The conflict began in 1910.
From then until the end of World War II, the Korean Peninsula was under the control of Imperial Japan.
Immediately after liberation, a division was created between the northern and southern regions effectively establishing two different governments.
South Korea has aged into a flourishing metropolis while the other region remains elusive.
North Korea, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is not an easy country to enter. The landlocked state is often strict and visits remain limited. Nevertheless, the very few who have entered share their stories, and consider exploring the territory to be a noteworthy experience.
As with any other destination, it should be a well-observed rule to respect the state laws and be mindful of your actions. In North Korea, it’s best to travel in a group with your respective tour guides. Should you be one of the chosen few who get to explore Joseon or are simply curious, here is a rundown of the sights and places to visit, as described and witnessed by those who’ve entered before.
To the East and West of the Taedong River
On the main road stands a grand structure built for nobility and closed off to the public. This mansion is Residence no. 55, located in the Ryongsong district of the country’s capital Pyongyang.
Current leader Kim Jong-un’s official residence has a myriad of facilities, with a state-of-the-art banquet hall, spa facility, track and field area, horse stables and race tracks as well as a swimming pool with a gigantic slide. Further adding to the palace is a man-made lake, shooting range, and an underground station exclusively for his own use.
Another notable sight along the roads of Pyongyang are the Traffic Girls. The army-uniformed traffic officials are beautiful women in their late teens to early 20’s and made to retire at the age of 26. The women are carefully selected in terms of beauty and must be at least 5”4. Aside from implementing traffic, the officials are expected to remain single during the duration of their service.
The first stop: the Tower of the Juche Ideology, known simply as Juche Tower. Built on the banks of the Taedong River, the tower was exists to commemorate Kim Il-Sung’s 70th birthday and named after the ideology the former leader built the nation around.
Juche is the belief in “self-reliance” to lead towards a strong and independent nation. The monolithic structure consists of 25,550 blocks, with every block representing a day of Kim Il-Sung’s life. On top of the tower sits a red light that is always lit, and a viewing deck that offers a wide view of the city.
Juche Tower is situated east of the Taedong River, while on the west side stands Kim Il-Sung Square, the country’s central square. The Square’s main feature is the Grand People’s Study House, the largest library in the country complete with lecture halls, computer rooms, and study materials that any North Korean over 17 can access.
The building is constructed in the style of old-fashioned Korean architecture, and contains over thousands of books; some of which are written by Kim Il-Sung and his son, Kim Jong-il.
North Korea’s Depiction of Greatness and Power
Sitting atop Moran Hill is the Arch of Triumph. The white granite structure was designed after the Arc de Triomphe of France, and commemorates Korea’s fight for independence against Imperial Japan, as well as a celebration of their leader Kim Il-Sung’s achievements.
The arch is 200 feet tall, with an accessible observation deck and elevator. Written on the top of the structure is the inscription “Song of General Kim Il-sung.”
Another commemorative structure is the Monument to Party Founding, found in Pyongyang’s Taedonggang district. The monument is composed of three hands, each holding a symbol: a hammer, sickle, and calligraphy brush symbolizing the workers, farmers, and intellectuals as a way to commemorate the 50th founding anniversary of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
Flanking the monument are two symmetrical residential buildings with the words “ever-victorious” written on top. Spend your time walking through the grounds of the adjoining plaza and park in front of the monument.
Lastly, visit the 20-meter tall bronze statues of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il found in front of the Korean Revolution Museum. The two statues are at the center of the complex of monuments collectively known as the Grand Monument on Mansu Hill, with 229 figures meant to depict the revolutionary struggle of Korea.
Behind the two statues is a large mural of Mount Paektu, a sacred mountain to North Korea. When visiting the site, tourists are expected to bow and leave flowers as a sign of respect. End your day with some leisurely relaxation at the Samilpo Lake Pavilion in the Kangwon Province. Bird watchers will enjoy the different types of bird species found in the area, as well as the serenity and fresh air that everyone can enjoy.
The Elusive North
Not much is known about the country north of the Korean Peninsula, and what little information we can gather from the internet doesn’t paint the entire picture. Travel has always been a means to learn and explore other cultures; our experiences shape who we are and enrich our worldview when we see the stark difference between different parts of the globe.
Summer is gone, and I’m glad to have made the most of mine. Join me in waving goodbye to the season and seeing the raindrops splash in.