I had a bit of a restless night last night as the beds were very hard but luckily today wasn’t as rushed as the last few days so I was able to take it easy.
The first stop was the Pohyon Temple which is a Buddhist temple located in a lovely mountain woodland setting. We were shown around by our guides and were told how much of the complex had been destroyed during the Korean War so a few buildings we could see were reconstructions but that many of the buildings were still originals. We had a chance to meet one of the Monks and ask questions before being shown the monastic archives which were so fragile they were being kept in argon gas to preserve them. I’m definitely glad this was part of our itinerary as it’s beautiful, however we met some of the tour groups from other tour companies while here (notably Koryo group) and the groups were so large and the people so loud and annoying that I feel we definitely had the better group – word of advice tour with Regent Holidays if you go to North Korea.
After the temple we were taken further up into the mountains to visit the International Friendship Exhibition which is a series of huge bunkers built into the mountainside containing presents given to both Kim il-Sung and Kim Jong-il. To tour the facility we were required to put shoe covers on to avoid scuffing the extremely well polished floor – in fact it was so well polished that even with the shoe covers you could easily have skated along them.
The gifts included everything from Ming vases and an ornamental sabre to a crocodile and even a bulletproof train that was given to Kim il-Sung by Josef Stalin. All trip we had been trying to guess what gift had been given by Regent Holidays but we were wrong – I won’t say what the gift was see if you can guess it but you probably won’t. The last room we were shown contained some of Kim il-Sung’s favourite gifts and also a waxwork of the late president. In this room we were required to act respectfully as the National Anthem was playing in the background, and then to bow at the waxwork as we walked past.
Overall we were only able to see maybe 20 of the 200+ rooms filled with gifts before being shown to the roof of the building for a coffee overlooking the stunning mountain scenery, and due to time restrictions we were only able to see one of the rooms in Kim Jong-il’s section which was a bit disappointing but it was getting close to lunch so after the brief tour of the second section we returned to our hotel for lunch. Although the less said about this particular lunch the better.
After lunch our guides walked outside the hotel compound with us for a few minutes so we were able to see some of the town before getting back on the bus to return to Pyongyang and see the Military Circus. The journey back to Pyongyang was everything I expected North Korea to be, in addition to the beautiful mountains we saw rice fields, coal powered factories, hay carts, people cutting crops by hand and a road repair crew that consisted of nothing more than two men with a shovel and a bucket of cement. It’s a shame we weren’t allowed to take pictures from the bus as we would have got some really good photos but rules are rules.
We arrived at the Pyongyang Military Circus a little early so asked our guides if we were able to step outside and take a few pictures of the building before the performance started. They agreed but initially one of the ticket collectors stopped us saying we weren’t allowed back outside. I’m not sure if we were using the wrong entrance, or if having foreigners leave before the performance would have been a bad image, but our guides smoothed it over for us and we were able to walk around outside with our guides for 5 minutes or so before going back into the building to take our seats.
The circus wasn’t part of our itinerary but all I can say is wow. It’s a performance you have to see to believe as it was so good – perfect performance, stunts that they would never try in the west and overall very impressive. We weren’t allowed to take photos during the performance which was a shame but it was genuinely the best circus performance I have ever seen even beating the Moscow State Circus and other famous European ones. There was a high trapeze, juggling, comedy acts, acrobatics and much more all without safety nets. If you visit Pyongyang definitely enquire if you are able to visit the Military Circus as you won’t be disappointed.
After the circus it was out of Pyongyang along a 5 lane highway with no traffic to the city of Nampo where we would be staying the night at a hot spring resort. We had to ask directions to find the hotel as we were running slightly late so took a shortcut and got lost but we found it in the end. After dinner I decided to head straight back to my room to relax rather than go to the games room with the others as I’m starting to get weary after not sleeping much last night. I’ve just had a bath in the natural salted hot spa bath in my room which was a new experience but hopefully it’ll let me sleep better tonight as I need to be up early for breakfast.
We’ve been told we will definitely have a chance to see the Arirang Mass Games tomorrow and this has made me very excited.
(Please note – I have been given permission to include details of my trip on my blog by the tour company but the names of my guides as well as photos of them have left out to respect their privacy. It is forbidden for journalists to visit The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on a tourist visa and it is forbidden for us to publish information about our trip in any capacity without permission. As a result I do NOT give permission for anything I write about North Korea in this blog, or any photos I upload of North Korea, to be used anywhere for any purpose other than reading directly on my blog if you are considering travelling to North Korea as a tourist. In addition I do NOT give permission for my name, my blog’s address, or any photos of me to be used or quoted anywhere for any purpose related to The DPRK. If you breach this notice you will be subject to legal action from the tour company. Thank you for your understanding.
If you feel that the post / page containing this notice breaches any regulations or if it contains any information or photos which should be changed or removed to respect the rules of the tour company or the traditions of The DPRK please let me know ASAP so I can fix the problem.)