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North Korea - Attractions


P'yongyang

Pyongyang is a superb example of the regime's determination to project its image of progress, discipline and the well-being of its citizens. Don't expect a bustling Asian capital alive with street hawkers and televisions being carried on the backs of bicycles. Don't even expect bicycles. It is said that only those with the proper 'class background' and proven records of unswerving loyalty to the country's leaders are even allowed to live there, and until recently people with disabilities, the very old, animals, street vendors and even pregnant women were just never seen.

The city is built around the banks of the Taedong River. The most amazing thing about the river is the two mid-river fountains that rise to a height of 150m, reputedly the highest in the world. Your first day out in the city will undoubtedly be a guided tour by car. One of the main monuments is the Tower of the Juche Idea, a 170m (557ft) high needle on the east bank of the Taedong. You will also surely be taken to see the Triumphal Arch, which marks the spot where Kim Il Sung made his rallying speech after the Japanese were routed. You'll be reminded that it is fully three metres taller than its counterpart in Paris.

The Kim Il Sung Stadium is one of the world's largest, and the Chollima Statue, a bronze Pegasus representing the high-speed progress of the North's reconstruction, are both worth a look. There is a generous handful of museums and monuments to Kim Il Sung and the Revolution, but you may wish to see more traditional sights, such as two of the old city gates, the Chilsong and Taedong Gates. The State Circus, run by the People's Army, is housed in a large circular building, and upon entering you'll probably be treated to the spectacle of the whole audience turning their heads as one to stare at the foreigners. You should also definitely visit a metro station if you get the opportunity, if only to gawk at the extravagance with which they were built. They are adorned with bronze sculptures, murals, mosaics and chandeliers, and the pillars, steps, corridors and platforms are marble.

Accommodation is expensive, although the price of wherever you choose to stay is included in your tour charge. You'll most likely be pressured to stay at the deluxe Pyongyang Koryo Hotel, a 45-storey tower with a revolving restaurant on top. It has 500 rooms, and given the small number of tourists, you should have little trouble making reservations. There are other deluxe hotels, but most are not as conveniently located - the Koryo is a five minute walk from the railway station. The most popular C class hotel is the Changgwangsan Hotel, less than 2km (about 1mi) from the station. You'll most likely eat at your hotel, but you can arrange with your guide to eat elsewhere.

Haeju

This port city is 130km (80mi) due south of Pyongyang. You can take a boat to numerous offshore islets, or explore the sandy beaches when the tide is out. The mountain of Suyangsan (945m - 368ft) is 8km (5mi) away, and boasts a mountain fort pleasure ground with statues, slogans and other reminders of the Great Leader.

Kaesong

Kaesong today has around 200,000 residents, but 800 years ago the population was close to four times that, when the city was capital of the Koryo Dynasty. It was then a sumptuously wealthy and sophisticated metropolis, crowded with Buddhist aristocrats. Centuries of neglect and three major wars that left the city in rubble each time tarnished this picture a little, but there are a few relics of former times and a couple of good museums. The Songgyungwan Neo-Confucian College was built in 992 and then rebuilt after the Japanese invasion of 1592. It hosts the Koryo Museum, with pottery and other Buddhist relics, and Confucian ceremonies are re-enacted there sometimes.

Kaesong is a modern city with wide streets, but the town is of little interest apart from the old quarter, where traditional tile-roofed houses are sandwiched between the river and the main road. Also in town is the Sonjuk Bridge, built in 1216, and the Songin Monument, honouring the Neo-Confucian hero Chong Mong-ju. Just out of town is the Tomb of King Kongmin, the 31st Koryo king, who reigned between 1352 and 1374, and his queen. The tomb is richly decorated with traditional granite facing and statues. Kaesong is close to the border with South Korea, about 125km (77mi) south of Pyongyang.

Kuwolsan

Just across the mouth of the Taedong River from the dull port city of Namp'o stand the Nine Moon Mountains, the most spectacular peaks on the west coast. Several roads and unpaved hiking trails provide access to two of the main peaks, two main valleys, waterfalls, hot springs, old fortress walls and former shrines and hermitages. South of the main peak lies the Samsong Pleasure Ground, a favoured summer resort of North Koreans. Still further south through beautiful scenery is Woljongsa, a reconstructed temple, unfortunately only a shadow of its former glory. You can explore the main attractions in a day of driving and hiking. The mountains at Kuwolsan are about 75km (46 mi) south-west of Pyongyang.



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