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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
We passed along Kwangbok Street in the western district of Pyongyang a few times during our stay in Pyongyang and the apartments here look fairly good and were certainly the best looking ones in the city. The street is 6km long and 100 metres wide and has over 25,000 apartments running either along it or in its vicinity.
Some junctions (intersections)in Pyongyang do have traffic lights but these didn't seem to be working when I was there. Instead, Pyongyang is full of rather attractive, young traffic ladies dressed in a blue skirt with a white uniform jacket and hat. They hold out a red and white baton that glows at night and stand in a circle in the middle of the junction. They wave the baton in the direct that the traffic wants to go in. They do almost robotic like movements with their heads to look at what traffic is approaching from each direction and then swivel themselves around to face the oncoming traffic. An Icelandic guy on my tour got quite carried away by taking pictures of them from our bus and we pointed them out to him as we passed.
Vehicles are few and far between especially given that Pyongyang is a capital city of around 2 million people. There are some newish looking cars around but they are mostly either old Mercedes or old Volvo's that have come through Russia. Cars, here, have four different coloured registration plates - white for state owned, yellow for private, blue for aid workers and black for military. There are hardly any street signs, buildings signs or advertising billboards. Everything is plain and uncluttered. The streets are very clean and tidy which is due to them being washed down twice a week and large teams picking up any litter. Housing is almost all apartment blocks, some of which don't actually look too bad from the outside. But there are some pretty rough looking ones too. Some of the best lie in the western districts of the city.
Erected in 1961 this 46 metre monument depicts a winged, soaring horse of Korean folklore that could gallop a thousand ri (400 km a day) being mounted by a worker and peasant woman. The worker holds the red letter of the Central Committee and the peasant woman clutches a bag of rice. The Chollima movement began during a plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Korean Workers Party. The speedy horse of legend became the symbol of the post-Korean War reconstruction movement ("maximum production with evincing thrift").
This will be one of the first sights that you'll visit as part of your tour itinerary and is a mandatory requirement that you have to do. We were told to stand in a line and show our respects to the 'Great Leader' and lay flowers as it is a shrine and people do 'worship' at it. We were also told, when having our photos taken in front of it, not to put one of our hands in the air like the 'Great Leader' is doing so as to not be disrespectful. The statue itself is made from bronze but was originally covered in gold leaf but apparently at the objection of the Chinese, was later removed. The 20 metre high statue was erected in April 1972 on the occasion of the 60th birthday of Kim Il Sung but was originally going to be 60 metres tall but was reduced in size due to his modesty. The large memorials standing on either side symbolise the history of the Korean people's revolutionary struggle. The red flags in the shape of a tower are 22.8m long. The sculptural groups are 5m high and are 50m long. The mosaic figure behind the statue is that of Mount Paekdu, a sacred mountain and it measures 70m long and 12.85m high. Take a walk around to the right of the statue and view the buildings on Moran Hill.
You'll find these all over the country and they're straight out of the first page of the book on how to be a communist dictator leader. Simply plaster yourself on buildings, walls etc so that the general population know, everyday, that you are their leader and that is that and that nothing else matters in their lives. Give them hope that things are good and going well when, in essence, things are damn right terrible. I have to admit that these murals are actually quite nice and colourful in the drab environment and were what I wanted to see as part of my trip.
After arriving at Pyongyang airport and even before we had checked into our hotel, we were whisked along to our first attraction - a Children's Palace. I think it was at the Pyongyang Students and Children’s Palace and not the larger Mangyongdae Children’s Palace but it doesn't matter where we were. What matters is what we saw and heard. We were first greeted by a guide (she could have been a teacher) and led to a classroom where children were doing calligraphy paintings using thick black ink. They were all orderly with nice clean, crisp uniforms on and didn't look up at us at all. Another classroom had children doing embroidery.
After the artist children, we were then led into another classroom where children held huge accordions that nearly dwarfed them as they were sitting down on small stalls. They started playing a short tune, where we applauded afterwards and were then taken to other classrooms with other children playing instruments such as guitars, grand pianos, electronic keyboards, (with some children who only look like they're 5 or 6 years old), and on the gayageum (a 12-string traditional Korean zither-like instrument). All were very good and very accomplished.
Next up on our classroom tour was to see children using PC's. Quite interesting given that the country doesn't allow internet access and that no-one can afford a PC. What was more interesting was that the PC's were using the English version of Windows XP and not the Korean version.
Next it was a walk through the upper floor of a large open hall with children doing Taekwondo, (the Korean martial art), down below us. One end of the hall had boys whilst the other end had girls.
The final part of our tour around the Children's Palace was to see the children put on a performance for us, other tourists and locals/parents. Various children, some of which were very young, came on and sang, danced and played instruments and the whole 40 minute or so show was very good indeed but you do go away thinking if the children are naturally gifted or have been forced into performing for us tourists.
Pyongyang, North Korea
Good for: Families
Staying in Yanggakdo Hotel is the most freedom you will experience in Pyongyang. You are allowed to...more
Chongchun Street, Mangyongdae District, Pyongyang, North Korea
Good for: Solo