Sunday, September 21, 2008

Pyongyang and Mt. Myohyang


Programm for that day:
- breakfast
- Kumsusan Memorial Palace (Kim Il Sung mausoleum)
- Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery
- Book&stamp shop
- lunch at the Yanggakdo hotel
- drive to Myohyang mountains
- Check in Hyangsan hotel
- little hiking trip in the Manpok valley
- Diner at Hyangsan hotel

Morning view from our room. The railway bridge over the Tadeong-river can be seen in the fog.

The breakfast at the hotel was quite good, there was a buffet and even imported "Darbo"-jam from Stans in Tirol (Austria) was available…

After the long train trip across North Korea, during which we got an impression of real North Korean life, the luxury here at the hotel was a big contrast...

At 8:30 we met our guides and drove to the Kumsusan Memorial Palace. It was the official residence of Kim Il Sung untill he died in 1994. Then Kim Jong Il, his son, decided to transfer it into a mausoleum for Kim Il Sung.

Taking photos are not allowed inside the mausoleum. There were hordes of North Korean waiting to see the Great Leader and also some foreign tourists. Foreign tourists and their guides were privleged and didn't had to wait.

The building is really huge and we walked through long corridors. Everything is very clean and bright, escalators are working and music like this is coming from the loudspeakers. No doubt that this is the most sacred place in North Korea.

Before seeing Kim Il Sungs embalmed body we passed some other rooms. In one of them all decorations and certificates received by Kim Il Sung are exhibited. The items are sorted according to origin: domestic, from Europe, from Africa etc.
This is to show the North Korean people that the Great Leader was honored everywhere in the world. Most official decorations he received from other communist states and their leaders (Erich Honecker, Fidel Castro, Nicolae Ceausescu...). However, there were also some decorations or certificate from various organizations, universities, parties in Western countries. Also a certificate from an university in the United States... (don't remember which university). We were also given earphones and heared that the whole world was shocked after Kim Il Sung died in 1994 and that there was mourning all over the world...hmmm
Finally we went to the main-room of the mausoleum. The guides told us how to behave, how to walk, where to put or not to put the arms and so on and that we would have to make three bows for the Great Leader.
That's what we then did when we were in the big room, in which there is the clear sarcophagus with the body of Kim Il Sung inside. One bow in front of the sarcophagus, then one at the left side and then the last on the right side.
After that we passed to two other rooms, where Kim Il Sungs car and his special waggon were exhibited.

Outside again, we could take some photos of the impressive building.

North Koreans posing for a group photo:
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So, now only the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum in Hanoi is missing in my "personal collection" of mausoleums with embalmed corpses of state founding leaders (there are four such mausoleums in the world)!

Unfortunately it was not possible to use the tram line to get to the mausoleum and back. This meter-gauge tramway line is not connected to the ordinary tramway network and it's only purpose is to bring visitors to the Kumsusam Memorial Palace. Old trams from Zurich are used on this line. The guides said, that only bigger groups of foreign tourists can use the tramway (in a seperate train, I assume).

However, we asked our guides whether we could at least take some photos at the terminal stop near the mausoleum. After a short tolk with an officer the guide said, that we were allowed to take some photos...

Then we drove to the Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery on mount Taesong. The guides told us the stories of some of the North Koreahtn heroes buried there.

We also were asked to buy some flowers for 2 EUR and lay them down at the bust of Anti-Japanese war hero Kim Jong Suk (= Kim Il Sung's wife):

The day after our visit was the 59th anniversary of her death, which explains the quantity of flowers and wreaths.

High Tribute to Kim Jong Suk Paid
Pyongyang, September 22 (KCNA) -- Wreaths were laid before the bust of anti-Japanese war hero Kim Jong Suk at the Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery on Mt. Taesong on Monday on the occasion of the 59th anniversary of her demise.
Seen before the bust was a wreath from Kim Jong Il, general secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea, chairman of the DPRK National Defence Commission and supreme commander of the Korean People's Army.
Attending the wreath-laying ceremony were senior party, army and state officials, the chairperson of a friendly party, leading officials of party, armed forces and power bodies, working people's organizations, ministries and national institutions, servicepersons and working people and schoolchildren in the city of Pyongyang.
Placed before the bust amidst playing of the wreath-laying music were wreaths in the name of the WPK Central Committee, the Presidium of the DPRK Supreme People's Assembly and the DPRK Cabinet.
Also laid were wreaths in the name of the Ministry of the People's Armed Forces, working people's organizations, ministries and national institutions, KPA units, educational, cultural and art, public health and press organs, the joint national organizations of the Korean Children's Union, and party and power bodies, factories and farms in Pyongyang.
The participants paid silent tribute to Kim Jong Suk, looking back upon her noble revolutionary life and immortal exploits.
Meanwhile, floral baskets were placed before her statues in Kim Jong Suk County and Hoeryong City and at Kim Jong Suk Naval Academy and Kim Jong Suk General Military School on the same occasion.

People Remember Kim Jong Suk's Brilliant Life
Pyongyang, September 22 (KCNA) -- An endless stream of servicepersons, people from all walks of life and school youth and children is visiting the bust of Kim Jong Suk, an anti-Japanese war hero and woman commander of Mt. Paektu, in the Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery on Mt. Taesong and the revolutionary sites and revolutionary battle sites associated with her undying feats across the country in September on the occasion of the 59th anniversary of her death.
The number of visitors reached more than 500,000 as of Sept. 21.
This is a manifestation of the iron faith and will of the army and people to hold in high esteem forever Kim Jong Suk, supreme incarnation of devotedly defending the leader who gave a steady continuity to the Songun revolution and dedicated her all to the country and the revolution.
Senior party, army and state officials and over 200,000 servicepersons, people from all walks of life and school youth and children visited the Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery on Mt. Taesong to pay high tribute to Kim Jong Suk. The cemetery was also visited by a great number of overseas compatriots and foreigners.
Many people of different social standings have visited the revolutionary sites in North Hamgyong Province, including the time-honored Hoeryong Revolutionary Site, Kim Jong Suk's birthplace, and revolutionary sites and revolutionary battle sites in Ryanggang, South Hamgyong and Jagang provinces, looking back with deep emotion upon her brilliant revolutionary career.

Then we drove to a stamps shop. Typicial street in Pyongyang:

We were the only clients at the shop. I bought a t-shirt with the North Korean flag and the slogan "See you in Pyongyang" on it, as well as a book with transport-related stamps. Very interesting, that also foreign trains were shown on the stamps:

Back at the hotel we had lunch at the revolving restaurant on the top of it (on the 41st floor or so). The view was great alltough the revolving was switched off (maybe to save power...)

The main station seen from Yanggakdo hotel:

The famous unfinished Ryugyong hotel ( ):

The skyline of Pyongyang:


Our room on the 21st floor:

At 14:00 we left the hotel and drove to the Myohyang-mountains, about 120 km (as the crow flies) north of Pyongyang. See

Driving through Pyongyang:

Highway to Hyangsan:


youtube-video of our car ride on the highway:

There was of course no light inside the tunnel. As far as I know the North Korean highways were built in the 1990ies, but they are already in a relatively bad state. The bumpy asfalt doesn't allow speeds much over 100 km/h.
Traffic is scarce, we only see some tourist busses, some military trucks and very few "private" cars (maybe owned by high party members). However, North Korea is the first country in the world, which has adapted the "shared-space" concept ( ) also for highways: They are used by cars, bycicles and pedestrians!

During the trip we also saw some railway lines and trains, but due to the bumpy ride taking photos was quite a difficult task.

Railway bridge used by pedestrians:

After 2 hours we arrived at the Hyangsan hote – view from our room:

After a short break we drive to the start of the hiking trail "Manpok valley". Together with one of the two guides we walk up to a small pavillon . The trail was very scenic and leads to some waterfalls. However, there was only few water due to the season, but is was nevertheless beautiful.

As it was already late, there were only a few other people on the trail, we only met some North Korean tourists:

Me and our guide:

But also here in the nature the two Kims were omnipresent: On some rocks there were inscriptions, which mean something like "Or Leader Kim Jong Il (or Kim Il Sung) ordered, that this beautiful piece of nature should be preserved and made accesible for people...

When we returned to the car, it was already quite dark. We drove back to the hotel and had dinner.

BTW, during the car ride we noticed, that there was a 2nd road in this valley. We passed under it once, but there seemed to be no connection with the road we used. Very strange.
Also at the entry to the valley we saw a railway line, but then in the valley we saw no further evidence of it. Also strange.
We already knew, that there were such strange things in North Korea, so we kept our eyes open...

After I returned to Austria, I had to look at GoogleEarth and I found out that the 2nd road leads over many serpentines to the Hyangsan-chalet, a former residence of Kim Il Sung and the place, where he died in 1994. So was the road some kind of special elite-road and therefore seperated from the ordinary road? See also

And the railway line, branching off the Kaechon – Kanggye line indeed ends only after a few meters at a so called "elite station" (according to the NorthKorea Uncovered overlay for GE), where the elite eventually transferred from train to car to get to the Hyangsan-chalet?
However, I also heared that earlier foreign tourists travelled to Mt. Myohang by train, so maybe they also used this station with special trains for tourists?



Eurasia 2005: ~35.000 km by train from Europe via Ukraine, Russia and Mongolia to China and back to Europe via Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan:

Total solar eclipse 2008: Trip to the total solar eclipse in the Altay mountains (1st august 2008), including a 6-day trekking trip:


RMCVSucks said...

Great documentary!!! Thank you so much. My wife was from Khabarovsk and I was from Hong Kong. Now we live in Washington DC and it is great to see your trip in photos. Excellent!

solardb said...

great trip report and great photos . thank you . i got the link to your blog here , , youre welcome to join us discussing worldwide railways there . David

Anonymous said...

Man, no doubt you caused huge havoc among NK security and military people...

Unknown said...

Excellent trip, great report and photos from this unknown country! I really appreciate!

Linda said...

wow, I'm amazed by our pictures Pyongyang. I'd love to visit the city, but I have no idea how to enter the country. but I will find out once, I hope

Unknown said...

It was great, man! I'm from Moscow, my wife is from Irkutsk area, and we both want to visit DPRK. Your trip was great, I doubt anyone can do the same actually...

Unknown said...

It was great, man! I'm from Moscow, my wife is from Irkutsk area, and we both want to visit DPRK. Your trip was great, I doubt anyone can do the same actually

nicolai perjesi said...

Very nice!!!

First Last said...

I cringe at the thought of potential bloodshed that such public posting of this may cost (in addition to what may have already been implied in the disclaimer). Any coolness factor of this internet posting is far far far outweighed by the consequences. This is beyond inconsiderate; this is horrendously irresponsible.I urge you to consider removing pictures with identifiable faces at the least. Haven't we learned enough about how N.K operates?

First Last said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Fantastic trip report, thank you so much for sharing! This world is a fascinating one and it seems there are still adventurers among us. :)

rzgabriel said...

Thank you very much for this travel report. You made a good service for the world. Greetings from Brazil!

Ghaus Iftikhar said...

Simply Excellent! Btw I laughed when you said Korean women are quite attractive. ;)

Ted said...

Incredible story -- this should be turned into a movie documentary! Thanks for writing this up.

Gordon said...

Absolutely fantastic! Especially the photos of the exotic-looking trains and their engines.

Helmut said...

@First Last:
Regarding potential "bloodshed" - the people of the travel agency, with which we booked the stay inside North Korea, know of this travelogue on the internet, they read each part carefully and didn't ask me to remove anything. I think they have more experience with North Korean and they know about the potential risks of such travelogues, but they just asked me not to publish details about the relationsship to the guides.

I'm also in contact with Leonid Petrov (a NK-expert at the Australian National University, see , he also read the travelogue and I'm sure he would have warned me, if he had considered it too dangerous for someone.

However, I will double-check with the travel agency and Mr Petrov again.

migrationology said...

Thanks for sharing that, very interesting.

Rob S said...

I'm enjoying reading your trip far the best report of a trip to North Korea that I've read. But one thing bothers were taken to the shrine to honour the remains of Kim Il-sung,you bowed to his corpse and were respectful,as is expected. Doesn't it then concern you that westerners like you guys could be being used as propaganda tools by the DPRK regime to prove to North Korean people that even westerners love the 'great' and 'dear' leaders?

Anonymous said...

@ First Last
My understanding is that no-one is going to be in trouble because even the NK tourists on the trail were not encountered by accident.

Don said...

Hi Helmut, the green, 1m-gauge tramway is probably an old tramway from Zagreb (the only city I know that uses 1m gauge). See and for more details (the doors of the 101 come with a variety of windows; this must depend on the series, I guess).

Erna said...

Hallo =)
Bin auch durch Zufall auf deinen Blog gestoßen, weil ich Bilder von Pyongyang gegoogelt habe, da ich mich sehr für das (alltägliche) Leben in Nordkorea interssieren und das alles so gern einmal sehen würde. Ich finde deine Berichte klasse... die Bilder sind wirklich der Wahnsinn! (Krass, dass ihr einfach so viele machen konntet?!). Vielen, vielen Dank, dass du das hier auf deinem Blog mit uns teilst und ich werde mich noch weiter umsehen (ich komme übrigens schon seit fast einer Stunde nicht mehr davon weg ;)).
Danke nochmal und ganz liebe Grüße aus Deutschland!

Anonymous said...

Your travel reports through Siberia to North Korea was so interested. Especially detailed informations with pictures. I was visited North Korea via Beijing over 10 years ago.
That time, I traveled Pyung Yang and Mt. Kumgang (Diamond) also North Part you passed through from Russia border. But your pictures remind me clearly that trip.

RAD750 said...

Hey, what you did here on this blog is just WONDERFUL!

I just wondered one thing: on this picture you posted ( about the stamps with trains on them, there seems (at least to me) to be an Italian locomotive feautured on one of them (the stamp with "75" on it, with the red/white/green loco), which suspiciously looks (even down to the paint scheme) like the E464 locomotive from Trenitalia (
Given that they run on 3kV DC and 1435 mm, which seems to be the standard for North Korean railways, could it be that they are being imported?

Thanks :-)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your trip blog.