Get to know your Kims
The purpose of this review is to introduce you to the key people you should be familiar with prior to visiting North Korea. You will certainly be well aware of them before you leave unless you close your eyes and plug your ears for the duration of your trip! Should you read my other reviews/tips you will encounter reference to, and more details on, these people with, perhaps, monotonous regularity. Welcome to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea!
North Korea and the Kim family dynasty are inextricably linked. North Korea today is essentially the Kim family and the Kim family is North Korea.
Apart from infrequent reference to a few early kings the history of North Korea will appear as if it commenced around the beginning of the 20th century and the only people you will hear about within the DPRK will be Kim Il-sung, his first wife, Kim Jong-suk, and his descendants. When I say descendants I mean his son Kim Jong-il and his grandson and current leader (though not supreme leader – in the sense of President) Kim Jong-un. While Kim Il-sung died in 1994 he still holds the title and position of Eternal President of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Inquires, to guides, as to the siblings/off-spring of the leaders are answered in one of two ways – either you will be told that such information is secret or it is not known. This may appear odd but the only people of importance in North Korea are the leaders – essentially, why would you be interested in anyone else? Guides will appear perplexed. The leaders are gods, great military men, song-writers, composers, writers of opera’s and general purveyors of advice and wisdom on absolutely everything. In the sense that absolutely everything bad and wicked in North Korea is directly attributed to the United States everything good and wholesome is attributable to one or more of the three Kims.
The peoples' (those whom I had contact with and saw) respect for, and allegiance to, the leaders will probably end up being my most enduring memory of my trip to North Korea. While in North Korea you will be expected to show respect for the leaders and you will be well briefed on this topic long before you get to North Korea. There are a number of rules applicable to visitors to North Korea and number one of these is that you will respect the leaders, past and present. This means among other things:
• You will not speak in derogatory terms about the leaders – you are permitted to discuss politics and have your views – don’t cross the line and offend
• You will bow (bending at the waist with your hands by your side) and present flowers before statues, mosaics, and other representations of the leaders as appropriate – your guides will direct you in this regard and I will refer to it in other tips
• You will, when permitted to take photos, of statues of /monuments to the leaders ensure that you take in the full figure – no pictures of parts of figures. If you are in the picture you will stand respectfully in front of the statues – no “v” signs, outstretched arms in imitation of Kim Il Sung, no “picking” of the leaders noses, etc.
• In the event that you obtain a newspaper (including the weekly English language Pyongyang Times) it is almost certain that one or more of the leaders will be depicted on the front page and throughout the paper. You will not scrunch up such pictures, use them to wrap your shopping, etc and you will not fold the newspaper such that a crease is embedded on a leader’s face.
While the above may seem rather draconian and indeed ridiculous to some readers, in North Korea it is seen simply a matter of showing respect for the beliefs and customs of the people. You are not being asked to convert but rather show respect in the same way as you would remove your shoes before entering temples, etc in other countries.
You will be clearly advised of these and a number of other requirements by your tour company before you sign up to go to North Korea. Literature from the tour company I used was very explicit and clear – if you feel unable to comply with the rules then they simply but clearly ask that you do not go to North Korea. That’s fair.
I have somewhat digressed from the Kim’s.
There are five Kim’s that you need to be aware of as depicted in my pictures attached. You will see statues, images and other depictions of Kim Il-sung (picture 1) and Kim Jong-il (picture 2) everywhere, typically displayed together, with much fewer depictions of Kim Jong-suk (picture 4). Apart from news articles and similar you will not come across depictions of the current leader, Kim Jong-un (picture 3). Such depictions are forbidden.
The final Kim that you need to be aware of is Kimchi, (picture 5) which you will encounter twice a day, at lunch and at dinner.
The leaders (living – noting that Kim Il-sung remains the Eternal President notwithstanding his death in 1994) of North Korea since 1948 have been:
Kim Il-sung - 1912 - 1994 (leader 1948 – 1994)
Kim Jong-il - 1942 - 2011 (leader 1994 – 2011)
Kim Jong-un - 1983 - (leader 2012 - )
Dates given, especially birth-dates, are open to debate.
I have referred to the various Kims as leaders – in reality they each have, and continue to have, a multiplicity of titles. For ease of reference within the DPRK the Kims are often referred to as:
Kim Il-sung - President
Kim Jong-il - General
Kim Jong-un – MarshalRelated to:
- Historical Travel
It is not normal that I include a tip on my pages recommending that readers watch TV when they visit a location, but North Korea is not your everyday normal location.
I am not suggesting that you spend a lot of time on this activity as half an hour will suffice for all but the most ardent and loyal party member, unless you have access the BBC service (which I will come back to later – suffice to say here that ordinary North Koreans do not have this access). Off course, all (non BBC) programming is in Korean but don’t let that deter you.
Television (and indeed radio and all segments of the press) is under the most strict control of the State. The few that can afford to buy a television will find that it comes pre-tuned to North Korean stations and any attempt to adapt it to receive foreign stations is a most serious criminal offense. Large amounts of money are dedicated to blocking foreign radio and television signals and blocking devices have priority when it comes to allocating scare supplies of electricity.
There are four major television stations in North Korea. During the week broadcasting starts at 5pm and finishes around midnight. At the weekends and on national holidays broadcasting starts at 9am and concludes around midnight.
All North Korean stations, in one way or another, promote the Worker’s Party position and demonize all things Western. The typical line-up includes news, revolutionary operas, patriotic music, army choirs, and documentaries on the Worker’s Party, Kim Il-sung and his successors, military parades and locally produced movies. There are also patriotic and revolutionary soapies, lest you be missing Coronation Street or Neighbours during you visit to North Korea! There are no commercials.
If you get a chance, you really should watch the evening news. While in Korean, you will get a jist of what is going on from the tone of the newsreaders. Wikipedia nicely sums this up:
“Newsreaders use one of four tones—a lofty, wavering one for praising the nation's leaders, an explanatory one for weather forecasts, a conversational one for uncontroversial stories, and a hateful one for denouncing the West”.
North Korea’s most famous newsreader, until her retirement in January 2012, was Ri Chu–hee who was the anchor newsreader with Korean Central Television from 1974 to 2012. More an actor than a newsreader, peasant born, Ri could turn on joyous emotions when praising the leaders, tears on their deaths and the most vitriolic diatribes and visible anger when denouncing the West. Perhaps her most famous rendition is her announcement of the death of Kim Jong-il in 2011. This is available on the Internet and I encourage you to have a look – for instance http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9M7egqcX90I. If you find this a little depressing you may enjoy the enthusiasm of another newsreader as she announces the launch of a rocket - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w7J2Nnl7Ano.
Outside our Pyongyang hotel room our access to TV was limited to North Korean stations when we had a TV, reception and electricity at the same time, which wasn’t often.
I referred earlier the BBC. As a foreign visitor and resident of the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang we also had access to the BBC news channel. In the little free time I had I preferred to watch Korean TV – not even the BBC can match a North Korean army choir singing revolutionary songs!
My pictures accompanying this tip are of the Pyongyang Television Tower. I have included a short review on this on my Pyongyang page.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
Admire the Flowers of the Leaders
Should you visit North Korea it will not take you long to realise that anything of any importance is named after Kim Il-sung (or more recently, since his death in 2011, Kim Jong-il).
It will thus come as no surprise that the most important flowers (trumping the national flower, the magnolia) in North Korea are the Kimilsungia and Kimjongilia. Yes indeed, that is what they are called - I kid you not.
What may come as a surprise is that neither of them are natives to North Korea and indeed the Kimjongilia is Japanese. I am not sure how this fits in with the Juche philosophy of self-reliance and independence.
Over their lifetimes, the two Kims have amassed hundreds of thousands of awards and gifts from overseas. These are on display for all to see. Visitors to Kumsusan Palace of the Sun (The two Kim’s mausoleum) in Pyongyang can examine two very large roomfulls of awards (degrees, certificates etc) and those visiting the International Friendship Exhibition on Mt Myohyang can indulge themselves two massive buildings full of gifts (noting that live animals were donated to the zoo!).
The Kimilsungia and Kimjongilia are gifts from Indonesia and Japan respectively.
In 1965, while on a stroll through the Bogor Botanical Gardens in Indonesia with President Sukarno, Kim Il-sung stopped to admire a particular flower – a violet hybrid orchid. Sukarno indicated that the plant had not yet been named and said that he would name it after Kim Il-sung. 'Modest' Kim declined Sukarno's offer but the latter insisted that Kim was entitled to such a great honour for his great exploits, already performed, for the benefit of mankind. So was born the Kimilsungia.
The government owned Korean Central News Agency (KNCA) referred to Sukarno’s gift as “a symbol of the great love and genuine admiration the people of Indonesia have for the Great Leader”.
The Kimilsungia has since become as immortal as the Great Leader himself and each year Kimilsungia flower shows are held throughout the country to coincide with the Great Leader’s birthday. I got to go to two such shows during my visit, one in Pyongyang and one in Sinuiju. You can find a review of each show on the relevant location page – suffice to say here that it is rather peculiar to attend a flower show basically dedicated to two flowers (the Kimjongilia is also displayed at the Kimilsungia shows though it has its own shows in February).
The Kimilsungia is a tropical plant not at all suited to the harsh climate of North Korea, especially in winter. As such it is grown (in great quantities) in heated glasshouses which get priority in terms of electricity allocation over freezing peasants. During the time of the country’s greatest famines the KCNA reported on how patriotic citizens asked that their home heating systems be shut down so that there was enough electricity to grow the Kimilsungia.
The Kimjongilia, its flower strangely larger than that of the Kimilsungia, is a hybrid tuberous begonia and was cultivated by Japanese botanist Kamo Mototeru to commemorate Kim Jong-il’s 46th birthday in 1988. It represents the Juche revolutionary cause symbolizing wisdom, love, justice and peace and friendship between North Korea and Japan.
For those who thought that a 98 page book dedicated to a flower (the Kimjongilia with significant reference to the Kimilsungia) would be fairly heavy and bland reading experience to anyone other than a botanist pick up a copy of ‘Kimjongilia - The king flower has appeared and spread abroad’ at the Foreign Language Bookshop in Pyongyang. You will find it rather light on botany but heavy on the glorification of Kim Il sung.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
Have a Coke and Choco Pie
This may seem a rather mundane and indeed extraordinary thing to include in “things to do” or indeed any other category here on VT.
However, as most readers will be aware North Korea is without doubt the most closed and secretive country on earth. For North Korea, arch enemy number one and the very devil incarnate is the United States which, we are told, is to blame for all the ills and woes of the country despite the heroic efforts of the Kim dynasty.
While the US and many other countries have very strict controls as to what their citizens/companies can export to North Korea, North Korea also has very strict controls at to what foreign goods (read influences) are permitted into the country (unless of course they are for the Leadership in which case anything can be imported). Suffice to say, one would have thought that what many see as symbols of American imperialism would be absent from the North Korean landscape. Indeed you will not find McDonalds, Pizza Hut, PepsiCo, Starbucks or any other US based companies in North Korea. In fact there are very, very few foreign entities with representation in North Korea.
You will find Coca Cola (including my preferred Coke Zero) and it is the ‘Real Thing’!
When I say that, you will not find a Coca Cola office here or a bottling plant but you will, relatively easily, find the drink. It and many other, albeit less prominent, western items are smuggled into the country via China and a number of other Asian countries. It was especially interesting to see the quantity of Singaporean items (biscuits, snack foods and the like) available. Officially Coca Cola cannot be bought or sold only in two countries in the world – North Korea and Cuba.
Off course, just because these items are on sale at shops and restaurants frequented by tourists it does not mean they are readily available in local supermarkets, etc. I do not know.
The one foreign item that I know locals do (or perhaps now - did) have access to are South Korean Choco Pies – something which currently has the potential to create a diplomatic crisis. A Choco Pie comprises two small round layers of cake with a marshmallow filling and chocolate covering - picture 2 from Orion Company Website - (similar to Wagon Wheels for those who can identify with them).
Why are these pies causing such concern?
In 2004 North Korea opened a special economic zone/ industrial park in Kaesong about 20km north of the South Korean Border. Around 120 South Korean companies have set up business in this area and overall the endeavor has been a great success for North Korea and presumably also the South Korean investors. The zone employs around 50,000 North Korean workers. While the workers are paid in cash for their work, cash bonuses are prohibited so the South Korean companies have taken to paying bonuses in Choco Pies and herein lies the problem.
The locals immediately took to the taste of these pies and their value on the black market soared (to several times their original value). The initial reaction of the North Korean Government was to make its own Choco Pies (copied from the South Korean pie – no worries about copyright in North Korea). The 'loyal' North Korea citizenry did not like the new Choco Pies and continued to pay over the odds on the black market for the South Korean pies. Is such dissent the beginning of a revolution?
Why would the North Koreans have developed this fetish for Choco Pies when delicious army produced food is available? Picture 3 from the Korean Central News Agency shows current Leader Kim Jong-un inspecting and offering guidance to the army on its alternatives to the Choco Pie.
The Government has now banned the payment of bonuses via Choco Pies. What happens next remains to be seen as I write this review (July 2014) though some reports suggest that workers are now being paid bonuses, etc in sausages, instant noodles, powdered coffee and cold noodles!
Back in 2012 South Korean–based DailyNK reported that members of various defector organisations sent balloons filled with Choco Pies and CDs critical of the North Korea Government into the country (picture 4 copyright Yonyap - DailyNK). Look up when you visit it might be raining Choco Pies.Related to:
- Food and Dining
- Arts and Culture
Be aware - The Media/ Press & Freedom of Speech
Article 53 of the North Korean Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and thus freedom of the press in North Korea.
Because of this constitutionally enshrined freedom North Koreans and its media have absolute freedom to say anything positive about the Leaders, the Worker’s Party and the country in general. In fact they are strongly encouraged (required) to do so.
Freedom of speech / of the press in no country permits people to say or print what they like. Most of us are not permitted to abuse others through racial vilification, slander, defamation, etc, etc.
In North Korea this restriction on absolute freedom is interpreted as not being permitted to say anything negative about the Leaders, the Worker’s Party or the country generally!
Consequentially the North Korean media is one of (if not the most) strictly controlled in the world. While the government may not directly run every media outlet in the country their only source of information is the State run, Korean Central News Agency. Given this all media outlets serve as mouthpieces for the regime and all are certainly monitored.
Members of the press must be ideologically sound and approved, as must their families. It is extremely difficult for foreign media to gain access to the country and when they do they are escorted by especially trained guides and minders. Tour companies who bring in journalists as ‘tourists’ are subject to severe penalties –including their loosing their license to operate in North Korea.
We came into contact with the press on one occasion, in the Kim Il-sung Stadium on the occasion of the Pyongyang Marathon, but what we saw is reflective of what I have seen in other televised events. The press officials all dress in the same grey outfits, carry rather dated equipment and, it would appear, come equipped with a personal step ladder- see pictures attached. The gentleman on the left in picture 5 looks like an interloper of some sort - possibly a rare example of an official foreign journalist as there were a few at the Marathon.
Watching television, especially the news, is an event not to be missed in North Korea and I have prepared a separate tip on this, rather plainly entitled – Watch TV.
In terms of newspapers there are a number of Korean language papers available in addition to one weekly English language paper – the Pyongyang Times.
Local papers, in addition to presumably being on sale somewhere, are displayed in public places such that the people can have ready and free access to the ‘news’. What a shame it would be if the masses somehow were not fully aware of the heroic exploits of their leaders and their latest revolutionary thinking or were unable to read about the latest on-the-spot guidance delivered!
You will almost certainly find a copy of the Pyongyang Times in your seat pocket as you fly into the country. Don’t forget to retain it as a souvenir. In the event that you do not get one from the plane or that you want some back issues they are readily available to buy in the Foreign Language bookshop and in hotels (especially in Pyongyang).
One thing all papers, Korean and English, seem to have in common is that they have a picture of the current leader on the front page (in addition to numerous more throughout). Given this, it is important that you treat your newspaper with respect. This means, no throwing it in the bin, scrunching it up or folding it in a way that results in a crease across the Leader’s face. Engaging in any of these actions constitutes insulting and disrespecting the Leader something that comes with a severe penalty for a North Korean. As a tourist take care not to offend your guide by insulting their Leader.
My main photo is of a local newspaper displayed for commuters to read on a platform in the Pyongyang Metro. Hardly a very flattering picture of Kim Jong-un, and yes there is even a crease across his chin – probably breaches a couple of the rules I referred to above.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
Be an Extra on the World's Largest Film Set?
Having spent a number of days in North Korea it was time to visit the Korean Feature Film Studio, or more specifically the film sets as we did not get into the studios themselves.
This got me thinking. Join me in my thoughts.
In many senses, and outside our stroll in the Moranbong Youth Park and a few other isolated exceptions, it had felt like we had stepped onto a film set the minute we boarded the Air Koryo plane in Beijing and every thing we had seen and experienced since was make believe – a good attempt at reality but nothing, in fact, real.
Before you think, ah yes I have heard that everyone in the subway, everyone in the streets, etc are paid actors, I hasten to add that this is not what I mean and I do not accept that this is the case.
My sense that everything was unreal and I was an extra on a movie set arose from many factors (please do forgive my generalisations here) including:
• The streets are empty and lack colour compared to cities of comparable size in other countries. This is because North Korea is not a consumer society – there are no colourful shops, pubs, cafes, etc, there is no advertising and there is a dire shortage of fuel. As such there is no reason to be in the streets apart from going to and from work and the shortage of fuel keeps cars of the excessively wide boulevards and streets
• The only urban areas we got to ‘experience’ (and I use that term in a broad sense), as opposed to skirt around or drive through were Pyongyangand Sinuiju (on the Chinese Border). Entry to Pyongyang by locals is controlled – you will not see the impoverished or beggars there so to a degree it is a show city. So, rather than being filled with actors, undesirables are not let into Pyongyang. Sinuiju is a bit different – here given its size you do get to drive (through necessity) through poorer parts of the city which are similar to poorer remote cities in neighbouring China. Sinuiju is probably not a typical North Korean town as is economy is, to a degree, linked to is proximity to China – hard to say though as I cant compare it to other rural North Korean cities
• You are under the constant surveillance of your guides and other minders so you cannot stop and have a look in street A and you will be shown street B. You are shown exactly what your guide (aka the Party) wants you to see and their presentation is scripted. Off course this is the case on every tour, anywhere, but in most cases this regimentation is done to keep tours on schedule and ensure you see the highlights as opposed to being a positive effort to stop you seeing things
• You will hear nothing negative about the country, its leadership or the Party. You will hear loads of negative things about the US and nothing positive. If only the real world was so black and white
• Everything is done for, or aimed at, a single purpose – glorifying the leadership - anything else is not necessary and often not permitted
• The Pyongyang Traffic Police (beautiful young ladies) stand in the centre of intersections directing non-existent traffic. This admittedly is a bit of an anomaly. The lady traffic police were created by the Great Leader, Kim Il-sung to improve drivers’ concentration in the city
• Entertainment is to a large degree provided by the government –I exaggerate but it is a bit like - today you will watch the Marathon, today you will dance, today you will attend a military display in Kim Il-sung square, today you will come and admire the Kimilsungia and Kimjongilia (both flowers) at the flower show, today you will have a picnic, etc
• People seem not to think for themselves – why do they need to when the Leaders provide everything they need? If the leaders decree they need or don’t need something then they basically accept that they need it or they don’t. Frankly they know no better.
Given the above and much more you could conclude that the whole country is a film set for a movie called “How shall we praise Kim Il-sung today?” You could otherwise conclude that you are in a totalitarian dictatorship and what you see is real but that you are not seeing everything, indeed far from it.
Not much difference really?Related to:
- Arts and Culture
Enjoy the darkness and bring a Torch
To include this review under warnings and dangers would be to exaggerate the impact on a visitor. It is more something you should be aware of and indeed I invite you to turn it to your advantage and enjoy the darkness.
Without doubt the most famous and best recognized North Korean photographic image is not taken in North Korea at all, but rather from space and at night.
The attached 2012 image is a composite one put together by NOAA's National Geophysical Data Center from data collected by the US Air Force Weather Agency.
It bluntly reminds us that North Korea is an impoverished country and of its isolation from the rest of the world. It need not be like this.
At a most basic level it is indicative of how little electricity North Korea has. Many readers will have heard of this shortage and how power outages are a regular feature of life throughout the country.
The shortage of electricity and likely power outages were acknowledged by our guides. While the guides can do a very good job of telling you black is white, even the most non-observant tourist with sight can work out for themselves if it is dark or not at night. In apologising for the fact that you may encounter power outages, especially outside Pyongyang, our guide hastened to add that blame for this lay fairly and squarely with the United States and its initiated embargoes which made it difficult for North Korea to import fuel and the equipment necessary to produce electricity. In the same manner the US is blamed for the lack of vehicles on the roads.
In relative terms Pyongyang is bathed in light – it’s the white blob on the attached image but even in Pyongyang power outages occur on a regular basis.
During our 10 day stay in North Korea we encountered perhaps half a dozen power outages. All were of a few minutes duration and most happened as soon as we sat down to eat dinner!
We had no outages in our Pyongyang hotel – the Yanggakdo - which I understand has its own generators. Just as well if you are on the 40th floor.
More noticeable than outages is the fact that the street lighting, neon lights, lit up advertising hoardings, bright security lights, etc that we are all so familiar with elsewhere are pretty much non existent throughout the country.
Quite honestly, I enjoyed this lower level of light and it reminded me of growing up in country Northern Ireland where the only outside lights we saw at night were the stars and the flicker of town lights in the distance. While not advocating that we cut our electricity consumption by 90% plus, a visit to North Korea certainly made me think about how much electricity, and power generally, is needlessly consumed in other countries.
I advise that you bring a torch on your visit to North Korea but based on personal experience power outages were not as common as I had anticipated and it was fun cooking petrol baked clams by bus light – but more about that on my Nampo page.
There was certainly ample opportunity to recharge camera batteries and the like though I always carry an extra battery anyway and advise that you do likewise.
Getting that little extra
We built up a good relationship with our 3 guides and whilst we were not 100% compliant we were always very respectful to them. Mostly the guides like to herd you as a small pack so that your time interacting with locals is kept to a minimum. However, it is possible to over-rule sometimes.
There were a number of occasions when we decided we wanted to play with the locals on the local stalls set up for Liberation Day, such as temporary shooting practices. Our guides tried to protest but (and I guess this is where having children was advantageous!) we were so excited and then the locals were so excited that they had to back down and let us... and you need them to back down because you are not going to be in possession of any local currency which is what is required to play! (your guides pay and then charge you in Euros or Yuan). It is a great way of mingling a bit more. After we did this once our guides were more relaxed about us doing it on other occasions - I think it is all to do with trust and respect... but you get so much more out of your trip when you can have that human contact with people other than guides. On one shooting stall occasion several other groups of tourists went past and made noises about wanting to also have a go. There was absolutely no question as to that being allowed and they got herded on their way.
You will have an itinerary from the agent with whom you booked your DPRK trip. You should print it and bring it to DPRK with you, fro reference.
The day you arrive in the DPRK you will have an itinerary meeting with your guide(s) and any other people you are in a group with.
It seemed to be usual/standard practice that on that first evening the itinerary is restricted down and then for certain activities (in particular those that involve mixing with local people) to be reinstated once the visitors have proved themselves as respectful visitors not wishing to cause trouble! On the first night the funfair was a cancelled activity and no amount of grumbling was going to see it reinstated. However, by day 3 it was no longer any problem to go to the funfair... So, a word to the wise... behave yourself and you get to do as much as you can be trusted to do!!!
For some reason the newly opened war museum was also a challenge to visit (and there did not appear to be other tour groups visiting it) but we got there (although I got the impression our main guide had to work really hard on our behalf to make it possible!)
Also be aware that every year the monsoon rains cause flooding which damages and destroys roads and bridges. Itineraries may have to be adapted to compensate for areas that, as a result, are not possible to reach.
Taedonggang Maekju is a beer brewed in North Korea, but still surprisingly for sale in South Korea. We bought a bottle for 10,000 Won ($9 US) on a tour of the DMZ. While expensive, its price is comparable to average beers where we live in Tokyo.
The beer comes in a big .75 liter green bottle with a label entirely in Korean. The design on the label features a large, modern bridge over the Taedonggang River in North Korea. Taedonggang pours a golden color, with a thick, lasting head. The taste is surprisingly good, without a doubt better than most South Korean beers.
Taedonggang beer is brewed in Pyongyang and named after the Taedong River which flowed through the North's capital city. The brewery was purchased by North Korea from England in 2000. The brewery was moved to Pyongyang, and it opened in 2002. This beer was first exported to South Korea in 2005, though the demand seems to be very low, partly due to the exorbitant prices. In North Korea, this is said to be the most popular beer, and even at foreigner restaurants, it sells for less than $1 US a bottle.
DMZ - Panmungak
ُThe most impressive building on the North Korean side of the Joint Security Area is called Panmungak. This gray, three-story structure was completed in August 1969, and it houses the North Korean JSA guards and it serves as a waiting are of North Koreans participating in talks with the South. This facility is occasionally open to the North Korean people who visit the DMZ.
When people visit the south side of the JSA, northern soldiers stand watch with binoculars. Occasionally you will also see a curtain pulled up in Panmungak so a guard can snap pictures of visitors.
DMZ - Military Armistice Commission Buildings
At the center of the Joint Security Area, straddling the Military Demarcation Line, stand a series of silver and baby blue United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission buildings.
All visitors are allowed to enter the center UNCMAC building where peace talks are held. But be wary of the burly South Korean soldiers standing in Tae Kwon Do stances with sunglasses -- they guard the door leading to North Korea. They serve a dual purpose -- to protect visitors from the North Koreans, but also to prevent people from entering the North. While in this building, you may step across the line into the North...but only for a few minutes until your tour continues.
DMZ - Third Tunnel of Agrression
The Third Tunnel of Northern Aggression is located near Panmunjom at the DMZ. It was the third of four confirmed tunnels dug by North Korea to establish invasion routes into the South. There are believed to be at least 20 tunnels from the north to the south in total, and it is estimated that the tunnels would allow 30,000 soldiers an hour, armed with light weapons, into South Korea. The tunnel was discovered in 1978, when its location was revealed by a North Korean defector.
Today the third tunnel is a popular tourist stop when visiting the DMZ from Seoul. There are two entrances to the Southern side of the tunnel, one via tram and one that must be descended and ascended on foot. The tram is much easier, but not always available. The walk takes 5-10 minutes each way, and does get a bit claustrophobic once you enter the small, wet, dark portion of the caves made by North Korea. Directly under the DMZ, the south built three walls, 2 of which can be viewed by tour groups. Unfortunately photos are not allowed at the walls under the DMZ, and most tour guides tell visitors not to take photos anywhere in the tunnels.
DMZ - Propaganda Village
Kijong-dong is the official name of a small village located on the North Korean side of the border int he DMZ. It is one of only two villages in the entire DMZ, along with the South Korean village of Daeseong-dong.
Kijong-dong is known outside of North Korea as "Propaganda Village," mainly because most of the town is fake. The buildings, constructed in the 1950s, appear to be empty concrete shells without rooms or windows, but wired with electricity for the illusion of inhabitants. Also, until 2004, load speakers in the village broadcasted propaganda messages into the south. Finally, Propaganda Village is also home to a 525-foot tall flagpole, but solely to be taller than the 323-foot tall flagpole constructed on the South Korean side of the border.
DMZ - Dorasan Station
Dorasan Station, on the on the Gyeongui Line, is the last train station before the North Korean border. For about a year trains were allowed to pass through this station and across the border to Kaesong's industrial city, but these only ran from 2007-2008.
The station may no longer be an active gateway to the north, but it is the terminus for four trains per day from Seoul. From here, visitors are very close to Dora Observatory and the third North Korean invasion tunnel. You can also buy a souvenir ticket to Pyeongyang, 205 kilometers to the north, for just 500 Won (USD 0.50). The station lies 56 kilometers from Seoul.
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