Pyongyang and the Remote Northeast

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Day 1 :: Arrive in BEIJING

Pre-arrival preparations will be made depending on flight arrival times. Beijing accommodations and will be arranged in advance of the group’s arrival as per the group’s needs. A mandatory safety and information session briefing will be held tonight in Beijing, chaired by the program leader.

Day 2 :: BEIJING / PYONGYANG

This morning we gather in the hotel lobby and leave for Beijing airport to check into our flight to Pyongyang. We arrive in Pyongyang in afternoon and clear immigration and customs procedures at Pyongyang International Airport before meeting our Korean team and driving to the Mansudae Grand Monuments, the big statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, in downtown Pyongyang. We will have a welcome dinner at the Pyongyang Oribulgogi Restaurant with our Korean team.

Overnight at the Pyongyang Changgwangsan International Hotel

Day 3 :: PYONGYANG

Our first stop of the day is to the Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun, Kim Il Sung’s former office-turned-mausoleum. This location is considered to be the most sacred spot in North Korea today, the effective heart and soul of the Kim personality cult, and is only open on Sundays and Thursdays. Our visit is strictly controlled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; business casual dress is required. We can see the bodies of both former leaders as they lie in state enshrined within the palace. Following our visit to Kumsusan, we drive downtown to the roller-skating park and change into casual clothing to go rollerblading with local children (it is a Sunday, so they are all off from school today). We then walk across the Okryu Bridge to Pyongyang’s most famous cold noodle house for lunch.

Following lunch, we take a long walk through Pyongyang city, from the restaurant to Kim Il SUng Square, the National Theatre, Pyongyang Railway Station and finally the Pyulmuri Cafe, where we can stop for a coffee. In the late afternoon we train with the DPRK National Taekwondo Team at the Taekwondo Hall. Before dinner, the we ride through the entirety of Pyongyang Metro’s second line, stopping at several stations on the way; this line is rarely ever visited by foreigners. Tonight’s dinner is at the Pyongyang Tangogi House.

Overnight at the Pyongyang Changgwangsan International Hotel

Day 4 :: PYONGYANG / PYONGSONG / PYONGYANG

After breakfast we head over to Kim Il Sung University to meet with students, faculty and tour the campus. If all goes according to plan, we will have lunch with students on campus.

In the afternoon the group drives one hour to nearby Pyongsong city, the capital of South Pyong’an Province and home of the State Academy of Sciences. There, we participate in a classroom and sports exchange with a local middle school and can also walk around the central square of the city. In the early evening, we drive back to Pyongyang.

Dinner is at Manbok Restaurant in the “ultra modern” Changjon area of the city followed by an optional visit to the Ryugyonggwan bath and sauna centre.

Overnight at the Pyongyang Changgwangsan International Hotel

Day 5 :: PYONGYANG / ORANG / CHILBOSAN

Today we set off early for Pyongyang Airport to catch our private charter flight to Orang, a military landing strip in North Hamgyong province in the country’s northeast. North Hamgyong is the least developed part of the country and was hit particularly hard during the famine years of the mid-1990s.

Our new North Korean team for our stay in North Hamgyong is scheduled to meet us on the tarmac at Orang, and from there we drive south through the remote DPRK countryside (unpaved roads) to Mount Chilbo-- one of the most sacred and beautiful mountains in Korea.

We explore the mountains by foot, car and even an optional boat trip around the ocean (and maybe for fishing), including a visit to the original Kaesim Temple dating to the 1600s. We are hosted by a local fishing village that was remodeled to house visitors over a decade ago (but they don’t get too many visitors) and can learn how to cook Korean food and play Korean games with homestay families in the afternoon and over dinner. Depending on the political situation at the time of the trip, we may be able to spend the evening at the homestay houses.

Overnight at the Mount Chilbo Homestay Village

Day 6 :: CHILBOSAN / CHONGJIN / RASON

After breakfast we depart for Chongjin city, stopping along the way at several unique revolutionary sites at Jipsom, Yombun and Kyongsong that are more interesting for the countryside locations they are surrounded by than the sites themselves. Once we arrive in Chongjin, lunch will be served at the International Seamen’s Club for overseas mariners passing through Chongjin Port, which was, in name, recently appointed as a new SEZ location.

In the afternoon we can walk around the central city square, visit the eLibrary, take a local trolley bus and visit a particularly well cared after kindergarten in Chongjin city before hitting the road again for the Rason SEZ. We must cross an internal border with full immigration controls between North Hamgyong Province and Rason about thirty minutes before arriving in Rajin city, the largest urban-type settlement in the SEZ. We switch buses on the border and are accompanied by a new North Korean team just for our visit in the SEZ. Given that the region is earmarked for foreign investment, it is more open to foreigners and we have greater mobility here. Our dinner is at a local restaurant in Rason and the group leaders will arrange for an optional visit to the Rajin Medical Massage Centre after dinner for anyone interested (we may have to take turns!).

Overnight at the Rajin Hotel

Day 7 :: RASON

Following breakfast at the hotel, we depart for Rajin Port, the region’s most important trade port and also one of the most international, with the Chinese government having rented one of the docks and the Russian government another one of the docks. We then visit one to two local and or joint venture factories, depending on time, but our schedule will likely include a visit to a US-DPRK joint venture shoe factory located just outside Rajin city. Our lunch is at the only Russian restaurant in the Zone, opened by a Ukrainian several years ago to cater to the 600 odd Russian railway workers fixing the gauge on the rail line from the Russian border to Rajin port.

After lunch we first head over to the Golden Triangle bank where foreign currency can be freely exchanged at a grey market rate into local DPRK New People’s Won (note: all banks function like this in the country, but because we are in the SEZ we are actually able to visit this one). Armed with handfuls of local cash (the largest bill in the DPRK is 5000 Won, equal to about $0.65), we descend upon the local Rajin Market, where we can freely buy local goods and produce from the aunties and uncles who work as individual sellers the market. The group leaders will distribute a list of items needed and some local cash before we enter the market-- we will need these ingredients in order to make tonight’s dinner.

In the late afternoon we participate in an interactive exchange and soccer game at the Rajin Foreign Language Middle School before engaging in an open discussion on Foreign Direct Investment with economic officials from the SEZ’s economic Cooperation Bureau. Under the instruction of a team of local aunties, we cook our own dinner Korean-style tonight using the ingredients we purchased at the market.

Overnight at the Rajin Hotel

Day 8 :: RASON / TUMANGANG / KHASAN / VLADIVOSTOK

We have an early breakfast scheduled for this morning to maximize our time in the DPRK before leaving the country. After breakfast, the group embarks on a long city walk around Rajin, visiting a local barbershop, shopping stands and a photoshop (or anywhere else we find interesting on our stroll). The group then drives twenty minutes north to the Taehung Seafood Trading Company Processing Plant and Chujin beach area to observe what happens to the catch of the day. We then continue on to the tri-border pavilion, where both China and Russia can be seen across the Tumen River. Our lunch at at a small restaurant located on the Korean side of the border.

We then continue to Tumangang Railway Station and clear DPRK exit procedures before boarding the once weekly international train to Moscow (the full journey takes over seven days, but we will disembark at Ussuriysk, well before Moscow). The train pulls out of Tumangang station and arrives at Khasan Station in Primorsky Krai, Russia several minutes later, where we will clear Russian immigration and customs procedures and walk around this tiny, Soviet-like coastal village for a couple hours before getting back on the train and enjoying our trip through the Russian countryside to Ussuriysk.

Overnight on the train; see next day.

Day 9 :: USSURIYSK / VLADIVOSTOK

We arrive in Ussuriysk in the early hours of the morning (00:40) and transfer to a bus bound for Vladivostok, two hours away. Once we arrive in Vladivostok, we will check-in to the hotel and enjoy some much deserved rest.

The group meets again for brunch, before going to explore the best of Vladivostok. This evening we will have a proper debrief over Georgian food and may explore some of Vladivostok’s nightlife if desired.

Evening show, performance or sports game will be arranged if available. Overnight at the Zhemchuzhina Hotel (or similar) in Vladivostok.  

Day 10 :: depart from VLADIVOSTOK

Departures from Vladivostok. There are regular flights to North America with connections in Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing.

Matthew Reichel