This is a suggested itinerary only for an independant tour and can start on a different day
Day 1: Monday
4PM – group assembles in the Koryo Tours office for a pre-tour briefing which will last approximately 1 hour and is designed so that you will get the best out of your tour. Please be punctual – you can even come early, pay any outstanding tour fees and browse our art gallery and merchandise.
Day 2: Tuesday
AM: This morning we will meet outside the Koryo office (time to be confirmed) and together head to Beijing Airport Terminal 2 for our flight Beijing to Pyongyang (1.5 hrs) – the showcase capital of the DPRK with a population of approximately 2 million.
PM: Upon arrival in Pyongyang (approximately 4pm – DPRK is one hour ahead of China), we proceed through immigration and customs and meet our guides who will accompany us during our stay. On our way to the hotel we will visit the Arch of Triumph – similar to the French version but bigger. Important in Korean history as the first place Kim Il Sung gave a speech to the Korean people after the surrender of the Japanese. Dinner
OVERNIGHT: Yanggakdo Hotel, Pyongyang (one of the deluxe-class hotels in the country located on an island in the Taedong River which runs through the city)dmz
Day 3: Wednesday
AM: After an early breakfast we take a 2.5 hr drive south to Kaesong, an historical city near the DMZ which avoided being destroyed in the Korean War as it was chosen as the place for armistice talks. There is a service station halfway where we will stop for a rest. This is a popular place for tourists to take photos of themselves standing in the middle of this empty highway. Upon arrival in Kaesong we take a short drive (approx 20 mins) to Panmunjom/DMZ where North and South Korea continue their decades old face-off. It is possible to go into one of the huts that straddle the demarcation line and actually cross over into South Korea! This is one of the few places you can take pictures of – and even with – members of the DPRK military. Next we head back into kaesongKaesong and visit the Kaesong Koryo Museum, which is a beautiful old Confucian University, to learn about the history of the area. There is also a collection of steles and pavilions from around the area. The stamp shop here is excellent too.
PM: After our traditional pansanggi lunch – a little like Korean tapas – we take a 20 minute drive to visit the beautiful Tomb of King Kongmin – the twin-domed tomb of the 31st King of the Koryo Dynasty (918 – 1392 AD) and his wife which remained largely undamaged during the Korean War. Ask the guide to tell you the story of how the area got its name of “Oh dear hill”. We will then take a drive of about 45 minutes to the Concrete Wall – an observation post deep in the DMZ where you can view South Korean positions and see the anti-tank barrier which stretches across the peninsular. The South Koreans claim that this barrier does not exist but here you can use binoculars to view it! The local guide here is a very affable retired colonel who gives a very interesting explanation of the area – he is also easily persuaded to sing some revolutionary songs on the bus journey back to Kaesong! Take a walk in the old city and visit Janam Hill where there is a statue of President Kim Il Sung and great views over the old art of the city. king kongminFor anyone wanting to supplement their meal tonight you will have the opportunity to sample Korea’s famous delicacy – ‘sweetmeat soup’ AKA dog meat (costs EUR 5).
OVERNIGHT: Minsok Folk Hotel, Kaesong (beautiful courtyard hotel with Li dynasty housing where guests sleep on heated floors in traditional Korean style; basic – sporadic hot water and frequent power cuts but a great experience as you are living literally next door to the local inhabitants)
ALTERNATIVE OPTION: If you would rather sleep in a proper bed then there is the option of choosing the 1970s socialist style JANAMSAN HOTEL, interestingly decorated and with a much better two guideschance of hot water! Please confirm upon booking which of these hotels you would prefer – there is no difference in cost.
Please note that the area around Kaesong is considered to be a malarial area by the WHO, however, provided tourists take proper precautions (use good mosquito repellant and mosquito nets – these are provided in the hotel we use) there is very little risk of contracting the disease from the places that we visit. The WHO state that there is no need to take malaria prophylaxis when visiting and in any case, this is not recommended for visits of less than 1-2 weeks. We have never had any cases of our tourists contracting the disease. However, please be warned that most travelers to an area with malaria are deferred from donating blood for 1 year after their return so this may affect you if you are a regular blood donor.
Day 4: Thursday
AM: After breakfast we take a tour around the Grand People’s Study House. This is an enormous library/place of study (originally designed for the people who had missed an education due to the war) and has a great view over Kim Il Sung Square. We will tour the lecture rooms (complete with tables designed by Kim Il Sung to aid study) and hopefully get to see a few classes. It is supposedly stocked with over 3 million books. Next is time to learn about the DPRK version of the events leading up to and during the Korean War at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum (Korean War Museum)– fully renovated and reopened in 2013, tells the history of the Korean War from the North Korean perspective, complete with rooms explaining the origins of the conflict, highly impressive dioramas, tanks, planes, and much more, then onto the USS Pueblo – American spy shop captured by the DPRK navy in 1968 and retained ever since as a trophy. Originally moored on the Taedong River but moved in 2013 to the site of the new War Museum.
PM: After lunch we begin the afternoon driving along the Youth Hero Highway which leads to Nampo. This 10-lane highway was built by student shock brigades during the Arduous March in the late 90’s. En route we see some local industry at the Kangso Mineral Water factory, initially a South Korean and North Korean joint project but with the deterioration of relationships during the Lee Myung Bak presidency the major market in South Korea was closed. Upon arrival in Nampo we head straight to the West Sea Barrage – an 8km long dam separating the Taedong river from the West Sea of Korea. It stops Pyongyang being flooded by preventing tidal surges as well as providing more agricultural land. Regarded as a great feat of engineering, the project was personally overseen by Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. We will also visit the city centre in this West Coast port city. Our final destination for the day is the Dragon River Hot Spa guesthouse – a complex of guesthouses where each room has a private bath which can be filled with water direct from the hot springs – said to have many medicinal benefits. Time permitting, it is here that we can experience the famous Nampo petrol clam BBQ (costs EUR 5 per person but you can still watch for free if you don’t want to have any of the clams).
OVERNIGHT: Dragon River Hot Spa Hotel, Nampo
Day 5: Friday
AM: This morning we have a free morning to sleep in and take in some alternative arrangements and sightseeing tours at our guides discretion.
PM: After lunch we’ll take a stroll in Moranbong Park otherwise fun fairknown as Peony Hill. Located in the centre of Pyongyang this is a favourite place for locals and during the holiday periods it is not unusual to come across a group of Koreans dancing. Make sure to learn basic Korean – the guides can help – to meet and greet people and you might even get the opportunity to join in. During the week Koreans come here to study, enjoy nature and of course go on a romantic walk. We’ll visit a Local funfair, even if you can’t summon up the courage to try any of the rides, it is still a great place for people watching and the locals are generally more than happy to have their photos taken here. A group of foreign tourists provide just as much of an attraction for them as the rides themselves! Next we’ll visit the Fountain Park and Mansudae Grand Monument – statues of North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il flanked by powerful sculptures telling the story of the anti-funfairJapanese War, the rebuilding of the country and finally the Korean War. Kim Il Sung’s statue has been here since 1972 but Kim Jong Il’s was added in 2012 on the occasion of Kim Il Sung’s 100th birthday. This is a very important place for Koreans and visitors are requested to follow the local custom and bow in front of the statues after placing down a bouquet of flowers. We also pay a visit to the Golden Lane Bowling Centre wherePyongyangers go for their ten-pin fix. It also has some early 90s arcade games. Even if you do not play it is worth grabbing a seat and enjoy watching locals having some fun. It is one of the most popular places for boys and girls to meet or take their dates.
OVERNIGHT: Yanggakdo Hotel, Pyongyang
Day 6: Saturday
AM: This morning we return to Pyongyang along ‘Youth Hero Highway’ (approx 1.5 hrs). First stop is the Railway Museum. This newly re-opened facility details the history of the DPRK railway and the involvement of the leaders in its development. See how the DPRK does the locomotion!
PM: After lunch we’ll pay a visit to Mangyongdae Native House – the mass gamesnative birthplace of North Korean President Kim Il Sung. If time allows then we walk up the hill (past the mosaic of Kim Il Sung as a child thinking of leaving to fight against the Japanese occupation of his country) to the pavilion overlooking the Taedong River. Next we’ll drive to the Mansudae Art Studio – the DPRK centre of artistic excellence where most of the paintings, mosaics, statues, etc are all made. It is possible to visit several workshops and see the artists at work – ink painting, oil painting, embroidery and ceramics. They also have a very good shop with some quality pieces of art and ceramics for sale. Nick Bonner of Koryo is one of the few experts on North Korea art and is happy to give advice on what to look out for. Just opposite the studio is one of the stations of the Pyongyang Metro – the deepest underground system in the world and our next visit. The designs of the main stations are stunning with superb lighting and mosaics. We start at Puhung (Rehabilitation) Station, then take the train to the next station Yonggwang (Glory). Here we get off to take pictures before getting back on the train and going through 3 stops and getting off at the fourth which is Kaeson (Triumphant Return). A total of 6 stations. A great chance to have interaction with the locals if you are prepared to learn basic greetings in Korean – and if you meet students get them to greet you in English!
OVERNIGHT: Yanggakdo Hotel, Pyongyang
Day 7: Sunday
AM: Today is dress-up day as our first visit is to the Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun where North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il lie in state. Opened 3 years after the death of President Kim Il Sung in 1994, the building used to be his offices. In 2011 it closed after the death of Kim Jong Il but re-opened at the end of 2012. This is a place of utmost importance for Koreans and tourists should behave accordingly. Men should wear a shirt and tie, women should dress smartly. The entire visit takes around 1.5 hrs and you are not allowed to take your camera in but after visiting the rooms inside we come back out to take photos from the square in front of the impressive building. Next we take a short drive to the Revolutionary Martyrs’ Cemetery – superb individually crafted bronze busts of the anti-Japanese heroes including one of Kim Jong Suk – the mother of Kim Jong Il. The cemetery was designed to overlook the city, giving the martyrs a view of the re-building of their country. We next head back into town to take a walk on Kim Il Sung Square – Pyongyang’s largest square in the heart of the city. There used to be portraits of Marx and Lenin on display here but they were taken down in early 2012. This is where the military parades pass through and the mass dances take place wedding photo- you can see the podium on which the leaders stand to view these incredible displays although they don’t happen as often as the western media make out – not even an annual event. From here we will walk to the Foreign Languages Bookshop (read up on what you are seeing here and buy your gifts and night time reading).
PM: After lunch we drive to Mt Myohyang – the Mountain of Mysterious Fragrance, two hours north of Pyongyang. It is said that the air here is so fresh that regardless of how much alcohol you drink while staying here, provided you sleep with your window open you won’t have a hangover the next day. We’ll leave that up to you to test out! A great place for a hike up to 4 hours (time permitting) following a stream and waterfalls which we will do upon arrival to the area – wear sensible shoes as it can be slippy. This is a popular places for locals to visit.
OVERNIGHT: Chongchon Hotel, Mt. Myohyang (basic but comfortable hotel surrounded by beautiful scenery; no 24 hr hot water) UPGRADE OPTION: For an additional charge you can stay in the Hyangsan Hotel – renovated in 2010 this is one of the top hotels in the country and perfect for those who want a little luxury
Day 8: Monday
AM: Our first visit of the day is to the highlight of the area – the International Friendship Exhibition. Built in 1978, these 2 huge subterranean halls are filled with gifts to the leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il presented to them by people all over the world – from heads of state to ordinary citizens. The gifts are divided into kim il sung squareregion and they estimate that if you spent one minute in front of each gift it would take over 1 year to see the whole exhibition – we will only be shown a small sample! This year, they have opened a new room showcasing gifts presented to the new leader Kim Jong Un. Halfway through the visit, we take a short tea break on the balcony affording beautiful views of the stunning mountains surrounding us. Before lunch we look around the nearby thousand year old Pohyon Buddhist Temple. It was destroyed during the Korean War but was rebuilt as a working temple complete with North Korean monks.
PM: After lunch we return to Pyongyang via Ryongmun caves – a vast array of stalactites and stalagmites combined with colourful local legends about the place makes it an interesting stop. In the evening before dinner we’ll sample some local brews at the Paradise micro-brewery.
OVERNIGHT: Yanggakdo Hotel, Pyongyang
Day 9: Tuesday
AM: This morning we head to Pyongyang airport for our flight to Samjiyon Airport. Make sure you bring warmer clothes for this part of the trip as the higher elevation means cooler temperatures. Sunscreen is also a good idea. The flight takes around 1 hour and upon arrival we split into smaller minibuses for the drive to Mt Paekdu (around 1 hr). Mt Paekdu is the tallest mountain in Korea (2750m) and is regarded as sacred by both North and South Koreans as it was the birthplace of the mythical founder of the Korean nation – King Tangun (bizarrely, there is a mausoleum with his remains just outside Pyongyang). It is also important to North Koreans as it is where Kim Il Sung based himself when fighting against the Japanese before Liberation and Kim Jong Il was also allegedly born here. Upon arrival at the mountain, the buses will wait at the carpark and we take a hike to the top which takes around 45 minutes. Here we will have stunning views over the area and of the mirror-like Lake Chon – the highest crater lake in the world. We will spend around 1 hour in the area and have a picnic lunch there too.
PM: After lunch we’ll visit Paekdusan Secret Camp. This was the base of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army during the fight against the Japanese occupation. It is also, according to the DPRK, the birthplace of Kim Jong Il and we visit the log cabin where he was born – you can even see the toys he played with as a child. Next we head to a local lumberjacks’ settlement to see the beautiful Rimyongsu waterfalls before heading back to Samjiyon Town where our hotel is located. Dinner is at the hotel. Make sure you try the local vodka kamchasul- this area is a big potato-growing region so they form the basis of many of the dishes and drinks.
OVERNIGHT: Pegaebong Hotel, Samjiyon (basic hotel, no 24 hr hot water, possible power shortages so take a torch!)
Day 10: Wednesday
AM: After an early breakfast we’ll visit Samji Schoolchildren’s Palace – the local centre of excellence for children. We’ll also get to see a small, charming performance put on by the students. Next we’re heading off to the Samjiyon Monuments – a statue of President Kim Il Sung and sculptures of the guerillas who fought against the Japanese built in 1949 to immortalise his revolutionary exploits in the area. Next we drive to Pochonbo – the site of significant battle between Korean guerilla army and Japanese forces – here you can see the former command post and town hall from Japanese times as well as a statue of Kim Il Sung. Lunch is a picnic at the battle monument.
PM: We drive the 1hr back to Samjiyon for our flight back to Pyongyang and arrive in Pyongyang late afternoon when we head to East Pyongyang department store. As well as looking at the goods on offer you can use the leisure facilities there including swimming pool, sauna and steam rooms or simply sit in the bar for your last performance/chance to drink the local brew! We will have our farewell dinner at the famous Pyongyang Duck BBQ.
OVERNIGHT: Yanggakdo Hotel, Pyongyang
Day 11: Thursday
Today is departure day. For those taking the flight out option, the flight departs Pyongyang at 09:00 and arrives in Beijing at approx 10:00. End of tour (options into the city are taxi (make a note of the taxi number and get a receipt), airport bus or the airport/city train). Those taking the train option depart Pyongyang station at 10:40. trainThe journey to Sinuiju (border city) takes around 5 hours and lunch is served in the dining car for those who want it (EUR 5). The immigration/customs procedures on the DPRK side take between 1.5 to 2.5 hrs and there is no need to get off the train at any time. The international carriages then continue over the Friendship Bridge which spans the Yalu River (as you cross look to the left to see the bridge damaged in the Korean War) and on to Dandong, China. The immigration/customs procedures here are much quicker – around 30 minutes. Those doing the Dandong option alight here and the train (the carriages attach onto a Chinese domestic train) departs at 18:30 local time. Dinner can be eaten in the Chinese dining car (costs RMB 80).
OVERNIGHT: On train
Day 12: Friday
AM: The train arrives into Beijing Central Railway Station just after 08:30am – this is the end of the tour.