North Korea day 1
North Korea day one. I woke up feeling really nervous and wasn’t sure what to expect about the next few days. The tour guide had arranged to meet in front of the giant Mao Zedong statue in front of the train station in Dandong; a strange border town on the Chinese side.
It turns out i’m on a tour group with 10 middle aged Chinese ladies and a middle aged Chinese/Australian guy. By the looks of it, I think 99% of the tourists going into North Korea on the train was older Chinese people. It turns out that they go to North Korea mainly to buy Ginseng and see the memorial for the Chinese people that fought against the "US invasion of Korea".
Within an hour of arriving at the station and passing through Chinese customs, the train was creeping across the bridge into North Korea. As soon as the train arrives at the other side reality hit that i’m actually in North Korea. The train passed a creepy old abandoned theme park, some old buildings and then into Sinuiju station; the border town on the North Korean side. We was greeted by 2 giant paintings of the previous 2 leaders, something that seems common throughout the country.
Getting into North Korea
So i’m sitting on the train and i’m so nervous that something bad will happen getting into the country. I’m surrounded by old people shouting at each other and the North Korean border security get on. The guards start doing their checks and come to me, he grabs my arm and says “English?” then I give him my passport and he starts asking about GPS trackers, phones and cameras. I hand him my Camera, he looks at it and hands it back. I hand him my phone, he says “1 phone?” and gives it back. That was it, then they all went off to their office with everyones passports and in 30 mins everybody is processed into the country. Turns out. that it's surprisingly easy to go to North Korea.
The train left Sinuiju for Pyongyang and immediately the country looks completely different to how I had imagined. It looked like how photos from the Soviet Union looked in the 70s, only with Korean propaganda instead. No civilians were driving cars; people walking or cycling everywhere even through the barren tree-less countryside.
Sinuiju to Pyongyang
I sat watching out of the window for the 6 hour journey, drinking some Korean beers and then we arrive into Pyongyang. As we approach the capital it starts to look a bit more developed, the towns are larger and you see some people driving cars. Then finally the train pulled into Pyongyang station. I got out of the train to be greeted by my guide; Miss Lee YuKeong (I think I have spelled that correct). She was the guide for me and the Australian guy where as the Chinese had another Guide; miss Kim.
As we waked out of the front of Pyongyang station.. then it hit me. I’m actually in Pyongyang. It was super busy with people on their way home from work, the Soviet style concrete buildings clad in Korean writing and Propaganda and everybody dressed in suits wearing little red badges with the Korean leaders.
The guides took us to a restaurant and then to go for a walk. They pulled up on “Science and Engineering street” and let us walk along. It felt like a really staged thing and just felt super un-genuine. As if they wanted to show how amazing their city is. I asked about all the really tall buildings and they were just apartments. We walked to the other end of the street then has to get back into the bus to head to the hotel for the night.
Overall, the first day was interesting, I was super nervous but as soon as the train arrived into Pyongyang I realised that it’s just a normal place, with normal people, trying to live their life. Only I had to watch what I said and did for the next few days so that I don’t get arrested.