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13th May 2012 - DPRK Trip - day 2 - Kaesong, DMZ and the Hyonjongrung Royal Tomb

Our first full day in the DPRK was a non-aviation day, and it was to be an early morning start, as we had to drive the long distance to the De-Militarised Zone (DMZ).

We drove along miles and miles of dual carriageway, and saw very few other vehicles. The road was rough in places and every few miles there was what looked like half built bridges alongside the road. The main supports were there but nothing else had been built. Asking what these were for in the bar later, we were informed that they were actually tank traps. The large concrete blocks that looked like bridge supports could be blown-up to block the road in the event of an invasion. Damn. I never did take a photo of one.

At about the half way point we stopped for a pee break at a large lay-by, where you could buy drinks and fruit.

The large monument that straddles the 4-lane highway is called the Monument to the Three Charters for National Reunification, and expresses the shared yearning felt by both north and south to unify.

The journey was very rural and it showed how almost every inch of the land is given up to agriculture in order to sustain the people. We saw many people travelling to work in the fields, either walking or riding the state issued bicycles. People either work for the state on the land or are part of a co-operative. They are paid with rice and food and sometimes travel many miles to work in the designated field of the day. There are large portable red banners that tell them which field is the important one to work on that particular day. Their houses are also provided by the state, as you would expect.

We finally reached the town of Kaesong and then continued to the entrance to the DMZ proper. We had to stay in the coach as our guides disembarked to perform the necessary paperwork. We were then led off the coaches and taken into a room where a military guide took us through the history or the DMZ. We were not allowed to take photos of the guards at the gate however.

Then it was back onto the coaches where we drove single file through a sentry post and via a single lane road towards the DMZ, past more tank-traps, this time slabs of concrete along the high wall held in place with wires, ready to be slid down a slope and onto the road if required.

Half way to the DMZ we stopped at a building that had many old photos showing a pictorial history of the conflict, including framed snippets of the Armistice Agreement and the flag used at the signing.

Then it was to the DMZ proper and we found ourselves standing on the very building that is seen on every tourist photo from the south side! It was very surreal but very relaxing. Our military guide posed for photos before leading us down to the blue huts that straddle the demarcation line itself, and there were no photo restrictions at all.

The North and South Koreans share the use of the huts and while inside we could actually step into South Korea, albeit inside the building. The centre hut, which we were in, is used to stage negotiations between the two sides, when required.

click for photos from the DMZ

One of the members of our group had been on a trip to the DMZ from the South Korean side in the past, and he remarked that the security and protocol was much more stressful and ridged on the South side, which was an interesting titbit. We certainly never felt threatened and whole experience was very relaxing and informative. I never really felt that they were pushing any kind of agenda or rhetoric when they were explaining things here, although that would change at other places.

We then went for lunch at the Kaesong Folk Custom Hotel where we sat cross-legged on the floor to eat in traditional Royal Court style. All the food was served in small gold coloured dishes, each with an interesting food surprise inside, and all very nice.

photos from the Kaesong Folk Custom Hotel

Our next stop, after a short cross-country drive, was the Tomb of King Kongmin, also known as the Hyonjongrung Royal Tomb, which is located in Haeson-ri and is a 14th century mausoleum from the Koryo Dynasty.

Buried here is Kongmin, the 31st king of the Koryo Dynasty, and his wife Queen Noguk who was a Mongolian princess. This is one of the best-preserved royal tombs in the DPRK and has been nominated as a World Heritage site. There are a further 15 royal tombs in the DPRK, but this was the only one we saw.

photos of the Hyonjongrung Royal Tomb

Then the longish drive back to Pyongyang with an evening meal at the Taedonggang Diplomatic Club where the beer and wine flowed freely.