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Old Oct 29, 06, 10:07 pm   #1
 
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North Korea

Ok So my first trip report here so bear with me.

Day 1: Flight from Beijing to Pyongyang, sightseeing in Pyongyang checkin at hotel.

Alright, I guess first off when you decide to goto North Korea you know that you will be in for something a little different to a Contiki tour through Europe.

We met outside the Red House hotel in Beijing where our tour departed from and after having met the previous day and being "briefed" on what to expect and how to act we set off for Beijing Capital Airport.

Checkin for Air Koryo was actually quite slow, although there was only our group checking in it still took at least 20 minutes, business class checkin didn't seem much quicker (would have been interesting to know how much extra for business class).

After hanging around in Starbucks with the group it was finally time to board. I must admit to being a little apprehensive about climbing aboard a Soviet plane that was showing its age, but seeing no alternative to getting to NK I held my breath and boarded. Inside the plane was obviously very well kept and would put most American carriers to shame, the FA's were friendly and genuinley trying to make a good impression, I guess when your country is an international pariah every bit counts. The seating is obviously designed for the much smaller Korean frame and at just under 6ft I was unable to lower my tray table it there just wasn't enough room I would say 25 or less inches of seat pitch.

Anyway after a brief queue we were up....very very slowly up....now I don't know if its the energy shortages and the crew attempting to drive their dollar further or its th plane, but it seemed to take an age to get any altitude. Once airborne and cruising lunch was served and wasn't to bad at all having not had breakfast after a big night the night before I was feeling quite peckish and ate everything I was given which consisted of a meat dish a vegetable dish a salad and some sort of desert I wasn't quite sure but ate it anyway.

Crossing the Chinese/NK border is when you get your first tangible taste of what's to come, the FA got on the intercom and announced we were, "now in the DPRK where the Great Leader President Kim Il Sung reigns in perpetuity and the Dear Leader Kim Jong Il is President of the Korean Workers Party".

15 or so minutes later we fell into Pyongyang Sunan Airport, and after an inordinate taxi (10 or so minutes at an airport that gets 4 flights/week) we had arrived.

Passing through immigration was fairly straightforward and customs was the same all my bags were xrayed and my backpack inspected and then I was asked if I had a mobile phone as I would have to surrender it, I didn't and I took my first steps into NK.

More to follow....
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Old Oct 30, 06, 5:39 pm   #2
 
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Originally Posted by bensyd
Checkin for Air Koryo was actually quite slow, although there was only our group checking in it still took at least 20 minutes, business class checkin didn't seem much quicker (would have been interesting to know how much extra for business class).
Interesting that a communist carrier has a Business class. Arenít we all meant to be equal ?
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Old Oct 30, 06, 6:30 pm   #3
 
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More!

I am *so* looking forward to reading more about your trip. People always think I'm a little crazy when I say I want to visit North Korea! Good to see I'm not the only one.
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Old Oct 30, 06, 8:49 pm   #4
 
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More please
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Old Oct 30, 06, 8:56 pm   #5
 
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I am curious how you organized a visa. was it difficult? sounds fascinating.
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Old Oct 30, 06, 10:19 pm   #6
 
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Originally Posted by martian
I am curious how you organized a visa. was it difficult? sounds fascinating.
You have to be on a tour, independant travel is forbidden after a BBC crew snuck in and did a story "Holiday in the axis of evil" I think if you hunt about you might be able to find it....

The best group is Koryo Tours

I'll post more hopefully tonight....busy day at work today
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Old Oct 30, 06, 11:37 pm   #7
 
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This trip report sounds very interesting so far. I can't wait to here more about it. I used to live in South Korea a few years back. It was around the time that South Koreans were being taken up North for a quick reunion with other family members. I would have like to have taken a tour of the North but the closest I came was a day trip up to the DMZ...scary sight.
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Old Oct 31, 06, 4:03 am   #8
 
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Ok so we have arrived and gotten through customs.

As I was first out I went looking for our English guide from the tour company and then headed out into the car park where we were introduced to our Korean guides whom I shall call Mr Lee and Mr Kim. Once we were all together we hopped on our minibus which would be our only means of transport for the next 5 days and made our way into Pyongyang. I was surprised along the road in at how green and fertile the land looked, unlike what I had been expecting barren wasteland. Very few cars along the road in most people seemed to walk and occassionally you would see bicycles, but as I later learnt these are actually quite expensive luxuries in North Korea.

Our first stop was the "Arch of Triumph", a wonderful Stalinist tribute to its namesake in Paris, but 4 metres higher. Everything maybe bigger in Texas until you get to North Korea. The actual arch was built to celebrate Korean independance from Japan, and is 50 metres high and 50 metres wide. To say it looks out of place amidst all the Soviet high rise apartments is an understatement. The Arch is over one of the main "highways" into Pyongyang and in the time we were stopped there I would say not more than 10 cars passed us.

After stopping briefly we were back on the bus to go to Mansudae Hill where a 65ft high bronze statue of the Great Leader (Kim Il Sung for the uninitiated) awaits us. This is a must for all visitors and we were required as a group to buy a wreath to lay at the base of the statue and then had to bow in respect. Interestingly there was a very extravagant wreath in the centre and we were informed that this had been "sent" by Kim Jong Il, I asked why he didn't deliver it himself and the guide just smiled but gave no answers, I guess he's just not one for ceremony. The top of the hill is actually quite peaceful and the monument itself is nicely set out with two statues flanking the main one showing Korean resistance forces in full battle.

After our visit up there we were off for a walk in the park. Which was actually quite nice and let us "mix it" with the locals abit. The first impression of them is that they are quite shy but curious of westerners. I guess having been brought up on a steady diet of "the Evil big nose imperialists are out to get" you lends itself to being a little standoffish but whenever I smiled and waved I would always get one back in return. At this point everything seemed a little bit to normal, ok, most countries you don't have to go and pay respects to dead presidents, but life just seemed to be very easy, and it made me wonder how much of what we hear in the West is actually a fabrication. While we were walking in the park we noticed "Pyongyang Department Store No 2", which appeared to be set over several levels when we asked if we could go in, we got a firm "no". Driving to the hotel we passed the department store and got a quick glimpse through the windows and then you realise things aren't always as they appear, there were probably more shoppers than products, and there weren't many shoppers.

Next stop was our hotel the Yangkakkdo International Hotel, which as we were to discover had obviously had the same interior decorator as every other building in NK, either that, or there was a sale going on grey/green marble. We had just enough time to check in goto our rooms and then head back out for a local dance below the tower of Juche (Juche is the self reliance belief that Kim Il Sung) devised. I did eye the bar on the way in and on the way out and pointed out to the guides that it was getting to beer o'clock and that we might possibly stop for a cheeky ale to give us abit more confidence with the local ladies. To my surprise they said we had time, and even better the day before they had just installed a draught beer machine, which I was informed was the only one in North Korea. The beer wasn't great but it did hit the spot.

So to our local dance. Which was a little odd. It was basically two huge circles one inside the other of 100 or so people each dancing to Korean music. But I have always said when in Rome so with that in mind, and with the aid of our guide I was paired up with a girl who spoke not a word of English and was very shy. Still, it was good fun and how many people can say they have danced under the Juche Flame. After 10 or so minutes I excused myself and waited by the bus to head back for dinner.

Dinner was surprisingly good, and as all meals tended to consisted of a soup, followed by a fish then a meat dish followed by vegetables followed by rice right at the end if you were still hungry, which we never were. You do actually feel guilty when you hear about the starvation and the rationing that the average North Korean has and then they watch you gorge yourself 3 times/day.

After dinner we retired to the bar where the draught beer flowed until the early hours or at least 11pm. Then bedtime.

Next...The Great Leader's Maosoleum....volleyball in the park...and road trip NK style to the DMZ
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Old Oct 31, 06, 12:45 pm   #9
 
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This is so interesting. Were there any Korean Americans on the tour?

Please post more when you get a chance -- really appreciate it.
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Old Oct 31, 06, 1:43 pm   #10
 
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I checked out the tour site and saw that US citizens are only allowed when the Mass Games are going on and they have been cancelled for this year. So, no US citizens allowed in until next year...hmm...
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Old Oct 31, 06, 3:00 pm   #11
 
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What a cool report to read on such an interesting place. Keep it coming.
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Old Oct 31, 06, 4:30 pm   #12
 
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Photos

Hi All.....

I have uploaded a few photos of my first day here. I will try and get some more pics+report up later today.

Cheers
bensyd
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Old Oct 31, 06, 5:24 pm   #13
 
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I'm in complete awe here. I'm reading this and viewing your pictures as if a veil has been pulled for a rare glimpse from a civilian's (westerner's) point of view. This is great reading. Please keep it coming!
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Old Oct 31, 06, 5:32 pm   #14
 
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Great report and great pics. keep it coming
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Old Oct 31, 06, 6:17 pm   #15
 
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this is really cool....I am totally hanging on for the rest...
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