Insider guide to DPRK (lol..) trip to the"Mysterious Fragrant Mountain"

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December 6th 2009
Published: January 11th 2010
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Contrasts and mystery....Contrasts and mystery....Contrasts and mystery....

View from The International Friendship Exhibition
Every day is a new experience and this first week end trip (early December 2009) outside of Pyongyang, North Korea, brought nothing but positive feel. DPRK country side beauty had remained something of a mystery, although I had read about it, actually living in DPRK, I was truly looking forward to the first opportunity to get out of the city and explore unspoiled nature areas and see more of the country side.
This trip was as well to allow us to visit the International Friendship Exhibition where gifts from all around the world to Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are being displayed, a state of the art architectural complex and a one of a kind cultural experience!

Unspoiled mountain, first snow and colourful sunset

All about luck and indeed in the morning of our departure, we had the pleasant surprise to wake up and discover a tiny carpet of snow…As we drive away from Pyongyang toward the North, the tiny snow carpet was quickly replaced by a thick layer of ice and snow, giving a all new feel to the countryside. First time ever that I get to see kids ice skating on frozen paddy field!

Arrival in MyoHyang which means “Mysterious Fragrant Mountain” in mid afternoon, and after dropping promptly the bags at the hotel, we were heading for a short excursion in the surrounding mountains about 30mn from the hotel by car. Well, didn’t get to drive the full 30mn…tiny road, quite icy with snow on top and even with winter tyres, way too slippery to keep driving. So parking time and on foot we kept going, safer and much more enjoyable! Along the river and then slightly up across the snow covered pine trees, up to the first waterfall. Quite tiny but still magical, snow everywhere, ice picks here and there, frozen water and snow ball battle with local colleagues, loved it!
Unfortunately, late afternoon already so not enough time to go for the full trek up to the top of the mountain where waterfalls and Buddhist temples are at every corner but eh….cannot do everything at once, so this is on my to do list for spring time!

The International Friendship Exhibition, a trip around the world

Somehow, felt that I was back in Paris visiting the Quai Brandy museum displaying art and craft from all around
Well guardedWell guardedWell guarded

The International Friendship Exhibition
the world…The first hall dedicated to the late (and eternal) leader of DPRK, Kim Il Sung, who passed away in 1994, is built mostly within the mountain. This impressive all marble building is spread over 6 floors, a total of 150 rooms and over 400 meters long. Gifts from all around the world, mostly head of states or powerful corporations are on display per geographic area and then per country. We started with the largest hall, the one where gifts from China are on display, and it was simply impressive. Might it be precious porcelain, delicate painting and calligraphy, books, jade or massive wooden carved sculpture, not only the Chinese art and craft was fully represented but it as well covered over 50 years of history…from gifts dating back to the early 50’s under Mao such as train wagon or metallic bowl and spoons, to more recent paintings and sculptures.
Moving forward the next one was gifts from the Soviet Union with portraits of Staline, pictures, precious crystal vases, luxurious train wagon and numerous other precious gifts.
For the following two hours, we kept going with our time and space traveling, going through India, Iran, Middle East, Africa, Europe and a very brief look at a note written by the former US president Carter and his wife displayed together with their gift, a crystal recipient.
Simply amazed by the quantity and variety of gifts on display, and pictures of other gifts, alive ones that is…animals & rare species of flowers, that can be seen in Pyongyang zoo and botanical garden.

From deep to icy blue…All about contrasts!

The hotel where we stayed, a traditional feel huge complex, was nicely located along the river / lake and the moment we had finished lunch we couldn’t help but go for a closer look.
The entire lake was covered with a thick light blue ice layer, with my Korean dictionary in the pocket (which was funny enough of exactly the same color), we started to walk around the water. Kids using home made style ice skate were having fun here and there, skating on the lake, falling, running and laughing the whole time. The sights of foreigners must have been quite unusual and even more at that time of the year (we were the only three foreigners in the hotel), as they would go from the surprise to the curiosity and
Traditional styleTraditional styleTraditional style

Myohyang town
for the first time, kids waving to us, saying hello and having this natural kids spontaneity… Speaking a bit of Korean clearly was helpful (and so was the dictionary) and the whole experience only made me wish to discover more about this country and its people.

Simple moments…lifetime memories…

Additional photos below
Photos: 35, Displayed: 25


Colors and more colors...Colors and more colors...
Colors and more colors...

and yes, lots more snow now!!
Biking timeBiking time
Biking time

Myohyang town

Myohyang town
View from the hotelView from the hotel
View from the hotel

Myohyang town

11th January 2010

Conquering Continents
I was intrigued by your access to the DPRK. I thought it was a "closed" country, i.e. to all westerners. Your writing "tyres" lets me surmise that you are either from the U.K. or from one of its former colonies. As my comment title suggests, I would like to know your secret for entering North Korea. Thank you, and stay safe. Eb
12th January 2010

Great account!
Hey Laetitia, a great account of North Korea! I have been wanting to go for a long time, but the short trips are prohibitively expensive. Maybe one day, when I have a job again. Until then I will see the country through your eyes. I also liked your entry about Kashgar by the way, I did the trip over from Pakistan a few years ago - stunning! Greetings from (currently) New Zealand, Ben
13th January 2010

Fantastic photos! :)
25th February 2010

Thanks for those comments, it is indeed a quite fascinating place to live in :) And yes indeed Eb, the country is somehow not as opened to foreign tourists as others might be but it is possible to visit assuming you are going through an official travel agent (no independant travel there). As for myself, I am actually based there (humanitarian work) :-)

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