Guemgangsan North Korea

Trip Start Aug 30, 2005
Trip End Aug 29, 2006

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Flag of Korea Dem Peoples Rep  ,
Tuesday, July 11, 2006

So I ended up delaying the North Korea trip two weeks for Canada Day and look what happens, a missle crisis. Trust Jeremy to pull that one off. Three years of uneasy truce with North Korea and I pick the week everything goes to hell. So it was with that uneasy knowledge tha alot of quasi-nervous people boarded a bus on July 7th destined for North Korea. Arriving in Seoul at the express bus terminal at 11:30PM we departed for North Korea. A long bus trip, and almost an equally long stay at the staging area for documentation. Then across the DMZ to our first encounter with North Koreans and their immigration services. As a note the it was the most uncomfortable bus trip ever; freezing from 12-7 AM with a few rest stops to thaw out from the rampant air con.

Crossing through the DMZ was quicker than I imagined but it was certainly one of the most pristine areas in the world - with no human influence for the last 60 years. By the time we went through customs and immigration it had been another 3 hours to reach Guemgangsan North Korea. At least the crotch rot, requiring touching and scratching, of one North Korean soldier provided some entertainment along the way. Also the creepy Bear that greeted us... 'guem' means bear in Korean, so I suppose it was pertinant. Oh, the sloped communist hats. Then came our first real glimpse of North Korea: the deforested hills for fuel, sprawling hand-tilled rice fields and anti tank traps. Completely deforested compared with South with no tractors on the farms, quiet clean and beautiful. Oh, rocket launchers too... yes really. The road to Guemgangsan was lined with sloped-hatted North Korean soldiers holding red flags, and whistles. One had crotch rot, keep touching himself. They had orders to whistle if any photographs where taken from within the tour buses; what the consequences for errant pictures were was never revealed.

When we finally arrived where we were to stay it was no less than a compound, a complex of buildings within a highly monitored area. Soldier were stationed all around, but not in the town, to give the illusion of comfort but strict authority. The North Korean government wentto great tlengths to prevent the contamination of the surrounding towns by foreign ideology imported by tourist. Even the employees were mostly foreign nationals. There wasn't much time to observe the area, it was immediately to first hike. It was foggy, perpetuating the North Korean mystique, but not so much so that Guemgangsan couldn't be seen. Along the path were tons of carvings regarding the great leader, Kim Sung-Il(father), and the dear leader, Kim Jong-Il (son). We were warned of spies on the path to fine, monitor and listen to foreign conversations. Despite the cloak and dagger intrigues, it was a beautiful area with well maintained path. A long hike both up and down, combined with the arrduous bus drive, spelled exhaustion for everyone.

So it was back for a late lunch, which was good. We then checked in our hotel; it turned out to be the government-owned Guemgangsan Hotel. It was certainly very nice, but we were again warned against what to say. Got whistled at for trying to take a picture of kin Jong Il mosaic. Yes, thats right, a tiled mosaic of Kim Jong-Il and his father. I thought I was destined for a North Korean prison but they didn't do anything but whistled. It was to the North Korean Acrobactics show which was quiet spectacular; I guess with thte Mass Games there is no shortage of excellent acrobats in North Korea. Dinner was a great disappointment for the quality of the lunch. We made up for it with lots of beers. More drinking, North Korean whiskey made with seal penis and sesame cookies. The things you eat and rink when your drunk.... Then it was upstairs for a party, where I almost forgot the massage I'd booked for myself and was kindly reminded by a fellow traveller. The massage was just what the doctor ordered, done by a chinese migrant. She spoke some English and Korean, so we ended up conversing in both. This was followed by yet more drinking out on the patio. Returning from the massage I was informed that they had run out of the North Korean beer we were swilling; only the second time since the 1998 opening they ran out of beer. To make matters worse at midnight it turned 'Dear Leader Honor Day' so beer, food and everything else stopped. Providing a perfect excuse for bed at an early 2AM.

A short sleep of 4 hours later, bringing the total for 2 days to 4 hours, the wake up call came at 6:20 AM. A crap breakfast was served, supporting my orginal analysis that the Hotel's food sucked. Another death hike followed. Met a girl along the path who I hiked with most of the time. She listened quiet atentatively to my hangover-induced lamenting. A North Korean guide directed us onto what we thought was the easy path, which was the hard path. After several open-sky, loose rock areas of path we did reach the top for an undramatic view in the ever present fog. Ate a cucumber some Korean gave us when we reached the top; apparently they are rehydrating. We watched waiting to see if a North Korean guide was going to fall to his death from a loose railing he was sittign on. That provided some drama. On the return we drank some de-aging spring water. Then tried to convince some of the North Koreans to allow us to have a picture taken with them... a futile effort. The it was back along the super narrow, winding road. For lunch I had some North Korean rice soup dish, which was better than breakfast. The Spa afterwards was even better. Sat naked outside for all the North Koreans in the surrounding hills to see. It was beautiful for the sore muscles and lack of sleep. Followed by a little shopping which almost caused me to miss the bus. It was then through immigration; the crocth rot solider was missing. DMZ and the civilian control line. Then back into South Korea, where I promptly forgot my bag on the bus. I did manage to get it back at the next rest stop. I think the bag was an omen of the harrowing 10-hour bus trip to Seoul. Construction. Followed promptly by a 2 hour taxi ride to Jociwon from Seoul, costing a mere 50 000 Won, as all the regular tranport stopped ceases around 12AM. Had to work in morning. All for the children.

4 hours of sleep later combined for a weekend total of 8 hours. The following morning I was bone tired and slept in teachers room. That evening I was sucked into drinking with the principle because I had denied him 4 times during the term due to extra classes. Got drunk in daejeon and stayed the night at his house. Needless to say this isn't what I needed.

Oh well, only a few weeks of real classes left. Then its home for a rest and hopefully some decisions on my next move. Until later.
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