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18th May 2012 - DPRK Trip - day 7 - Hamhung, Hungnam and Pyongyang

After a strange nights sleep and waking early, I took an early stroll along the deserted beach before breakfast was served in the bar. I canít remember what we had to eat, but I do remember the coffee was very good and I had three cups!

Our first stop of the day was the Hungnam Fertiliser Factory in the heart of this industrialised city. Hungnam butts up to Hamhung and sits on the coastline of the Sea of Japan, whereas Hamhung sits on the Songchon River that flows into the Sea.

With various pieces of equipment garishly painted yellow and green, and pipes and gauges all over, this looked like something from the industrial revolution back in the UK way back. Itís fair to say that the DPRK is probably going through its own industrial revolution right now, due to the sanctions and restrictions placed upon it from the rest of the world. This is the largest fertiliser factory in the DPRK.

While we toured the factory the smell of ammonia in the air filled every part of our lungs and mouth, and a few people had a little issue with breathing in the fumes. This was only apparent outside, and once inside the factory itself all we had to contend with was noise and heat.

I stumbled across a video taken here in April 2012 which gives you some idea of the noise inside.

Factory on You Tube

These types of factories are needed because the land has been farmed so extensively, that the only way crops can now grow is to feed it with lots of fertilizer. I seem to remember that a figure of five tonnes of fertiliser is needed to grow one tonne of rice, but that might be incorrect, it might have been more fertiliser.

For me this was one of the highlights of the trip so far. No safety equipment required and very open with their industry, which is obviously still very basic. This was one of those occasions that you really felt there was no agenda or anything being hidden.

According to the Internet this complex is thought to manufacture chemical weapons, although if this were the case Iíd doubt theyíd allow tours to take place, for fear of being found out. Of course I'm in no possition to say either way.

Hungnam Fertiliser Factory

Our next stop was in stark contrast to the factory tour, The Hamhung Bongung, or the Old House of Hamhung. This restored traditional palace is where Ri Song Gye, who was the King of the Ri dynasty, spent his last days. The Ri dynasty ruled the country between 1392 and 1910.

Hamhung Bongung

We then took lunch at the Sinhyungsan Hotel in Hamhung. A couple of us had asked about eating dog since arriving n the country. Our guides had been trying to source a meal for the last few days without success, but finally this hotel could deliver the goods, so to speak. Dog isnít as widely eaten as folklore would have you believe, which is why it took so long to find any.

Tradition and superstition dictates that dog is eaten on the three hottest days of the year to bring you good luck. In our case a chili dog soup was served for around ten of our party. The chili did mask the real taste, but the texture was something like a cross between rabbit and shredded beef.

Asking what king of dog this came from, we were told it was a derivative of a collie, or ďLassieĒ dog. I joked that as this was chili a lassi with my Lassie would go down well right now.

Sinhyungsan Hotel

Hamhung

We then departed Hamhung on the trusty Tu-134 back to Pyongyang.

Tu-134 flight and sounds

Pyongyang views

Our next stop was to take a ride on the Pyongyang Metro. Usually the form is to alight at one station and get off at the next. David, our tour guy from the UK, was determined to see more of the metro, so when he was negotiating the tour he joked that the west assumed the DPRK only had two stations, as that's all that was allowed in the past. He managed to allow us to ride five stations on this trip. Itís one of the deepest metros in the world and is approximately 100 meters (360 feet) deep.

We were briefed that we could take photos inside the station, catch a train, and get off at the next to take photos, get the next train etc until we had ridden five stations. The stations are very ornate, with murals and impressive roofs in some instances. The staff wear military style uniforms and we took our ride at the height of the rush hour. Who said that locals and foreigners couldnít mix?

Each carriage was jam-packed with people going home from work and students, some very young, travelling home from school.

We started at Puhung station, which is on the Chollima Line, and when to the next stop which was Yonggwang. Here we snapped away for 10 minutes or so before being told we would board the next train. It was even more crowded than the first train and we squeezed in amongst the locals. We trundled to the next stop at Ponghwa and as the doors opened I jumped out to allow others to get on. I looked around and saw that none of our party had got off, and one of our guides was motioning me to get back on. I just managed to squeeze in before the doors closed and we departed. Phew!

Apparently the plan had changed and we were supposed to stay onboard until the fifth stop! Who knows, maybe I was the first westerner to step foot on the Ponghwa platform?

We departed the metro at Kaeson station where our busses were already waiting.

Pyongyang Metro

Pyongyang views

After a drive around Pyongyang we ended the day with an opportunity to go to the viewing deck on top of the Tower of the Juche Idea, the one that youíve previously seen photos of at night.

This tower dominates the skyline of Pyongyang and stands at 150 meters (490 feet) high. Itís actually the second tallest monumental column in the world, after the San Jacinto Monument in Texas.

You ascend the tower via a lift to a viewing platform that is just below the metal torch at the top. The views from the top are excellent, and provide an interesting overview of the city.

Near the base of the tower is the Monument to the Korean Workers Party, which is my favourite monument in Pyongyang. The monument symbolizes the worker, the peasant and the intellectual and stands 50 meters high.

Juche Tower and Korean Workers Party Monument

This topped off probably the most interesting day we had in the DPRK.