While in the DPRK we were to stay in the Yanggakdo Hotel. The hotel is named for the island it is situated on, and it means “Goat Horn Island”. This name comes from the shape of the island, which looks like a goat’s horn.
When we arrived at Pyongyang train station the other members of the tour were waiting for us already. They had decided to take the plane in, leaving only the three of us (myself, my girlfriend and Gareth, our tour guide) to take the train. We were then taken to the hotel by bus.
The hotel lobby was extremely fancy. This place seemed to me like a 5 star hotel. There was a tank here with several fish swimming around and a large turtle in a tank next to them. I wasn’t sure how I felt about this – it was awesome to see a turtle here, but the tank seemed quite small for the size of the turtle.
We were then introduced to our Korean tour guides and it was explained to us that we weren’t allowed to leave the island without a Korean tour guide, however anywhere we do want to go we should just ask and they will try to arrange it. After this we were given our room keys and arranged to meet back downstairs for a tour of the hotel and for some drinks.
The room we were given was very anachronistic. It was a really nice room with amazing facilities – including a HDTV, but at the same time the furniture could have come straight out of a 60s spy movie set in the USSR. There was also an amazing view of the city from up here, and looking down from the window we could see how high we really were. I don’t think I’ve experienced vertigo to that scale before.
Meeting back downstairs we went to the bar behind the fish tank and ordered some beers. Gareth sat with our Korean guides to talk through the details of the tour while we ordered some beers and got to know each other. After a while Gareth came over to us to deliver some bad news: we wouldn’t be able to see the mausoleum.
There were some roadworks on the way to Panmunjon (the middle of the DMZ) so we would have to take a lengthy detour. This meant that something had to go from our schedule and the best he could work out without losing too much was to drop the mausoleum. It was unfortunate, but these things happen.
He joined us for a drink and after a short while they wanted to close the bar. So Gareth took us on a tour of the hotel. Behind the foyer were the imaginatively named Restaurant Number 1 and Restaurant Number 2. In the same area they had the Chinese Restaurant and the Japanese Restaurant – places we would be avoiding. Downstairs they had the Casino and two massage parlours – one Korean and one Chinese. It is said that the ending in one of these is happier than the other.
After this we returned to the foyer and were shown the souvenir shops next to it. They had several books in several different languages about various topics, such as Kim Jong Un’s biography and Juche (the philosophy/”religion” of the DPRK).
Downstairs from here there were several other facilities – ping pong, snooker, a swimming pool and a karaoke bar amongst them. Most of these places were closed so we grabbed some beers and soju for the road and went outside.
We watched boats on the river as we passed the soju around. This soju wasn’t very good – it had a very rubbery taste, so we finished it quickly and washed out the taste with beer. During this time there were a couple of power cuts – the lights in the city would flick off and then return a short while after. I wondered how often this happened.
After we had all done drinking we went for a wander around Yanggakdo island. Gareth explained that we needn’t worry about getting caught as this was allowed, and even if we did somehow manage to wander to an area we weren’t supposed to we would simply bump into some guards who would turn us around.
We were out of beer, tired and had a long day ahead of us tomorrow so we returned to our rooms to spend our first night in the DPRK.