The last and final stop of the Asian Saga, and what better place to end the tour than North Korea. If you missed the previous stop in Kolkata, see it here
. Leving Kolkata, I flew the hump
back into China and Beijing. After an afternoon in the city and a briefing from my tour agency, I was ready to visit the most isolated country on the planet, North Korea. I flew Koryo Air into the country which was a great intro to what I was going to experience. Propaganda plays continuously on the entertainment screens and copies of the Pyongyang times are handed out to each passenger. Extra Extra! South Korean Puppet Spy Defaces Statue of Generalisimo Kim Jong Il In Master Plot Orchestrated by Imperialist Masters in America!
There is really too much to detail so I'll try and hit some of the major points.
The country is the most isolated and unique country I have visited. It really feels like stepping back 50 or 60 years into the past. The people's dress and possessions are rudimentary; I think I saw one or two cell phones the entire week I was there. Cars are essentially non existent, when I did see one it was usually a party member or a tourist vehicle. However, the streets of Pyongyang are wide and accommodating, creating an eerily quiet environment. Standing on a busy boulevard at rush hour, the only sounds I heard were footsteps and bicycle bells. Keep in mind this is a city of 3 million people. There is little to no market activity which creates an incredible sterile street scene. No advertisements, no hucksters, no goods being hocked, just austere and blank walls, every now and again a government issued white sign with blue letters, indicating what is sold from the business within.
Around the world, nearly every country has developed in a somewhat similar manner over the last 30 years. Cuba, Mali, India, China, Bolivia; any developing country, have followed similar paths as their economies have grown and their citizens' desire for improved communication, transportation and entertainment options have been satisfied. The DPRK, because it is so isolated and locked down, is really the last place on earth where market economics and the resulting effects, cell phones, scooters, satellite dishes, are completely absent.
The cult surrounding the leaders is really more similar to a religion. When you see the propaganda statues and monuments, think of them like churches or holy sites. Because of this, I had to be extremely respectful of the people's beliefs and even had to buy flowers to place at some of the states. I didn't want to do so but I wouldn't travel to Mecca and start bad mouthing Allah.
I had to travel with guides as independent travel is banned. Being an American was no issue. My tour agency had no problems securing me a visa and I had no issues returning to the US stating I had visited the DPRK. Photography is a sensitive subject. For the most part, I had to ask before every shot I took. Shooting in Pyongyang was much easier than in the country side. I would have liked to have taken some closer shots of the people but there was no way that was happening.
The hotels were basic even though they were listed as 5 stars. Perhaps the only 5 star hotel I've stayed at that didn't have hot water...
Shots are from: Pyongyang, the city and the Arirang Mass Games; Nampo city where I was supposed to visit some factories but couldn't go due to bridges being destroyed by major floods; and Kaesong and the DMZ.
OK, that's enough text. If you have any questions I'll answer them in the comments. Some tunes:
Option A: Major Lazer - Get Free. The song I was blasting when I was there and my personal choice for the tour.
• Video Link
Option B: Crazy NK propaganda music. It's a long thread, maybe play them both.
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My guides, driver and me at the Pyongyang airport with a special visit by a surprise guest. I look like someone who had been on the road for 3 months.
And that ends the Asian Saga. Thanks to all of you that followed along. I recently returned from abroad again, this time from India, Tibet and Myanmar. I should have another tour highlighting those areas but it will be some time before I get my shots edited and posted.