Day 1: Welcome to the DPRK

I met my tour group at PEK airport and we all excitedly speculated about what we were going to see. Officially, Air Koryo has 4 flights a week from Beijing to Pyongyang; however, during high season, the airline adds up to 2 supplemental flights a day on that route (these routes are not listed online). I had expected to take flight JS 152, departing at 1:00pm but we ended up on JS 322, with a scheduled departure of noon.

Service on Air Koryo

Service on Air Koryo

Apparently, Air Koryo treats the scheduled time as merely a suggestion and were in no hurry to leave on time. After pushing through the most disorganized security line (mob) I’ve ever experienced, we realized that we still had some time to spare and headed to the duty free shops for some last minute shopping. We all prepared gifts for our Korean guides because they are unable to purchase most things we take for granted in their country. Safe bets are cigarettes for men and candy for women. Most of my fellow travelers were men and most of them brought cigarettes. I brought packs of South Korean face masks for the women. If I had a chance to go again, I would also bring gifts for cultural exchange, such as foreign movies and foreign music (American, South Korean, etc) saved to USB drives to pass out discreetly. Without the internet or access to non-state media, North Koreans are desperate to find out what the rest of the world is experiencing.

Air Koryo Flight

Air Koryo Flight

We were bussed to an Antonov 148 and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one feeling a little scared after seeing how small the plane was. The flight turned out to be rather calm and we were seranaded by a Moranbang Band concert video the entire time. This all girl band was handpicked by Marshall Kim Jong Un and is supposed to showcase modern DPRK music. Although the content of the lyrics hasn’t changed, the band members wear short and tight dresses, just like popstars from any other nation.

Morangbong Band

Morangbong Band

In Flight Entertainment with Kim Jong Il

In Flight Entertainment with Kim Jong Il

Upon landing, we were greeted at the low-tech Pyongyang airport by our North Korean guides, Mrs. Pak and Mr. Kim x2.

Our tour bus

Our tour bus

Mrs. Pak, our main guide

Mrs. Pak, our main guide

We were whisked away to Yanggakdo International Hotel, one of two main hotels for foreigners visiting the DPRK.

Deluxe Yanggakdo Hotel

Deluxe Yanggakdo Hotel

The “Deluxe” hotel has a ton of amenities including: swimming pool, billiad room, karaoke, bar, casino, revolving restaurant, bowling alley, tailor, beauty salon, and massage parlor.

Amenities at Yanggakdo Hotel

Amenities at Yanggakdo Hotel

The reason that the hotel has so many activities is because tourists are confined to the hotel unless they are accompanied by their Korean guides.

Hotel casino (North Koreans are not allowed to gamble)

Hotel casino (North Koreans are not allowed to gamble)

There was a ton of deferred maintenance and everything looked like it could fall apart at any second but that’s the best the country has to offer.

Dark and poorly maintained hotel hallway

Dark and poorly maintained hotel hallway

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