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Published: March 15th 2016
Carrying on with the 4th day of our tour of North Korea for the first time we actually left Pyongyang. This brought up some new rules - like you can't take photos of the roadway or countryside while inside the bus. But for some reason nobody batted an eye while we were out of the bus. We were driving to Nampo which is on the west coast, on our first bit of ridiculous North Korean highway. The highways are 8-10 lanes wide. No markings, no traffic, no maintenance, and very very rough. It's difficult to make any kind of decent speed as the vehicle is bouncing around and swerving around the roughest parts. The reason the roads are so big is to be used to move military equipment in case that becomes necessary. I had also read in the past that the roads are very thick to support the weight of tanks, aircraft, and other heavy military equipment but this is definitely not the case - they are constructed of a single thin layer of asphalt ontop of dirt.
Our first stop towards Nampo was a farm, and despite it being -2 out and never actually getting above freezing all
day it was balmy and pleasant inside the greenhouses. Walking around the small town we were "invited" into an elementary school - pretty sure this was set up ahead of time. We were given a small tour and saw the kindergarten class singing and dancing for us. The school was much nicer and brighter than the middle school we had seen the day prior, even though it had some great anti USA propaganda paintings for the children to see every day. After this we visited the mineral water bottling plant. This building has some really cool equipment and this is no doubt the reason we were shown this as the North Koreans are very keen to show off their technical "prowess". The gentleman offered us some bottles to sample while we walked around the factory in our spiffy lab coats.
Arriving in Nampo we fittingly had a seafood lunch before going to see the barrage. For those of you not following - as I also was not - a barrage is a type of damn. In the 80s it was decided to build a dam across the mouth of a river to stop sea water from coming into the
estuary with the high tide so it doesn't taint irrigation water, and stop flooding during spring tides. It is an 8 km long earthen damn except for an area that includes 36 sluices and 3 locks of varying sizes to allow ships in for trading. I'm sure there is more to say but the tour guide was giving us this information at the top of a hill with a view of a whole thing where we were also exposed to the 30 knot winds and sub zero temperatures. Needless to say we were more focused on not succumbing to the cold than learning some generally boring facts and figures about the barrage - which was actually very impressive. Probably because they took 5 years to build it and weren't boasting about doing it faster than expected.
That afternoon we had a choice of activities and we decided on the Pyongyang Circus. This was actually a very impressive show, unfortunately photos were not allowed here, but I can confirm that watching a monkey do a backflip on the back of a goat which is walking on a tightrope is extremely entertaining. The rest of the show had some incredible balancing
act combined with some impressive juggling, an amazing trapeze, acrobatics, and a couple contortionists. We were seated among all the locals and was nice to actually see something that wasn't deserted with the exception of our tour group - especially when 3 locals were pulled on stage to take part in one of the segments.
Dinner that evening took us to a delicious duck bbq restaurant where there is a charcoal grill in the inner table. We were promptly corrected on our poor form of grilling up the vegetables as well instead of eating them raw wrapped up in lettuce with the cooked duck meat. After this delicious meal we were off to a brewery and actually tasted 4 different beers!
The following day was our last and final day in the DPRK. An early start took us 160 km south to the DMZ. Again this drive was a grueling task and I have all the respect in the world for our driver who was swerving about and finding the smoothest route for our 3 hour drive. The DMZ was an odd experience, we had a soldier be our local guide, he let us take all the photos
in the world, ask any questions, and was generally easy going. He even joked around with the guy who connected his phone to the South Korean cell networks and was amazed with open internet. Regardless we stood 30 meters from the line and got to see the South Korean buildings and some US/Nato soldiers patrolling their side.
Lunch that day had dog meat soup on the menu. I have always told myself that if dog was on a menu I wouldn't hesitate to ask. I don't regret it, but I wish it tasted better as everyone elses non dog soup were much better. It tastes kind of like bad mutton. Just not very enjoyable. That night we sang a little karaoke but mostly called it early as the next morning we had to fly back to Beijing. On the way to the airport we were warned that any photos we had taken which were not allowed would be deleted when we got to the airport as security was going to be checking everything. I know I had a few questionable photos but was planning on playing the odds game of having a dozen non allowed photos on a card
with 700 photos. Turns out this was all just a scare tactic and nobody checked anything at the airport. The flight to Beijing was even a lot smoother than the way in, after landing we all said our goodbyes, shared some contact info and went on our separate ways.
Our last day in Asia took Craig and I to the Great Wall. Figured this was the thing not to miss in China, especially when it's so close to Beijing. I had found a guy on tripadvisor who picked us up from the hotel, brought us to the wall, made sure we bought the right tickets and got ourselves going to the right places, and even gave us a local cell phone so we could phone him when we were done to take us to the airport. The sun was shining and it was a clear day too, which was much better than our previous days in Beijing. The great wall did not disappoint, but again it was a very cold day. A few hours of walking around and hiking a few km of great wall we headed for the airport to find out that not only were we 4
South Korean side of the DMZ
The line between the buildings is the border.
hours early - but our flight was delayed an hour and a half due to the bad weather in Vancouver causing a delay outbound. But oh well, even though I lost my boarding pass we still made it home!
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