Staying in Yanggakdo Hotel is the most freedom you will experience in Pyongyang. You are allowed to walk around the island without your guides, but that doesn't mean you won't be monitored. I took a short walk at dusk outside to take a picture of the hotel and a van followed me across the parking lot. When I sat down to see if it would drive by, the driver parked a few feet away from me and shut off the lights. After this, I assumed our rooms were bugged. Another American we met rode the elevator to the 7th floor and walked down the stairs to the mysterious 5th floor, which is missing from the elevator panel. He said there were large doors down the hallway and every one was locked. Immediately someone come to collect him and his guide showed up two minutes later, explaining that he must be tired and lost. He believes this is where they keep the control center for all the in-room monitoring. After watching youtube videos, I believe this is some type of surveying area because one of the rooms was filled with TVs and computer servers. The hotel has many shops. My husband was able to have pants tailored overnight for $50, and I bought shoes so that we could be properly dressed for visiting the Palace of the Sun where the bodies of their dead leaders are kept. You can also buy art, stamps, and books that share North Koreans understanding of history. I was also able to purchase some Won at the exchange counter for a highly inflated rate. There are several restaurants, including the revolving one at the top. Some of the shops were closed but could be opened if guests expressed interest in purchasing items. The staff was friendly and helpful. Like in all of North Korea, the food is bland and/or unappetizing for the most part. I was able to try dog soup in one of the restaurants that mostly caters to Chinese guests. Very spicy! The height of the building does provide for a nice view of the city. The rooms were comfortable enough, although somewhat tired looking. The beds were not as hard as I expected, and the shower was always hot. We had uninterrupted electricity during the duration of our stay and our AC worked fine. There was also a fridge in the room that was unplugged upon arrival but worked fine once we plugged it in. We hung the "do not disturb" sign on the door and could not notice that anyone had entered.
We were in P'yongyang during the week of the 65th anniversary of the foundation of the Korean Worker's Party, so the hotel was crowded with dignitaries. We'd often walk through the marbled lobby to be passed by uniformed army personnel, or women in the high waisted full skirt of the national dress.
Our room was up on the 37th floor. Out the window we could see the Juche Tower and the Tae Dong River. The beds, were comfortable, the windows opened(!) and the batchroom worked. Not much on TV.
The facilities in the hotel are fine. One can choose between the No 1 or No 2 Restaurant(!), or the Korean or Chinese Restaurant. We checked out the top floor revolving restaurant (almost deserted) and the basement Casino - likewise deserted. Elected not to try out the massage service (25 Euro), and adjourned to the Lobby Bar for 1 Euro beers. Tricky getting change though.
Unique Quality: There are some unique features of the hotel. Of course, the island location is supposed to make it easy to prevent tourists wandering around the city. I guess European tourists would stand out though. Two of our group tested out the theory that they might be challenged on leaving the island, but successfully negotiated the bridge, walking a few hundred metres along the riverbank before deciding to return. Wise choice. our guard later asked them how far they had walked. Not sure I'd recommend this practice.
The other unique feature surrounds the mysterious vanishing 5th floor. The story goes that as the number 5 is unlucky in Korea. I always thought it was No 4 (as is the case in China), but sure enough, there is no 5th Floor on the elevators in the Yanggakdo Hotel. After a few drinks in the bar, a group of us decided to check this out. If you walk up the STAIRS from the 4th floor, you reach (drum roll) the 5th Floor. It has low ceilings, and lots of what look like little offices. On the corridor walls are propaganda posters. What goes on here? We did not stick around to find out (or to be found out) and ascended the stairs to the 6th floor
My first night in the hotel, we met our guides Mr. Lee and Che in the hotel lounge. I asked them if it would be possible to go for a jog in Pyongyang. "Of course!", they said. You can jog around the hotel!" Great! I thought--I had noticed that there was a nice running trail completely around Yanggak Island that the hotel is located on.
But the next morning before breakfast I searched for a way to get to the path and couldn't find one. I asked Mr. Lee and Che how to get to the trail, but they didn't know. I asked a couple people at the front desk and they didn't know. So, that night I did some reconnoitering from the 38th floor and discovered the secret stairway that leads to the path.
The next morning was perfect for a run so I jogged down the stairs and found a way down to the river path. It's a beautiful place to run! Unfortunately, there are fences across the path so you can't jog completely around the island and you're confined to what I'd guess is a 1.5 km loop back and forth between the fences. OK so it's not a Runner's Paradise, but if you don't mind seeing the same scenery, it's definitely a nice place to run. Just before you get to the little house blocking one end of the trail, there is a set of stairs that will lead you through a little garden area and to the golf course. You can add that circuit to your run.
To find the secret stairs: Walk out the front door of the Yanggakdo Hotel, about 50m straight across the parking lot to the flag pole to the left of the main roadway. Go down the stairs next to the flag pole. The stairs end at a concrete bunker building. About 10m to the right is a footpath that will drop you down to another set of stairs to the river.
I think you can access the trail through one of the hotel restaurants, too, but I never saw any open doors, so I don't know.
Unique Quality: I especially liked the telephones in the bathrooms. Nice touch!
As you can't go outside and wander around the streets of Pyongyang at night, the Yanggakdo Hotel has some good amenities to keep you occupied at night. For starters there's a three lane computerised bowling alley, heated swimming pool, billiard tables and ping-pong tables in the basement, 2 or 3 shops selling food and drink and non-food items such as clothing and even old walkmans, a souvenir shop selling traditional Korean dresses and jewellery, a bookshop selling propaganda, a bar on the ground floor near reception, a casino, a Korean style karaoke bar, four restaurants including a revolving one with a bar on the 47th floor and a 9 hole mini-golf course. It's possible to exchange money for North Korea currency at official rates and to mail postcards and letters from a desk to the right of reception. Bring with you either US dollars, Euro's (including lots of change) and Chinese RMB as these are all accepted.
This is said to be one of the best tourist hotels in Pyongyang and it didn't disappoint. My tour party of 12 had rooms on the 39th floor which offered great views over the city. The hotel itself is one of the highest buildings in the city and is built on an island which means you can't get off if you feel like taking a walk. My room was very well decorated and clean and tiny, everything you expect from a western style 4-5 star hotel. I had a TV which actually had BBC World news as one of the channels, a fridge, safe, 2 single beds etc. The bathroom even came with hotel named little bottles of shampoo and soap etc. See my next tip on the hotels amenities.
Unique Quality: Ha! Well, where to start. Fairly normally inside but then you can't escape from it. Apart from that it has a bowling alley, swimming pool, billiard tables and ping-pong tables in the basement, 2 or 3 shops selling food and drink and non-food items such as clothing and even old walkmans, a souvenir shop selling traditional Korean dresses and jewellery, a bookshop selling propaganda, a bar on the ground floor near reception, a casino, a Korean style karaoke bar, four restaurants including a revolving one with a bar on the 47th floor and a 9 hole mini-golf course.
Most western tour groups are accommodated in the Yanggakdo Hotel, located on Yanggak island in the Taedong river. Tourists are allowed to walk outside the hotel, but since it is on an island they are not going to get far. The rooms look rather dated but they are functional, with constant electricity and hot water, foreign satellite channels on TV and a working but empty refrigerator. The hotel employees are reserved but occasionally even friendly.
The hotel, complete with meeting rooms, restaurants, a nightclub, and a revolving bar at the top, is located on a small island in the center of the Taedong River. Relatively isolated, with the only connections to the rest of the city being two bridges, the hotel seemed a perfect spot to house foreigners. Though free to walk the grounds any attempt to leave the island was regulated by our guides and the guards on the premises. We could leave - as long as we had permission and went with one of our guides.
The rooms were big with incredible views stretching from the heart of Pyongyang to the distant countryside. They had beds, hot water, fridges (though no little rip-off mini-bars in the People's Republic) and, for all we know, bugs. Any time we talked in the rooms we tried to keep things general, especially avoiding direct criticism of the Kim clan. Were they bugged? I don't know. Could we have gotten into trouble for saying something negative about the Kims? Again, I don't know. But there's something about the pervasive presence of big brother in the North that discourages regime commentary until the voyage home.
Directions: Located on the Yanggak Island
One of the biggest hotel in the country. We couldn't choose anything because agency arrange everything. Astonishing view guaranteed (not so many tourist for such a big hotel).
Bowling, beauty saloon, casino, karaoke hall, barber's, billiard saloon, shop, bookshop, post office.
Several restaurants. TV with not only N.Korean program (BBC international).
Also, we spent most of our money in hotel shops (souvenirs and chips and liquids).
Directions: in the middle of Taedong river on Yanggak island
Nothing to complain. Power was running all the time, water was hot (not necessairities in North Korea!) and our room was cleaned well.
Details about the hotel: 48 Stories, 1001 rooms, various restaurants, shops, casino, etc.
Unique Quality: You don't have a choice....
Directions: Located on the Yanggak Island, Pyongyang
Pyongyang, North Korea
Yanggakdo Island, Pyongyang, North Korea
Chongchun Street, Mangyongdae District, Pyongyang, North Korea
Chilgol-dong, Mangyongdae District, Pyongyang, North Korea