Today was a day I was both looking forward to but also dreading at the same time. I was looking forward to heading home back to my creature comforts and being able to both browse the internet and use my mobile phone but, at the same time, I also wished I could stay in the DPRK a few more days to see some more sights and avoid the 24 hour train journey back to Beijing. Luckily the train journey back was quite fun.
It was a leisurely start to the day today and after breakfast we all met back in the lobby to be re-united with our mobile phones before catching the bus to Pyongyang Railway Station. We had a small issue at this point in that one of our group forgot to give his mobile phone to our guide and it was taken off him at the airport by one of the security guards. When we handed our phones to our guides they were issued a receipt which they used to get our phones back for us but in the case of the other guy on our tour he had the receipt and didn’t notify our guides so they were unable to get his phone back in time. Luckily when we arrived at the station somebody that was leading a group from another company offered to collect it and send it back to the UK with somebody from his next tour group.
Our group were split up into several compartments on the train. One of us was travelling all the way to Moscow so was in a separate carriage which left 9 of us split between 3 different 4-bedded compartments. The way we worked it out was 4 guys in one, 4 girls in the other and the last remaining guy was in the 3rd compartment with some German tourists in another carriage.
The journey through Korea was slow but we saw a lot of nice scenery along the way plus some more traditional North Korean farming towns. I am unable to post photos of them online as we were not supposed to take any photos from the train while it was moving but there was plenty to see, and it also gave us a chance to chat with the other members of our group in relative freedom compared to what we had experienced in the previous week.
The border checks were extremely thorough and during the two hours we spent on the North Korean side our passports were checked several times, our bags were checked, customs and immigration forms were checked and we also had the photos on our camera checked by both Army and Government officials to make sure we didn’t take photos of anything we shouldn’t have. The bag search provided some amusement as the Army official was rather confused by the covers of some of my CDs, the designs of some of my t-shirts and he laughed at my Gorilla pod for my camera. The final check was having a metal detector wand passed over us to make sure we weren’t hiding anything and it was then time for our phones to be taken out of their packages by an official before our carriages were shunted over the border and we were allowed to turn our phones on. My phone had run out of battery somehow while it was in North Korean custody so either the battery is coming to the end of its life or the on-off switch was accidentally pressed while it was in its package. Either way I was able to charge it up using the power socket in my compartment.
As we crossed the bridge into China we saw how built up the border town of Dandong on the Chinese side was compared to the opposite number in North Korea. The Chinese have built huge skyscrapers with neon adverts and search lights on top – probably for no other reason than they could and wanted to show off to the Koreans. Border checks on the Chinese side only took an hour of the designated 2 hours – our passports and immigration forms were checked before our temperature was checked and we were asked to fill out a health declaration. After the formalities we had some free time to say goodbye to Robert who was going to Moscow, and use the station facilities, before getting back onto the train for the journey from Dandong to Beijing.
As soon as we left Dandong we made our way to the restaurant car for dinner but were beaten by Oli and the other members of the Hong Kong school group who were also apparently travelling back to Beijing with us. After a short wait a table became available for us and we were treated to more food than we could eat all for 50 Yuan (£5). Lukman is a vegetarian so they cooked him up a fresh meal of only vegetables and egg for half the price.
I had to improvise while making the bed on the train that night – the pillow was so thin it was almost non-existent and the mattress was dirty enough for me to need to cover it with the blanket we had been given. Luckily I prepared for such an emergency and brought an inflatable pillow and sleeping bag liner with me so hopefully I’ll manage to get some sleep tonight.
(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.)