An eerie capital that fits in well with its somewhat surreal political outlook and backwards surroundings, Pyongyang is a city that will set you back thousands to visit, but you’ll be talking about it incessantly from the moment you do.
When you and your guard finally escape your lock down… sorry, hotel… you’ll be controlled… sorry, escorted… around a city that lives and breathes its philosophy. These days there are a few more people on the streets around the tourist areas, but you’ll still find an astonishing, controlling reverence towards the two leaders – brought to life in the form of statues and portraits, mainly of the Great Leader Kim Il Sung – and experience a city that still seems to live and breath in a century the rest the world’s left well behind.
You won’t have a great deal of choice about where you visit, but the sites you do see are interesting enough for that to be forgiven. You’ll be bundled down in the Pyongyang subway, a regal tunnel where the locals seem to be riding without any set destination (it’s probably all for your benefit), which showcases North Korea’s ‘modernity’. If you’re very lucky you’ll be invited to the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, where former leader Kim Il Sung’s body lies in state (access is by invitation only), though you’re more likely to find yourself bowing and attempting to revere his statue, instead.
There are a couple of fantastic views of the city to be had, too, though sadly you’ll probably have to commit them to memory, due to photography restrictions. The ‘Tower of Juche Idea’ celebrates North Korean philosophy, but also has startling views over the entire capital, while walking across Moran Hill is as close as you’re likely to get to the locals, who head here to unwind, assuming your guard…sorry, tour guide… is in the mood to let you visit at all.
At times startling grandiose yet fascinatingly closed off, Pyongyang is like nowhere else on earth. If you’re lucky enough to make it for the astonishing Arirang Games, you’ll see the city at its incredible, celebratory peak. But just to have stepped foot here is something special, too.
The tight control sounds scary, but it's not as bad as it sounds, the control seems to be less nowadays, allowing you to have more "freedom" when it comes to photography.