Day 1: Beijing to Pyongyang

Map of the distance between Beijing and the North Korean capital

Beijing - Pyongyang

We collected our travel documents at the North Korean embassy in Beijing a day before our departure to Pyongyang. Here we received our Air Koreo flight tickets plus the visa. The next day we headed to Beijing airport for our flight to Pyongyang. The flight takes about 2 hours and is a happening in itself. Our two guides and driver were waiting for us at Susan International airport in Pyongyang. We had to hand in our mobile phones with security officers straight away. From the airport we drove to the great monument on Mansu hill where we were asked to commemorate Kim Il Sung by laying flowers at the foot of his enormous statue. Next we drove to the army circus were got a acrobatic performance with very great Korean music. After the circus we went to our hotel on Yanggakdo island were we checked in and had dinner.

Flight: Flying with Air Koreo

Our Air Koreo Ilyushin Il-62 aircraft at the gate in Beijing

Our Air Koreo airplane on Beijing Airport

The flight from Beijing to Pyongyang with the North Korean national airline Air Koreo was always going to be one of the highlights of the trip to North Korea. Air Koreo is listed on the EU black list for unsafe airlines due to ignoring international aviation regulations but it does have a good safety record. There are 2 Air Koreo flights from Beijing to Pyongyang each week, we took the JS 152 departing Tuesday 07/09/04 at 11.30.?Our airplane was a soviet manufactured Ilyushin IL-62 build in 1986. There were only a view tourist on the full plain. The rest off the passengers were Arabic business and diplomatic delegations, UN, World food program and Red Cross representatives, African and Russian Businessman and a FIFA delegation. There would be a World Championship qualification match between North Korea and Thailand next day. The cabin crew were very pretty Korean ladies and the onboard service was very good. Our airplane landed at 14.00 at Susan International Airport. A bus drove us to the terminal were border and custom formalities take place.

Interior of the Air Koreo Ilyushin Il-62 on its way to Pyongyang

Inside the plane

Lunch of our Air Koreo flight from Beijing to Pyongyang

Air Koreo lunch

Air Koreo Ilyushin IL-62 on the apron of Pyongyang airport

Getting of the airplane

The terminal building of Susan International Airport Pyongyang

Susan Int. Airport

Monument: Paying respect to Kim Il Sung

Mansudae Grand Monument Bronze statue of Kim Il Sung from 1972

Grand monument on Mansu hill

You know that you are in North Korea the moment you touch down at Pyongyang airport. Kim Il Sung is overlooking the tarmac as are a large numbers of Military officials (scanning the arrivals with binoculars). The border and customs procedure take lots of time as all luggage has to be opened and investigated. Mobile Phones have to be handed over to the authorities to be returned on departure of the country. Every non Korean is met by a guide or diplomatic delegation as free movement is not aloud. We would be accompanied by 2 guides and a driver for the rest of the week. Our main Guide Lee aged around 28 years was a very intelligent and nice man. He was a son of a diplomat and lived in Lebanon for some years. Our second guide was Mrs. Lee (not related) who was in her early fifties. She was obviously a dedicated member of the communist party and a loyal follower of the Government. The first formality tourists will undergo is a visit of the Grand Monument at Mansu Hill. We had to buy flowers from a woman that was waiting for us in the park. Next we walked up the hill to the enormous Kim Il Sung statue where we were requested to pay respect. First we put the flowers below the monument and then bowed our heads to the "Great Leader".

Culture: The people’s army circus

Our next stop was the people’s army circus were we would see an acrobatic performance from the Korean army. We were afraid it would be a boring show where we would need to fight to keep our eyes open. It turned out to be a classic show we will not forget very soon. The music was seventies style orchestra easy listening music. There was a huge screen behind the stage showing the triumphs of the Korean People’s army, navy and air force . There was a clown’s act with a football, many different acrobatics acts and a flag parade with march music as the grand finale.

Army Circus acrobats with red flags in front of a big screen

The Pyongyang army circus

Pyongyang army circus

Accommodation: The Yanggakdo hotel

After the circus show it was time to go to our hotel. We would be staying in the Yanggakdo Hotel, one of the two tourist hotels (together with the Koryo hotel) in the city. We had a room on the 43rd floor with a fabulous view over Pyongyang. The hotels is situated on Yanggakdo island together with the international cinema and the Yanggakdo football stadium. The annual Pyongyang film festival was taking place at the moment we were staying in the hotel. We did not watch any films, but did have some fun with the Chinese visitors eating and drinking in a party tent on the island. A revolving restaurant (only a section of the floor moves), a book, souvenir and general shop, bars, Karaoke hall, bowling and multiple restaurants can be found in the hotel.

The Yanggakdo Hotel is the main location for foreign tourists

The Yanggakdo hotel

The lobby of the Yanggakdo Hotel with marble and leather seats

The lobby of the Yanggakdo Hotel

Front page of a tourist Leaflet of the Pyongyang Yanggakdo Hotel

Hotel leaflet

Kyogu dong residential area seen from the Yanggakdo Hotel

The view on Pyongyang from our hotel room

Brief history: North Korea the land of Kim Il Sung

Portrait of Kim Il Sung seen on many billboards in North Korea

Kim Il Sung

There is one thing that can’t escape anybodies attention when in N-Korea, it’s President Kim Il Sung’s presence always and anywhere. All Koreans wear a pin with his portrait, enormous statues can be found in every city, paintings depicting him stand on every street corner and all the songs on the radio glorify his life. Kim Il Sung died in 1994 but to this day, even after his death the North Korean government continues to recognize him as the nation’s "eternal" president. Born into a peasant family on April 15, 1912, in Mangyongdae near Pyongyang. Kim Il Sung was still a child when his parents left Japan-occupied Korea for Manchuria. In 1932, he became the leader of a small group of Korean partisans, which he led in various raids against Japanese outposts in Korea. In 1941, Kim fled Manchuria for the Soviet Far East. He next received military training in the Soviet Union. In 1945, Kim returned to his homeland as a major in the Soviet army. The Soviets put him in charge of the formation of a provisional system of government in Soviet-occupied Korea. In 1948, he became the first premier of the DPRK. In his effort to reunify the divided country militarily, he launched an attack on the Republic of Korea in the south in June 1950, starting the Korean War. Korea remained divided after the conclusion of the war three years later. In the aftermath of the war, Kim successfully used the opportunity to purge his political rivals, and took on the task of reconstruction of North Korea which had been devastated by the war. He launched three-year, five-year, and seven-year national economic plans to rebuild his country, and in the process he established an unchallengeable position by eliminating all rival factions, replacing them with his partisan guerrillas. Kim died at age 82 on July 8, 1994, in Pyongyang.