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Part 2: Leisure Paradise in a Military Zone at the Border to South Korea


First thing we learned that you had to pay 30Euros more for a single room if you not wanted to share your room. By the way the Euro seams to be the best accepted currency in the DPRK but also the Chinese RMB is very welcome. Together with the surcharge the room was 130 Euros what reminded me again at our former Eastern part of Germany when the boarder was open. The prices for food and accommodation were exaggeratingly high compared to what you got in the Western part for your money.

Hotel in DPRK

One of the restaurants in our hotel
At least in our Hotel in NK we had a kind of central heater (I switched off immediately) you could regulate with opening the windows to let some fresh air in. My room was barely 20sqm and the mattress was fitting Chinese needs for no comfort zones (like sleeping on the floor). The shower would set the whole wet room under water but you got a nice towel with some North Korean folk motives on it.
On thing we learned while our guide was trying to distract us from the landscape was that in North Korea you got the luxury choice of two TV channels. One is sending in the evening around 5pm to 9pm (if I remember right) news and on the second you can enjoy on the weekends also around this time some latest Chinese classic revolutionary movies. Keen to get the latest news I switched on my 80th styled color tv and as a matter of fact I got after a bit of searching 2 channels working. But for my disappointment there were no news (I was too late or they were out of stock for today) but in a Pre-MTV style glorious soldiers fighting their way though whatever and into a bright future.

I anyways had no time to waist watching television but to go for our welcome dinner banquet. I will skip the description of the official speeches from Korean officials and Chinese members of the groups. It made just clear that the Korean side was taken it seriously to entertain their future investors and supporters.
The food was not like in Chinese banquets but for a country, were people were starving at the time we were visiting it, is was amazing: Some fish, chicken, cold vegetables, spicy Kimchi, see grass and cold rice. Cold rice seems to be the speciality in this country and you can have it to any time! Highlight was the beer what is length better than the watery brew you get in China.
Hotel in DPRK
We were seated together with the colleague from the Washington Post and his assistant and had our personal guide, a woman in her 40th with the usual family name beginning with a K. She seems to be well trained in dealing with Westerners and was keeping up a good mood making jokes, trying to answer our questions and giving us some bits and pieces of information about North Korea.
People from North Korea don't have access to Internet and cannot make international phone calls or see international tv, are not allowed to travel outside their country. How do they get their knowledge for instance for their professional development?
There is an intranet for information exchanges between the universities and also there are libraries with information for everybody, is the answer, but who is updating this information for the general public and for the scientific researches? No answer to this question.
A more personal question for Mrs. K: If she is not missing the freedom of traveling and information? The answer: She never has experienced this kind of freedom so she does not know if she is missing something or not.
Then some questions around the special zone they are planning in the nature reserve. Clear was that North Korea is in need to gather money for the birthday festivities for their big leader in 2012. For this task they are willing to open a resort in this very nature reserve close to South Korea. This resort should be open to international tourism. Including tourists from South Korea?? We did not get a clear answer to this question. For South Korean, who often believe that there are no trees left in the northern part of their country, it would be an enlightening experience.
Nature in DPRK
We discovered the next day in a long mountain hiking tour that North Korea has a great and more or less untouched nature to present. We walked for hours a mountain path up and down, (always guided and tailed from three to four personal guards for my reporter and me), discovered a mountain lake in fog and rain and went to the see side were military boats went up and down surely to make sure that no one was drowning by the attempt to get their hot feet cooled down.

Forest in the DPRK

We got to hear a lot of tales of mysteries and imaginations I don't like to repeat here like 'were in the mountain the mother in law of their big leader met an elephant and this elephant turned to stone' and so on and so forth. And also some tales about the daily life in North Korea. For instance we were told that everyone who is working is supplied with 700grams of rice, some vegetables and sometimes fish.

Nature in the DPRK

On our lake tour we met an American language professor teaching at the University in Pyongyang as a group member of another tour. He told us that he lives with other teachers from many countries on a special compound at the University. He told us that he stayed there for several years and he was even allowed to leave the campus and could drive around in the city with his own car. He was also allowed to go shopping in special markets for imported goods or go in a restaurant and had access to internet and phone. But he had to deny that he could get contact to normal inhabitants. They were trained not to avoid any contact with foreigners and anyways there would be the language barrier if you could get in contact with them.

Seeside in the DPRK

See side rendevous: The 'fisher boat' in the far back (left side)is a militry patrol boad to avoid drowning..
Until now our Chinese group members seemed to be pleased with the tour and were thinking that NK would be an ideal spot for a nostalgic encounter with their own past. But they would miss later badly their big dishes of Chinese oily food but until now the unusual sight of trees and nature was still overwhelming them. And they got really exited when it came to the souvenir shopping in an container building close to our hotel. Here you could buy thinks 'cheapola' like Gingseng, all kind of Kitsch or even things meanwhile forbidden in China like Tiger Bone liqueur. The Chinese were raving the shelves and for me it became clear what freedom for them really ment: The freedom to spend their money!
Back in the hotel we went for a discovery tour of the 'Skybar' to figure out what entertainment one could get. It was early evening and the big place was empty. Later, after the dinner our Korean leaders shoot celebrate friendship with some Chinese tour members who would pay the bill for them. We had a close look at the shelves behind the bar and we were astonished to find all kinds of international alcoholic beverage even wine from Germany.
After dinner we were 'invited' for tea from the vice president of the special zone for an informal chat about our impressions of the nature reserve and to ask questions about the future Touristic zone. This guy was a master of avoiding to answer questions. We did not figure out what his background was (he told us circus director) and what the history of the so called special zone was ( too long to tell in one evening). But he was trying to amuse us the whole time until he left (and we had to pay the bill for the beverages from his invitation). But for the next evening back in Pyongyang we were promised an official interview to answer all our questions.
We went upstairs to the 'Skybar' and got a good look at Chinese/NK friendship celebrating ending with a big Chinese guy paying the bill of the party. Our guides were of course always in the background watching us. They were sitting sleepy at the bar and waiting for us finally to go.

Part three: Back in Pyongyang