My Visit To North Korea: A Tourist’s Perspective


Hi, my name is Lauren and in August 2017
I visited the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or as it’s more commonly
known, North Korea, for five days. I’ve been fascinated by Korean history, and
North Korea in particular, for many years so I wanted to visit the country for
myself and I did my best to film some of the things I saw. Given the nature of
North Korea, you’re not allowed to film anything you want. You have to ask
permission to take photos of certain things. You know, we weren’t allowed
to film the military or construction sites or things like that, so this footage doesn’t contain everything I saw. There are some things that I would have
loved to have captured but I couldn’t. And obviously I am aware of the
political situation in the country and I’m aware that a lot of what I saw was
probably not an accurate representation of life in North Korea, so you know, take
everything you see in this footage with a pinch of salt. I met up with my tour
group in Beijing where we got a train to the Chinese border city of Dandong
before getting another train to Pyongyang. When we arrived at the border,
military came onto the train and took our passports and searched through all
our possessions. I have to admit this was quite scary. The view out of the window
was really quite nice though- I don’t know why I’d pictured North
Korea to look so barren, but it was a lovely surprise to see such nice scenery. Upon arrival, we were taken straight to
Mansudae Hill, which contains the 22-metre bronze statues of Kim il-sung
and Kim jong-il. We had to walk up the hill toward the statutes in lines of four and then bow to them. Having just arrived in the country, I wasn’t sure
exactly how compliant we had to be or how easy it was to get into trouble so
it was quite a nerve-wracking experience. We then headed to dinner at a local
restaurant. It was definitely not local and 100% set up for tourists but it was
good to have our first taste of Korean food, which I decided I really like. We woke up the next morning and headed
straight to the Demilitarized Zone (aka the DMZ) which is sat right on the border
between North and South Korea. So for a little bit of background, in 1950 the
northern part of Korea invaded the south, causing a three-year long war resulting
in the split of Korea into two countries: North and South Korea as we know them
today. A peace treaty was never actually signed, so the two countries are
technically still at war. The DMZ is used as a kind of buffer zone between
the two countries and as you can see right now in the video, this is the Joint
Security Area which is the exact point on the border. After lunch, we headed back to Pyongyang
and rode to Pyongyang Metro. This metro station is actually the deepest in the
world at 105.5 metres deep. It also doubles up as a bomb shelter in
case there’s… bombs. We rode for five stops with the local people, which was
weirdly quite interesting. Apparently before 2010, tourists were only allowed
to ride between two stops, giving rise to a conspiracy theory that the metro
station was fake and that the passengers were actors. Obviously this could still
be the case but we rode for five stops. As we walked out of the station on our
last stop, we were greeted with the Arch of Triumph, which is a huge impressive
monument built in 1952 to commemorate the Korean resistance to Japan. We went
up to the top of the arch and we were graced with a panoramic view of
Pyongyang. As you can see, the whole city is painted in pastel colors and looks
really quite pretty. I did however notice that there’s really not many cars on the
road, which I found really quite strange for an Asian capital city. After dinner, we headed to a fun fair where
we got to go on some rides and mingle with the locals a little bit. On our third day in North Korea, we made
the three-hour journey to Mount Myohyang, a beautifully scenic area in the
north. This place was stunning, with forest, lakes and mountains. We then headed to a temple complex
called Pohyon Temple. It was founded by a monk in 1042 but half of the complex was
destroyed during the Korean War. It has since been reconstructed and was really
beautiful to look around. I was actually under the impression that
religion wasn’t allowed to be practiced in the country and that, you know, Kim
jong-un is the only person you should be worshipping. We headed back to Pyongyang
and visited the monument to party founding. This was built to celebrate the
50-year anniversary of the Workers Party in Korea. It has a hammer, a sickle and a
calligraphy brush as its features; symbolising workers, farmers and
intellects. Next, we headed to the Victorious
Fatherland Liberation War Museum. We weren’t allowed to film inside the
museum itself but we were allowed to film outside the grounds.
Our tour guide showed us a bunch of artefacts left behind by the US, such as
air crafts, tanks and bomb shells. The statue of victory and US armed spy ship Pueblo. The main building was newly built in
2013 in the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the great victory of the Fatherland Liberation War. ??? US army tank. The biggest one is 50 ton and
smallest one is 10 ton. US fighter: it was destroyed by female
and ??? army during the Fatherland Liberation War. This is the USS Pueblo: a research ship
owned by the US Navy. It was captured by North Korea in 1968 and has remained
here ever since as a sort of trophy. We watched a short documentary about the
USS Pueblo and had to try very hard to keep our mouths shut
some of the things that were said. The documentary kept using the phrase
“ignorant and stupid American Imperialists”. That evening, we went
bowling, which was quite random but quite a lot of fun. The next day, we put on our formal
clothes, because we were heading to Kumsusan Palace of the Sun which is where
Kim il-sung and Kim jong-il were laid to rest. The whole morning made me feel
pretty tense. We had to walk around the palace in lines of four and we
weren’t allowed to speak. We had to bow three times to both
leaders: once at their feet, once at their right side and once at the left side. It
was pretty surreal to see dead bodies laid on display in this way. They’d been
preserved somehow with a kind of wax solution. We then headed to Kim il-sung
Square, which is really the only part of North Korea I’d seen footage of before
coming here. It’s where they hold marches and stuff and is broadcasted on TV
sometimes. Next, we headed to Mangyongdae Native
House, which is where apparently Kim Il-Sung was born. Many North Koreans visit
this place to pay respect to the late leader. And the home kind of portrays the
family as humble and poor because it’s very small and obviously not for someone
who has great wealth. In my opinion, this place seems like a propaganda feature.
There’s lots of research that shows that Kim il-sung wasn’t actually born here
and North Koreans are just told that he was. We then made our way to the National
Library. I expected this to be kind of boring, I mean, it’s a library; but it was
actually really interesting. It gave us an insight into what Western literature
the citizens are exposed to, which turns out isn’t a lot, but they did have Harry
Potter, Sherlock Holmes and the Beatles. One thing I actually only noticed while editing
this video was this English textbook you see here. The book has sentences such
as “the US imperialists have been the sworn enemy of the Korea people for more than
a hundred years ago” and “the US imperialists killed one-fourth of the
population of Sinchon County during the 52 days of their occupation.” This is
pretty harrowing for a language learning book if you ask me. We then made our way
to a local school where the kids here put on a show for us. It was really good –
apparently North Korean kids are taught singing, dancing and how to play musical
instruments from a very young age so they’re all really talented. And that’s that! We headed back to China
early the next day and I wouldn’t say I was relieved to leave North Korea
because I didn’t feel unsafe there. But I was there in August 2017 which was when
there was those huge tensions between Donald Trump and Kim jong-un. I had
no access to news or social media so I had no idea what was going on in the
outside world. You know, the situation between Kim and Trump could have
completely blown up and I wouldn’t have known anything about it, so I felt kind
of not in control in that sense. But I really did get a lot out of my time
there, I feel like I learned a lot. You know, I I have no idea how much of
what I saw was real and how much of it was fake. The line between
reality and facade is really blurry. Yeah, that’s that. I’ll leave my link
to my blog in the description below if you want to check out some more of my
travels or if you want to read more about North Korea. Thank you for
watching!

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