After a long day yesterday exploring the city, we left the city behind us today to visit the demilitarized zone.
When people talk about visiting the DMZ they are almost always talking about visiting it from the southern side in South Korea so today’s trip to visit it from the other side was a rare chance to see it from the North Korean side.
After another great breakfast at the hotel, we departed at 7:30 and on our way 168km and 3 hours to the south.
Our group is actually relatively small at 10 people for a North Korean tour which normally is around two dozen people.
It’s actually the perfect size because you’re not constantly waiting for a couple of stragglers and you also have a whole row to yourself in the bus as it holds 3 times as many people as we had.
Ah, traveling in style!
Well, as much as you can on a very bumpy ride for 3 hours…
As we headed out of the city we stopped at another giant monument built to represent the country’s hope at reunification.
It was interesting to hear our North Korean guide Ms Pak talk about how it was indeed the North Korean’s desire to one day bring the country back together after it was split in half by outside forces in 1945.
She talked about the North Korean’s presence at the ongoing Winter Olympics and the two Koreas coming together at the opening ceremonies in South Korea as a step in the right direction.
In fact the highway the monument is built on leads directly straight to the DMZ and continues on the other side right down to Seoul in South Korea.
North Korea DMZ tour
We arrived at the DMZ around 11am and, of course, our first stop was a souvenir store cause, well, we be tourists and tourists gotsa shop…
I picked myself up and nice hand designed and painted propaganda poster for $46 whose painter was actually standing there proudly showing off his dozens of art designs we were carefully rifling through.
I also bought some hand cream as I had been looking for some for awhile and here of all places was where I found some.
Ironically, I don’t actually want to use it now because it came in a cool little apple shaped plastic container.
Guess my dry hands will just hafta stay dry.
After we all dropped off money at the store we were then led inside the DMZ.
Now, the DMZ is a serious thing as it’s a 2km “safe area” heavily guarded between the two countries.
In fact, we actually were going on the exact same road the defector last fall drove his jeep down and then made a desperate run to the other side while being shot at.
We toured the Armistace building which was built in just 5 days to hold talks between the two countries. Over 5 years there were over 700 meetings there including the one that led to a tenuous peace between them.
Two military guards escorted us the entire time and our tour was given by another military man speaking in Korean with Ms. Pak translating for him.
Interestingly, the guard consistently interchanged the UN for the US as he spoke about the history of how this area came to be.
We went to another building that overlooked 7 smaller entry buildings to the other side where a building on the South Korean side lay just 100m away.
That building, in fact, is where the popular South Korean DMZ tour ends so there’s a good chance I’ll be right there in a week when I visit South Korea.
Crazy that they are so close yet so far.
Anyway, we were all able to take a photo with the North Korean guard who was touring us around.
This photo opportunity is actually a rarity as one of the things you are constantly told when you’re here is that you can’t take photos of any military.
Of course the tour guides at Young Pioneers slip the guard a carton of cigarettes each time so we’re able to have this opportunity.
It was interesting to see the relationship between Shane our YPT guide and the North Koreans as they all knew him from previous trips and were genuinely excited to see him.
Perhaps it was because of the impending free carton of smokes…
By noon we were done lunch and headed to the nearby down of Kaesong where we were sat at a table displaying dozens of little copper cups.
We each had 10 little dishes in front of us that included pork, eel, glass noodle, root vegetable, potato, rice with honey, eggs, seawood chips, tofu, ricecakes and, of course, kimchi.
Can’t have a Korean meal without kimchi…
There was also an option to buy dog soup for 5 euros and while I’m all for exploring new and different foods around the world, I had trouble mentally getting there for the dog soup so I passed.
As we made our way back up north we stopped by the Koryo Museum.
The museum was once a palace and then a university. Now it’s a place to learn about the old Korea from 918 to 1392 known as the Feudal Dynasty.
Among other things we learned where the Korean dish Hot Pot comes from as in the winter soldiers didn’t have ovens to cook in so they used their heavy helmets to cook their meals in.
Oh, and I bought a bottle of booze with a snake in it…
I have no idea what booze it is and it’s gonna be a pain in the ass lugging it around for a couple for weeks before I go home but, hey, there’s a damn snake in there!
Our next stop on our road back to Pyongyang was the city of Sariwon where we climbed some stairs in a park to have an amazing of the city down below.
I did have some flashbacks to the walking I did on the Great Wall last week but it was definitely worth it.
We also stopped into a little cafe where we sampled Makgeolli which is a fermented rice drink with sugar.
By 5pm we had arrived back in the city of Pyongyang but we had one more stop before dinner…
Post office museum
I don’t know if I’d actually call it a museum as it honestly just looked like a normal post office where you could buy stamps and postcards.
There was a wall display of older stamps to see but I was really interested in getting my hands on some genuine postage stamps after seeing many “tourist” stamps the last couple of days.
I picked up a set of all the stamps for $8 and also bought some propaganda postcards as well.
Man, my backpack is getting heavier by the minute…
For dinner we had another Korean classic, Hot Pot, which seems fitting after learning earlier about the origin of this dish.
To be fair, I probably found this meal to be the most lackluster of the meals I had here in North Korea but nothing that a few shots of Soju won’t fix…
By 10pm we were back at our hotel after yet another long day of exploring.
Tomorrow is our last day here in Pyongyang where we’ll be going to the Mausoleum, watching a mass dance and seeing fireworks among other things.
Here’s to an amazing last day in North Korea…