April 13 – 20/21 (Sat – Sat/Sun)
7 nights in the DPRK plus one on the train
Please note that the itinerary may differ slightly to what is below but your tour leader will do their best to ensure that as much is covered as possible and will also add in extras when there is time such as a visit to a local bar or a funfair. We visit the DPRK regularly and know all the best places to go to make your trip even more unique. We will make the most of your time in the DPRK to guarantee the experience of a lifetime.
Fri 12th April
4PM - group assembles in the Koryo Tours office for a pre-tour briefing which will last approximately 1 hour and is designed so that you will get the best out of your tour. Please be punctual - you can even come early, pay any outstanding tour fees and browse our art gallery and merchandise.
Sat 13th April
AM: This morning we will meet outside the Koryo office (time to be confirmed) and together head to Beijing Airport Terminal 2 for our flight Beijing to Pyongyang (1.5 hrs) - the showcase capital of the DPRK with a population of approximately 2 million.
PM: Upon arrival in Pyongyang (approximately 4pm - DPRK is one hour ahead of China), we proceed through immigration and customs and meet our guides who will accompany us during our stay. On our way to the hotel we will visit the Arch of Triumph – similar to the French version but bigger. Important in Korean history as the first place Kim Il Sung gave a speech to the Korean people after the surrender of the Japanese.
OVERNIGHT: Yanggakdo Hotel, Pyongyang (one of the deluxe-class hotels in the country located on an island in the Taedong River which flows through the middle of the city.
Sun 14th April
AM: Our first visit is to the Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun where North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il lie in state. Opened 3 years after the death of President Kim Il Sung in 1994, the building used to be his offices. In 2011 it closed after the death of Kim Jong Il but re-opened at the end of 2012. This is a place of utmost importance for Koreans and tourists should behave accordingly. Men should wear a shirt and tie, women should dress smartly. The entire visit takes around 1.5 hrs and you are not allowed to take your camera in but after visiting the rooms inside we come back out to take photos from the square in front of the impressive building. Next we take a short drive to the Revolutionary Martyrs' Cemetery – superb individually crafted bronze busts of the anti-Japanese heroes including one of Kim Jong Suk - the mother of Kim Jong Il. The cemetery was designed to overlook the city, giving the martyrs a view of the re-building of their country. Afterwards we head to Kim Il Sung Square - Pyongyang’s largest square in the heart of the city. There used to be portraits of Marx and Lenin on display here but they were taken down in early 2012. This is where the military parades pass through and the mass dances take place - you can see the podium on which the leaders stand to view these incredible displays although they don't happen as often as the western media make out - not even an annual event.
PM: After lunch we visit the Railway Museum. This newly re-opened facility details the history of the DPRK railway and the involvement of the leaders in its development. See how the DPRK does the locomotion! Sticking with the railway theme we next go deep underground for a ride on the Pyongyang Metro - the deepest underground system in the world and the designs of the main stations are stunning with superb lighting and mosaics. We start at Puhung (Rehabilitation) Station, then take the train to the next station Yonggwang (Glory). Here we get off to take pictures before getting back on the train and going through 3 stops and getting off at the fourth which is Kaeson (Triumphant Return). A total of 6 stations. A great chance to have interaction with the locals if you are prepared to learn basic greetings in Korean - and if you meet students get them to greet you in English! We then visit the Foreign Languages Bookshop - a great opportunity to read up on what you are seeing here and buy your gifts and night time reading. Before dinner we head to Golden Lane Bowling Centre where Pyongyangers go for their ten-pin fix. It also has some early 90s arcade games. Even if you do not play it is worth grabbing a seat and enjoy watching locals having some fun. It is one of the most popular places for boys and girls to meet or take their dates.
OVERNIGHT: Yanggakdo Hotel, Pyongyang
Mon 15th April
AM: DPRK HOLIDAY: 101st Birthday of President Kim Il Sung -
we start off the holiday with a visit to the Mansudae Grand Monument - statues of North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il flanked by powerful sculptures telling the story of the anti-Japanese War, the rebuilding of the country and finally the Korean War. Kim Il Sung's statue has been here since 1972 but Kim Jong Il's was added in 2012 on the occasion of Kim Il Sung's 100th birthday. This is a very important place for Koreans and visitors are requested to follow the local custom and bow in front of the statues after placing down a bouquet of flowers. As it is a national holiday we expect to see more people here than usual. Next we go to the outskirts of Pyongyang (approx 20 min drive) to Mangyongdae Native House - the native birthplace of North Korean President Kim Il Sung . If time allows then we walk up the hill (past the mosaic of Kim Il Sung as a child thinking of leaving to fight against the Japanese occupation of his country) to the pavilion overlooking the Taedong River. The rest of the day will be dedicated to events commemorating the holiday. The exact nature and timing of these events will not be confirmed until we get to the DPRK but based on our experience of being in the country for this holiday in previous years we expect the following: Kimilsungia Flower Show (free to enter) - this greenhouse is dedicated to the cultivation of the Kimilsungia (orchid) and the Kimjongilia (begonia) - today the displays will be focused on the former flower. This place is usually packed on this special day; Pyongyang Symphony Orchestra - usually held in the afternoon this concert of Korean and western music is stunning (EUR 20); Pyongyang Circus - also in the afternoon this is another stunning performance showcasing the talents of the DPRK's acrobats and other entertainers (EUR 20). For these events that require additional payment, we will always offer a free alternative such as a walk in the city or visiting a coffee shop - the itinerary will be confirmed on the spot in Pyongyang. We will also take a walk in Moranbong Park otherwise known as Peony Hill. Located in the centre of Pyongyang this is a favourite place for locals and during the holiday periods it is not unusual to come across a group of Koreans dancing. Make sure to learn basic Korean - the guides can help - to meet and greet people and you might even get the opportunity to join in. During the week Koreans come here to study, enjoy nature and of course go on a romantic walk. Also popular places to visit on a holiday are our next two stops. The first is the 150m Juche Tower, the highest stone monument in the world (topped with a flickering red torch). We are given an explanation of the country's guiding Juche philosophy often translated as 'self-reliance'. Take the lift to the top for stunning views over Pyongyang (costs EUR 5). Next we visit the Party Foundation Monument - an iconic sculpture of a hammer, sickle and calligraphy brush commemorating 50 years of the Workers' Party rule. Great view to the Mansudae Grand Monument and on to the Ryugyong hotel. As today is a national holiday we expect to see a mass dance taking place. University students dress in their finest and gather together in various public spots around Pyongyang to dance together (a great time for young couples to meet for the first time) - an impressive spectacle indeed. If time permits we will also visit the Golden Lane Bowling Centre where Pyongyangers go for their ten-pin fix. It also has some early 90s arcade games. Even if you do not play it is worth grabbing a seat and enjoy watching locals having some fun. It is one of the most popular places for boys and girls to meet or take their dates.
OVERNIGHT: Yanggakdo Hotel, Pyongyang
Tues 16th April
AM: After an early breakfast we take a 2.5 hr drive south to Kaesong, an historical city near the DMZ which avoided being destroyed in the Korean War as it was chosen as the place for armistice talks. There is a service station halfway where we will stop for a rest. This is a popular place for tourists to take photos of themselves standing in the middle of this empty highway. After arriving in Kaesong we take a short drive (approx 20 mins) to Panmunjom/DMZ where North and South Korea continue their decades old face-off. It is possible to go into one of the huts that straddle the demarcation line and actually cross over into South Korea! This is one of the few places you can take pictures of - and even with - members of the DPRK military. Next, we head back to Kaesong and visit the Kaesong Koryo Museum, which is a beautiful old Confucian University, to learn about the history of the area. There is also a collection of steles and pavilions from around the area. The stamp shop here is excellent too. Lunch is a traditional pansanggi meal - something like Korean tapas. Lots of different dishes served in gold bowls. For anyone wanting to supplement their lunch you will have the opportunity to sample Korea's famous delicacy - 'sweetmeat soup' AKA dog meat (costs EUR 5).
PM: After lunch we drive around 20 mins to the beautiful Tomb of King Kongmin - the twin-domed tomb of the 31st King of the Koryo Dynasty (918 - 1392 AD) and his wife which remained largely undamaged during the Korean War. Ask the guide to tell you the story of how the area got its name of “Oh dear hill”. Our last visit of the day is a drive of about 45 minutes to the Concrete Wall - an observation post deep in the DMZ where you can view South Korean positions and see the anti-tank barrier which stretches across the peninsular. The South Koreans claim that this barrier does not exist but here you can use binoculars to view it! The local guide here is a very affable retired colonel who gives a very interesting explanation of the area - he is also easily persuaded to sing some revolutionary songs on the bus journey back to Kaesong!
OVERNIGHT: Minsok Folk Hotel, Kaesong (beautiful courtyard hotel with Li dynasty housing where guests sleep on heated floors in traditional Korean style; basic - sporadic hot water and frequent power cuts but a great experience as you are living literally next door to the local inhabitants.
Please note that the area around Kaesong is considered to be a malarial area by the WHO, however, provided tourists take proper precautions (use good mosquito repellant and mosquito nets – these are provided in the hotel we use) there is very little risk of contracting the disease from the places that we visit. The WHO state that there is no need to take malaria prophylaxis when visiting and in any case, this is not recommended for visits of less than 1-2 weeks. We have never had any cases of our tourists contracting the disease. However, please be warned that most travelers to an area with malaria are deferred from donating blood for 1 year after their return so this may affect you if you are a regular blood donor.
Weds 17th April
AM: After breakfast we drive around 2 hours to Sariwon City in the centre of the country. Our first stop there is the Sariwon Folk Village - a mock-up of traditional Korean architecture. You can walk up the hill for a great view over the area. The construction of this Folk Village was aided by the Korean Friendship Association and you can see them working on it in the excellent documentary Friends of Kim. We then drive for about 1 hour to Sinchon Town where we visit the Atrocities Museum. Not for the faint-hearted, this museum details the alleged massacre in this area during the Korean War. We have a picnic lunch in the area Sinchon.
PM: After lunch we will drive through the beautiful Mt. Kuwol area for approx 2 hrs to the West Sea Barrage - an 8km long dam separating the Taedong river from the West Sea of Korea. It stops Pyongyang being flooded by preventing tidal surges as well as providing more agricultural land. Regarded as a great feat of engineering, the project was personally overseen by Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. We then head for our overnight stop - the Dragon River Hot Spa guesthouse. This is a complex of guesthouses where each room has a private bath which can be filled with water direct from the hot springs - said to have many medicinal benefits. Time permitting, it is here that we can experience the famous Nampo petrol clam BBQ (costs EUR 5 per person but you can still watch for free if you don't want to have any of the clams).
OVERNIGHT: Dragon River Hot Spa, Nampo
Thurs 18th April
AM: After breakfast we return to Pyongyang (1.5 hrs) where our first stop is the Mansudae Art Studio - the DPRK centre of artistic excellent where most of the paintings, mosaics, statues, etc are all made. It is possible to visit several workshops and see the artists at work - ink painting, oil painting, embroidery and ceramics. They also have a very good shop with some quality pieces of art and ceramics for sale. Nick Bonner of Koryo is one of the few experts on North Korea art and is happy to give advice on what to look out for. Next we drive to the outskirts of the city to visit the Pyongyang Feature Film Studios – the Hollywood of the DPRK where some of the most iconic DPRK feature films were shot and produced. It was visited hundreds of times by Kim Jong Il who wrote a book entitled On the Art of the Cinema – the ‘bible’ for Korean filmmakers. Tour the sets and learn about film as art and propaganda in North Korea. Lunch is in a local restaurant.
PM: This afternoon there is a choice of two itinerary options. The first is a visit to the Taesongsan Combined Fruit Farm - newly available for Koryo Tourists. See what can be made from apples in the DPRK (all the trees were imported from Italy) as well as visiting a terrapin breeding farm. The 2nd option is a visit to the newly-opened Pyongyang Folk Village and Culture Park. Full of scale models of famous spots in Pyongyang and around the whole DPRK, this park showcases Korea's heritage from the past to the present day. Entry fee is 13 EUR payable on the spot. We do not need to know which option you would like to take in advance of the day. Afterwards we will drive to Mt Myohyang - the Mountain of Mysterious Fragrance, two hours north of Pyongyang. It is said that the air here is so fresh that regardless of how much alcohol you drink while staying here, provided you sleep with your window open you won't have a hangover the next day. We'll leave that up to you to test out!
OVERNIGHT: Chongchon Hotel, Mt. Myohyang (basic but comfortable hotel surrounded by beautiful scenery; no 24 hr hot water) UPGRADE OPTION: For EUR 120 per person you can stay in the Hyangsan Hotel - renovated in 2010 this is one of the top hotels in the country and perfect for those who want a little luxury
Fri 19th April
AM: Our first visit of the day is to the highlight of the area - the International Friendship Exhibition. Built in 1978, these 2 huge subterranean halls are filled with gifts to the leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il presented to them by people all over the world - from heads of state to ordinary citizens. The gifts are divided into region and they estimate that if you spent one minute in front of each gift it would take over 1 year to see the whole exhibition - we will only be shown a small sample! This year, they have opened a new room showcasing gifts presented to the new leader Kim Jong Un. Halfway through the visit, we take a short tea break on the balcony affording beautiful views of the stunning mountains surrounding us. Before lunch we look around the nearby thousand year old Pohyon Buddhist Temple. It was destroyed during the Korean War but was rebuilt as a working temple complete with North Korean monks.
PM: After lunch we will take a not-too-strenuous hike of around 1-2 hrs in the area following a stream and waterfalls – wear sensible shoes as it can be slippy. This is a popular places for locals to visit. After this we return to Pyongyang visiting the Paradise micro-brewery to try the local brew before our farewell dinner.
OVERNIGHT: Yanggakdo Hotel, Pyongyang
Sat 20th April
Today is departure day. For those flying out the flight departs Pyongyang at 09:00 and arrives in Beijing at approx 10:00am. End of tour (options into the city are taxi (make a note of the taxi number and get a receipt), airport bus or the airport/city train).
Those taking the train option depart Pyongyang station at 10:40. The journey to Sinuiju (border city) takes around 5 hours and lunch is served in the dining car for those who want it (EUR 5). The immigration/customs procedures on the DPRK side take between 1.5 to 2.5 hrs and there is no need to get off the train at any time. The international carriages then continue over the Friendship Bridge which spans the Yalu River (as you cross look to the left to see the bridge damaged in the Korean War) and on to Dandong, China. The immigration/customs procedures here are much quicker - around 30 minutes. Those doing the Dandong option alight here and the train (the carriages attach onto a Chinese domestic train) departs at 18:30 local time. Dinner can be eaten in the Chinese dining car (costs RMB 60).
OVERNIGHT: On train
Sun 21st April
AM: The train arrives into Beijing Central Railway Station just after 08:30am - this is the end of the tour.
End of Tour.
Please note that after the tour, we will send out a list of all the tour partcipants' email addresses so you can keep in touch, swap photos, etc. If you do not wish to be on this list then please let us know.
TOUR COST: EUR 1690
VISA FEE: EUR 50
PRE-TOUR MEETING: April 12th (Friday), 4PM, at our office in Beijing
Room upgrades available – please ask for more information.
TOUR FEE INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING:
NOT INCLUDED IN THE TOUR FEE: