asia · North Korea (DPRK) · Travel

My journey into North Korea (Part 2: the first footsteps in the Hermit Kingdom)

Incase you didn’t catch the first part of this series [here it is] We had just crossed the border into North Korea, escorted by two members of the Chinese border police, it was a very bizarre experience, one I would repeat in a heartbeat but not one I’m likely to experience again.

Crossing the Boarder

After turning up at the Chinese customs, I had to stop taking photos for obvious reasons, some people tried to continue to get a few sneaky ones but I didn’t fancy getting turned away at the borrder for something so trivial.  After around an hour at the Chinese border getting all of our documents processed and a few looks from the customs officers who must have been thinking ‘what the hell are you guys doing going over the border? We finally got through the gates, it was a strange sensation standing on the bridge over the Tumen river which separated China from the place I had only ever read about or saw on the news as being the oddity of the world, the cold war relic that nobody would wish to to visit.  We crossed the bridge accompanied by the two Chinese border police that can be seen in the picture above and were taken into a small building which was the North Korean customs office, one thing I had already learned is that the North Koreans dislike the term North Korea as they see Korean peninsula as one country under ‘temporary’ separation.

The painting below of Kim Il Sung standing with his son Kim Jong Il was the first of many I would see on my trip. This was the beginning of my first day inside the secretive state of North Korea.  This was hung in the customs office and was the first taste of what we were about to see.  The customs office was staffed by around 4-5 people, and everything down to the scanning equipment seemed pretty primitive like it was made in the 1970’s, we all had to write down a list of all the electronics we were taking into the country including mobile phones, cameras and memory cards, I had two cards but only declared one which I didn’t think was a big deal but in hindsight maybe it was.

Painting of the Leaders_

After getting cleared at Chinese and Korean customs we jumped aboard a small minibus where we met the three people that would accompany us for the whole trip: Mr Lee, Mr Sou and an unnamed middle aged bloke who sat at the front of the bus with a lot of confidence and rarely spoke a word, we would later find out that he was a member of the Korean police.  We were told to not take photos on the bus and had to ask for permission if we wanted to take any photos, I instantly said to my friend ‘fuck that’ and realised how glad I was I didn’t declare my other memory card.  As the bus drove across the pothole filled road it felt like I was in the passenger seat of a rally car pretty much getting thrown from side to side and up and down as the bus slowly cruised over the battered mud road.  I secretly took quite a few snaps of people and the landscape as that is what visiting a country is about, seeing the place for what it really is, not what the tourism board want you to see.  Here are a couple of shots from the first couple of hours after arriving in the country.

Shots from the bus-2.jpg

This looked like a typical dwelling of North Korea and we saw plenty more like it in villages all over the province.  It’s photographs like this that our chaperones don’t want to be taken as it shows the country is not the superpower and utopian society like they try to portray to the rest of the world.  To me it isn’t anything to be ashamed of, there are places like this all over Asia and I think it is actually a nice photo, showing what is a beautiful landscape in the background.

Shots from the bus.jpg

I love the photo above, these were people chilling at the side of the road, I presume waiting for a bus or a farming vehicle to pick them up, they seemed friendly and waved at us when we went past, quite surprised to see a bus load of foreigners.  I started to relise at this point how difficult it was going to be to get the photos I wanted, but I was still eager to try.  Stay tuned for the next part, sorry this part was a bit rushed as I am about the head out for tea.

Catch you later!

Matt

 

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