North Korea day 3
So it was day three. We started super early again to head down to Kaesong; the city close to the border with South Korea.
Another 5am start, we headed south to get to Kaesong. The road south was super super bumpy. After a back breaking 4 hour journey; we arrived at the city of Kaesong. The city of Kaesong is quiet and fairly small but the tour took us to some nice historical sites and around the city.
Seonggyungwan 개성성균관 is the site of one of the oldest Korean universities. What is there now is just a big modern building with a small Korean style Confucius temple next door. Religion is illegal in DPRK so buildings like this are purely for show. This place was nothing special so they didn't stop for long. The city of Kaesong was more interesting.
The Demilitarised Zone
The DMZ is a strange place. I stood on the south side of the border back in 2015 but never thought I would stand on the north side.
First stop was the Joint Security Area; but first a security checkpoint surrounded by lots of big propaganda signs. Everybody needed to empty out of the bus and there was a gift shop to keep people busy. This gift shop was different, it was selling hand painted propaganda posters and lots of Ginseng products. I bought a poster for about £15 and all of the Chinese on the tour spent hundreds of pounds on ginseng products, presumably to take home and sell.
As we stood waiting for the bus to be searched, the North Korean guards noticed the tiger tattoo on my arm and called their friends over to look. I guess they have never seen a tattoo? They didn't say much but have a thumbs up while grabbing my arm.
The JSA is a boring place, it's just some military and diplomatic buildings but I found it super interesting. They first took us to the building where the armistice agreement was signed by both sides, alongside the UN and USA. The original table and flags still stood in a building built specifically for both sides to communicate.
Final stop and the closes to South Korea was Panmunjom 판문점; the famous blue buildings that span the border. We only spent 5 minutes here to take some photos because we could not go inside the blue buildings on that day. I had already been there so I knew what to expect, but it was good to say that I've visited both sides.
On the back breaking 4 hour journey back to Pyongyang my tour guide opened up a little and started talking about life in North Korea. I think she felt like she could open up because nobody understood English. She was asking to listen to music on my phone and play games and look at photos from other countries. If I was caught showing her these things then I could have been sent to jail along with her and her whole family. Listening to any music that isn't approved by the government in North Korea is illegal.
I asked my guide a question and her response shows that North Koreans are not what their government want them to be. I asked if she could live in any country in the world, where would it be; she answered USA. Their government tells them that their biggest enemy is USA and that USA want to invade North Korea, yet somehow they see USA as a better country to live.
Pyongyang city is a super interesting place. There is no advertising anywhere, just propaganda. There's almost no cars, yet they have very strict traffic rules. People cannot talk to foreigners. I would love to go back another time and just stay in Pyongyang and go around in a private tour.
First stop was a trip to the President's childhood house. It was a small house which I assume they have restored it to show the leader's humble origins. I've noticed this about many of the communist leaders. Stalin's house is similar, Chairman Mao's house is also similar. I assume it's a communist thing. Before we entered; the guides stressed how it's super important to not touch anything and remain quiet; but in true mainland Chinese style, this was ignored and people went crazy touching everything. The reactions of the guides showed that this place means a lot to them and they actually looked fairly pissed off.
One of the interesting stops in Pyongyang, was to go on the Metro. The public transport for the elite. My camera battery had died so I took some photos of the metro on my phone and it's super impressive.
In North Korea you cannot fold anything with the face of the leaders on, which is a problem when you want to print newspapers. In every subway station they have the newspapers posted up on boards so that people can read the news that way.
In North Korea there is always photos of the leader and at the end of every subway train is a portrait of the leader looking down on the people.
After leaving the metro we headed for Korean BBQ... and damn it was so tasty. The only issue is that on the whole trip I had to eat with a load of middle aged mainland Chinese. There's no problem with that, but their table manners were something to be desired. The noise levels form their chewing is enough to put anybody off their food and they would always pull out big jars of weird smelly pickled foods and leave all of the nice Korean food. Luckily the beer was 1RMB (£0.11 / $0.14) a pint so as a true British guy; I just made the most of the cheap beer.
Food in North Korea was generally pretty good; earlier in the day at Kaesong we had eaten Ginseng chicken soup 삼계탕 which is one of the best Korean foods. I've eaten better, but this was super tasty.