Fun things to do in North Korea

  • Pyongyang Television Tower
    Pyongyang Television Tower
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  • Kijong-dong Village - from the Joint Security Area
    Kijong-dong Village - from the Joint...
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  • Introduced to their new leader - Kim Il-Sung
    Introduced to their new leader - Kim...
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Most Viewed Things to Do in North Korea

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    Grand People's Study House

    by Willettsworld Written Sep 10, 2008

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    This huge building dominates the western side of Kim Il Sung square and you good an excellent view of it after you've been shown around from a balcony that overlooks it. The North Korean education system (Juche Education, if you like) is based on the principle of "study while working". The building was built as part of the extensive construction in Pyongyang in honour of President Kim il Sung's 70th birthday, in 1982. The architecture is traditional Korean with 34 saddle roofs topped with 750,000 green tiles whilst the inside features imposing marble floors and balconies and wonderful lights. The Study House has some 30,000,000 million volumes within it and we were shown around various rooms including a study hall, with the two Kim's looking down on everyone, that featured an old library card system, a large room full of PC's (that, obviously, weren't connected to the internet), a music room full of old style portable stereo units (1980's style "wog box" or "ghetto blasters"). We were treated to listen to some western music such as The Beatles and, for some reason, Mariah Carey! The next room had some people watching videos on portable TV's that played the videos.

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    Pyongyang Metro

    by Willettsworld Written Sep 10, 2008

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    This was one of the main things I was looking forward to in Pyongyang - a ride on the city's metro. Firstly, we entered down some steps off a street into Yonggwang station which is located just to the north of the main overland railway station. We hung around by some ticket barriers waiting for our guides to get coin tokens which cost 5 won each (about 4 US cents). We were shown an electrically operated map on the wall which showed us 2 lines - the north-south Chollima line (named after a mythical flying horse, the Korean Pegasus) and east-west Hyoksin (Renovation) line. When you pressed a certain button at the button of the map, the relevant station would light up to tell you its location - futuristic stuff! There are 17 known stations altogether, although it is believed that more lines and secret stations exist for military and government officials. Stations have names like Paradise (Rakwon), Triumph (Jonsung), Renovation (Hyoksin) and Reunification (Tongli) which beat our boring station names like Baker Street and Paddington on the London Underground! The whole metro system is entirely underground and is the world's deepest with many stations being more than 100 metres below the surface. We were lead down a step, long escalator with no advertising on the walls unlike any other metro system I've been on and reached the platforms which features lovely wall murals and sculptures. The best thing at this particular station are the enormous chandeliers which are coloured pink, green and yellow. A train came in to the station whilst we were taking everything in and taking photo's and a whole crowd of well dressed people got off and walked past us without taking much notice of us in jeans, t-shirts and shorts! It is said that all of this is staged for each tourist visit and it did have a Trueman Showesque about it. Make the most of this as it'll be your only time that you get to mix with 'everyday' North Koreans. Yonggwang station features columns that are shaped like Olympic torches with arches sprouting out of the top, which look like flames. After spending about 10-15 minutes on the concourse, we got on a train which had the portraits of the Kim's looking down on you and then got off at the next station. I've added a short video taken by our tour cameraman. More excellent information can be found by visiting the website below.

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    Pyongyang Circus

    by Willettsworld Written Sep 10, 2008

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    One evening we went to the Pyongyang Circus which is located in the western suburbs on Kwangbok Street. Now, it's been many, many years since I last went to a circus and this one didn't disappoint. The acts that we saw including trapeze artists, a lady balancing a long pole with something on top in her mouth whilst climbing up a rope, a young guy balancing on a series of cylindrical tubes, a young girl doing some more balancing of some form or other, an obligatory strongman and North Korea's answer to a clown. One of the acts (which I didn't really enjoy) featured a black bear standing on its hind legs and jumping over small dogs. It was a bit cruel but you can see why it was entertaining but not really my cup-of-tea. The circus trip wasn't part of our itinerary and we had to fork out €20 (20 Euros) for it.

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    Kumsusan Memorial Palace

    by Willettsworld Written Sep 10, 2008

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    First occupied in 1976, the 4-story Kumsusan was originally the Kumsusan Assembly Hall, and was Kim Il Sung's official residence. One year after Kim's death, in 1994, the hall's windows had been bricked over and the giant building became a giant mausoleum, housing Kim's embalmed body in a glass coffin awaiting the bows and lamentations of DPRK citizens. Foreigners are sometimes invited to visit but our tour party wasn't. Instead, our guide had to ask permission of a policeman for us to stop and take photos of the building from a road running from it.

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    Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery

    by Willettsworld Written Sep 10, 2008

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    The Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery is located on Mt Taesong, which lies to the northeast of Pyongyang and, again, is probably going to be on everyone's itinerary. It contains many busts of revolutionary figures which even include Kim Il Sung's mother, Kang Pan-sok. The cemetery was inaugurated in 1975 and enlarged in 1985. Some nice views of the city can be seen from it.

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    Pyongyang - May Day Stadium

    by Willettsworld Written Sep 10, 2008

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    The May Day Stadium is located on the Rungra island in the Taedong River. It was completed on May 1st 1989, hence its name and can accommodate some 150,000 people making it the largest stadium by capacity in the world. Its scalloped roof features 16 arches arranged in a ring, and it is said to resemble a parachute or a magnolia blossom. While the stadium is used for sporting events, it is more famous as the site of massive parades and shows celebrating Kim Il-sung and the Korean nation. In May of 2002 it was the site of the colossal and meticulously choreographed "Arirang" gymnastic and artistic performance in honour of Kim Jong-il's 60th birthday. The extravaganza involved some 100,000 participants — double the number of spectators.

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    • Architecture

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    Monument to the Foundation of the Workers' Party

    by Willettsworld Written Sep 10, 2008

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    This monument is located directly in the line of sight of the large bronze statue of President Kim il Sung on Munsu Hill in Pyongyang. Erected for the golden jubilee (50 years) of the KWP founding by Kim il Sung in October 1996, the tower measures 50 metres (around 160 feet) in height and its three components are a hammer, sickle and writing brush which represent the worker, the peasant and the intellectual. The writing brush is Korea's addition to the traditional Communist symbols of the hammer and sickle. Surrounding the tower structure is a kind of stone belt, which has a diameter of 50 meters. It represents a circle of Korean unity. The granite platform for the monument measures 70 metres (around 230 feet) which marks the 70th Anniversary of the DIU (Down with Imperialism Union), a precursor to the KWP, founded in 1926.

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    Kim Il Sung Square

    by Willettsworld Written Sep 10, 2008

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    Kim Il Sung Square sits on the west bank of the Taedong River. It was completed in August 1954 and had an area of 36,000 square metres before being enlarged to 75,000 square metres. The huge Grand People's Study House (which you'll probably visit to get a good view of the square) sits on the square's western side facing the river. As you look towards the river from it the buildings on the left are the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the headquarters of the Korean Workers Party and the Korean Central History Museum. On the right is the Korean National Art Gallery. There is also a reviewing stand and dais. There are banner icons of DPRK President Kim Il Sung and Karl Marx as well as banners of Songun slogans. This is the sight of numerous party/military parades and demonstrations which include torchlight marches and anniversary occasions. We never visited the square itself which was a shame but this may have been due to it being used by children rehearsing for the 60th anniversary of the DPRK celebrations.

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    Views from the Tower of the Juche Idea

    by Willettsworld Written Sep 10, 2008

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    These are the views of the city of Pyongyang from the top of the Tower of the Juche Idea. It is possible to go up to the top and admire the views and this will cost you 5 Euro but it's well worth it as you get to see virtually the whole city.

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    Tower of the Juche Idea

    by Willettsworld Written Sep 10, 2008

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    This 170 metre (560 feet) structure sits on the banks of the Taedong River in Pyongyang. It was erected in 1982 in honour of Kim il Sung's 70th birthday (there are 70 stones in the side for each year of his life). Juch'esong is the essential political philosophy of the DPRK, conceived by Kim il Sung and developed further by General Kim Jong il. Ju (chu) means master or lord and ch'e means the self, or the body. Hence, the literal translation one is likely to encounter is "self-reliance". The design of the tower was overseen by President Kim's son, Kim Jong il. There are 500 tablets laid under the Tower, with respectful words or slogans donated by President Kim's allies and friends from around the world. It is possible to go up to the top and admire the views and this will cost you 5 Euro but it's well worth it (see my next tip for the views). The tower is also lit at night until about 11pm or so.

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    Pyongyang - Three Revolution Exhibition

    by Willettsworld Written Sep 10, 2008

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    The Three Revolution Exhibition is located in the northern suburbs of Pyongyang and was opened in April 1993. It's basically six halls outlining the endeavour to implement the line of the three revolutions - ideological, technical and cultural. The six halls include the general introduction hall, heavy industry hall, light industry hall, agriculture hall, electronics hall and new technological development hall. We only visited the electronics hall which features a large globe shape and were the only people on the whole site. A guide took us up into the globe but only when there was some electrical power - remember, this is the electronics hall that we're visiting! Maybe it was part of the tour! Anyway, we got to see a short film about star constellations and planets plus North Korea's one and only satellite launch in 1998.

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    • Museum Visits

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    Ryugyong Hotel

    by Willettsworld Written Sep 10, 2008

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    I was going to put this in the hotels but thought twice about it! I had seen pictures of this monstrous building on the net before I visited North Korea and always thought it was on the outskirts of the city when in fact it's not from the city centre. You will be able to get very close to the unfinished hotel if you visit the Monument to the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War. Construction began in 1987 but ceased in 1992 due to the government's financial difficulties (it costs a reputed 2% of DPRK’s GDP, or $750 million). Some even say construction ceased because the concrete used was of poor quality. Whatever reason it is, it is one of the worst buildings I've ever seen and being 330m and 105 storey's high doesn't help it from being seen all over the city. I really wanted to ask my guides about it but knowing that I should really keep a fairly good relationship with them, I declined asking them. It must be such an embarrassment to the "powers to be" as it is a failure and I've even read that it has been airbrushed out of some publications. Must've taken a while to airbrush out!

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    Monument to Victorious Fatherland Liberation War

    by Willettsworld Written Sep 10, 2008

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    This site was constructed in 1993 to mark the end of the active hostilities of the Korean War. It is a white stone park of bronze sculptures depicting various battles of that war. It is dedicated to the "Korean People's Army and Korean people who defeated the US imperialists and its allies during the Fatherland Liberation War." The intended highlight of the monument is a bronze soldier shouting "hurry". This monument is based on Berlin's Victory Tower which was erected following Prussian defeat of the French in 19th Century Europe.

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    The Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum

    by Willettsworld Written Sep 10, 2008

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    This was one of the highlights for me whilst in Pyongyang. We got off our bus and were met by a woman dressed in an army uniform carrying a long stick. She took us through a series of rooms that outlined the North Koreans view of the Korean War and how it was started (basically by the "US imperialists", as they call the Americans). She showed us various documents and photographs to back this view up but we all knew otherwise, of course, but kept quiet. Anyway, this museum was opened in August 1953 - just a few weeks after the cease-fire of the Korean War so the North Koreans couldn't wait to show off their booty in the form of captured American military weaponry such as shot down planes, tanks, guns and shells.

    The museum was expanded in April 1974 and covers a total floor area of 52,000 square metres. It has 30 exhibition halls and over 80 show-rooms as well as a circular cyclorama that revolved very slowly showing the battle to liberate Taejon. The best part of the museum lies in the basement which is full of American captured tanks that don't have a scratch on them, other American military vehicles, the wreckage of a few American shot-down planes, North Korean aircraft, tanks and other military vehicles as well as captured shells and guns. The museum was actually built around all of this which explains why a plane’s wings are right up against structural pillars. More photo's can be found in one of my travelogues.

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    • Historical Travel
    • Museum Visits

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    Propaganda Murals

    by Willettsworld Written Sep 10, 2008

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    Instead of advertising billboards, you have propaganda murals. These show strength and power to the people, defiance over hardship, working for the better good of the country etc. They're straight out of the "how to be a communist country" manual and are all over the city so that the general public see them every day. If you visit the Stamp shop in Pyongyang, you can buy smaller copies of them as posters or postcards.

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North Korea Things to Do

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