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South to the border

DPRK (and Beijing) Day six, part two

View DPRK 2019 on ToonSarah's travel map.

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.


Our bedroom
~ 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.

Hotel shop

Hotel bar
~ 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.

Posted by ToonSarah 08:41 Archived in North Korea Tagged landscapes history hotel roads north_korea archaeology kaesong dprk pyongyang

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What a terrible tale of the geomancer - I do hope it was a little historic licence! I did like the tranquility of the site and the beautiful gene domes.

I wonder how long (if ever) before that "road to nowhere" will be carrying commercial and personal traffic between the two Koreas. It is such a sad situation. I do wish mankind would try harder to live in harmony with others (and not just in Korea)

by Yvonne Dumsday

What a lovely sunset. Some things are universal . . .

by Beausoleil

Thank you both :) Yvonne, it will be a very long time before reunification I reckon, as there is little incentive for S Korea to do so - their economy is so far ahead of the North that it would fear being dragged down and held back (the difference is far more marked between that between the two Germanys when they became one). But maybe it's possible that in time they could reconcile enough of their differences for the border between them to open. At the moment however a lack of trust on both sides (understandable given past events), and a totally different perspective on just about everything, make even that seem unlikely :(

by ToonSarah

Sarah, you have great stories and excellent photographs! Thanks for your presentation of the remote DPRK!

by Vic_IV

Thanks Victor :)

by ToonSarah

Isn’t there a sign on the highway: “Seoul 80 km”? My first thought was: it wouldn’t take long for North Korean tanks and troops to reach Seoul after an opening salvo of rockets and artillery. My second thought was: The sign might as well read “Seoul 8000 km” since no ordinary North Korean can dream of visiting Seoul.

by Cliff Claven

Yes, I believe there is, although I didn’t spot it and therefore didn’t think to mention it. And indeed you’re right, the two cities might as well be on opposite sides of the world at present.

by ToonSarah

We stayed in a really traditional hotel in Kaesong, where we slept on mats on the floor. Not sure which would be better. Other than that, our trip was very similar to yours.

by Grete Howard

Yes, Albert stayed in that folk hotel too - I believe most tour groups do. I'm not sure why Regent opt for the Janamsan - maybe prioritising a small degree of comfort over character!

by ToonSarah

Or maybe your group was too big? Who knows.

by Grete Howard

There were 16 of us, plus Carl and two guides - not that big a group I'd have thought

by ToonSarah

We were only three plus the two local guides.

by Grete Howard

I have gotten behind on reading your blogs. Trying to catch up. Still amazed at the monuments and sculptures.

by littlesam1

No worries Larry, they will keep

by ToonSarah

Some interesting sights on your way to Kaesong, Sarah. I liked the graceful-looking Monument to the Three Charters for National Reunification. The agricultural countryside looks lovely and I wonder what kind of lives the people who work there have especially when it comes to "food security" (a modern term which I hate). The site for the Kongmin Tombs seems very peaceful and green despite the unfortunate story of the geomancer! Also, your hotel room in Kaesong is much nicer and more colorful than I would have expected -- glad the bed was much easier on your back!

by starship VT

Thank you Sylvia :) I agree that monument is graceful, but poignant too in a way as reunification looks a very distant possibility.

I think that these days the rural people seem to have enough to eat, but I suspect a very boring diet. It's not like the 1990s when thousands starved to death in the famines. But sanctions still affect them of course, and the regime's restrictions on commercial enterprise and flexibility of choice in workplace and where to live will also have a negative impact on household incomes. The good thing is that they get free housing so while it may not be of the standard we enjoy, at least no one is homeless there - unlike here in the UK.

by ToonSarah

Another great post.

What is the problem with the hot water? It surely cannot be power cuts as the shop and bar seem to have power.

by planxty

On my second visit to the DPRK our small group (8 people) visited Haeju. Even our guides hadn’t been there. The hotel where we stayed for the night had NO electricity and NO water. We spent the evening in the candlelit bar. It was obviously romantic because the younger guide got drunk and made a move on a Canadian girl in the group.

by CliffClaven

Thanks both :) Power cuts are a regular feature of life, Fergy, but with one exception the ones we experienced were pretty short. But I believe there must be restrictions put on energy consumption, because of shortages. Do you remember the infamous three day week over here?!

by ToonSarah

Out into the countryside at last :-), but I think my favourite photos in this episode are those of the Reunification Monument. I've always enjoyed seeking out the over-the-top communist monuments - and this is a classic.

by Easymalc

I'm with you on that Malcolm! The monuments were one of the aspects of N Korea that I enjoyed the most :)

by ToonSarah

I don't think the interior of the rest stop building en route to Kaesong was ever finished (outside the toilets) hence the cafe and shopping area being in the car park. In reference to your comment to to Yvonne "it will be a very long time before reunification I reckon, as there is little incentive for S Korea to do so" I beg to differ though the longer it takes the less interested younger people in the South will be. The primary reason why unification has not occurred (and indeed why the Korean War remains officially on) is the ongoing objection of the United States which does not consider it in its best interests. The disastrous impact of this on Korea (North and South though especially the North) does not concern the US in the slightest. Trump, to his credit, tried to do something about this but was thwarted by the US military establishment.

by Wabat

Hi Albert. Actually we did get inside the rest stop building on our return journey north a couple of days later, and it was sort-of finished, as you will see :)

Good point about the US views on potential reunification, although I do also feel there is a real economical disincentive to the south regardless of any genuine feeling that to be whole again is to be desired.

by ToonSarah

Looking forward to reading about inside the rest stop.

I agree reunification would be a tremendous $ cost (not to mention other associated costs and difficulties) to SK but might be a good investment as there is lots of untapped natural resources in NK, an industrious underutilised labour force and it would give SK a direct trade route into China, Russia and beyond which it doesn't have now despite a number of attempts (mainly scuttled by the US eg the Seoul - Pyongyang and beyond train).

Just speculating and best discussed over a glass of wine - the real spanner in the works would be if NK (on the point of collapse) invited China in. This would certainly be more palatable to it than a US/SK takeover and would be entirely within its right to do so. It might only be a short term gain for SK to avoid the costs ($ and others) of not pursuing reunification. The greater difficulty for SK is not being master of its own destiny.

by Wabat

Definitely something to discuss when we can meet up - I'm very keen to compare notes on lots of DPRK experiences! I just hope you're still able to make it over later this year as planned

by ToonSarah

the countryside looks nice and although they seem to be masters in building statues, I really liked the ones at the tombs!

by Ils1976

Yes, it was good to see a bit of history in this part of the country as there is sadly too little elsewhere :(

by ToonSarah

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