North Korea day 2
Day two was the official start to the tour and at 6:30 we headed out to the International Friendship Exhibition which was 168km away from Pyongyang. I was thinking cool, thats not too far, maybe it will take about 1.5 hours each way. As soon as we got onto the road I realised how wrong I was; the roads were as bumpy as an African safari. Suddenly 168km seems much further when your maximum speed is 50km/h. Three and a half hours of bumpy roads, so bumpy that I got airborne a few times, we arrived at the exhibition.
The International Friendship Exhibition
I was expecting just a standard exhibition showing off gifts to the country but this place was incredible. They have over 115,000 individual gifts in 120 rooms in two buildings carved into the side of a mountain. They said no photos so I had to leave my phone and camera in the reception which is a shame because the items in this building were incredible.
What annoyed me, is that we had driven 3 hours to be rushed through th building in less than an hour. Because there was a Chinese majority they rushed us through everything else and just spent most of the time looking at the Chinese gifts.
I walked slower with the English speaking guide and we looked at as much as possible. They had all sorts of crazy relics like; a bullet proof car from Stalin, solid gold carved AK47s, signed basketballs from Michael Jordan and ancient swords from Syria and so so many amazing items from almost every country. The gifts from the UK were only small but the most notable was a plate with Karl Marks’ face painted on. I told the guides he’s a great man and that he is buried in London and they looked so happy.
So after an hour of being rushed through this hall they took us to the wax works of the 2 former leaders and the General’s wife; each in their own room. The security had explicitly told everybody in the group to be quiet and respectful but of course the Chinese people were shouting and being rude, so the guides had to keep telling them to shut up.
Pohyonsa Buddhist Temple
After the International Friendship Exhibition, they took us to a nearby buddhist temple. Korea has a long history of Buddhism but now under their current government, religion isn't allowed. But they still have temples, presumably just for the tourists, I'm not sure.
It's nice to see them honouring their past, but it's bizarre because nobody is allowed to believe the religion. So the guys running the temple are there just for show as I guess they cannot worship anything other than the leaders of the country.
Pyongyang City Tour
For me, the reason I went to North Korea was to see Pyongyang so when I found out that we only got to see a few sights in the city I was really disappointed. I would have loved to go around Pyongyang; to go to the theme park, shooting range and go on a pub crawl. I guess that's for next time.
Kim Il-sung Square
First stop on the city tour was Kim Il-sung Square; the main square in the city. We passed through here the first night on the way to the hotel but now it was time to walk around the square. This is the place you see on TV and the location for the military parades where they drive tanks and missiles through the streets alongside thousands of people doing the distinctive North Korean marching.
The square is great, you can see the big building with the 2 leaders faces on at one end and then across the river at the other end; Juche Tower.
Juche tower represents the Juche ideology of self reliance and while they didn't teach us much about the ideology, the guides certainly talked about it a lot. It's a system thought up by the President but it's just similar to other Socialist systems.
Arch of Triumph
Yea, that's right; the Arch of Triumph. Only this one isn't in Paris. It's a socialist archway built to represent Kim Il-Sung's victory over the Japanese occupation and liberation of Korea. Or as I prefer to think of it; the end of the world war when USSR took control and appointed a dictator to run the country; but I guess that's just my version of history. It's the "tallest arch in the word" but it seems after a quick spot of Google research it's only the 6th tallest arch in the world.
Sino-Korean Friendship Tower
My tour was majority Chinese so they took us to the "Sino-Korean Friendship Tower", a monument dedicated to the bave Chinese volenteers that supported the Koreans against the US invasion. It's just a smalll tower and inside they have murals painted on the walls too depict what happened.
The murals show blonde haired white guys on the floor, with US flags getting killed by Chinese/Koreans. It also showed Russians in the murals being saved by the Koreans.
They talked about the chinese "voulenteers" that helped save from the US invasion. I'm not too sure about their version of events but I thought that the North Invaded the south with help from China.
Music School and Pyongyang Circus
After the city tour, we were taken to some random music school to check out their after-school performance. I'm not sure if these people do this every day but i'm thinking that they have to do this every day in front of hundreds of tourists.
It was ok to see, but they rushed us back on the bus quickly otherwise we was going to miss the circus. When they said they will take us to a circus I wasn't that interested but it was way better than I had expected. I saw 2 guys with a plank of wood on their head and a girl stood on the wood blindfolded with a big pot of water on her head and did a backflip without spilling any water.
It's a shame there was no photos allowed inside because it was great. It was also a great opportunity to interact with some regular North Korean people.
I was sat next to lots of 20-25 year old military guys and because it was dark in there, they felt that they could talk to me and say hello. On the streets the Koreans completely blank tourists, as if they are not allowed to talk to anybody, but in the dark circus these guys felt like they could interact and not get in trouble. It shows that these guys want a normal life ad it was a wholesome exchange of hello" and thumbs up.