A fairly leisurely start today. After breakfast and a fairly scary ride in one of the two lifts that went up the outside of the hotel we convened in the hotel lobby ready for our trip to the Kumsusan Memorial Palace – the former residence and now Mausoleum of President Kim il-Sung. For this visit we were required to dress smartly. I wore a short sleeved shirt and tie while some decided to go with full suit and tie and the women among us were dressed in smart female attire.
At the Palace we left all our bags, coats, phones, cameras and everything except our wallet in the bag check and proceeded through security to join a long queue that snaked through several corridors and down several long travelators before reaching the main building where we were greeted by the Finnish group again. After entering the building we were required to bow in unison at a statue of Kim il-sung before being given an audio guide detailing the mourning of the North Korean people in 1994 when the President passed away which we could listen to at our leisure while looking around the second grand hall. Then it was time to get in the lift up to the top floor to see Kim il-Sung laying in state.
We were escorted to the front of the queue past the locals and entered a dark room where Kim il-Sung laying in a glass casket guarded by armed officers. Protocol said we bowed at his head, then at his feet, then at his right side before leaving the room in silence. It was a very moving experience due to how serious they took things compared to when I visited Mao’s Mausoleum in Beijing. In Beijing they rush you through very quickly just to get the numbers through but here they take their time to allow everybody to experience the mourning in a respectful manner. Surreal doesn’t do the place justice though – this palace is huge and they take a lot of pride in it so if you’re going to visit North Korea and want to see Mao while in Beijing I recommend you see Mao first although they’re both worth seeing in their own right.
We had some free time to take photos outside and were allowed to wander around as long as we stayed in view of the guides before our next stop of the day, the Grand People’s Study House which is a library, archive and school all merged into one. We were given a tour of the building and shown several of the computer rooms, reading rooms and the borrowing system where the books come out from their storage room on trolleys like at the airport. We then spent a few minutes listening in on a lecture where some children were being taught English, or when we visited how to make excuses in English such as “It wasn’t me” and “I didn’t do it on purpose” before being shown one of the music rooms where they took pride in playing us western music (Yellow submarine) and talking about Michael Jackson.
After the tour we had coffee on the roof to look out over the city while our bus was being repaired, however it still wasn’t ready when we finished so we walked with our guides to the Foreign Languages bookshop to stock up on souvenirs. This shop seemed a little expensive compared to the others we had been in so far as it’s the main one for foreigners but it has most things you could want in there. A quick bit of advice here – one of our group had to walk barefoot at this point as her feet were hurting in her smart shoes due to all the walking we were doing so if you go to North Korea put a comfortable pair of shoes in your bag on the day you visit the Kumsusan Memorial Palace just in case.
After the bookshop it was a short walk to the Kim il-Sung square where were told a new bus was and driver would be waiting for us as the other one could not be repaired quickly enough. I’m going to miss the friendly smile the old driver gave every time he saw us but it was nice to know we had a bus on which to finish our tour.
Lunch was at a restaurant near the Koryo Hotel and was where we tried the infamous Pyongyang cold noodles. They definitely weren’t to my taste but they did allow me to learn how to use chopsticks properly as one of our guides decided to teach us (our knitting technique was apparently offensive). Then after lunch we visited the Stamp Shop for some unique souvenirs before being taken to the Pyongyang Maternity Hospital.
The Pyongyang Maternity Hospital is the main maternity hospital in North Korea and is where most people in Pyongyang are born. We changed into lab coats and croc shoes for the tour before being shown around. Some of the things we saw included the diagnosis rooms, treatment rooms, labs, wards, intensive care, private rooms in which there were some newborn babies with their mothers and also the visiting room which was where people could sit away from the wards and talk to their friends and family via video phone so they didn’t bring infections into the hospital. The hospital wasn’t up to the standard of some hospitals in the west but in North Korea they take pride in being able to do everything themselves so are proud of the fact they built this hospital and run it without any outside interference.
We made our way back to the Yanggakdo to collect our bags before being driven 2 hours north to the Chong Chon hotel at Mount Myohyang. On the way the scenery changed to how we were expecting North Korea to looks – Soviet style villages, less maintained roads and small isolated farm houses but the mountains our hotel is situated in are beautiful!
I was going to have a bath tonight but the hot water isn’t working so after dinner I joined some of our group for a few games of table tennis and snooker before calling it a night. Tomorrow we visit the International Friendship Exhibition which I’m looking forward to.
(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.)