Today was the day I had been waiting for, when I would arrive in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (aka DPRK / North Korea). I’ve always been a person that likes travelling to unique destinations where I feel I can learn a lot so when I saw this holiday advertised I had to do it!
After a quick breakfast in the hotel, which was really busy as usual, I caught the subway and Airport Train to Beijing Airport ready for my flight. The Airtrain ticket I was sold didn’t work, so it seems I was sold the wrong ticket again, but I eventually arrived at the airport and passed through security to the check-in area.
In the check-in queue I met some of the others from my tour group but when it was our turn to be checked in they couldn’t find us on the system. We thought something had gone wrong but it turns out that we had been moved onto another flight to DPRK that was leaving 30 minutes later. Panic over! After checking in for our new flight we proceeded through to the departure lounge for some last minute shopping and a chance to get to know each other before arriving in Korea.
Next to where we were sitting was a brand new Russian built Air Koryo jet, but this was the flight we were removed from. I remembered that only one of the new planes had been delivered so went to see what was at our departure gate and, to my excitement, it was one of the really old Tupolev jets that had been taken out of service recently but the news didn’t go down well with Celia, who was afraid of flying, but I was rather excited.
Our flight to Pyongyang was a new experience. I had to duck to get into the cabin, photos weren’t allowed in the plane even when it was in Beijing, there were no doors on the luggage racks, there was a minimal safety demonstration, the panels of the plane had gaps in them, water dripped on me, there was a card with instructions on how to put our lifejacket on without there being any lifejackets under our seats and the seats did this when you touched them…
Presumably this is why they have begun replacing the old fleet with brand new jets. During the flight we were served a basic meal but it was a showcase of what was to come – basic and generally cold but tasted nice. We had salmon cakes, salad, potato curry, rice and fruit cake. I was sat at the window so could see all of the scenery go past – we flew pretty across the West Sea and over the North Korean coast but we seemed to take a big loop around to get to Pyongyang considering how little air traffic there was so maybe they wanted to avoid flying over something sensitive like a military base.
Our flight went without a hitch and after landing at Pyongyang we made what seemed like a very long taxi to the terminal. On the way we passed a lot of old Soviet-era planes which made the kid next to me and Celia very excited. His name is Oli and he’s from a school group that was visiting from Hong Kong and wants to train to be an Air Force Pilot so it was, in his words, “like being in a 1960s cold war film”. Time for a few photos by the plane before buses arrived to take us to the terminal.
Immigration and customs went very smoothly considering we were the back of a queue containing people from three different flights. During the queue there were a few kids waving at us from the departure lounge above although they were quickly moved away by some guards. Between Immigration and Customs we met our guides who took our phones away to be kept locked up for our duration in DPRK (there is a mobile phone network in the country but foreigners aren’t allowed access to it, or even to keep their phones on them).
By the time our entire group made their way to the coach it was too late for the planned city tour so we made our way straight to the Yanggakdo Hotel where we would be staying for a few nights on an island in the middle of the Taedong River – presumably so we didn’t wander off. On the way to the hotel the roads were rather quiet but we did see a few people cycling around on bikes being directed by the infamous Traffic Ladies. We were given a brief introduction to our week and the things we would see as well as being given a few facts about North Korea.
The rules of the tour were simple – no wandering off, no leaving the hotel without a guide, no taking photos from the bus while it was moving, do not take possession of North Korean Won (only pay in foreign currency) and follow any instructions the guides give you.
After checking into the hotel, which had a very impressive lobby I must add, we were given 30 minutes to relax in our rooms before dinner would be served. I was assigned a room on the 40th floor overlooking the river as were a few other people but two of our group had rooms on the 33rd floor which I was told these had equally impressive views. Dinner was simple – kimchi (pickled spicy cold cabbage), veg, fish, rice, a few meats, soup, noodles plus a variety of drinks both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.
I’m back in my room now but after dinner I browsed the hotel shop and had beers in the bar with some of our fellow guests the Moncktons. It feels so surreal to be in North Korea but I’m really happy to have made it. My room has a lovely view over the city and river and it’s so quiet – there are almost no noises in the city other than the occasional generator, car horn and police whistle.
(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.)