Favorite thing: It is hard to imagine that in a city of its size, most life stops at sunset. Electricity is a premium that most locals cannot afford, so the skyline at night is void of many lights. The only lights you are guaranteed to see are those illuminating important monuments or more directly put, portraits of Kim il-Sung.
At 8:30 at night, the streets are empty of people, only the random person running home after working a late shift. Street lights are very few and far between. Buildings typically turn on their lights when you enter and turn them off again when you exit.
P'yongyang is the only place that from the center of 2.3 million people, when I opened my window, all I heard was the sound of the wind and chirping of crickets. There were no sounds of cars, traffic, music, parties or even conversations.
Guides at attractions
Favorite thing: At a few places that we visited we were met by female tour guides who showed us around. We basically turned up at the doorstep in our bus at each attraction and were shown around by these guides. Some spoke English and some just Korean which was then translated into English for us by either one of our government appointed tour guides.
Kim's are always watching
Favorite thing: One thing you'll notice everywhere you go in North Korea is that there'll always be at least one Kim looking down on you whether it be Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il or both. I first noticed this whilst walking around a Children's palace shortly after we had arrived from Beijing as their portraits were in all of the classrooms. They're even in every single train carriage on the Pyongyang metro! Most public buildings will also have their portraits hanging from the walls.
Juche Tower monument
Favorite thing: The Juche Tower (officially the Tower of Juche Idea) is a monument in Pyongyang, North Korea. Completed in 1982, it is sited on the eastern bank of the River Taedong, directly opposite Kim Il Sung Square which is situated on the other side of the river. It was made to commemorate Kim Il Sung's 70th birthday. It is claimed that it was designed by Kim Jong-il.
The 170 meter (560') structure is a four sided tapering 150 meter spire (the tallest one in granite) containing 25,550 blocks (365 × 70, one for each day of Kim Il Sung's life, excluding supplementary days), dressed in white stone with seventy dividers and capped with a 20 meter high, 45 ton, illuminated metal torch. It is possible to ascend the tower. It is presumed to be modeled on the Washington Monument, which it surpasses in height by less than a meter.
Associated with the tower is a 30 meter high statue consisting of three figures—one with a hammer, one with a sickle and one with a writing brush (an idealized worker, a peasant and a "working intellectual"). There are six smaller groups, each 10 meters high, symbolizing other aspects of Kim Il Sung's ideology. Also close to the tower is a wall of 82 friendship plaques, apparently from foreign supporters. Around the tower there are also pavilions and water features. It is claimed that the tower has become a popular site for North Koreans.
The tower is named after the principle of Juche, developed by Kim Il Sung as a blend of autarky, self-reliance, isolationism, Korean traditionalism, and Marxism-Leninism.
Pyongyang, the capital, often experiences power shortages; however, the Juche Tower is always brightly lit to preserve symbolic strength.
You will only get to see...
Favorite thing: You will only get to see Pyongyang as part of a wider DPRK pre-organised tour, and you'll only get to see the bits the North Korean's want you to see. It would be a mistake to treat Pyongyang like any other capital city. Pyongyang is a huge showpiece capital - one enormous monument - into which the DPRK [see my other page] sank huge resources to make it a monumental city extolling the virtues and success of the Kim Il Sung-based Juche ideology. It's a new city, built from the bubble of the korean War in the period after 1953. There are massive, 14-lane highways with no cars, huge monuments in every direction and massive buildings to commemorate events or North Korean culture. It is also very sterile, there are very few people about and no-one seems to be enjoying themselves in any way, shape or form. There are no shops of any type that I could see - just think about that next time you're in a city - and there's very little sign of people involved in business or commerce.
It's a bit like a movie set after all the filming has ended. You can't help but get the impression the huge showpiece buildings are just that - for show. There are a number of fairly antiquated fairgrounds, but no-one was ever in them. The huge and dedicated sports complexes (built for the Olympics that never came) appear to be deserted.
The picture is a monument to Kim Il Sung's victory in the war against the Japanese - note it's KIS's victory - not the Korean people's victory. called the Arch of Victory, it's built to be higher and wider than the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, as the guide delights in telling you.
Fondest memory: It's not an easy place to fall in love with, but the people are unfailingly courteous. Pyongyang is one huge set-piece after another, but the trip to the Children's Palace to see the children performing takes some beating as a spectacle.
DON'T FORGET - CLICK PICTURE 'FULL SIZE' ABOVE TO APPRECIATE THE PHOTOGRAPHS. (Thanks to the donors - esp. Simon Bone)
Favorite thing: The roads in Pyongyang are generally good and smooth with very little in the way of bumps or potholes. I was quite surprised to see this scene of the roads being repaired whilst we were on our bus.