Tourist attractions: Museum’s, going out, entertainment and shopping in Pyongyang
North Korea is not the country to spend a weekend shopping for exclusive goods, eat in fancy restaurants and swing in hot clubs. You do become part of a very exclusive club however when you bring home some souvenirs from North Korea. Main form of entertainment that tours to Pyongyang offer are visits to one ore more of the many museums the city offers. Most of the museums like the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum, the Korean revolution museum and the Party Foundation Museum are very political and try to impose the North Korea’s view on the Korean war and it’s position in the world. More normal museums like the Korean Central history museum, the central art gallery and the folklore museum, are often programmed as well. There are also many historic site important for North Korea usually to honour Kim Il Sung. Most notable are Kumsusan memorial palace, Kim Il Sung’s mausoleum, the supposed birth house of Kim Il Sung at Mangyongdae and the captured US spy ship the USS Pueblo. A cultural or and musical performance in the Pyongyang Children’s palace or acrobatics in the Army circus are usually offered to tourists. Tourists can also see the famous Mass Games or mass dances their trip is timed when timed well. The restaurants in North Korea are not very good but it would be very hypocrite to complain about this as millions of North Korean’s are strafing of malnutrition! There are certainly shopping opportunities in Pyongyang but do not expect to come back with real communist propaganda posters. Buy stamps in the stamp shop, books in the international book shop or a souvenir in department store nr.1.
Major attraction: Attending Mass games and national celebrations
Since 1946, North Korea has regularly staged mass gymnastics games or performances that have grown ever grander and more lavish over the years and are a result of long hours and months of rigorous training of thousands of people. Mass Games is a spectacle in which all these thousands of performers at a time come together fluidly and flawlessly as one making this show unique in the World. Most people who visit North Korea plan the period for their trip to coincide with the famous Mass Games or other celebrations in Pyongyang. Mass games are held every two or three years recently in 2002, 2005 and 2007. Tickets for the mass games cost between ?50 for normal seats and ?300 for VIP seats. Korea Konsult is a Swedish travel company specialized in travel to North Korea is a good site to find out how to attend mass games. Mass games or not held every year and are sometimes cancelled due to international political problems. A good alternative to the mass games is to be a spectator at one of the public holiday celebrations on Kim Il Sung square. Here mass dances take place, tourist can even join the dance if they like. Main public holidays in North Korea are: 15-04 (Kim Il Sung’s birthday), 09-09 (founding of the republic) and 10-10 (Founding of the Workers Party of Korea). Comtourist at National day celebration 2004.
Major attraction: Kumsusan memorial palace (Kim Il Sung’s mausoleum)
A visit to Kumsusan memorial palace, the mausoleum where Kim Il Sung ’s corpse is displayed is some times part of tourists program in Pyongyang. Kumsusan was the home and office of President Kim Il Sung and was transformed in his mausoleum after his death in 1994 and opened to public in 1995. It is a giant complex with a large square in front of the building. Visitors arrive at the complex with a special tram and then reach the actual palace via a 1 KM long escalator thru a corridor. There is a large marble Kim Il Sung statue at the first hall in the palace. Visitors have to wait in line then walk with 5 people to the statue and bow. In the room with Kim’s body visitors have to walk around the body and bow at every side.
Things to do: Museums and tourist attractions in Pyongyang
North Korea’s museums are important tools to impose the government’s views on the countries history and politics to it’s citizens and tourists. Pyongyang has many museums for this purpose, most important are the Korean Revolution Museum, Chonsung Revolutionary Museum, Party Foundation Museum, Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum, Mangyongdae Revolutionary Museum, Chigol Revolutionary Museum. More conventional museums are the Korea Central History Museum, the Korean Art Gallery, and the Korean Folklore Museum. Apart from these museums are there also historic sites like the Native House of Kim Il Sung at Mangyongdae, Kumsusan memorial palace the Mausoleum of Kim Il Sung and the USS Pueblo a captured US Warship. Other attraction where tourists are often taken to are the Mansudae Art Studio and the Korean Film Studio.
Museum: Victorious fatherland museum
Museum: Korean revolution museum
The main purpose of the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum is to prove North Korea’s version of the Korean war. All kind of documents and witness accounts should prove that the USA and not North Korea started the war. Military equipment like tanks and boats and many panorama’s should give the visitor an idea of the Korean war.
The Korean revolution museum is located behind the giant Kim Il Sung monument on Mansu Hill. This is an other museum dedicated to the revolutionary activities of late president Kim Il Sung. Main theme of the museum is Kim’s effort to teach the Juche philosophy to the Korean. Kim Jung Il’s place in history is also recorded here.
Museum: Central history museum
Museum: Korean art museum
The Korean central history museum on Kim Il Sung square shows the history of Korea from the pre history until now. This museum is political neutral and very educational. The most interesting artefacts are the model of 15th century turtle ship (Geobukseon), far ahead of its time and the multiple launch rocket system (Hwacha) from 1451.
The Korean Central Art Gallery on Kim Il Sung square is the main art museum of Pyongyang. The expositions of the museum is mainly made up of Korean Socialist Realist art and Korean traditional art. This museum is a real must for those interested communist art. Go to northkoreanart.com to learn more about North Korean communist art.
Tourist attraction: Korean film studio
Tourist attraction: Mansudae art studio
The Korea Film Studio located 16 km from the centre was opened in 1947 and now comprises an area of 1 million m?. There are several sets, some with traditional streets, some with revolutionary sites. In North Korea film is an important tool of propaganda. Therefore it is interesting to see this Korean imagination of history and society.
At the Mansudae art studio traditional Korean arts and crafts like ceramics, embroideries and paintings are displayed and can be bought. Do not expect propaganda posters or socialist realist art as these products are not on sale here. It seems the government believes politics is very serious business that should not be commercially explored.
Historic site: USS Pueblo
Historic site: Mangyongdae
The Pueblo, a US naval intelligence ship was seized by the North Korean navy in 1968. Pyongyang claimed the ship was seized in North Korean territorial waters, the US have always denied this. The crew of the Pueblo was detained in North Korea for nearly a year before their release was negotiated. The Pueblo can be visited by tourists.
The supposed birth house of Kim Il Sung at Mangyongdae is one of the most important holy sites of the Kim cult in North Korea. The house does not look very old but thousands of North Koreans wait for hours here to get a glimpse of a view straw cabins. There are also a fun fair, pleasure ground, a museum and monuments at Mangyongdae.
Going out: Eating, drinking and entertainment in Pyongyang
It is easy to imagine that Pyongyang is not a city with a buzzing night life where many trendy bars and restaurants can be found. Nightlife almost doesn’t exist and there are only a view restaurants to entertain tourist, expads and diplomats that live in Pyongyang. Tourists usually have dinner in their hotel and in one or two of the cities tourist restaurants. Very good is the Pyongyang Duck restaurant number one, with barbequed duck as specialty. The Naemg Myong specialty restaurant serves Pyongyang’s most famous dish Naeng Myon, a bowl with noodles, egg, meat and spices. Here you can also eat hot pot mainly with seafood. Many Korean dishes exist of small bowls with cold ingredients, the quality of the food in the restaurants of Pyongyang is usually good, much better then outside the capital. There are no bars and disco’s for tourists in Pyongyang but there are a Karaoke bar and Gold lane bowling where the guides usually take tourists to. A show in the Pyongyang Army circus or the Children’s palace are usually part of the tourist program. The acrobatics show in the Army Circus is actually quit a happening thanks to the great band and propaganda images on a large screen. Hundreds of show tourists how well they are trained in sports, music, dance and artistic performance in the children’s palace. Tourist are allowed to visit mass performances in on of Pyongyang’s stadiums, indoor facilities or on Kim Il Sung Square. So it is a good idea to keep this in mind when planning a trip to North Korea.
Shopping: Souvenirs hunting in Pyongyang
So where do you buy communist propaganda posters, pins, Korean war memorabilia or images of the great leader in Pyongyang? Well.... nowhere, North Korea takes it’s politics and leaders very serious and refuses to commercialize this. There are some interesting souvenirs to bring home however. It is certainly interesting to bring home some picture books or political reading from North Korea. The Yanggakdo hotel has a book shop with many books in foreign languages. There is also the international bookshop where all Kim Il Sun and Kim Jung Il’s works are sold. Most hotels have souvenir shops and there is one in the centre as well. Best buy in these places are the traditional paintings that go for $10,- and a model of the Juche tower. North Korea has understood that stamps are an easy way to generate some revenue, hundreds of different series can be bought in the stamp shop. A visit to one of Pyongyang warehouses like Storehouse nr. 1 or nr.2 is usually part of the program. In these storehouses it really feels like travelling back to the seventies in the Soviet Union. Products are displayed behind the counters and not affordable for most North Koreans. There is also a foreign store run by a German where tourist can buy, western and Chinese products like cigarettes, sweets, alcohol, cosmetics etc. This is a good place to buy some small gifts for the guides.
Department store nr. 1
The stamp shop
A visit to one of Pyongyang’s department stores is a real highlight and usually part of a tour. These Soviet style warehouses, display luxury goods for the domestic market. Good place to buy a souvenir.
The International bookshop has a large assortment of North Korean, photo, history, tourist books and also political publications. All Kim Il Sung and Kim Jung Il’s works can be bought here.
The Pyongyang stamp shop has a large collection of North Korean stamps for sale. Stamps with almost any theme are available. Best here are the interesting and often old postcards for sale here.
The souvenir shops mainly sells standard souvenirs like postcards, stamps fridge magnets, arts and crafts etc. Not much interesting stuff to buy here, do send a post card home!
Film: A state of mind
A state of mind
North Korea is the only country in the world that still organizes Mass games, the games are held for propaganda purpose and tourist are welcome. This socialist realism spectacular involves a cast of thousands in the biggest and most elaborate human performance on earth. A state of mind is the second North Korea documentary by VeryMuchSo Productions. Their first film "the game of their lives", tells the story of the success of the North Korean football team during the 1966 football world championships in England. The film makers were granted permission from the North Korean film authorities to shoot their second documentary for almost a year. The film follows two young gymnasts and their families for over eight months in the lead up to the Mass Games. The viewer gets ban intimate view on day to day life in North Korea. This amazing documentary shows how extremely devoted the North Korean people are to their leader Kim Jong Il. Read more about this film on the official website.