North Korea – Best and worst

I thought I’d write a post for each country, about my most and least favourite experiences / sights. Here are my thoughts on the DPRK:

Best

  • Kim Jong Suk Middle School – it was fun talking to the students, who spoke very good English, including the two above whose names I couldn’t pronounce. They want to be (left) a famous architect and (right) a scientist.
  • The Munsu Water Park – both for the stellar Kim statue and the insight into what (the most fortunate) North Koreans do in their leisure time.
  • The Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum – including a 360-degree diorama of the Battle of Daejon. Featuring overlaid images, it showed the battle in progress including bombs, gunfire and burning buildings. It was great – the Imperial War Museum in London pales in comparison.
  • A highlight for me was just looking out of the tour bus windows as we drove around Pyongyang and seeing people going about their day – cycling to work and school, chatting on the footpaths, shopping, riding the trolley bus.

Worst

  • Kaesong Stamp Exhibition – booooooring. Here I am playing Word Cookies on my phone instead of looking around. It was late in the day. I’d had enough.

  • All of the art galleries we visited after the first one – enough already.
  • The Foreign Language Bookshop – we spent a LONG time there. Mostly concerned with biographies of the Kims in several languages, although I did pick up this gem (my email signature is sorted for years). Example: “Frantic indeed are the death throes of those who defy history”.

  • Ryonggang Hot Spa Hotel – in which every room had its own spa bath with mineral water from the local hot spring. As with many things in North Korea, this wasn’t quite what it seemed. The word ‘spa’ usually signals luxury but there’s nothing luxurious about sitting in a stained, smelly, tepid bath. The only bathing options were this or a cold shower.

Tour Ups and Downs

We don’t usually choose organised tours but as it was the only way to see North Korea, it had to be done. We saw a couple of people on their own private tour with their own North Korean guides. They had no more freedom than us and it costs a LOT more so I can’t really see the point.

One of the best things about the group was having plenty of people to raise eyebrows at, during yet another local guide speech with a unique historical perspective, or to nudge when another statue or mural of the Kims came into view (“look who’s been here!”)

The drawback of course is that some people are annoying, especially some of the ‘well travelled’ types who are drawn to this type of tour. After a while I’d hang back at lunch and dinner, whispering urgently to Bernd “wait, WAIT!” until the most annoying of our companions were seated and I could choose a spot as far away from them as possible.

Overall though I would recommend going in a group and especially with Koryo Tours who were excellent – reliable, informative guides and a well run, organised operation.

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