Pyongyang, was the capital of Kojoson, the first ancient state established 5,000
years ago by Dan Gun, the founder of the Korean nation
Pyongyang means peaceful city / flat city. The River Taedong, runs through it and it’s
surrounded by mountains and hills including the Moran Hill, Taesong and Ryongak Mountains.
I spent several days here and immediately noticed that it’s very green with many parks and
trees, the streets are totally free of litter and the wide roads have very few cars.
Sungin and Sungnyong Temples
These are two of the oldest buildings in
Pyongyang and representative of Koryo Dynasty
(918-1392 AD) and Ri Dynasty (1392-1910)
architecture. The original Sungin was built in
1325 and renovated in 1428 (now rebuilt).
Sungnyong Temple was built in 1492. There is a
beautiful picture of Dan Gun, the Founder King
of the Federal state. The temples are mostly off
limits to tourists so I was fortunate to see them.
Kim Il Sung Square
Pyongyang’s central square is surrounded by
the government ministries of Agriculture and
Foreign Trade, museums and the national
The first parade took place on 28th July, 1953.
During the 70 years that the Kim family has
ruled, North Korea's 30-plus massive military
parades have been used as much for
propaganda, intimidation and internal unity as for commemorating important anniversaries.
The dots on the roads and pavements indicate the place where people must stand. I asked
who stood on the dots and how was someone allotted a space. After several rounds of
questioning with no real answers I dropped the question. I suspect that it is only people who
are military family members and others who work for the government.
Mansudae Fountain Park
The historic centre of Pyongyang is flanked by
the Grand People’s Study House and the
Mansudae Art Theatre. The park’s centrepiece
fountain is 28 angelic-looking white statues of
women performing a dance called the “Snow
Falls.” One of the fountains shoots water 80
metres into the air.
Monument to the Party Foundation
This iconic 56m high structure features a
hammer, sickle and calligraphy brush which
make up the emblem and insignia of the
national flag of the Worker’s Party of Korea.
Apparently, it took one year to build in 1995 on
the 50th Anniversary of the Party foundation.
The number of slabs of the belt around the
monument and its diameter stand for the date
of birth of Kim Jong-il. The inscription on the outer belt says "Long live the leader and
organizer of the victories of the people of Korea, the Worker's Party of Korea". On the inside of
the belt are three bronze reliefs with their distinct meanings: the historical root of the party,
the unity of people under the party and the party's vision for a progressive future.
The apartment blocks behind the structure were built to represent fluttering flags with its
letters forming the words "ever-victorious".
Mangyondae Native House
The reconstructed traditional Korean house, set
in a peaceful park, is said that it was the
birthplace of President Kim Il Sung, the eldest
son who left his family for 20 years to fight for
his country’s independence. It is considered a
sacred site by North Koreans.
No-one is allowed inside of the huts, but you’re
able to take a peek inside as you walk past.
Whilst I was there, the long queue took about 20 minutes to reach the house and about 2
minutes to view it. There were groups from schoolchildren through to the military.
Fortunately, my guides skipped me passed the queues and gave me a frontline view of the
inside of the house.
If this was his birthplace, for someone that rose to such power, then he came from a simple
straw hut. The 4 generations of his family before him that inherited the hut worked as care-
takers for the nobles that owned the land the huts now sit on. On display are tools and
artefacts of their past - a defective but functional pot that was bought by his grandmother at a
discount and, apparently, the same straw mat that Kim Il Sung slept on when he returned
from his rebel struggles in Manchuria. Inside one of the living rooms, you can see portraits of
Kim Il Sung’s extended family, including his cousin, brother, and father, who all fell in the
Pyongyang Botanical Gardens
The Central Botanical Garden was built the foot
of Mt. Taesong in Pyongyang in 1959. Its 250
hectares (I was told that it was 570 hectares) is
split into 14 areas with an estimated that about
6,500 plant species, of which 2,500 species are
native. The trees and shrubs weren’t as mature
as I would expect for the age of the gardens but
maybe the weather is not ideal for faster
growth. The pond in the centre of the main
garden area was dried up. The orchids were disappointing, being less than 20 in the orchid
greenhouse. Whilst in one of the greenhouses, and momentarily out of sight of my guides, I
was really surprised to be asked to join a wedding party for a photo. What an honour for me
and maybe unique opportunity or them to have a photo with a Westerner.
The tower closes at 18.30 but amazingly, my tour guide
arranged for it to remain open until 18.45 for my visit.
However, we were late and he called the staff who opened it to
take me to the top of the tower in the elevator. Unfortunately, I
only had time for a ‘whistle stop’ walk around the top, taking
lots of photos so that I could absorb the views over the city
later. (5 EUR / 40 RMB ticket for elevator to observation
This 170-metre tower is dedicated to the DPRK’s guiding
philosophy, the Juche idea – that man is master of everything
and owner of his destiny.
It was built to commemorate Kim Il Sung's 70th birthday. The architectural style of the Tower is
inspired by stone pagodas of pre-modern Korea, with a four-sided tapering 150 metre spire
(the tallest in granite) containing 25,550 blocks (one for each day of Kim Il Sung's life, 365 × 70,
excluding supplementary days for leap years), The torch on top of the tower is always lit.
Alongside the tower is a 30-metre high statue consisting of three idealised figures each
holding a tool – a hammer (the worker), a sickle (the peasant), and a writing brush (the
"working intellectual") – in a classic Stalinistic-style reminiscent of the Soviet statue Worker
and Kolkhoz Woman.
Monument to the Three Charters of Reunification
The monument is 30 metres tall and 61.5
metres wide with the numerology referring to
the June 15th, 2000 North-South Joint
Declaration. Two identical women wearing
traditional Korean dress hold a map of a united
Korea. Opened in 2001 the stone archway over
the highway was built to commemorate the
Korean reunification proposals put forward by
Kim Il Sung. These were the Three Principles of
National Reunification, the Plan of Establishing the Democratic Federal Republic of Korea, and
the Ten Point Programme for the Reunification of the Country (a plan written by Kim Il-sung
on April 6, 1993, to re-unite North Korea and South Korea). You can see there's so few cars in
the country that I can stand in the middle of a 3 line highway, a major road into Pyongyang.
Ri In Mo Monument
The Ri In Mo Monument commemorates the life
of 'long-term unconverted' political prisoner, Ri
In Mo. Ri was captured in 1952 by South Korean
forces during the Korean War, while serving as a
war correspondent attached to the North
Korean army and spent 34 years in a South
Korean jail. During captivity, Ri refused to give up
his loyalty to the DPRK and was eventually repatriated to the DPRK in 1993 due to health
reasons. Sixty-three other long-term converted prisoners were released and allowed to return
to the DPRK in 2000 following the North-South Joint Declaration. Ri passed away in 2007, aged
90 years and a bronze monument was erected in a small park on Tongil Street.
Mirae Scientists Street
My guides took me on an evening stroll in one
of Pyongyang’s newest neighbourhoods, built
for academics and scientists of the Kim Chaek
University of Technology. The six lane street is
lined by designer apartment blocks designed to
emphasize Kim Jong Un's focus on science and
technology, built around the regime's nuclear
weapons development. The street is reportedly the first location where the Mirae public WiFi
network was installed (N. Korea has a private intranet). In 2015 there were 2500 families here.
Arch of Triumph
The massive archway commemorates the
liberation of Korea from the Japanese rule (1925
to 1945). Inaugurated on the 70th birthday of
Kim Il Sung, each of its 25,500 blocks of white
granite represents a day of his life up to that
point. It is similar but 10m larger than its
counterpart in Paris.
These 20m high bronze statues of the DPRK
eternal leadership overlook downtown
Pyongyang. The statue of Kim Il Sung was
built in 1972 and statue of Kim Jong Il was
built in 2012. Thousands of people
celebrate their weddings infront of the
statues as a ritual. A bow and presentation
of flowers is customary for everyone,
including tourists. (I paid 5 EUR / 40RMB for
a bouquet of flowers, presumably cheaper
for locals). Photos must include the
complete statue with no crops.
The background is a painting of the sacred
Mount Paektu, behind which is the Korean
Revolutionary Museum. The statues either
- 1905 to 1945 Japanese rule and life of the
guerrillas (on the left)
- 1945 - now – the liberation & Korean war.
Built in 4 phases between 1973 and 1987,
there are 2 lines with 17 stops. The metro is
the deepest in the world at 100m
underground accessible by a very long
escalator on which walking and sitting are
The stunning mosaics, murals and
monuments in each of its stations are
unique by reflecting the name of the
station. Yet they are all ultra-nationalistic in
themes showing North Korea’s history,
goals and achievements to impressionable
The 1st stop was Yonggwang (Glory) station
which has 80m long mosaics – depicting the
Taedong river, which flows through the city,
on one side representing the West and the
other representing the East of the city.
Our 2nd stop was where the lights
Liberation War Museum
Renovated in 2012, the museum exhibits
the DPRK perspective of the Korean war.
Full of propaganda the alleged American
war atrocities against the Korean people
are the main theme of the museum. The
displays and Guides clearly demonstrate
their hatred of the Americans. I found the
propaganda very distasteful and asked for
a quick exit.
The exterior grounds house the War Victory
Monument and displays of captured
equipment from the US, including the ship
USS Pueblo that floats on the Taedong
River. A tour inside the ship is interesting,
but again the propaganda is intense.
This is a store selling Korean publications
translated into various languages. There
are many ‘guidance’ books written by the
Kim family. It also sells DVDs, postcards and
small works of art. I would have spent more
time here but I felt a bit pressured in being
followed around by my guides and the
Often called the ‘Hotel of Doom’, the
unfinished 105-story, 330-metre-tall hotel
and mixed use building looms over the city
skyline like a rocket about to take off.
In 1987, Kim Il-sung directed the Ryugyong
Hotel be built as a snub to his southern
neighbours (South Korea had just
announced their plans for the 1988
Olympics) and to rival that of everything
that had been built before it. It is the tallest
building in North Korea and is listed in the
Guinness Book of records as being the
tallest unoccupied building in the world.
Construction began in 1987 with the
backing of the Soviet Union - the original
construction cost was estimated as $750
million, almost two percent of North
Korea’s GDP, but was halted in 1992 as
North Korea entered a period of economic
crisis after the fall of the Soviet Union. In
1992 the building stood topped out, but
without any windows or interior fittings.
In 2008, 16 years after construction had
been halted, it started again as Oriscom, an
Egyptian company that had entered into a
deal with North Korea to build a mobile
phone network, had mysteriously agreed to
complete the Ryugyong Hotel. In 2008
construction resumed and the exterior was
completed in 2011. It was planned to open
the hotel in 2012, the centenary of Kim Il
Sung’s birth, then a partial opening was
announced for 2013, but this was cancelled
and the building remains unopened with
the interior yet to be finished.
My guides gave no view on the lavish
spending on the building, although they did
shrug their shoulders with winced faces.
An addition to my itinerary was this
amazing acrobatic act, very similar to
Cirque du Soleil. Apparently it has
performed for 20 years. The performance is
from 5 pm to 6.30 pm and cost 160 RMB
Opened on 1st May 1989, the North
Koreans say that it has a capacity of
150,000 however, records say that the real
capacity is 114,000 which still ranks it as the
largest stadium in the world by capacity.
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