life through the lens
Since finding out about the Arirang mass games the lure of North Korea became too strong to resist and I took the plunge in September 2009, flying to Beijing before taking a train to Pyongyang.
Banned for tourists - mobile phones (sealed at the point of entry, though a local network has recently been set up for locals and foreigners); the internet; independent travel (in other words, guides are mandatory; no leaving your hotel grounds unescorted)
The face of Kim Il Sung on the 1000 Won note.
The Beijing to Pyongyang train is ready to leave - Beijing train station
After Chinese border formailties at Dandong we cross the Yalu (Amnok) River to Sinuiju, North Korea. Opposite the main bridge is an older one destroyed in the Korean War - China rebuilt their half but North Korea did not, leaving it as a monument to the war.
Arriving with friend Christina at Pyongyang train station, 24 hours after leaving Beijing
USS Pueblo is a US navy ship captured in 1968 after North Korea allege that it strayed into territorial waters. The US insist otherwise - Pyongyang
The guide shows us around the radios and encryption machines - USS Pueblo, Pyongyang
The American 'confession' which led to the captured crew being released. The original photo has legible writing! USS Pueblo, Pyongyang
The USS Pueblo was brought to the Taedong River to serve as a tourist attraction - Pyongyang
Next to the USS Pueblo is the General Sherman monument, an armed US merchant ship that sailed to Pyongyang in 1866.
Wikipedia account of the General Sherman incident
The promenade that passes the USS Pueblo and General Sherman monument, Pyongyang
The electronics industry hall is a museum at the Three Revolutions Exhibition, Pyongyang
The hall's centrepiece is a planetarium. Amongst other things it runs a video of the 1998 Bright Star 1 satellite launch (widely believed to have failed) - Pyongyang
The Great Leader, Kim Il Sung, smiles at us on the way to the airport - Pyongyang
The majority of our tour group arrived by an Air Koryo flight from Beijing to Pyongyang
The Arch of Triumph is larger than its Paris namesake. It marks the point where Kim Il Sung addressed the populace following the end of Japanese occupation in 1945 - Pyongyang
Liberation - a closer look at the Arch of Triumph, Pyongyang
The Grand People's Study House is the country's largest library - Pyongyang
Artificial lakes and fountains abound near the Grand People's Study House (approach the library from the opposite direction and you'll be in Kim Il Sung Square) - Pyongyang
You get an idea of the size of the Mansudae Grand Monument, towering above the trees on Mansu Hill, Pyongyang
Mansudae Grand Monument is a 20 metre high bronze statue of Kim Il Sung, built in 1972 to celebrate his 60th birthday - Pyongyang
Behind the statue is a mural of Mt Paektu on the wall of the Korean Revolution Museum, Pyongyang
Flowers adorn the base of the statue. As a group we also had to lay wreaths and then bow to the Great Leader - Pyongyang
An unrelenting propaganda campaign elevated Kim Il Sung, who died in 1994, to godlike status - Pyongyang
Flanking Kim Il Sung are 2 sculptures depicting revolutionary struggle and revolution - Pyongyang
Our (rather big) group of 21st century revolutionaries, Pyongyang
Close to the Mansudae Grand Monument is the Chollima Statue, a legendary winged horse that could cover 400kms a day - Pyongyang
Our home in Pyongyang was the 1001-room Yanggakdo Hotel, where all foreigners seemed to be rounded up on the 17th floor - Pyongyang
Workers arrive at the Yanggakdo Hotel, Pyongyang
On a clear day there's brilliant views of the city and the Taedong River from Yanggakdo Hotel's 17th floor - Pyongyang
You can't escape the massive hulk that is the Ryugyong Hotel. Like it or loathe it, it's an amazing sight - Pyongyang
Work began on the 105-storey Ryugyong Hotel in 1987 but came to a halt in 1992.
Another great view from the Yanggakdo Hotel - the Tower of Juche Idea stands over the Taedong River, Pyongyang
Here's a better look of the Tower complete with flame and, to the left, the May Day Stadium, Pyongyang
It's difficult to find the time to enjoy a tranquil moment like this.
The tour is an exercise in stamina, starting at 7 or 8am and finishing between 7 and 10.30pm every day, leaving little free time. I guess that's the whole idea! Pyongyang
In the foreground is Yanggakdo Hotel's golf course, followed by the Pyongyang International Cinema - Pyongyang
The hotel is on Yanggak island, perfect for keeping an eye on us foreigners - Pyongyang
The striking May Day Stadium is the venue for the incredible Arirang Mass Games - Pyongyang
Locals on their way to see the Mass Games, Pyongyang
..And more - Pyongyang
There's lots of activity outside the stadium. And a lot of queueing (for the locals anyway) - Pyongyang
The May Day Stadium can seat 150,000 - Pyongyang
For 150 Euros this is the view you get. At the back of the stadium 20,000 students are warming up, turning the pages of their coloured 'books' to create an everchanging mosaic which forms the backdrop to the show. It's truly amazing. The line of light-blue and white comprises hundreds of men with flags aloft - Pyongyang
My YouTube video of the warm up here
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www.koreakonsult.com - Korea Konsult is a Swedish based company that I booked my tour with. For me it offered the best itinerary and was flexible enough to cater for travelling by train to Pyongyang. The group size, at 23, was rather large however (but a great bunch of people!)
www.koryogroup.com - Koryo Tours is the market leader
http://english.chosun.com - Chosun Ilbo is a South Korean newspaper with lots of coverage of North Korea
www.nkeconwatch.com - plenty of independent news stories and analysis of North Korea
www.kcckp.net - news portal on behalf of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (ie. North Korea)
www.kcna.co.jp - news from the 'Korean Central News Agency'
www.nk-news.net/extras/insult_generator.php - definitely not an official DPRK site - the Random Insult Generator
Other tour agencies -
www.explorenorthkorea.com - USA/Dandong, China
www.geoex.com - USA
http://koningaap.nl - Netherlands
www.nordkoreareisen.de - Germany
www.northkorea1on1.com - USA
www.north-korea-travel.com - Hong Kong
www.universaltravel.com.sg - Singapore
www.vnc.nl - Netherlands
www.youngpioneertours.com - China
I am not responsible for the content of external websites.