Outside Pyongyang: driving around North Korea

While Pyongyang is the centre of most tours to the DPRK, my itinerary took me to Kaesong, gateway to the DMZ, and Wonsan, on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. In all honesty, it’s not as exciting as the capital.


Wonsan is a nice city on the water. A long pier takes you to Chok Islet, from which I took this photo of the city. The large white boat you see used to ferry people to and from Japan I was told. In the current political context, it mostly sits idle.


We had a few things to visit in Wonsan but a choice was offered and an afternoon at the beach won over visiting some train Kim Il Sung took decades ago.


There are definitely fewer cars outside Pyongyang. And far more bicycles. Presumably people are less likely to buy bicycles in Pyongyang due to the good subway and bus systems, which cost next to nothing to take.


You certainly see things you would not see in the capital, like laundry in the river, but if severe poverty is present, it is not apparent to the uninformed observer. As I mentioned before, the poorest provinces in the North are now open to tourism, but my itinerary did not include them.


You can still tell you are in North Korea, because even though there is no traffic, there is a traffic cop.


In the middle of a three hour drive, we stopped for a bathroom break in a city called Sariwon. This observation platform provides great views of the city if you are willing to climb up there.


Strangely, taking pictures in the city was not allowed. The place was just recently added to the rather long tourist approved list of cities, but photography is not yet allowed. I saw absolutely nothing that anyone would want to hide from outside visitors. Rather than a specific concern, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Korean agency, KITC, simply has to wait for long and meaningless bureaucratic approvals for things which really are of no concern.



A foggy village along the highway.


The Korean crouch. Also used in the South, but much less. I saw it a lot in Afghanistan as well, but men only. I wonder what these people were waiting for.


In Kaesong we stayed in a lovely hotel along this small river.


The Kaesong Folklore Hotel. Sliding doors, mats on the ground and everything else. I was glad to experience it but my back was glad it was only for a night. The pillow had the consistency of a bag of rice. Actually, maybe it was a bag of rice!


The bathtub, however, was the worse bathtub I had ever seen. Other than the strange hole melted in the bottom, it was installed on an incline, so that the drain was the highest part of the bath! Not compatible with gravity.


The Royal tomb of King Kongmin. I was a little surprised at how much care the Koreans put in caring for and showcasing their historical treasures. Perhaps I expected everything preceding the current regime would be of no interest to them.


The old Kings seem to be quite respected.


The Government even excavated and re-built this Buddhist temple, something I really did not expect to see.


Our guide claimed Korea invented the printing press, but since modern Korea and China were the same country for centuries, I suppose it might technically be true.


And my favourite artifact ever, a warrior’s glass. Because the bottom is pointy, once filled, you cannot put it down until you drink it all! Awesome.

Tomorrow, Mass Games…


4 thoughts on “Outside Pyongyang: driving around North Korea

    • Hum, I am replying after 2.5 years… sorry for the slight delay! :-) No bath, but I did use the shower. Since I had a roommate, it was very awkward because the one who goes second is standing in the soapy water of the first.

    • I don’t know about Bangladesh, but certainly 1000 better than India. The DPRK may be poor, but it is clean, and people use toilets. It is very hard to get any accurate statistics about North Korea, but the percentage of children with stunted growth due to malnutrition in India is 39%. Probably not worse in North Korea.

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