Both flowers were genetically engineered for their respective leader. The whole show is centered around these two flowers.; About 80% of the exhibits feature Kim Il Sung's birthplace and look almost exactly like this.; My favorite exhibit.
You know, for satellites!; Whenever Korea is depicted, it is always the whole Korea. Reunification is a huge deal for North Koreans. In fact, the guide taking us around the exhibition started crying when talking about reunification.; Our guide Mrs. Kim translated my message in the guestbook to Korean. Hopefully she didn't translate my poor spelling.; Traffic Ladies, like virtually all the guides we had over the course of the tour, are all young, attractive women.
I saw absolutely no advertisements anywhere in North Korea. Even this one, which looks like a real car ad and is the only one I saw that even resembles ads we have in the rest of the world, is state-produced and advertises the state-manufactured car.; On our way out into the country for a BBQ.; Some more countryside. With a little more green it could be beautiful.; Pork skewers and grilled octopus. Both were exceptional.
Chris dancing with one of our waitresses, who were also the entertainment. Everybody in North Korea seems to be able to sing, and the woman on the right can shred on the accordion.; Wayne got up and helped sing a popular Chinese song.; Nearby in the park, a bunch of (probably intoxicated) North Koreans belted out some a capella tunes. These are likely some of the more fortunate members of society.; It's tough to see, but that's an IV bag being used to water this tree.
Back in Pyongyang.; Ice skating practice?; Another apartment building.; The USS Pueblo, a US "spy ship" captured by North Korea during the Cold War. Eighty-two service members were captured along with it and held for 11 months. Depictions of the Pueblo show up often in propaganda, and the story of its capture is a massive source of national pride.
Damage dealt by the North Koreans is circled in red paint.; Inside, shrapnel marks.; Some of the "spy equipment" in the radio room.; Top secret, y'all!
The captured crew appeared in press photographs and on television denouncing the US, and wrote this letter to President Johnson, "demanding" he apologize.; Some captured documents.; Racks of equipment. One of the units was installed upside-down.; Some artifacts, including the captain's uniform.
HP, for all your electronic counting needs.; Coincidentally, our guide from the war museum took us around the Pueblo too.; Armaments.; Kim Il Sung Square at dusk.
Before climbing aboard for a river cruise on the Taedong River.; Our dinner aboard the river cruise. Note: those aren't mushrooms, they're fried potatoes shaped like mushrooms. Still tasty, though.; The Tower of the Juche Idea.; I, for one, have never seen a picture of North Korea like this on the news.
Juche tower by night.; The view from our hotel room.; Another angle from our hotel room.; On our way to the DMZ. It's a long ride, but smooth, thankfully. Checkpoints, which we hadn't encountered before, became more and more frequent the closer we got to the DMZ.
One lonely road.; My North Korean visa.; Near the DMZ, we got a briefing from a man with a pointer.; It's kind of tough to see (I shot this one from the hip, since they seemed to frown on pictures and the mood was pretty tense), but the sign says "Northern boundary of the demilitarized zone."
Wayne and I in the room the Korean War peace talks were held in. According to the North Koreans, the US demanded that the cease-fire be signed in a tent so as to leave no lasting monument to a North Korean "victory."; A museum dedicated to the cease-fire, erected in five days just after the signing.; Upper left: the original UN flag present at the signing of the cease-fire that the US "forgot to take with them because they were so distraught after the signing."; I made a friend.
The DMZ. That grey building is in South Korea. Also, it has about five times the number of surveillance cameras as the matching North Korean building has.; We headed into one of blue buildings, which straddles the demarcation line. Both sides are allowed to use it, though not at the same time, obviously.; Those mic cables are the official demarcation line inside the building.; The view out the window.
Since the building straddles the demarcation line, it's possible to get a shot across the two countries.; Now I just need a matching picture from the other side!; The border town of Kaesong, where we stopped for lunch.; So many new things to eat!
Sweet and chewy!; Dog meat soup. I was a little hesitant about eating it, but it tasted pretty good, like shredded beef only a little fattier.; Nick, the guy on the left, started Koryo Tours in 1993. Any chance he gets, he joins in on kid's games. I hopped in on some volleyball too.; The war left Kaesong relatively unscathed, so much of the traditional architecture remains. From here, we could hear loudspeakers, but also a kid practicing his accordion somewhere in the town below.
In front of a gift shop in Kaesong, where I bought a fan made by this woman.; On the road back to Pyongyang.; Our bus broke down, so we hung out in the middle of North Korea for a bit while our driver fixed the bus.; The monument to Kim Il Sung's three pillars of reunification.
In front of the Juche Tower.; This thing's big, you guys.; The Monument to the Worker's Party Foundation, featuring the industrial hammer, the agricultural sickle, and the intellectual writing brush.; The writing brush looks a little... unfortunate up close.
In a Pyongyang microbrewery. Those are the brewing vats in the back (they didn't want us taking pictures of them).; From left, Makgeolli (rice wine, tasted like yogurt with a kick), the black (like Guinness but less intense), and the brown (like Blue Moon with about 20% of the flavor).; Our last dinner in North Korea, including what tasted like sausages dipped in syrup.; Our beds in Pyongyang were about three inches of foam on top of wood. Consolation: heated floors!
The view from our balcony on the last morning.; One more breakfast buffet.; Soda juice!; On our way out of town, we passed 80 trucks packed full of soldiers heading out of town, who must have been those we saw in the parade. They looked like they were in for a cold ride.
A propaganda poster extolling the virtues of, among other things, Computer Numerical Control machines.; Ticket back to Beijing (that's North Korean customs in the background).; Ticket reverse.; Bye, North Korea! This is one trip I won't forget.