Remote Lands

Introducing North Korea: Pyongyang 2009

This piece was originally written by Catherine in 2009, following her first visit to North Korea as Remote Lands prepared to launch the country as a new destination…

 

I just returned from a reconnaissance to North Korea that I can only describe as mind-blowing. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is the ultimate remote land, and one of the most fascinating places I have ever been. No other country in the world has cut itself off quite so completely from the rest of the world, so I almost felt like I was on another planet whilst there (I opted not to defect this time to the great relief of my husband ).

 

North Korean guide at Mt Myohang

North Korean guide at Mt Myohang

 

North Koreans are fiercely proud of their country and culture, which revolves around the devotion to one man – Kim Il Sung – The Great Leader and former President of the DPRK. He died in 1993 but still permeates every moment of every day with his ubiquitous image on almost every building, wall, hillside, field and chest – everyone wears a Kim Il Sung pin at all times. It is of course a socialist country, and every person works for the state – even the “creative” artists and musicians hold 9-to-5 salaried jobs and are instructed what to produce. In return they are well cared for with free housing, schooling and healthcare, and everyone seems quite happy and content.

DPRK is physically beautiful with gorgeous countryside and extremely grand buildings and monuments. I drove all around the country and saw villages, farms, schools, hospitals and even an orphanage. I saw the Mass Games, a dance/gymnastics extravaganza, which was one of the most dazzling performances I have ever seen. I visited the DMZ border with South Korea, the War Museum and the USS Pueblo “spy ship” and learned a lot about the Korean War, which was started by the USA. They hate our government, or at least our past government policies, but they don’t hate us, and were indeed very warm and friendly to me.

Here are some images and my thoughts on my experiences.

 

My Arrival at Pyongyang Airport

My Arrival at Pyongyang Airport

 

Pyongyang’s skyline is dominated by the new 105 story Ryugyong Hotel which will be the world’s tallest hotel when it opens in 2012.

 

Ryugyong Hotel

View from above Pyongyang

 

The path of my daily 7-mile run along the river (they told me at first I couldn’t run but fortunately reversed that, although with restrictions.)

 

The path of my daily 7-mile run along the river (they told me at first I couldn’t run but fortunately reversed that although with restrictions)

My daily run along the river

 

The breathtaking Mass Games with 100,000 synchronized performers, dancers and gymnasts in the world’s largest stadium which seats 150,000 spectators. What looks like the backdrop is actually 20,000 children holding up colored cards which create different scenes that they change flawlessly every 15-30 seconds during the course of the 90 minute show.

 

The breathtaking Mass Games with 100,000 synchronized performers, dancers and gymnasts in the world’s largest stadium which seats 150,000 spectators. What looks like the backdrop is actually 20,000 children holding up colored cards which create different scenes that they change flawlessly every 15-30 seconds during the course of the 90 minute show

Mass Games

 

 

 

A typical sign commemorating a visit by the Dear Leader

A typical sign commemorating a visit by the Dear Leader

 

Outside Kim Il Sung’s mausoleum. The pomp and circumstance involved in visiting this massive monument is jaw-dropping, involving endless moving walkways, grandiose marble halls and repeated bows to the Great Leader who lies in state.

 

Outside Kim Il Sung’s mausoleum.  The pomp and circumstance involved in visiting this massive monument is jaw-dropping, involving endless moving walkways,  grandiose marble halls and repeated bows to the Great Leader who lies in state

Mausoleum With Women in Traditional Korean Dresses

 

Catherine with a DPRK Soldier guarding the DMZ at Panmunjom on the heavily fortified border with South Korea.

 

Catherine with a DPRK Soldier guarding the DMZ at Panmunjom on the heavily fortified border with South Korea

Catherine Heald with smiling North Korean soldier

 

An orphanage where I spent hours holding and playing with the clean and happy children.

 

An orphanage where I spent hours holding and playing with the clean and happy children

North Korean orphanage

 

A cooperative farm town where 2,500 people live and work together in this socialist utopia. Free housing, education and healthcare for all – Obama take note!

 

A cooperative farm town where 2,500 people live and work together in this socialist utopia. Free housing, education and healthcare for all – Obama take note!

Catherine Heald at North Korea Coop Farm with Huge Bronze Statue

 

Why did I go? Curiosity and adventure were the driving factors, but I had a good business reason besides. Remote Lands will soon be introducing Luxury Bespoke Holidays in North Korea, optionally by Private Jet. The trips will originate in Beijing at a five-star hotel such as Aman at Summer Palace, Raffles Beijing or the ultra-hip Opposite House. Clients will fly either privately or commercially to Pyongyang, where they will be picked up in their luxury Mercedes or Lexus by their posse of expert guides and driver. They will stay in the best hotels available, with rooms enhanced by Remote Lands with fine bed and bath linens, pillows, duvets, bathrobes, slippers, European toiletries and Charmin toilet paper. Mini-bars and car coolers will be stocked with the clients’ choice of snacks, soft drinks and libations including fine wines and champagne flown from Europe and the USA via Beijing. North Korea’s best chefs will be on hand to create the most delicious Korean, Japanese and Chinese cuisine. Clients will travel all over North Korea from the mountains of the north (Mt Paekdu, Mt Myohyang) to the beaches in the east (Wonsan) to the DMZ on the southern border with the Republic of Korea (ROK). Remote Lands will arrange fascinating tailor-made “insider” experiences for its clients who will have the opportunity to meet some of DPRK’s most remarkable people.

 

North Korea is not for everyone, but for those intrepid few who have been almost everywhere else, it is the last frontier and a must-see place that will not soon be forgotten.

 

Regardless of government policies, we believe we can promote peace between the US and DPRK at a grassroots level through tourism. It is easy to hate and fear from afar, but when people are standing face to face with you – or better yet sharing a cup of tea or a beer – all the barriers melt away. As Mark Twain said, “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”

 

We have now been running North Korea trips for our clients for 6 years, so to take an eye-opening trip with true North Korea experts, check out our range of North Korea itineraries and then contact us on info@remotelands.com, and we’ll help plan your visit to the Hermit Kingdom.

Catherine Heald

Catherine Heald is the Co-Founder and CEO of Remote Lands, an ultra-luxe private tour operator based in New York and Bangkok. Catherine's love affair with Asia took off when she jetted to Hong Kong in 1987 and ended up staying for 7 years. She has been traveling to the continent ever since.

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