A mountain habitat for 30 endemic plant species, 16 plant species that are
threatened globally and 12 endangered animal species.
The Myohyang Mountains are one of five celebrated mountains in Korea known as the
“granary of the western coast” of Korea. Mt.Myohyang is named after the mystic shapes and
fragrances found in the area. It is a sacred site as, according to legend, it was the home of King
Dangon, forefather of the Korean people. The highest peak is Piro Peak at 6,262 ft /1,909m.
The two exhibition halls display gifts of all kinds
given to the DPRK ‘Kim family’ leaders by
foreign states, leaders and organisations. I was
told that the halls, consisting of over 150
rooms, took just one year to build. Completed
in 1978. The site was chosen by Kim Il Sung.
Each of the 4 sections of the weigh 4 tons.
The museum acts as propaganda, giving the impression of worldwide support for the North
Korean government. Visitors are informed that the number of gifts constitute "proof of the
endless love and respect toward the Great Leader, Kim Il-sung”. At the time of my visit the
count showed 116,144 gifts from 188 countries. Nearly 100,000 gifts were given to Kim Jong Il.
Many nations continue to give gifts to him and his wife even though they are long since
passed away. Over 6,ooo gifts were given in 2018, with about 30% being given to Kim Jong Il.
It’s a fascinating look into material culture in the second half of the 20th century with
highlights including an aeroplane given by the Soviet Union in 1948 (used twice by the DPRK –
only 3 built and the others were given to China and Vietnam), a bullet proof train carriage
given by Stalin of the Soviet Union in 1948 and a bullet proof train carriage given by the
Chinese in 1953, a bullet proof car weighing 6 tons and with 8cm thick windows, given by
Stalin. One of the Chinese gifts is a gold plated large 1:15 scaled model of a temple weighing
3.5 tons. The value of the gifts is unimaginable, in particular those from China and Russia with
many exquisite, intricate ivory carvings. Photographs are not allowed inside. At the end of my
tour I was asked to write my review which was translated into N. Korean by my guide.
We trekked up the vast number of steps to the
top of the waterfalls in the Manphok Valley –
approx. 1km up over a height of 600m. The top
of the falls is 1600 above sea level. (I was told
at the briefing with the guides that it would
take 2 hours to go up but we did it in 1hr 20
min, including photo stops).
At the briefing the previous evening, my guide
Yang Chol Jun tried to talk me out of doing the
trek, questioning my age and fitness and giving
me examples of people who had started the
trek and couldn’t continue. The trek turned out
to be a ‘climb’ up to the top of a waterfall. I
realised that he was very unfit (and a smoker)
and that he was not keen on the climb. He kept
saying that he had to do it because I wanted to do it and he had to be my guide.
Pohyon Buddhist Temple
Set in peaceful gardens in the Myohyang
Mountains, the Buddhist temple, with a 9
storey stone pagoda, dates back to 1042. It was
one of the greatest centres of Buddhism in the
north of Korea and became a renowned place
of pilgrimage. The 7.2 ton bell dates from 1469.
Originally the temple had 24 buildings and
pagodas. It was burnt in 1951 in the Korean War
but later restored.
It has a repository of 80.000 print blocks containing the complete collection of Buddhist
Scriptures and also the historic text of the Tripitaka Koreana, Buddhist scriptures that were
first produced to invoke divine assistance from foreign invasion during the Koryo Dynasty. I
was told that the historic texts were printed using the wooden block method and took 16
years to make in the 13th Century and that the book of images dating from 1600 was the
winner at a 1959 German Festival. I was not allowed to take photos in this building.
After a 2 hour drive (115km) to Mount
Myohyang, we arrived at Hyansan Hotel. I
then had a briefing with my guides.
This 6-star hotel (5-stars internationally),
built with Stalinist architecture in mind, is
known as the country’s best hotel. The
hotel was built in 1986 and renovated in
2010. It has a gym, billiards tables, a dance
hall, a karaoke room, a swimming pool, a
theatre for plays and a luxury SPA with
bubble-baths. It has a classy interior with
marble and gold. Everything was shiny and
looked new but, the hotel was empty of
In the large restaurant, there were 2 guests
for dinner – each of us sat on a separate
large, round table. There were places laid
for 9 people for breakfast, but I didn’t see
anyone. I was alone in the room for lunch
with no other places laid. It was a very
surreal experience to be eating alone in a
very large dining room. Korean meals
comprise of several small dishes. The meals
were very rushed with the next dish
arriving before I had eaten each course.
My guide said that Korea were the first
inventors of the wooden block print
Wikipedia says - The Chinese invention of
woodblock printing, at some point before
the first dated book in 868 (the Diamond
Sutra), produced the world's first print
culture. According to A. Hyatt Mayor,
curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art,
"it was the Chinese who really discovered
the means of communication that was to
dominate until our age. Woodblock printing
was better suited to Chinese characters
than movable type, which the Chinese also
invented, but which did not replace
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