Archives for posts with tag: North Korea

It’s been a bit of a while since I’d made a post so I thought I’d put together an update of my upcoming plans and also put up a little bit of media coverage I’ve had in the last few weeks :).

Firstly my next interesting trip is now only 6 weeks away. I’ll be travelling to Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous region of Iraq at the top end of the country that borders Turkey and Iran. Whilst travelling to Iraq may sound like a dangerous ordeal this area of the country has maintained an air of calm to it managing to mostly avoid the Shia/Sunni civil war due to the population consisting mainly of people of Kurdish ethnicity. There has been some ramping up of suicide bombings and conflicts in the Southern part of the country recently but hopefully this will not affect the trip. I’ve been reading a few books on Iraq and would highly recommend the following to anyone interested;

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The day starts, yet again, with an early morning wake up call that is not helped by my jet lag. Again I get ready and head to lifts to go to breakfast and get some much needed coffee. I press the call lift button, receive my electric shock, and the wait for the lift to arrive. Breakfast was much the same affair as the preceding day although there appeared to be set Chinese tourists sat at another table. With today’s breakfast we were also given bottles of a green peach soft drink made in North Korea. This stuff was absolutely delicious, they’d do well licensing/exporting it I reckon.

During breakfast our English guide recounted a story he’d heard to us. As you might know after North Koreas strong performance in a game against Brazil in the 2010 World Cup it was decided to allow the following match to be aired live in North Korea. This turned out to be unfortunate as in the following game they were thrashed 7-0 by Portugal. During the screening of the match at a bar, one of the local tour guides had ripped the TV from the wall and smashed it on the floor!

Once we’d all finished we loaded up into the van to head to Panmunjom and Kaesong. Panmunjom is a small village that sits in the middle of the DMZ (De-Militarised Zone) and straddles the border between North and South Korea. It’s main feature is a set of blue huts, inside which is a meeting table where each half of the table is in the separate countries. These facilitate various meetings that are occasionally held by officials from either side.

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As promised my wake up call comes at 7am in the morning, the voice on the other end of the phone is polite. I got dressed and headed out the room to go for breakfast as we had been told we would be leaving at 7:30 am to visit the Kim Jong-il and Kim il-sung friendship places, two “museums” dug into mountains that contain the catalogue of every gift given to the regime from foreign diplomats no matter how insignificant.

Once I got to the lift I realised why the elevator attendant the previous night had been wearing gloves. Upon pushing the call lift button I received a more than subtle electric shock. At first I though it was static which meant if I touch the button again it’d be ok. Wrong. Another shock. After a couple of shocks the button actually illuminated to say the lift was on its way and soon I was on my way to the lobby.

Not actually knowing where breakfast would be served I wandered over to the doors which we had been waiting at the previous night, one of which was ajar. I looked in and saw one of my group at a table eating so headed in. There was another guy at the table who turned out to be  an American who was joining our group. The significance of his nationality being that he had not been allowed to take the train in like the rest of the group and had to fly in on an Air Koryo flight from Shenyang to Pyongyang the previous day. He mentioned he spent most of the afternoon wandering around expecting us to turn up and struggling to find much to do within the confines of the hotel.

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After 6 months anticipation finally crossing into North Korea was a “don’t believe it till it happens” moment. Our minibus from the Dandong railway hotel pulled into a waiting area at the base of the bridge to North Korea. We sat in the bus whilst the driver stepped outside and our guide went into the Chinese departure building, presumable to get the permits for the minibus sorted. We all had a bit of a nervous chatter and then our guide returned and we unloaded ourselves and our bags from the mini bus and entered the terminal building. We appeared to be the only people crossing although many Chinese guys were hanging around waiting for something.

After about a 30 minute wait we were called over to the passport control counter. Our passports seemed to be looked at very thoroughly There were long stares at one guys passport due to his one year Taiwanese student resident visa. Once we were all through we loaded our bags into one minibus and boarded another. We realised that our guide was in the other bus with all our visas. Our bus trundled over the bridge, which seems to instantly get worse in quality half way across (but I’m not sure if I imagined that or not). At this point the reality of entering the DPRK is getting very real. We are stopped by a checkpoint where a KPA guard wants to see our passports and visas. We thankfully manage to explain the visas are in the other bus and we are let through after some stern looks.

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