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16th May 2012 - DPRK Trip - day 5 - Pyongyang, Mansudae Grand Monument, Mangyongdae Native House and Korean War Museum

Day five of our trip was to be spent around the Pyongyang area, and the sun did actually come out for a few hours.

views around Pyongyang

Our first tour stop for the day was the Mansudae Grand Monument that, until the death of Kim Jong Il, was a single huge bronze statue of Kim Il Sung. Not long before our visit a new statue had been created and placed next to the original.

This is a place that the people come to pay their respects by leaving flowers at the foot of the memorial. We saw lots of soldiers plus ordinary people, and each group was given time to pay their respects alone in their own time. We felt a little out of place here, but the importance of the site wasn't lost on us.

Our second port-of-call was the Mangyongdae Native House on the outskirts of Pyongyang. This is where Kim Il Sung is said to have been born and grown up around. It's considered a holy site by the Koreans and people come from far and wide to visit.

On the day we visited there were thousands of people around, from soldiers, to normal citizens to schoolchildren, all dressed in their Sunday best. I asked if today was a special day to visit due to the sheer numbers, but we were told it was like this on most days.

We witnessed a bunch of kids riding in the back of a large truck, and were told that they had come from the countryside and were using whatever transport was available. I'm not the best street photographer but I did manage a few snaps of the kids waiting in line.

There was a long line to filter into the house itself, and we were ushered straight to the front, bypassing all the kids, which personally made me feel uncomfortable, especially considering the heat and the length of the line. The fact that tourists get priority to something that means more to the population never sits well with me.

Our final destination for the morning was the impressive Korean War Museum. Here you can find all sorts of interesting artefacts, but in the basement there are aircraft on display, including downed US Air Force aircraft. Photography was difficult due to the low lighting.

Afterwards we had the opportunity to listen to a Korean War veteran talk about his experiences during that dark time. Very humbling.

Korean War Museum

Time was ticking by and we drove back to the airport where we went on a chartered An-24 flight.

An-24 flight and sounds

A quick note about some of the photos around Pyongyang: The vans you see with the speakers on the roof are, or were, used for various functions. In years gone by, when tourists were taken to a place in Pyongyang, these vans would go ahead of the coach and clear the local population from the area, so that nobody could interact with them. We saw no evidence of that practice on this trip, and we were told it no longer happens, another sign of the country slowly opening up. They also use them to lay patriotic music to wake-up to, or generally during the day.

photos around Pyongyang

The immaculately dressed young ladies who direct the traffic perform all their moves in ordered and quick military style, much like the moves a soldier makes with his gun during a ceremony. Even shift changeovers are done with military precision. Quite why they are needed when there is so little traffic is a mystery, but it does provide more jobs I guess. We dubbed them "Miss Whiplash" as we sped around the city.

Then it was back to the hotel as the sun went down, concluding another interesting day in the DPRK.