Pyongyang, North Korea
When the sunrises in Pyongyang you are awoken to the eerie morning wake up call. The bleak and empty streets then quickly fill with an ensemble of people wearing 1950’s style clothing and military outfits. No where on this planet will you bare witness to a scene so frozen in time. Looking beyond the streets from your hotel window the colourful skyline emerges from the dense morning fog only to be replaced by a fiery burning orange sun brilliantly situated right over Juche Tower. When the morning call comes to an end the streets are full of life. This is Pyongyang, North Korea.
Getting to North Korea
There is a couple of option to get to Pyongyang. The simplest way is to fly either from Beijing or Shanghai. The flights are super retro and are an experience in and of themselves. Beijing has more flights per day, but in order to get a ticket you must go through a North Korean registered company. Air China and Koryo Air serves these routes.
The next option is to take the train from Beijing. Security is much more tight on this route and you will be searched much more thoroughly, but its a great way to see more of North Korea’s stunning countryside and remote villages.
North Korea Visa
Before you arrive to North Korea you will be given your North Korean Visa by your guide. It’s a serrate passport with all your info and picture inside. This is your Identity while you are in North Korea.
Arriving to Immigration you hand your new North Korean Identity to receive your visa. The visa will not be stamped into your own passport, but into the North Korean Identity instead. Unfortunately, when you leave the country you will have to give up your identity card.
Sights in Pyongyang
Climbing to the top of Juche Tower you are provided with the best views over Pyongyang. Located on the banks of the Taedong River, Juche Tower is 170 m / 557 ft monument dedicated to Juche ideology, seeing how colourful the city really is from here is eye-opening.
The real draw to taking the Pyongyang metro is the beautifully decorated metro stops. Each stop has its own theme and the walls are covered in murals of workers/leaders. The Pyongyang Metro reaches 120 m / 394 ft. below ground making it the deepest metro in the world. It is said its depth was created in case of an attack in which the locals can retreat to safety underground.
Victorious War Museum
This is Pyongyang’s greatest museum. The Victorious War Museum is home to American tanks, planes, trucks and even a spy ship called the USS Pueblo all taken from the Korean War. Coming here and seeing North Korean’s take on the war is what most travelers to this nation sought out for.
Some would say Mansu Hill in Pyongyang is the soul of the city. Here North Koreans come to lay flowers and bow in respect to their leaders. The Mansudae Grand Monuments two enormous 22 m high bronze statues of North Korean leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il must be photographed in full frame, its up to you but laying flowers here will earn you much respect with the locals here.
The Chollima Horse Statue can be easily missed, but it is located just of the main square at Mansu Hill. The speeding horse symbol can be seen all over North Korea, so seeing the original makes for a quick detour!
Korean Revolution Museum
Kim Il-sung and the Korean revolutionary movement are the main draws to coming to this museum. When it is open you can see items and descriptions of these. The statues and murals in the park outside are also very interesting.
Kim Il-sung Square, Pyongyang
Probably the most photographed part of North Korea, the Kim Il-sung Square is the epicentre for all military parades and mass demonstrations commence. The square is massive and very photogenic, come here at sunset for stunning photos!
Arch of Triumph
One of the first sights you will see when arriving into Pyongyang from the airport, this 60 m Arc of Triumph was built to commemorate the Korean resistance to the Japanese invasion.
Train Station, Pyongyang
Serving to most larger destinations within North Korea, this is also the international train stop for those heading to Moscow or Beijing. Interesting sight during the early morning when trains arrive!
Science and Technology Centre
The brand new Science and Technology Museum is a fun place to interact with North Korean Students. Here games are created to enhance the fun in science. There are also great explanations into North Korea’s nuclear, and power programs.
The unfinished Ryugyong can be seen from pretty much anywhere in Pyongyang. Dubbed the Rocket Hotel, it cannot actually be visited and is best left out of conversation with locals. Good views can be had from Juche Monument.
Arch of Reunification
Located on the outskirts of Pyongyang the Arch of Reunification was created to symbolize a unified Korea. Leaving Pyongyang, you will drive under its arches.
Monument to Party Founding
This great piece of Communist art work is beautifully located in a part encircled by colourful apartment blocks. Photographing the area is well worth coming to visit this monument.
The brand new high rises of Ryomyong are built in what some would say modern North Korean architecture. The street is bright, clean and makes for a great night walk to admire this new area of town.
This busy and full supermarket is one of the few that you are allowed to wonder freely. Picking up some North Korean Whiskey or North Korean sweets is fun as the selection is massive! No photography here though.
Pyongyang Olympic Shooting Range
Here you get your go at shooting a number of North Korean Handguns. Beware as North Korean’s are ferociously competitive and if you decide to make bets be prepared to pay up when you loose!
North Korea Souvenirs at the Foreign Languages Bookshop
Located just around the corner from Kim Il-sung Square the Foreign Languages Bookshop is your one shop stop to pick up North Korean books in English as well as postcards, flags, pins and my personal favourite, North Korean Propaganda Posters. The propaganda posters are done by the university here in Pyongyang, the quality is high and all come with an official stamp from the government. These are the exact same posters that are used around the country. The posters are also hand painted making each one a one of a kind souvenir.
Bicycle Ride Through Pyongyang
Riding from Science street to Kim Il Sung Square and ending two kilometres east from there is the designated bicycle rout for travellers in Pyongyang. Apart from the lovely trail that follows the Taedong River you will see residential and commercial parts of Pyongyang.
While riding many times I had smiling military men riding along with me ion their way to work. Seeing locals faces as I rode past them was half the fun! I highly recommend the bicycle ride through Pyongyang.
North Korean BBQ in Pyongyang
Who would have known that North Korea actually has some really scrumptious cuisine! The ubiquitous cold noodles are served alongside the standards Korean BBQ fare that we are all acquainted to. Be prepared that if you are going to be having North Korean BBQ in Pyongyang, you most likely will be given countless shots of Soju, a Korean rice wine which has the alcohol content of something medical like.
There are quite a few companies out there to choose from when going to North Korea. Luckily I chose Uri Tours. Uri is the pioneer in unique travel to North Korea. They try to give you more experiences than just sightseeing. Check out my article on Learning how to Surf in North Korea!