Day 5 (11/09/04): Mt. Kuwol, the west sea barrage and Pyongyang
Early morning of day 5 and time to leave the Folklore Hotel in Kaesong and return to Pyongyang. We would drive back via Nampho and have stops at Mt. Kuwol and the West Sea barrage on our way. On Mt. Kuwol (one of Korea’s sacred mountains) we visited the Buddhist Woljong temple and had a picnic near a waterfall on the mountain with our guides. We had to wait for an hour at the locks of the West Sea Barrage where a view ships were locked trough. This was a very interesting happening especially since thousands of people were waiting on their bicycle with a bag of UN rice (from the World Food Programme) on the carrier of the bike. Unfortunally were we disallowed to leave the car and make some photo’s of the ships and the distribution of the help goods. We were shown a movie about the construction of the West Sea Barrage in the visitors centre after we finally passed the locks. At the end of the 8km barrage lies Nampho, North Korea’s main port, from where we drove back to Pyongyang over a 10 lane highway without any cars. The would spend the rest of the day in Pyongyang with site seeing, shopping and bring a visit to Kumsusan, Kim Il Sung’s mausoleum. The weather turned from sunshine to heavy rain that day, it wouldn’t stop any more during our stay. In the evening we had a goodbye dinner in a Duck restaurant and our guide asked if we would like to go bowling or even go to a club. Unfortunally we had to decline this suggestion as we were to tired and now had heavy stomach problems caused by the unrefrigerated food we ate in Kaesong.
Mount Kuwol and the Woljong temple
Our first stop on the way back from Kaesong to Pyongyang was Mount Kuwol. Tourist guides claim that the mountain is 909 meters high, corresponding with the birthday of the DPRK 09/09. Our altitude meter however showed that the highest point was only 730 meter high! More prove that a fact is not always a fact in the DPRK. We visited the 9th century Woljong temple a Buddhist monastery on the mountain in a lush green environment. We had a picnic near a waterfall on the mountain.
The west sea barrage
The 8km long West Sea barrage (construction completed in 1986) was build to manage the water level on the Taedong River. We had to wait for an hour before we could pass the locks. In the visitors centre we were showed a propaganda film about the construction of the dam. Most striking were thousands of people on bicycles transporting rice waiting to cross the dam. We passed the city of Nampho at the other end of the dam. Nampho is the main harbour of the DPRK but very small for western standards.
The Nampho Pyongyang highway
A ten lane highway connects the cities of Nampho and Pyongyang. We passed the Fiat plant near Nampho (one of the first private foreign companies allowed in the DPRK). The road was build recently by the communist youth organization without resources like heavy machines. The road is mainly used by bicycles and people on foot. We saw many people trying to things like cigarettes on the road (we were not allowed to film them). Finally we entered Pyongyang on the Soviet style?Thongil street.
Kumsusan memorial palace (Kim Il Sung’s mausoleum)
We started our Pyongyang site seeing tour with a visit of Kumsusan Palace, one of the holiest shrines of the Kim cult in the DPRK. It was the main residence of Kim Il Sung during his live and is now the Mausoleum of the "Eternal Leader". We drove in a Convoy (Police car in front and behind the column) to the Memorial Palace. The last part is a straight 1 km lane to the Palace. The Koreans take a special (Swiss made) tram from the beginning of the lane (Pipa Street) to the Palace. Near the palace we lined up under a concrete shelter structure together with hundreds of Koreans and whole platoons of soldiers. There is was a long way to go once we were inside the building. A long corridor (1 km) with a horizontal escalator (like on airports) took us to the actual entrance. In the first room a huge marble Kim Il Sung Statue is placed, here you are supposed to walk in rows of 5 to a line before the statue and then bow your head. We had to go through a special high tech chamber where dust is removed before we entered the room with the body of Kim Il Sung. In the room itself we walked around the glass box with laying on a traditional Korean bed bowing on every side of the box. Next there were some rooms with Kim’s Mercedes, his bullet proof train and displayed gifts he received from foreign countries. Finally we had to write something to Kim in a guest book. There is a large square in front of the palace with slogans on both site stating: "The Great Leader Comrade Kim Il Sung Will Always Be With Us".
Site seeing: The socialist monuments of Pyongyang
We had already driven trough Pyongyang during day 3 but spend most of that day around Kim Il Sung square and in Morangbong Park. On day 5, our last full day in communist North Korea we would go site seeing in Pyongyang and visit the city’s major monuments. We started at the Arc of triumph after we visited Kim Il Sung’s mausoleum. We also saw the giant Kim Il Sun Stadium and a large propaganda fresco situated on the square of the Arc of triumph. There was an excellent view on the Ryugyong hotel from the square. Next we would have stops at the Reunification monument and the Juche Tower, both excellent examples of communist monuments. Then we checked out the Monument to the Victorious fatherland a series of large socialist sculptures commemorating the victory of the North in the Korean war. Final stop was the revolutionary martyr’s cemetery, where North Korean war hero’s and revolutionary’s are buried and honoured with a bust.
Shopping: Souvenir hunting in Pyongyang
No visit to a foreign country is complete without bringing home some souvenirs to remember the country. We hoped to come home with loads of communist propaganda material but this turned out to be hard to find in North Korea. The majority of souvenirs for sale are typically Asian kitsch like landscape paintings, embroidery and other "hands and crafts" goods. We did however managed to get our hands on some interesting material. We started in Warehouse No.1 (nine floors) were goods like cloth’s, electronics, toy’s, household equipment and much more is on offer. We bought some small souvenirs here mainly to experience the Soviet way of paying for the goods, first we got a receipt and next we had to pay in a small cabin. The next shop was the souvenir shop with again just hands and crafts articles so not very interesting. In the stamp shop it turned out that North Korea is very productive when it comes to stamps. Hundredth’s of stamp series with different theme’s from airplane’s to instruments, from animals to sports were for sale. We bought a couple of stamps mainly depicting North Korean and foreign leaders. More interesting however was the collection of post cards, mainly the new years cards (for domestic use) with revolutionary images draw our attention, we bought quit a view. The International book shop offers the Selected Works from Kim Il Sung and the most recent works of Kim Jung Il, and many other ideological books in many languages. We were also aloud to buy some hand painted non militaristic propaganda poster, that came from under the counter. Our guide claimed these were not for sale officially, we had to wait for half an our until the other foreigner were gone. Further we bought a "Juche Tower" model, two "mass game" posters and a landscape painting in the Hotel shop. We changed some Euros for DPRK money at the Hotel reception.