Unfortunately Shan was ill in the morning- probably she thinks because the floor was so hot it went through the bed giving her a cold (we figured out how to turn the heated floors off after that which did help, sometimes they were too hot). So she missed some of the best scenery in the morning but came right by late afternoon. After breakfast we headed out to explore the scenic sights of Inner Chilbo and our guide told us colorful stories about the different rock formations and natural springs, which due to sheer numbers, i’ll leave for you guys to discover yourselves.
Inner Chilbo hotel is closed for a planned expansion- from 50 people capacity to 200, so we couldn’t have lunch there and had to go back to Outer Chilbo hotel. (The weather was a bit cold for picnics unfortunately, as there are many great sites for them). After lunch we drove to Kyongsong county which has a population of about 70,000 and is famous for ceramics and Hot Mineral spa’s the water being claimed to be some of the best in the DPRK.
On the way there we stopped at the Yombun revolutionary site which has a beautiful view of the coast and is where people on the East Coast first devised a way to make their own salt. At Gyongsong we took it pretty easy having both Shan and I been there only recently via Orang so we headed to the local spa bathhouse and had a spa for a fair amount of time before heading back to the hotel for dinner and drinks with the Koreans.
We woke up and first visited the Kyongsong Revolutionary Museum a home where Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Suk and Kim Jong Il and Kim Kyong Hui all stayed whilst Kim Il Sung was giving field guidance to local units in the anti-Japanese struggle towards the end of WWII. After that we checked out the Kim Jong Suk hospital which is the largest of it’s kind and takes advantage of the natural properties of the mineral water for various health treatments. After that we drove to Chongjin stopping on the way to see another beautiful coastal site at Jipsam Revolutionary site where you can also see a testament to Kim Jong Suk’s excellent shooting skills!
In Chongjin we took a drive around the city and saw the ports before returning to the central square to pay our respects to the Statue of Kim Il Sung and visit the electronic library beside the square. We then jumped across the street to examine the planned renovations of the city and ask the foreign affairs guy some questions as he seemed the most informed. Having also visited Chongjin recently we opted to go to the Chongjin Seaman’s club to play billiards and have a couple of beers and some dried fish while talking a bit of business before lunch. At lunch the Chilbosan Manager decided that you have to drink liquor before eating cold noodles so he pulled out a bottle of special Chinese wine he was given from the Yanji Government. Not one to say no to anything given to anyone by any form of government I again joined in with a spot of baijiu drinking despite my usual distaste for it. The noodles however were the best i’ve had in the DPRK. The reception there was interesting too, being the only Westerner in what they no doubt assumed was a fairly large group of Koreans (sorry Shan) I got a lot of stares. After a bit of shopping at the club we went to see the Chongjin Steelwork’s Kindergarten performance which is always worth seeing.
After that it was back to Hyeryong which for me was the most exciting part of the trip as I was the first Western Tourist to ever go there. Hyerryong (or Hoeryong) is famous for White Apricots, Ceramics and beautiful girls. It’s also surrounded by some of the DPRK’s most important mines. It’s also the birth place of Kim Il Sung’s wife and mother of Kim Jong Il- Kim Jong Suk. The local population is about 140,000 people.
We arrived in the evening and I decided to get a haircut and a massage before dinner: forgetting two things- Korean’s struggle at cutting curly hair and I can hardly bear Korean massages (although I do feel wonderful afterwards). Anyway I ended up with a bad haircut and a few bruises before dinner. She also decided my haircut came with a close shave and managed to cut me a few times. Apparently it’s my fault- according to the barber i’m literally thin-skinned.
As it was the last night we enjoyed a few drinks over dinner before the local waitresses invited me to join their performance for a group of Chinese in town for hot spa treatments. I was told no need to pay and was promptly mobbed by the waitresses and Chinese tourists alike. The waitresses having never seen a westerner before and the Chinese wanting a picture of themselves with the Westerner in the DPRK. One rather intoxicated Chinese gentleman didn’t like that no one would accept any money from me and tried to insist to me in broken English that I pay some one but eventually gave up and went to sleep at a table leaving me free to dance with the locals. In the end I was in such a good mood they even persuaded me to sing for everyone which was probably a shock to their systems (as I mentioned earlier i’m not a great singer). Finally we retired to bed after I took a photo with all the wait staff which apparently I have to bring a copy of for each of them next time.
Sadly the last day for us but also for me the most exciting day. (Night 2 and 4 were my favourite moments though!) As the first Westerner in both Hyeryong and Onsong County everything seemed new. We went first to the Statue of Kim Jong Suk to pay our respects and then visited her native home with an excellent local guide who explained everything in great detail. We didn’t have time to see the revolutionary museum there as we had opted to see the local library instead, which was a treat. Hyeryong being freshly opened it’s still a little short on sites, but we’re working with the guys at Chilbosan and hope to announce some exciting new places there very soon.
We then headed to Onsong County- population about 70,000 and famous for it’s rice. At Onsong we saw the Mt Wangjae Grand Monument which is surprisingly massive, and the revolutionary museum there. We then went to the local branch of the Chilbosan travel company’s restaurant where we ate in the managers office due to the restaurant being enormous and therefore cold. I enjoyed looking around the office as much as I did the food! After lunch we sat down to talk business and swapped suggestions for locations and ways to improve current places in the future so stay tuned as we intend to announce some exciting stuff in the area over the coming months!
Finally it was time to go back through the ardor of customs and say our goodbyes. At the end was one last little odd moment, a Chinese trader offered to drive us offer the bridge, he had his windows down and stereo up and when he started the car a Chinese radio station came on playing Gangnam Style in the middle of Namyang customs. Just caught me as a little bizarre. None of the Koreans seemed to react though.
All in all, it was one of the most interesting trips i’ve had out of all my DPRK trips and it was pretty fun to break new ground! For some reason too the DPRK customs stamped my passport 4 times, which is a little unusual but nice to have! The staff at the local travel company were amazing and really made us feel welcome, and we hope to take some of you there with us to experience a little more real life in the DPRK.