Day 4 (09/10/04) part 2: Kaesong
After our visit of the DMZ on the North and South Korean border at Panmunjom we drove back to Kaesong. Kaesong in one of the oldest Korean cities and was once the capital of the Koryo dynasty, the first unified Korean state. It changed hands three times during the Korean war. The only railroad connection between North and South Korea runs through it. We saw a railway station with piles off rice coming in from the world food program. There are many tourist attractions in and around the city such as the Nam Gate, the Tomb of King Kongmin, the Koryo museum, Songkyunkwan (Confucian educational institution) and the Sonjuk Bridge. We would stay in the Folklore hotel in the old town of Kaesong. Kaesong is famous for its ginseng a valuable medicinal root and is used to make tea, brandy, medicine and meals such as ginseng chicken. We started with a lunch in the Tongil (reunification) restaurant. The menu existed of a variety of cold local dishes like seaweed, fish, assorted meat dishes and Kimchi (pickled cabbage).
The Nam Gate
The Nam (south) gate was built between 1391 and 1393, at the same time as the inner citadel of the walled city. The citadel used to have seven gates, but only Nam gate is left. During the Korea War is was severely damaged and later rebuilt.
The small Sonjuk bridge dates from 1216. It is only 7 meters long and 2.5 meters wide. On the bridge Ri Song Gye, the first king of the Ri dynasty had his opponent Jong Mong Ju executed. According to our guide his blood was still visible.
Inside the pavilion are two huge stelea (stone tablets) on the backs of stone turtles. They commemorate the execution of Jong Mong Ju and confirm his loyalty to the ruling dynasty, thereby paradoxically confirming the decaying of the Ri dynasty.
Kaesong is dominated by the Chanam Mountain. An enormous Kim Il Sung statue was erected on the top of the mountain in 1968. From the top there is a nice view on the city and on Songak Mountain. A big motorway leads to the statue.
Museum: Songgyungwan Academy / Koryo Museum
local product: Koryo Insam tea
The Songgyungwan academy, the highest educational institute in the country was founded in 1089. The candidates could study the Confucian classics in order to succeed in the examinations and to acquire an administrative post. It also was a centre of sacrificial rites of Confucianism. The Songgyungwan academy houses the Koryo Museum since 1987. The museum has an collection of historical objects, among which statues and Koryo porcelain. The green Koryo porcelain is the most famous Korean historic artefacts.
Most famous souvenirs from Kaesong are ginseng products. We bought Koryo Insam Tea, made from fresh Ginseng a medicinal herb only growing in a view places in the world. Ginseng is one of the most important export products of the DPRK.
Looking around in the centre of Kaesong
After visiting the various tourist attractions we had some time to look around in the city centre of Kaesong. We mainly looked around from a big crossroad near the Nam Gate. From here we could look in multiple directions and see some interesting things. A female police officer was arranging the traffic in the middle of the crossroad, traffic mainly consists of people on bicycles. Kaesong is surrounded by hills, on one site there is the Chaham road with the giant Kim Il Sung statue. On the other site of town is a big hill with a large radio antenna and a propaganda slogan. We passed the porcelain factory on our way to the Kaesong folklore hotel.
Accommodation: The folklore hotel
After a long day of activities it was time to check in to our hotel, the folklore hotel. It exist of a group of traditional restored Korean wooden houses around a stream. The weather was great and we enjoyed a cool Korean bottle of beer in the little private garden of our apartment. Visitors eat and sleep the Korean traditional way, on the floor with a blanket rolled up as pillow. There was no electricity and water available in the hotel (standard practice outside Pyongyang). The bath tub was filled with water from the stream so we could flush the toilet with a bucket.
Restaurant: The folklore restaurant
In the evening we had a traditional meal with some nice Ginseng Brandy in the hotel restaurant. The restaurant’s theme is also folklore so we were eating on the floor. We were asked if we would like to have a chicken stuffed with ginseng for an extra 50?. We decided to pass and go for the standard dinner. Korean meals usually exist of many small (cold) dishes in little bowls. The lack of electricity and fresh water did mean that stomach problems are inevitable after eating in the restaurant.
Brief history: The forgotten war
In the US the Korean war is often branded as the "Forgotten War". It started only 5 years after World War 2 and would be overshadowed by the Vietnam War (1967 - 1973) in people’s minds. In the DPRK the Korean war is all but forgotten, in fact it never ended there. It was a rare example of the Cold War turning hot pitting the US and its allies against the communist powers. It was marked by dramatic swings of fortune and a devastating death toll. A least two million Korean civilians, up to 1.5m communist forces, and around 30.000 US, 400.000 South Korean and 1.000 British troops are believed to have died. On 25-06-1950 North Korean forces moved south in force, their surprise attack was a crushing success. Within days South Korean forces were in full retreat. Seoul was captured by the North Koreans in early July. The US joined the war (with troops station in Japan) and recaptured Seoul and captured Pyongyang. American general Mc Arthur told Truman that Mao would not join the North Koreans. But the Chinese did attack and the front was stabilized along what eventually became the permanent Armistice Line. A cease fire was signed, on 27-07-1953, no one could have guessed that 50 years later, the two Koreas would remain technically at war. A peace treaty has never been signed, and the border continues to bristle with mines, artillery and thousands of troops.