- 19 September
- 23 April next year
- 17 September.
The ‘hermit kingdom’ of North Korea offers a glimpse into another world. Flying from Beijing to Pyongyang we find a country described by some as the last true stronghold of Communism, a nation where monuments to its late leader Kim Il Sung are omnipresent. This trip takes in the key sites of North Korea – from its unique iconic monuments to its unusual museums – and also spends time exploring the extraordinary metro system of Pyongyang.
We travel up into the picturesque mountains at Myohyangsan and visit the International Friendship Exhibition devoted to gifts given to Kim Il Sung as well as an important Buddhist temple. Finally we head down to the DMZ, a living monument to the Cold War and an integral experience in understanding Korean history. Simply put, there are no other places on earth like North Korea – it is one of the most enthralling trips you are ever likely to make.
Day 1: Beijing. Arrive in Beijing and transfer to your hotel. The rest of the day is free to relax or explore the city. Overnight Xiaoxiang Hotel or similar.
Beijing: Beijing is a vibrant city that will surprise many visitors – those who come expecting the roads to be occupied by bicycle traffic jams will find that the city is quickly modernizing itself. Beijing bursts with history – the Mongol conqueror Kublai Khan established it as his capital in the 13th century, and since then it has been home to many of China’s ruling dynasties. Imperial legacies remain in the form of Beijing’s fantastic monuments–the Forbidden City is a vast complex filled with gorgeously traditional architecture, a remnant of the days when the royal court was here and commoners were prohibited from entering.
Sadly many of Beijing’s monuments were torn down under Chairman Mao, keen to cast off the vestiges of imperial China, but those that remain are definitely worth a visit – if you are interested in seeing more of Beijing we recommend that you book extra nights in the city. The city’s most famous landmark is Tienanmen Square, an enormous empty space now famous for the pro-democracy protests of 1989 in which many were Chinese were killed.
With the mausoleum of Chairman Mao and throngs of Chinese visitors, it is a great place to people watch and immerse yourself in the cultural heart of this enigmatic nation. To explore traditional Beijing, you must head into the hutongs, districts of narrow alleyways and traditional courtyard style houses which give a glimpse of what the city was like years ago. Beijing is a giant among the world’s cities – if this is your first visit then be sure to dedicate some time to exploring.
Day 2: Beijing – Pyongyang. Fly to Pyongyang. Upon arrival, meet your guide and visit some of the capital’s key sights, including the Mansudae Grand Monument and the Arch of Triumph. Overnight Yangakkdo Hotel or similar. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Pyongyang: There is no other city in the world like Pyongyang–for once, the cliché is true. Built as a showpiece of the DPRK, it is orderly and precise, unlike many other Asian capitals. Despite being the capital of North Korea, it sees very little migration from the provinces, as a permit is required to live in, enter or leave Pyongyang–therefore it is considered an honour to live here. Its origins date back around two thousand years but it had little importance until it became the capital of the Koguryo kingdom in the 5th century.
Following defeat by Chinese forces it rose to prominence once more under the Koryo kingdom, becoming the capital in the 12th century. In following years Pyongyang was attacked by Chinese, Japanese and Mongolian forces. Under Japanese occupation following the Sino-Japanese War in 1894, Pyongyang fell into disrepair until it was liberated during the Second World War.
Pyongyang today is the result of extremely careful planning – the high rise apartment blocks are built to a limited number of designs, giving an amazing impression of homogeneity. The city contains a number of impressive monuments dedicated to its leader Kim Il Sung, the most important of which is the Mansudae Grand Monument, a 20 meters high statue of the Great Leader at which all visitors are expected to pay their respects.
Pyongyang contains a number of other interesting monuments and sites – the Arch of Triumph reaches 60 meters into the sky, commemorating the liberation of Korea from Japanese forces, while the captured American ship USS Pueblo, moored on the banks of the Taedong River, is a fascinating site for anyone interested in the history of US-North Korean relations.
Pyongyang’s metro system is very much a sight to behold – lavishly decorated with chandeliers, murals and neon lights, they plunge 200 meters underground and were designed to have a second purpose as bomb shelters. Pyongyang’s Juche Tower was built to symbolize the central philosophy of Kim Il Sung – Juche means self reliance – and offers a great view over the city. Pyongyang, simply put, is unique and offers something very different, even for the experienced traveler.
Day 3: Pyongyang. Spend the day exploring North Korea’s unique capital. Visit the War Museum, the captured US ship USS Pueblo and the extraordinary Pyongyang Metro, extravagantly decorated with sculptures, murals and mosaics. Overnight Yangakkdo Hotel or similar. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 4: Kaesong. Drive to Kaesong. From there we visit the most heavily fortified border in the world, the DMZ dividing North from South Korea at Panmunjeom. We also spend time at the Koryo Museum with its collection of artefacts and the Tomb of King Wanggon, one of Korea’s previous rulers. We spend the night in a traditional hotel, where we sleep on mats on the floor, Korean-style. Overnight Minsok Hotel or similar. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Panmunjeom: Panmunjeom is the name of the village, destroyed in the Korean War, that sits in the middle of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) which separates North from South Korea. The DMZ is the one of the most heavily fortified borders in the world, with approximately one and a half million soldiers facing each other across the divide, and is grimly fascinating for anyone with even a marginal interest in the history of the Cold War.
Here you can visit the Armistice Talks Hall, which hosted the discussions that ended the Korean War, and also see where ongoing talks for peace are held in the Military Armistice Commission Hall. Despite its history, the DMZ is generally a fairly peaceful place, and for obvious reasons few people are allowed to enter into most of it. This has produced great results for wildlife, with extremely rare species such as the Amur leopard and Siberian tiger having been spotted here. There are ongoing discussions to turn this area into some form of national park, although that would seem to be many years away as yet.
Day 5: Pyongyang – Mt Myohyang. Drive back to Pyongyang where we visit the Grand People’s Study House and Kim Il Sung Square, as well as the Kimilsungia and Kimjongilia Flower Exhibition. We then drive to the sacred peak of Mt Myohyang to spend the night. Overnight Hyangsan Hotel or similar. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Mt Myohyang: Mt Myohyang is a beautifully forested area of valleys and waterfalls harbouring numerous species of wildlife including bears, leopards and deers, and is one of North Korea’s five holy mountains. It is also home to the International Friendship Exhibition, a collection of artifacts and gifts given to Kim Il Sung and Kim Kong Il from rulers around the world. This unusual exhibition contains Mao’s and Stalin’s railways carriages, a bulletproof limousine, stuffed alligators and paintings, from leaders such as East Germany’s Erich Honecker and Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu. At Mt Myohyang is also the 11th century Buddhist temple of Pohyon, historically very important and one of the holiest in the country.
Day 6: Mt Myohyang – Pyongyang. Visit the remarkable International Friendship Exhibition and have the opportunity to take a short hike in the mountains, before visiting the sacred Buddhist temple of Pohyon. We return to Pyongyang in the afternoon. Overnight Yangakkdo Hotel or similar. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 7: Pyongyang. Continue our exploration of Pyongyang. We visit the Juche Tower with its impressive views over the city, the Mausoleum of Kim Il Sung and the Revolutionary Martyr’s Cemetery, among other sites. Overnight Yangakkdo Hotel or similar. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 8: Train. Depart Pyongyang on the overnight train bound for Beijing. Includes: (B).
Day 9: Beijing. Arrive in Beijing in the morning. After being transferred to the hotel, the rest of the day is free to visit some of the city’s sights, or just wander around to soak up the atmosphere. Overnight Xiaoxiang Hotel or similar.
Day 10: Beijing. Tour ends. Includes: (B).
Also see tour packages in:
Asia North Korea Local Culture Cultural Journey