Pyongyang - Beijing
Pyongyang - Beijing

Day 6 (12/09/04): Back to China via Sinuiju

On day 6 it was time to say goodbye to our guides and go back to China. We decided to take the train to Beijing when we planned our trip. This would take us past Ryongchong the place where there was a big train collision a year before. The train crosses the border over the Yalu River between Sinuiju in North Korea and Dandong in China. We arrived in Beijing next morning from where we flew to Yunnan and spend an other 3 weeks in China.

Map of the route by train from Pyongyang to Sinuiju border

Map Pyongyang - Sinuiju

Street propaganda on the square in front of the Railway Station

DPRK propaganda near the Pyongyang train station

Train journey: Pyongyang - Beijing

Our train for Beijing would leave at 10.00 so we had to leave the hotel early. At the station our guides got the train tickets and brought us to our train carriage. We waited ten minutes on the platform where we watched the various activities taking place. Many army, police and government officials were overlooking the platform. We had soft sleeper beds in a brand new coach everything was spick and span. Only our carriage would pass the Chinese border, the other carriages were for domestic use. We shared our compartment with two Koreans who were part of a big group and told us they were scientist. North Koreans are only aloud to travel abroad for official matters so these people were surely related to the government. For this reason we did not take any pictures from the train which is strictly prohibited. We had a great time with our travel companions helped by a Korean phrase book as they did not speak English.

DPRK Railways train ticket to Beijing in Russian and German

North Korean train ticket

Ticket for the seats in the train from Pyongyang to Beijing

Ticket for our seat in the train

We passed Ryongchon the town near the border where a big explosion took place in 2003. There was no evidence from the blast expect the fact that the whole area was levelled with no buildings or what so ever. After 4 hours from our departure we reached the border town Sinuiju. One hour later we crossed the border via the friendship bridge over the Yalu river entering China in Dandong. We still had 12 hours of our DPRK holiday ahead as we stayed in our carriage that was closed of from the rest of the Beijing express train we were hooked up with. Black windowed DPRK embassy cars were waiting on the platform to pick up the Koreans from our train.

The platform of the Pyongyang train station with part slogans

Pyongyang train station platform

The brand new carriage of our North Korean train to China

Brand new carriage

Our North Korean travel companions in the train to China

North Korean travel companions

Disaster: Ryongchong train collision

Up to 3000 people were killed the 22th of April 2003 when two trains loaded with fuel collided and exploded at Ryongchon station 15 km south of the Yalu river border near Dandong. A whole neighbourhood was wiped out by the explosion. Nine hours before the explosion Kim Jong Ill’s special train passed Ryongchon on its way to Pyongyang after a visit to China. This caused much speculation about the cause of the disaster, it is now believed that the explosion was the result of an attempt to assassinate Kim Jong Ill. North Korean officials believe that a mobile telephone was used to detonate the train’s deadly cargo of ammonium nitrate and fuel. The remains of a mobile handset, with adhesive tape attached, have been found at the scene of the blast. Other rumours talk about the "Syrian connection". A dozen Syrian technicians were supposedly killed during the Ryongchon explosion according a Japanese newspaper. the technicians were accompanying a train car full of missile components and other equipment from a facility near the Chinese border to a North Korea port. North Korean train cargo was also believed to have contained tools for the production of ballistic missiles.

Satellite image of Ryongchong before the train explosion

Before the explosion

Satellite image of Ryongchong after the train explosion

After the explosion

Destruction in Ryongchong after the train collision and explosion

Destroyed houses

Border: The North Korea - China border

Crossing a border of a reclusive state is an exiting happening for most travellers, leaving North Korea was no exception for us. The fact that China is a friendly nation to the DPRK takes away a bid of the tension but you still feel like part of James Bond movie. The Yalu river is the natural border between China and North Korea, the friendship bridge connects Sinuiju on the Korean and Dandong on the Chinese site. We arrived in Sinuiju 4 hours after we left Pyongyang. Here our carriage was separated from the rest of the train and we got a new locomotive. The border and customs procedures were furrow but not unfriendly in any way. It seemed that the Koreans travelling abroad needed one very simple piece of paper to leave the country. A dozen soldiers were standing evenly spread on the platform and saluting the train when we left the station. After a couple of minutes we reached the Friendship bridge. There were 3 bridges in the past but one was totally and an other half destroyed by the Americans during the Korean war. The half destroyed bridge is now a tourist attraction on the Chinese site, here people can both witness the damage caused by the Americans and peak into North Korea. We did feel relieved when we Entered Dandong, being a week in North Korea was really interesting but we were very happy to have our basic freedom back. In Dandong our carriage was connected to a Chinese train that would bring us to Beijing.

North Korea from the Friendship bridge over the Yalu river

Goodbye North Korea

Friendship bridge between China and the DPRK over the Yalu River

The Friendship bridge (view from the Chinese side)

Brief history: The royal line of succession

North Korean president Kim Jung Il accompanied by his generals

Kim Jung Il

It was long unclear who would be the DPRK’s new head of state after Kim Il Sung died in 1994. Never in history had a head of state of a communist country been succeed by a family member, it conflicts with every "red" doctrine. Kim Jung Il however did manage to clinch job with the support of the army. It was decided that his father would become "eternal president", his role as commander of the DRPK army however makes him the absolute ruler of the country. Kim Jung Il takes a totally different approach in ruling the country compared to his father. He is almost invisible to the Korean people, never shows up at parades and other events, TV and papers always show the same archive images of him. This in contrary to his father of who its said that he met every North Korean once. He spend his whole live travelling through the country and has visited every factory, school, office and farm. Kim Jung Il rather spends time with his pleasure team a group of pretty young woman assigned to provide sexual pleasure and entertain him. His main political interest are the nuclear and long range missile (Taepo Dong) programs. Many (false) myths are spread about Kim Jung Il, most notable the story about his birth in a cabin at his fathers guerrilla base on the holy Mount Paektu, while it is generally know that he was born in Siberia.