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Follow the Yellow Brick Road

DPRK (and Beijing) Day nineteen

View DPRK 2019 on ToonSarah's travel map.

Sunrise from our room at the Hyangsan Hotel

Today we followed the Yellow Brick Road back to Oz, aka Pyongyang - although that fabled road was surely never as bumpy as the roads of North Korea.

Talking of bumpy roads, several of us discovered while in North Korea that the step-tracking apps on our smart phones were registering sometimes thousands of steps while we sat almost unmoving on our bus – unmoving that is apart from the regular buffeting of the potholes!

We followed the same route as on our way here two days ago, along the river where, I had now been told, people were dredging for gold. From the scale of the operation we saw, it must be worth their while.





On the road back to Pyongyang

Riding a Pyongyang tram

We stopped briefly at a tea house for cold drinks and loos, and arrived in the city mid-morning.

At a tram depot on the west side of the city, near Mangyongdae, we switched from our bus to an historic tram to experience a ride. Of course this wasn’t really travelling as the locals do (unlike our Metro ride earlier in the trip), as we were the only passengers - not for us the sardine-can crush that I observed on other trams.

At the West Tram Depot, Pyongyang

Our guide pointed out the 21 red stars painted on the side of the tram. Each star denotes 50,000km of driving without an accident, so this is a tram that has been around for quite some time. Indeed, we were also shown the plaque at the front which declares that President Kim Il Sung and Chairman Kim Jong Il rode this tram on 13.4.91 (Juche year 80). As the tram system first opened in that year or rather, re-opened, as there had been trams in use here prior to the Korean War) I imagine their ride was to mark that opening.

Stars on the tram

Commemorative plaque inside the tram

Riding the tram

There are three regular tram lines in the city, all using Czech-built Tatra trams, although recently North Korea has started to manufacture its own trams and put them into service.. There is also a fourth short line which serves the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun alone, using more modern Swiss-built trams. Our short ride followed part of the route served by line 1, along Kwangbok Street.


Seen from the tram on Kwangbok Street

The slower speed of our tram as compared with the bus made photography out of the window fairly easy. I was surprised to see what looked like an advertising billboard, looking very out of place in a country without brands or commerce. When I checked later with Carl he told me that it was an advert of sorts, promoting the nearby car showroom, but of course the showroom, like the car factory, are state-owned, and there is no choice of where to buy. Added to which fact, almost no cars in North Korea are privately owned, so I had to question the purpose of this billboard. Perhaps it was for the benefit of visitors as well as locals, to assure us of the modern styling and wide availability of DPRK-made vehicles?

Billboard 'advertising' cars

We stopped halfway along the route, near the Pyongyang Circus building, to take photos of the tram from outside.

The Pyongyang Circus Theatre

Our tram parked at the Pyongyang Circus, Kwangbok Street

We finished our ride at Pyongyang’s main station. Unfortunately tourists are not allowed inside (I gather that if catching a train you are kept in a separate waiting room, away from the locals) but it was at least a chance to get some decent photos of the building’s impressive exterior. It dates from 1958 and is a great example of the socialist architecture of that decade, with a clock tower, two bronze statues (a worker and a farmer), and of course the essential portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

Pyongyang Central Station

Sculptures on the station


Buildings near the station

Last afternoon in the city

Our bus met us here and took us to a restaurant back on the western fringes of the city (we must have driven along Kwangbok Street at least four times today, counting both bus and tram!) We had a good lunch which included bibimbap, a very good stone pot of piping hot (a rarity here) rice mixed with a variety of vegetables.

From the bus on the way to lunch

Driving back into the centre of the city after lunch we stopped at an art shop run by the famous Mansudae Art Studio, for some last-minute souvenir shopping. Several of us in the group made purchases – my choice was a small pottery dish painted with cranes which reminded me of the £2M vase we had seen in Kaesong, although at around £8 it cost very considerably less!

My souvenir from the Mansudae Art Studio shop

From here we drove to the Pyongyang Grand Theatre where we were dropped off to walk the rest of the way to the Koryo Hotel. This stroll along Yonggwang Street was a final opportunity to soak up some Pyongyang atmosphere on foot, although it was short on landmarks and photo opportunities. I couldn’t help feeling that our guides had run out of ideas on how to occupy us this afternoon after our enforced longer stay in the capital earlier in the trip (see my entry, Storm number thirteen) meant that we had already covered most of the sights.

Propaganda posters on Yonggwang Street

Modern buildings on Yonggwang Street, and back at the Koryo for the last time

Arriving at the hotel we checked in, finding ourselves back in the same rooms we had occupied on our previous stays. We had a couple of hours free to get organised for the journey home.

Farewell dinner

Banks of the Taedong River, early evening

Our farewell dinner was in a restaurant on a boat on the Taedong River - unimaginatively but accurately named the Taedonggang Restaurant Boat. Carl told us that this is the only one of the several on the river that actually leaves its moorings. I had expected therefore to be taken on a bit of a cruise, but as the boat is too large to pass under the nearby bridges we simply drifted around in the immediate area – although that in itself was fun!

Arriving at the Taedonggang Restaurant Boat

The food was good and we had a particularly large selection of dishes. It was lovely seeing the lights of Pyongyang from the water, especially the Juche Tower with its flame flickering. Those lights, though, only served to emphasise the ‘otherness’ of this city – North Korea’s Shangri-La, its Oz.

Juche Tower at night from the boat

Pyongyang at night

Another of the restaurant boats

Juche Tower at night

Part way through the evening there was live entertainment, Korean style, with some enthusiastic young singers and good musicians, but rather too loud for conversation. I recognised the welcome song, Pangapsumnida, which we had heard the children sing in the kindergarten in Chongjin.

Singers and musician


On board the Taedonggang

After taking a few photos and videos of the acts I retreated outside onto the deck with my beer, as did most of the others. There was some reminiscing about the trip, and exchanging of contact details, but quite soon it was time to leave and drive back to the hotel for our last night in the DPRK.

Leaving the Taedonggang

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 11:23 Archived in North Korea Tagged landscapes skylines night boats streets architecture restaurant shopping performance river city music north_korea tram dprk pyongyang street_photography juche_tower

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Good for you to recognize the song. I probably couldn't do that.

by greatgrandmaR

Hi Rosalie - don't you find it totally infectious, in an irritating fashion?! I'm not in the slightest bit musical but it got stuck in my head every time I heard it - I'm humming it now as I type

by ToonSarah

I didn't realize it was one of those songs, so maybe I would - My computer default for sound/noise is to have the audio part completely off. There is too much noise around - I don't need the clicks and whistles that the computer makes. So I never heard the song.

by greatgrandmaR

I know what you mean - I have the sound off most of the time for the same reason. But I do turn it on to watch videos etc

by ToonSarah

Videos - only sometimes

by greatgrandmaR

Good choice of souvenir. Looks really nice. Some beautiful scenery on your return to the city.

by irenevt

You didn’t miss much by not entering the station. It is, well, just a railway station. I left by train at the end of my first visit to the DPRK. Our small group of about half a dozen people arrived 45 minutes before the train left. Perhaps things have changed, but back then we waited on the platform with a few North Koreans who were travelling to Sinuiji on the border. On board the train we were allowed to move around unaccompanied - a very rare privilege in North Korea! - and I went to the buffet car where I exchanged a couple of euros for a tepid beer and a piece of dry cake.

by CliffClaven

Thank you Irene and Michael. Yes, the scenery is lovely - something you don't think about when you think of North Korea, but it's actually a very beautiful country.

Michael, I read in a friend's blog (Albert aka wabat) about his train journey out of the country in, I think, 2014, and they were kept in a separate waiting room. That rule must have been introduced after your visit I guess.

by ToonSarah

What a lovely little dish for your souvenir. Our cranes are migrating through so we're very aware of them this time of year. They are so beautiful.

The countryside was so nice in N. Korea but I don't think I'd like to visit the cities at all. Suspect we wouldn't be welcome anyway . . .

by Beausoleil

Thanks Sally. I'm glad to have seen both the cities and countryside, and also that we went to both Pyongyang (which is amazing but not 'normal') and some other cities too.

by ToonSarah

Those night photos are beautiful! :)

by hennaonthetrek

Thanks Henna - yes, Pyongyang looks lovely at night, and the monuments are lit up, I believe, even when the regular houses are suffering a power cut

by ToonSarah

I'm nearly there Sarah. I think it's taken me longer to read the blogs of your trip than it probably did for you to plan it and go there. That said, I've enjoyed it immensely. It's not somewhere I'll be going to now I don't suppose, but I've been fascinated by what you've seen and thought. Your photos of course are superb, and I enjoyed seeing Pyongyang at night.

As a footnote I was really sorry to hear that you had to cancel (postpone?) the Newcastle meet, but as hard as it may have been, I think, for what it's worth, the right decision to make.

by Easymalc

Thanks Malcolm, I really appreciate you following me on this trip, and all the lovely comments

Yes, tough decision about Newcastle but clearly the only possible one. I'm in conversation with various members with the aim of making it postponement rather than cancellation - fingers crossed!

by ToonSarah

so loving the title of this entry ... loving the evening pictures!

by Ils1976

Thanks Ils, and thank you so much too for following all of my DPRK trip :)

by ToonSarah

Another great summary and pictures Sarah. You final dinner on the river was a nice touch.

by Wabat

It was a great spot for a final dinner, although the music made it hard to chat at times!

by ToonSarah

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