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North Korea

North Korea

Old Nov 2, 06, 7:28 am
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Originally Posted by bensyd
It seems to me the NK Gov keeps the populous in a constant belief that they are under threat to deflect attention away from the huge social and economic difficulties they have.
...Thanks you for sharing this with us.

Last edited by onedog; Nov 2, 06 at 11:18 pm Reason: Lets leave politics for Omni
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Old Nov 2, 06, 8:12 am
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Originally Posted by martian
This one has. A thoroughly fascinating report. Comparing Pyongyang to Canberra for nightlife? That's low! I'll definitely bookmark Koryo Tours towards a future visit if and after the current regime is gone. Of course, at that point it may well be a race to see who gets there first - me or McDonalds and KFC

Last edited by onedog; Nov 2, 06 at 11:19 pm Reason: Lets leave politics for Omni
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Old Nov 2, 06, 9:46 am
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This is so interesting, and a very enjoyable read.

I remember in 1988, along the Silk route in China, I wanted to slip out of the hotel at about 0500 hrs, but found the door locked (no fire codes, apparently). I finally did get a porter to open the door, however. That said, what would have happened if you wanted to go on a little late night/early morning walkabout?

Also, I assumed that NK allowed these trips more as a way of getting hard currency, rather than trying to promote their system of gov't or provide a PR face to the rest of the world. However, I am not getting the sense that NK has much interest in foreign currency, in that you weren't taken anywhere you could buy handicrafts, slim pickings though they may be, unless that is further in the story.

I was surprised that a number of people who seem to study/have studied English, although Mandarin must be much more prevalent.

And, finally: what no tour of NK's nuclear and missile facilities.
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Old Nov 2, 06, 10:48 am
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Originally Posted by bensyd
Don't worry ironmanjt, I think you'll find Swanhunter is just as unimaginative as I am

Mass games will be back next year though....
Possibly - yes. I was there for Mass Games 2005, and was looking for a repeat, and promise of a "longer" trip this year. Oh well, maybe next year!
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Old Nov 2, 06, 2:26 pm
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great report bensyd ^^^
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Old Nov 2, 06, 4:31 pm
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I have to say, this is definitely the first report in a long while that I've read which has captivated me from the start. It really is a fascinating window into an incredibly isolationist and propagandized society.

Originally Posted by bensyd
at one point describing how "the people of the world were so devastated at the Great Leaders death that they wept tears that turned to crystal that became part of the marble you now stand on".
I'm especially surprised you were able to keep a straight face through this. I would have let a chuckle or two loose, but am sure would have then been summarily caned and flogged.

Your pictures as well convey a very eery feel to them when you see such large structures and roadways with almost no people or cars around them. I can't really imagine what that must be like to experience in person.

Anyway, excellent job! ^^ And I eagerly await your further posts!!
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Old Nov 2, 06, 11:09 pm
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theworld group was 10 people all male. 6 British a Swede a Pole and a guy from Hungary who kept pretty much to himself.

Seat 2A I stand by my statement about Pyongyang and Canberra

Jailer I should mention that after every site we visited there was the obligatory souvenir shop, unfortunately being a centrally run economy there isn't much variety in whats on offer. We were taken to a few "local shops" which I will get to abit later. I think the purpose of the trips from the point of the government in NK is for hard currency, but the tour guides and people you meet along the way see it more as showing off their country which for all its faults they remain very proud of, and there is a genuine sense of welcoming at you taking the time to come and visit them. As I said according to the North Koreans they all have to learn English at school, until the collapse of the Soviet Union Russian was the main language. Interestingly North Korea removed all the Chinese symbols in its alphabet to show their independance, South Korea did not. I don't think the North Korean people generally have much time for the Chinese.
And yes no tour of the missile sites unfortunatley, thats only available on the extended itinery.

Believe me it was very difficult and at one point I did have to pretend i was coughing rather than laughing....
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Old Nov 3, 06, 12:49 am
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Fascinating report. I thoroughly enjoyed the time and detail you provided. It's not often I comment on trip reports, but yours was very intriguing, especially since you are (seem) to be a younger guy and most guys your age would rather be at the beach looking at something else..lol

Great job and thank you for giving me and others an insight to a side of North Korea I never knew existed ^

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Old Nov 3, 06, 1:24 pm
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Great Trip Report - Many thanks for sharing ^
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Old Nov 4, 06, 1:39 am
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Our hotel in Kaesong was a traditional Korean hotel with traditional sleeping quarters, which in Korean means a hardwood floor with a duvet as the matress and a circular buckwheat filled pillow that means you can only sleep facing up, this probably works well for the Korean's who are of a smaller build but my 80kg frame struggled on it and I got very little sleep and was relieved when we got our wake up knock at 630 even though we had been told 730 was start time. This turned out to be a mistake which our Korean guides thought quite funny, and after we had all woken up we saw the humour as well. No shower facilities or running water either so we were back on the road feeling a little seedy from the beers the night before and the lack of facilities.

After breakfast we headed out to our first sight for the day. "The Concrete Wall", whose existance is actually disputed. According to the North Korean's it exists, and from what I saw through our binoculars there was a wall there, but the South Koreans and US both deny it exists and from South Korea it is not visibile. NK claims that the wall is about 20 metres wide and inside it SK and US have hidden tanks and other artillery should they ever need to launch an attack. Our guide for the wall was a very friendly military man in his probably mid 50's although I always find it hard with Asian people to guestimate age. He was happy to have individual photos done with just him, and seemed to really appreciate the fact that we had spent the time to visit and learn about his country. At the end of his talk about the wall and how we would shortly be visiting the DMZ he said he hoped we would all return one day to a unified Korea. The North Koreans believe that the US has occupied South Korea and that the SK's have been brainwashed into believing that the Kim's and everything NK stands for is bad. Of course this is not the truth, but any demonstrations against US military interests in SK recieve wide air time in the North, including the Air Koryo inflight magazine, as an example of the South trying to liberate itself from the imperialists. For this reason North Koreans do not speak ill of the South its more in the same sort of way as you would talk about a relative who has lost their way and you feel sorry for.

After giving our guide the obligatory pack of cigirettes, which before going you are advised to bring in as gifts, we were back on the road heading for the main attraction of any Korea visit, the De-militarised zone. Theoretically the two countries are still at war having only agreed to a ceasefire, and it was a part of that ceasefire that led to the creation of the DMZ. Just before entering the DMZ there is a sign written in Korean, that says "Seoul 70km", and our new military guide says to us that one day he hopes we can travel all the way to Seoul. This time I guess because it is such a hotspot we have our military guide and 3 soliders who board our bus and accompany us. Inside the DMZ rules prohibit soliders carrying anything but pistols, which creates a weird sense of irony in being one of the most heavily fortified areas in the world but not actually being allowed to carry any heavy arms in. To my surprise as we enter the DMZ which is effectivley no man's land there are people farming inside it. Our first stop is the building where the Armistace was signed, and as had become standard we were told how large the building was and then told something along the lines of, "The Great Leader said that the building would need to be built fast so 1000 men completed it in a week". The building itself is quite plain inside and has a hall about the size of a country church where the table where the Allies under the UN flag sat and signed the armistace. Also in the building we are shown a map of where we are and where we are about to go, the map also includes the famous North Korean flag pole which is the largest in the world in the town of Panmunjeon in the DMZ and the South Korean one that I think they have made deliberatley smaller, the pettiness of it does make you wonder whether there are men running the show or school boys.

Back on the bus and we are now heading down to the border. In the end the actual border turns out to be a bit a fizzer. The South Koreans must have been on a flexi-day when we were there and there are none to be seen. Our guide explains that they only appear when they are showing tourists around, which makes we wonder whether all this puff is just a show for us. I mean I had been expecting to be able to cut the tension with a knife and instead I see more tourists than soliders. Still it is interesting to be on the front line, and we are ushered into the room that is the only place where you can stand with one foot in SK and one in NK. As soon as I walked in I thought to myself this place must be administered by the South, and the only thing that gave it away was the smell of leather, something sorely missing in the vinyl clad North hanging on one of the walls on the South side there is a framed collection of the flags of all the countries who fought in the Korean war, again it makes me wonder why the NK singled out the US for all its hatred, but figure with all these war types around I probably shouldn't ask. After touring the room we are taken into the large building that I guess is the North GHQ for the DMZ where you can look out into the South Side(who have their own building directly facing this one). The South I have heard claim that this building is not real and only for show, but well I can attest it is real and finished in the finest grey/green marble like just about every other NK building. After a few more minutes up there our time in the DMZ is done and we head back to our hotel for lunch, after the obligatory stop at the souvenir shop, which sells Ginseng liquor, which is a ginseng root in vodka, and tastes quite organic. On our way back to Beijing we tried mixing it with coke but it still didn't taste very good.

To be continued....more pics up....sorry they are taking so long I'm just working with a very slow connection
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Old Nov 4, 06, 7:55 pm
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Bensyd, this is just fascinating. Thank you for taking the time. A couple of years ago I visited the DMZ from the South and so it's doubly interesting to get your views from the North. It did seem a lot like a stage set and it was not clear what was real, although there was clearly a real conviction that the North might come rolling down at any point.
It is amazing how few people are in your photos. Did you see more actually on the streets? Could you tell anything about how real people lived their lives, ate, work, etc.? PLEASE just keep it coming!
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Old Nov 5, 06, 4:16 pm
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Very interesting to read this Trip report, especially now that Google Earth has some new images available of Pyongyang. I could follow your itinerary in the city to a large extent.

Thank you for this insight.
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Old Nov 5, 06, 10:52 pm
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Great report Bensyd. Is it true that old and pregnant women people are made to leave Pyongyang?
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Old Nov 6, 06, 11:45 am
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Thanks for such a captivating report! ^

Can't wait to
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Old Nov 6, 06, 5:38 pm
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Originally Posted by bensyd
After touring the room we are taken into the large building that I guess is the North GHQ for the DMZ where you can look out into the South Side(who have their own building directly facing this one). The South I have heard claim that this building is not real and only for show, but well I can attest it is real and finished in the finest grey/green marble like just about every other NK building.
Great report, I remember doing the DMZ tour when I was stationed in SK with th US Army in '94 and hearing that the building was just a shell and looked bigger than it actually was. After reading this report I had to pull out my photos from the DMZ.
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