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A thread on my recent North Korea trip. No real insights or woke takes to share, this is merely to describe what a trip to the DPRK is actually like.
If going by plane, your North Korean experience will begin in Beijing airport as soon as you set sights on your Air Koryo plane awaiting you.
The interior is a throwback to the days of air travel before personal in-flight movies and air stewardesses trying to flog you bottles of Chanel No. 5
Our inflight meal was a simple but not horrendous cup of tea (no milk) and a pork burger. North Korean brand sodas were also available. I’ve experience worse on American flights to be honest.
Service was friendly, if robotic. This stewardess was quite foxy. Halfway through the flight they push out a duty free trolley but it’s only selling North Korean dolls, cigarettes and ginseng.
The entertainment left much to be desired. Our shared monitors displayed the very best of Socialist films and lots and lots of images of Kim Jong Un.
Far far more interesting was the complimentary issue of The Pyongyang Times. North Korea’s record of note included some fascinating articles. I had to be careful with this paper later in my hotel room as folding an image of one of the Kims is not allowed.
The newspaper was mainly records of increased production and Kim Jong Un’s daily glories, but I did enjoy this fun bit of Japan-bashing.
The DPRK isn’t unaware of current year identity politics. This article wouldn’t be out of place in the New York Times.
On arrival we had our first glimpses of Pyongyang. Impressively Stalinist in its epic constructions, and devoid of traffic jams and advertising. Most of the tour was spent sat in the tour bus with our ubiquitous guides.
I enjoyed these glimpses of a city unaffected by hideous crass advertising. Note that there were many areas and sites we were not allowed to photo - so these photos only show half the story.
We were in Korea for the birthday of Kim Il Sung, otherwise known as the Day of the Sun. The days before North Korea’s biggest holiday we’re eerily quiet though.
Eventually we arrived at our stay: The Koryo Hotel. The Koryo is one of only two hotels in Pyongyang where foreigners are allowed to stay. Think 1970s glam and you’ve got the right idea.
Rooms were basic but functioning...
... as were the weird plastic injected cubicle bathrooms.
From my smoking area I had a nice view of Downtown Pyongyang - or DoToPyYa as Korean hipsters like to call it (lie).
The coal stacks of Pyongyang provided warmth to my room and glorious views...
... as did this bottomless pit where visiting dignitaries who disagree with the Juche Idea are cast into.
Beer in the DPRK is actually pretty good. The main Taedonggang state-owner brewery produces 8 different beers imaginatively entitled Beers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. This is Beer Number 2.
Even though we were not allowed to leave the hotel at night, I did not visit the hotel’s karaoke room despite promises that it was a “wonderland”.
The next day we headed down to the DMZ. Our guide regaled is with facts and figures about the glories of North Korea and the Kim Dynasty. In all honestly, she was pretty cool. Here she is teaching us the traditional Korean patriotic song “Arirang”.
She wrote us the words in case you wish to sing along at home. She also made a joke that if we didn’t memorise the song by heart then we weren’t getting our passports back.

I learnt the song.
The long road to the DMZ.
North Korean smokes livened up the journey. Here is Arirang brand and 7.27 which is regarded as their best brand. 7.27 is the date the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed.
The town bordering the DMZ is famous for its ginseng. Low class and obnoxious Chinese tour groups flock here from across the border for cheap meds. The Koreans despised their bad behaviour, noise and spitting but need the money.
These kind of Chinese tour groups are shuttled to the DMZ and the ginseng shops. Due to the strict controls placed on tourist behaviour they are generally not allowed into Pyongyang or anywhere near the sacred sites related to the Kims. The Chinese don’t seem interested either.
We were herded through the DMZ area due to the hundreds of Chinese tourists. This is where the Korean armistice was signed. At all times we had to follow NK soldiers and obey their orders on where to walk and what we could photo.
The table where the armistice was agreed.
There are actually farming villages on the North Korean side of the DMZ where farmers pick rice from the barren landscape. Note the fluttering North Korean flag signifying their territory...
... and the flag of Worst Korea on the other side.
DPRK soldiers used to wear old fashioned Communist uniforms, but since the talks with the South and the US, the two sides have been wearing the same style uniform since last year in an effort towards detente.
We saw no anti-American propaganda at all in Best Korea. We were told that previously it was rife - think billboards with images of the White House getting nuked - but since the talks with Trump this has all been removed... for now. Still plenty of anti-Japanese propaganda though
This structure on the highway between Pyongyang and the DMZ represents two women in traditional dress linking hands. It symbolises Korean reunification.
Back in Pyongyang, we then experienced one of my personal highlights of the tour: a trip on the Pyongyang underground train system.
We travelled on the first three stations, respectively named “Prosperity”, “Glory” and “Flaming Torch”. I approve of these names. There are doubts whether the other 13 stations really exist. Our guide told us they were “under repair”.
Prosperity Station. Note the old creaking trains, the glorious murals on all walls, and the lights overhead.
Even down here you are never far from Socialist Realism, though I prefer this over McDonalds adverts.
This kinda reminded me of the City of Rapture in Bioshock.
North Koreans heading home after a busy day working for the greater good.
If you look carefully at the far wall of the train carriage you will notice the portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il always watching.
Glory Station.
Flaming Torchlight Station: surprisingly summer than Glory Station.
Upon emerging from the underground, we were then taken to a bizarre mini amusement park that was shockingly quite good.
Though the rides were modern, we were still not allowed more than a few metres away from our ever-present tour guides, and we had to put our cameras away whenever a soldier walked by.
People seemed to be having a genuinely good time. North Korea isn’t a simple black and white place, though as a tourist I was of course only given a highly chaperoned tour of what they wanted me to see.
Some important buildings around Pyongyang: The Arch of Triumph.
And at night. To the right you can see the still unfinished Ryugyong Hotel lit up. It is 105 stories high and listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the tallest unoccupied building in the world (the guides don’t tell you this).
Construction began in 1987 but hit a major roadblock when the Soviet Union collapsed and the DPRK has bigger problems than an unfinished hotel. Still, it has a certain dignity about it.
The Juche Tower. Juche is the state ideology of North Korea. It basically boils down to Korea itself being the religion of Korea.
It looks better at night.
The Monument to the Founding of the Workers’ Party. In addition to the hammer and sickle, the Koreans also add in a calligraphy brush to the usual Communist sign. Our guide told us this was because “we have more intellectuals than the other socialist countries”!

The North Korean film I watched on one of my three TV channels. The other channels were all basically images of Kim Jong Un and people applauding.
Like this...
On the glorious Day of the Sun itself, we visited the Kumsusan Palace where the bodies of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il lie in state. This was a highly regulated day where we had to wear formal dress and few photos were allowed.
The sun magically appeared and Pyongyang was sparkling. We were told to maintain a solemn air and arms were to be at our sides at all times. We couldn’t put them in our pockets or even fold them.
Korean women heading to pay their respects. Inside the palace, all visitors (including us) have to bow three times to the bodies of the Great Leaders. No talking is allowed.
The front of the palace. These were once Kim Il Sung’s offices, now they are a temple to the Kims.
People from all over North Korea come for the Day of the Sun. Kim Jong Il also has his own day in February: The Day of the Shining Star. Officially though, neither of them are dead. They both remain President and Chairman of North Korea for eternity.
We were then taken to boring exhibitions of the Kimilsungia flower named after the eternal President. Here is a rare photo of him when young where you can see the close resemblance he has with his grandson.
Kimjongunia is also a thing.
Statues of the Kims where we were forced to purchase $5 flowers and lay them at their feet before bowing.
Later, in one of the main squares, a mass dance “spontaneously” broke out in honour of the day.
The sight of hundreds of people repeating identical dance movements was quite stirring. We even joined in.
As a reward for our good behaviour and patriotism, we were then allowed a trip to an amazing bar which wouldn’t have been out of place in any major western city.
Mine’s a pint.
The Day of the Sun was completed by a dinner on an old fashioned river boat which was delightfully kitsch inside. Even the uniforms of the waitresses were a joy.
After dinner, the waitresses put on a little show for us.
Fuck BTS. This is the real K-Pop.
A traditional interval.
I will state here that I failed to capture my 🇰🇵 flag.

Everybody fails.
Our trip was coming to an end, but we still had one last treat in store for us...
I was lucky enough to get given a copy of this magazine for the flight home. Let’s take a look at what’s inside.
There was a special section on the recent meeting in Vietnam between Trump and Kim Jong Un.
On close inspection, note how Kim Jong Un’s name is typed in a slightly bigger font than Trump’s.
The magazine had a special section on other world leaders who have expressed their boundless admiration. They were all very relevant and up-to-date. Here’s what Stalin had to say.
And Tito. Nobody else on my tour group of 10 even knew who he was.
Perhaps my favourite was this quote by Jimmy Carter who declares Kim Il Sung to be greater than all the Founders and Presidents of the United States put together and even God.
Sadly, all good things come to an end, and so did this. I enjoyed my visit to Best Korea and encourage anyone with a curious mind to go check it out. It’s a fascinating place and certainly rewarding.

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