DPRK (and Beijing) Day six, part two
05.09.2019 - 05.09.2019
After a morning spent paying our respects to the Eternal Leaders of the DPRK (see previous entry) we left Pyongyang at 2.30 and headed south on the Reunification Highway.
The Monument to the Three Charters for National Reunification
We stopped at the Monument to the Three Charters for National Reunification to take photos. Being North Korea it was perfectly possible to stand in the middle of the road to do so!
The Monument to the Three Charters for National Reunification
This white granite monument stands at the southern entrance to the city. It depicts two women in the north and south wearing traditional Korean dresses, holding between them a sphere with a map of a unified Korea. It was opened in August 2001 to commemorate Korean reunification proposals put forward by President Kim Il Sung. His proposals were based on three principles: independence, peaceful reunification and great national unity. These principles formed the basis for the July 4th North-South Joint Communiqué, signed by the governments of the two Koreas on 4th July 1972.
Close-up of right-hand figure
The communiqué was the first of several so far abortive efforts at reunification – something that is desired far more strongly in the north than in the south. In 1997 Kim Jong Il published a paper with the catchy title of Let Us Carry Out the Great Leader Comrade Kim Il Sung 's Instructions for National Reunification. This established the Three Charters for Reunification which are commemorated in this monument: the Three Principles of National Reunification; the Plan of Establishing the Democratic Federal Republic of Koryo, and the Ten Point Programme of the Great Unity of the Whole Nation. Following a series of diplomatic meetings between North and South, the June 15th North–South Joint Declaration was adopted between the leaders of the two countries in June 2000, in which they agreed to continue to work together on reunification as well as resolving some humanitarian issues (e.g. allowing exchange visits by separated family members) and cooperating in various fields such as sport and health.
Bronze reliefs on either side
~ the people are yearning for reunification
The North Koreans like to incorporate significant numbers into the design of their monuments, and this one is no exception. It is 30 meters high, symbolic of the Three Charters, and 61.5 metres wide, symbolic of the June 15 North-South Joint Declaration.
On the road
As we drove south we started to get into more mountainous country. The clouds were hanging low over the tops of the mountains and the sky was dull, but the vivid paddy fields either side of the road provided lots of colour. We were allowed to take photos along most of the road’s length, apart from at a couple of military checkpoints.
All taken on the road from Pyongyang to Kaesong
~ I'm not sure where each of the above photos was taken but I am posting them in order, north to south
The Reunification Highway links Pyongyang with the southern border and the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ – more about that tomorrow). Its name, like the monument we had just passed, reflects the North Korean desire for reunification – it was built to serve, one day, as the route between Pyongyang and Seoul. At the moment of course it is impossible to make that journey which helps to explain why the road is so empty. It isn’t quite a ‘road to nowhere’ but it certainly doesn’t go as far as its builders would like it to.
We made a brief stop for refreshments halfway between Pyongyang and Kaesong at what was variously described by our Korean guide as a ‘tea house’ and by Carl as ‘services’ but what looked to me more like a lay-by with a refreshment stand - although had I gone inside to use the bathroom facilities, as some of our group did, I might have seen that there was a bit more to it than that. We were able to stretch our legs and buy hot (instant) coffee or cold drinks – I had a can of cold coffee which was rather good and took me straight back to our Japan trip, although Carl said it was made in Korea and was a recent (2019) innovation there, having previously been imported. He also pointed out a minibus parked nearby that had been assembled here by Pyoenghwa Motors near Nampo, rather than bought in from China or elsewhere as used to be the norm.
At the rest house
Driving through Kaesong
~ Namdaemun, the old southern gate
We continued to Kaesong but before going to our hotel drove through and beyond the city to one of the relatively few pre-20th century historical sights we were to see on this trip
The tomb of King Kongmin
The tomb of King Kongmin, a 14th century Koryo dynasty ruler, is considered one of the best preserved Koryo Dynasty tombs in the country – many have been so ‘restored’ that most of their character has been lost, but not this one.
The tomb of King Kongmin
It was a stiff climb up steep stone steps to reach the tombs but worth it. The air was cooler and fresher than we had been having in Pyongyang, there was the scent of pines in the air, and the tombs themselves were interesting to see.
There are actually two tombs here, one of which contain the remains of Kongmin, the 31st king of the Koryo Dynasty, and the other which contains his wife, the Mongolian princess Queen Noguk. Our guide told us that the king was in the left-hand burial mound and his wife the right-hand one. Each mound sits on a carved granite base and is surrounded by statues of sheep and tigers. These are said to symbolise either fierceness and gentleness, for the king and queen, or sometimes Korea and Mongolia.
The tomb of King Kongmin - tiger and sheep statues
The tombs are guarded by rows of stone figures – military officers on the lower level, Confucian advisers on the upper. The mounds were unfortunately looted by the Japanese in 1905 and are empty, but we would see a mock-up of the interior at the Koryo History Museum tomorrow.
The tomb of King Kongmin - soldiers and advisers
Our guide told us the story of the mountain opposite, Acha Peak, which translates as Oh My mountain. When King Kongmin was searching for the best place to locate the tomb of his beloved wife he consulted geomancers. The first one he asked recommended a place that, when he went to inspect it, seemed to him very inappropriate. So when he went to look at the suggestion of the second geomancer he was wary. He told officers in his revenue that he would climb the mountain alone to check it out. If they saw him wave his white handkerchief it would mean that he was displeased with the proposed site and they should immediately kill the geomancer. He set out to walk to the site. It was a hot day but when he arrived he was very impressed and saw immediately that it was suitable. Before returning to announce that he agreed with the choice he paused to mop his brow with his handkerchief. The watching officials saw the flash of white and promptly killed the geomancer. When the king arrived back he was horrified and exclaimed ‘Oh my, what have you done?’ – hence the name of the mountain.
A Confucian adviser looks out over Acha Peak
Evening in Kaesong
By now time was getting on so we arrived at our hotel, the Janamsan, just as the sun was setting, the weather having noticeably improved in the last hour or so. We were given our keys and Chris and I headed up to our third floor room which we had been warned would be quite basic, stopping to photograph the sunset from a window on the way.
Lobby of the Janamsan Hotel
Sunset from the hotel landing
Well yes, the room was basic, with a very plain bathroom, no shower curtain, ‘interesting’ décor, poor lighting levels. But on the plus side it was a decent size, had a/c and most importantly for me, softer beds than those in Pyongyang.
~ note the ornate curtains!
We freshened up a little, somewhat restricted by the fact that we were told there would be no hot water until 9.00 pm, and went down to dinner in one of the hotel’s dining rooms. The meal was pleasant enough, we had a good chat with others from the group, and later had a drink in the small bar on the ground floor before bed.
~ you should just be able to make out the snake in the jar on the right!
I travelled to North Korea with Regent Holidays on their Pioneering Group tour, which takes visitors to the parts that most other tours don’t reach!
Note: when you visit North Korea you do so at the invitation of the DPRK government, and the itinerary you follow is approved by them, as are the sights you see and the information you are given. That information often differs from that disseminated outside the country - there are, as always, two (or more) sides to every story.
This blog should not be seen as a fully balanced picture of the country as it will focus primarily on what I personally saw and heard while there. I will do my best to reflect the experiences I had as presented to me by our Korean guides, although I may touch from time to time on other perspectives. In writing it I hope always to remain respectful of my hosts, and to tempt my readers not to take my word for anything, but to visit and make up their minds for themselves.
Having said that, all views expressed above and in the following entries are my own, and I alone am responsible for the content.