Ryongaksan and Ryonggang Oncheon

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Asia » North Korea
October 6th 2018
Published: October 30th 2018
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It was a late start that morning as we didn't leave until about 11 am. I was still tired though, as I had gotten up earlyish to say bye to the people who were leaving over breakfast. I was looking forward to today as we were getting out of Pyongyang and heading to another town. Also, the group was now a lot smaller. We drove through some very nice parts of Pyongyang. Everything looked brand new and immaculately kept. It didn't take too long for us to reach our first stop, which was Mangyeongdae, the birthplace of Kim Il Sung. What I found a little strange about this place was that as the bus pulled into the carpark, there was a funfair there, too. I found it weird as the North Koreans revere their leaders so much that the funfair next to his place of birth was an odd juxtaposition. There were also a lot of domestic tourists at this sight. We looked around the buildings where Kim Il Sung had spent his childhood, living with his grandparents. Although Manygyeongdae is touted as his birthplace, he wrote in his memoirs that he was born in Chilgol, a neighbourhood nearby. The buildings all looked like traditional old style Korean builings, but seemed very new and well cared for, so I presume that they were replicas.

The drive to the mountain didn't take too long and it was decided that we would have lunch first. We walked up the path for about ten minutes to the picnic spot and ate the packed lunch that the hotel had provided us with. I really wish we'd done some hiking first as I wasn't hungry, but I can't waste food so I ate it. It was a pretty decent packed lunch. My box contained chicken, fish, egg, salad stuff and some kimbap. I was glad that I got to have kimbap as it was one of my staple food when I lived in Korea. I only wish that this one had been tuna kimbap as that was my favourite. The picnic spot we were in was really nice and there were tables set up for another group of locals, who appeared and had some delicious smelling barbecue. This totally reminded me of South Korea, as the older generation love hiking there and that there are often many restaurants like this set up at the bases of the various mountains that are found throughout the country.

We set off up the mountain. I think it is really more of a big hill than a mountain as it is only a few hundred metres high in elevation. For the first part of the hike, we were walking on the road that led up the mountain. The incline wasn't too bad, so it was a nice walk. I enjoyed the view of the surrounding farmland and the trees were just starting to turn for autumn, which meant there were some pretty coloured leaves. We also passed some interesting looking statues of child-like characters. We also came to what looked like a small temple, that really reminded me of the small mountain temples that you come across hiking in the South. The buildings were all closed up, so I presume it is not in use. Another thing that reminded me of South Korea was that we came across another group of old people chilling and having a sing along under the shade of some trees. As we made our way around to the other side of the mountain, the views changed and we could see Pyongyang in the distance. We mainly stuck to the road for the hike up and it didn't take us too long to reach the top. Before reaching the top we came to another small peak, which gave up great views across the countryside. Then as we made our way to the main peak, there were more views of Pyongyang. From the viewpoint, we headed up to the pavilion at the top to take a rest. It was another hot day and I bet I had caught the sun. While the pavilion didn't have great views of the area, it did have shade and a nice breeze and I was quite content to sit there for a while.

We decided to take the more adventurous route back down the mountain. So instead of taking the paved road, we headed into the woods and walked up and down the many steps. We would get to the bottom of one set of steps and then continue on the flat for a bit before being confronted with another set of sets to go up. This happened several times on the hike. I enjoyed the steps as they were often steep and narrow. One section of the hike was cool as it was between a lot of rocks. I don't know if the trail was naturally like that or there was some manmade help in creating the gaps in the rocks for us to pass through. After a while, our trail met up with the road again, but we decided to stick with the route through the woods. This section was a lot easier as it had big, wide flat steps and was predominantly downhill. Soon, we reached the end of the trail and headed back to where our bus was parked up. I really, really enjoyed the hike. It was so nice to be out in nature and to take in the scenery. It felt so good after spending days couped up on the train and bus. It was nice not to be fed the party line for a few hours. We just got to wander in nature with no hidden agenda. Also, our guides were awesome, as although this hike wasn't at all technincal, they did it in dress clothes and shoes, when it would have been so much easier to do in trainers.

We drove to Chongsan Co-operative farm so that we could see how it works. This farm is a model farm and one of the best co-operative farms in the DPRK. Just as we were entering, there was another tour group leaving, so we had a quick chat with them. First things first, we had to go to the monument of Kim Il Sung and pay our respects to that. As usual, there was a guy in a suit with sunglasses watching us. I think after feeling so free on the mountain, I was really starting to resent the presence of these 'minders'. The monument was immaculate and there were CCTV cameras pointed at it. Propaganda was also being played over a loudspeaker into the area. It just made the area feel really eerie and that 'Big Brother' is always watching. Then we were able to explore the farm, obviously on the tightly controlled leash of the guide. We headed over to the area where farming takes place. There were a few more people here and we were told that they were riding to the housing area. We then had a look around the field and greenhouses closest to we got to see the different fruits and vegetables that the farm produces. I think that the local guide said they are 1,000 people working on the farm. In a couple of the greenhouses, there were some little kids hanging out with their parents and grandparents. We were definitely a curiosity to them and got a few smiles and waves. There were also some older boys, about 10-13 years old, hanging about and they were obviously curious about us foreigners, but when approached they ran away behind some trees. They did come out and wave goodbye to us as our bus departed.

I think our driver didn't really seem to know where he was going as he had to ask quite a few people on route, where the glass factory was. I didn't mind however as it was interesting driving around Nampo. I don't think I've ever been on a trip where I have just wanted to see normal people going about their daily business so much. Also the road systems in North Korea seem overtly complex. I feel like we drive around in circles and that there should be a more direct route to get to places. I was told that this is the road system, but I am sceptical as I am sure there are areas that the government do not want tourists to see, since everything is so stage managed here. We made it to the glass factory, which was very quiet. We were given a tour of the factory by a local guide. There were a couple of men, who I presume were the higher ups, accompanying us to. The factory was, well a factory. We saw how the glass making process occurred. What I really liked about the factory was the old school style propaganda posters/paintings that were on display on the walls to motivate the workers. I think I need some in my workplace to motivate me. We left the factory and drove for ages to reach our overnight stay. You could definitely see that this area was a lot poorer than the capital. The houses just weren't as well maintained and I saw loads of people carrying large bottles. A little later, we drove past a well and I saw people collecting water. It made me wonder if any of the buildings we had passed in the countryside had running water or it was only some. It was strange that they didn't have running water but they had electricity as I could see TVs on, but I suppose that is an easy way for the government to disseminate information.

We eventually got to the main gate of the Ryonggang Oncheon Resort, where we would be staying. Our guides had told us that this was a popular place for honeymooners from Pyongyang. I was a little disturbed to find a solider at the main entrance gate. I'm sure it is to keep the riff raff out, but still it creeped me out. We drove down the driveway, which was surrounded by large trees, it all felt very imposing to me. Then we pulled up at the reception building, which felt like it was in the middle of nowhere. All I could see was trees. After being given our keys, we then headed to the villas that we would be staying in. Each villa was once again secluded and you couldn't see any other builldings. Some people might love this, but my paranoid overactive imagination did not. It just felt too isolated for me. Each villa had several rooms, so it really wasn't that isolated, but we didn't see any other guests around. Our room was big, clean, comfortable and terribly dated. It was definitely like stepping back in time. I was pleasantly surprised that when I plonked my bum down on the bed, it was heated. I was very happy about that.

We met up with the others in front of the villa we were staying in and some of the guys went to get us some beers from the hotel's main building. Then we headed over to the villa the others were staying in as it had the necessary equipment needed to cook our gasoline clams. Gasoline clams are a speciality of the KITC bus drivers, as they all know how to cook them. I asked if there was a articular tory behind it but there wasn't. They really should invent one as us gullible tourists would probably fall for it hook line and sinker. There was a low stone table and the clams were arranged on that. There were so many clams and they were all tightly packed on the table's surface. Then our bus driver set them on fire. He continued to pour gasoline on them from a water bottle with a hole cut in the lid, so it was like a squirty bottle of washing up liquid. I stood, happily entranced, watching the fire. Once the clams were cooked, we dug in. They tasted so good. It was a little difficult opening the hot shells, but so worth the effort. I was a little surprised that they didn't taste at all of gasoline as I thought some may have made it through the shells, the makgeolli we'd had the day before definitely had the stronger gasoline taste. What I found really good was that we had soju with the clams. I am not the biggest fan of soju, but this we poured into the clam shell after we had eaten the clam and then drank it from the shell. It was so much fun and a unique way to drink the soju. I'm sure mixing it with the clam juices also helped take the edge off it.

After the clams, we headed to the dining room for dinner. Once again we were given loads of food. I was quite intrigued by the thing that looked like a hamburger covered with what looked like gravy, it was pretty decent. The restaurant also seemed to have quite a lot of imported snacks and drinks, which seemed very random as we were in the middle of nowhere. A chocolate bar was purchased by one of our group members, who then found out it was over a year out of date. Maybe they've been stockpiling stuff for years and no one buys it. I found it quite strange that this is meant to be one of the premier places to stay in Korea, yet there was no one there apart from another tour group that we had crossed paths with earlier in the day. That definitely added to the eerie vibe that I was already getting from the place. After dinner and a few beers, I headed back to the room. It was pitch black outside and there was no lights. I'm glad the others knew the right direction as I was totally disorientated. The stars looked amazing, it is ages since I have been anywhere without a tonne of light pollution so it was great to see the night sky in all its glory. Back in the room I was happy to sink into my heated bed.

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