DPRK Travel – 2004

After gaining my first exposure to the DPRK in 1996 from a Lonely Planet book on North East Asia, I was immediately curious about the country.  Off-and-on for several years I informally studied the DPRK.  In July 2004 I had the opportunity to visit the DPRK for the first time, which I did not think was possible until my plane landed in Pyongyang.  I was thrilled to be one of only a handful of Americans allowed into the country that year.

I travelled with the Korean Friendship Association, which might raise some eyebrows among readers.  The Korean Friendship Association is a pro-Pyongyang organization sponsored by the DPRK’s Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries (historically it is also known as the “Society for Cultural Relations…”).  Most communist naitons had similar offices with similar names.  DPRK offices with the word “Committee” in them seem to be the socialist alternative of “civil society” in more pluralistic countries.  The CCRFC’s mission seems to be to build these civil-society level contacts and constituencies in other countries to facilitate exchanges between the DPRK and these groups, bypassing the formal state- and ministerial-level channels of exchange.  I am only guessing about this, however…A brief introduction to the KFA can be found in a Naerna interview with Pak Kwang-ung, the secretary of the Korea-Spain Friendship Society and the KFA’s sponsor in the DPRK.

The CCRFC engages many overseas groups, such as the KFA and the National Lawyers Guild, in various cultural and informational exchanges.  In return, these groups bolster the Committee’s portfolio and budget by participating in DPRK friendship activities and exchanges.  The CCRFC and KFA have recently undertaken more explicit efforts at attracting foreign direct investment.

So why go with the KFA and not a regular tour group?  Firstly, Americans were not offered tourist visas at the time (except for the rare Mass Games festival).  Ironically, the Mass Games have been held annually since 2005 and more Americans than ever before are making the trip.  Secondly, I wanted to learn as much as possible about the DPRK from their unique perspective.  Joining the KFA delegation seemed to offer a solution to both of these concerns.  The experience was composed of activities I never expected nor things I will ever forget.

This web page is designed for me to warehouse as much information as possible about my trip to the DPRK in 2004.  Below, I have put all my pictures and comments.  Plus I have added the content that others from the trip have put on the web:

1. The trip was filmed and turned into a documentary called Friends of Kim.  It is on Youtube here: Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.

2. Peter wrote an article for his college paper and posted this video on line in 2008 (description here). Peter also posted these clips on YouTube: here (at the DMZ) and this one documenting how Andrew was treated.

3. In 2003 Alejandro Cao de Benos was interviewed by KCNA.  Here is the KFA description in Wikipedia.

4. Here is the KFA photo gallery and Nayan’s photo set: 12, and 3.

5. Here are pictures of the trip I found on Naenara: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8.

Photos from 2004 trip to DPRK

We began in Beijing’s Capital Airport.  Air Koryo flights are designated with the call letters JS.  Air Koryo flights from Beijing are on an Ilyushin Il-62.  When I stepped on the plane, I was struck by the 1950s deco ambiance which jolts the traveler half-a-century back in time in just a few seconds.  The speakers played typical North Korean music which, at this point, was still charming.  The stewardesses made Donna Reid look like a street bum.  They served us a large meal and I drank some local beer called Ryongsong, which had a metalic after-taste.  It was definitely my least favorite of the DPRK brews as I came to find.  When the plane touched down in Pyongyang, the speakers welcomed us to the DPRK and told us about the Great Leader and the progress of the Juche Revolution.  Welcome to Pyongyang.

At Pyongyang’s Sunan Airport, we were escorted to a special VIP entrance, bypassing the baggage claim, customs and passport control desks.  This was so we could pose for pictures for the DPRK media and senior members of the KFA could give interviews, etc.  In the end it turned out to be kind of annoying because the airport people insisted that we go back through customs and passport control to retrieve our bags and come back through again, which was kind of a hassle because by that point we were behind everyone else in line.

Departures from Beijing  Ilyushin Il-62       FNJtroughwindow

FNJ1  KISatFNJ  pyongyang

airport.jpg  airport1.jpg  bus.jpg

The Sosan Hotel, our home.
KFA delegations primarily stay at the Sosan Hotel.  (There was one exception in 2005 for a large conference of groups sponsored by the CCRFC).  The Sosan is isolated in Pyongyang’s sports district and it was not build to cater to foreigners like the Potongang, Koryo, or Yangdakdo.  So when you are there, there is not much to do besides watch state television, drink, and chat with the same members of the group.  As I recall, the hotel is over 25 stories with more than 12 rooms on each floor.  Aside from our group there was just one other group of North Korean athletes staying there.


March For Peace and Unification
After settling in, Alejandro gave us some quick tips on how to “march,” something not all of us were too comfortable with and were not expecting.  I personally had not anticipated such public political activities, but in the end I though it was hysterical and indicative of the kinds of activities that many North Koreans have to participate in regularly.  There were several DPRK politicians there, including the head of the Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries.  The march took place at the Monument to the three charters of national reunification.

10.jpg  9.jpg      11.jpg

12.jpg  13.jpg  14.jpg

15.jpg         16.jpg        17.jpg

18.jpg         20.jpg        21.jpg

22.jpg         23.jpg  24.jpg

1(1).jpg         2(1).jpg  3(1).jpg

5(1).jpg  6(1).jpg  10(1).jpg

2004trip8.jpg 2004trip7.jpg 2004trip6.jpg 2004trip5.jpg

The March Continued in Sinchon, home to the Museum of American War Atrocities.  Although the Korean War is know as the “Forgotten War” in the United States, the citizens of the DPRK are reminded of it on a daily basis.  This museum plays a big part in that mission.  Next to the museum is a burial mound containing the victims of war atrocities. (This is much like the American War Atrocities Museum that used to be open in Hanoi)

*13(1).jpg         15(1).jpg       **14(1).jpg
*Get rid of the Americans and unite the nation
**Revenge on the American wolves 1000 times

18(1).jpg         25(1).jpg  20(1).jpg

21(1).jpg  22(1).jpg        24(1).jpg

25.jpg *19.jpg  31.jpg
*Long live the Workers Party of Korea

51.jpg 8.jpg 61.jpg 7.jpg


Sariwon-North Hawnghae Province
We then traveled to Sariwon to “work with the people”… By the time we arrived, I had been drinking and sitting around for so long that I was itching for some exercise.  So when it came to the heavy lifting, I was ready to go.  I pretty much smoked everyone else.  They were unable to compete with my pent up energy.  Chollima Speed, American style.

91.jpg  101.jpg  111.jpg

121.jpg 131.jpg DSC_5747.jpg

DSC_5753.jpg  141.jpg

After KCNA completed their photos of the silly white-folks “working with the people,” we were treated to a great song and dance show. This was truly incredible.  Not to brag about myself, but the Dutch filmmakers who recorded this even told me I was a much better dancer than most of the other members of the group.  I have no idea of the name of the girl I was dancing with, but her look seems kind of haunting (in the pink dress below)…

151.jpg  171.jpg  181.jpg

191.jpg               201.jpg         211.jpg

231.jpg  241.jpg *162.jpg
*Our ideology, our style political system, our style revolutionary way!

After spending the night in Sariwon (near Sinchon), we were off to Kaesong for the next leg of the “March.”  Kaesong used to be in South Korea before the Korean War, and people there can pick up South Korean radio if they are clever enough.  The cheering crowd was composed of all the old women, non-working mothers, and children.  I did however (superficially) interacted with more Koreans than I thought would be possible, and got to walk down the main street in Kaesong. The march felt weird, but hey I was in the DPRK, and this is the kind of stuff they have to do all the time.  Imagine.

*242.jpg 251.jpg 110.jpg 32.jpg
*The girl with the bandana was a Russian translator.  She was trying to copy my sophisticated bandanna look.

26.jpg  41.jpg        52.jpg

62.jpg  71.jpg  81.jpg

92.jpg  102.jpg 2004trip2.jpg

After walking down the street for another round of DPRK-style agitation, it was on to the last leg of the March in Panmunjom (the DMZ).  This was one of the highlights for me.  I have never visited South Korea, so my experience visiting the DMZ is exactly the opposite of most Americans.  I was thinking about holding a sign up that said “Hello from Arlington, VA” for my fellow countrymen on the other side.  Unfortunately no American soldiers were close enough to the border to talk to.  We had to listen to yet another round of political speeches here as well.  I was baking in the sun and could pretty much recite the speeches on my own.  You simply take the same 50 words and move them around.  It all gets repetitive pretty quickly.  Afterwards, the Koreans who were listening to it all took lost of pictures, and wanted several with me.  In the end this was an incredible experience and one I will never forget.  One thing the march did for me was bring home to me how sad it is that the Korean people are divided like this.

112.jpg  122.jpg       132.jpg

142.jpg  152.jpg  161.jpg

172.jpg 182.jpg 192.jpg 202.jpg 212.jpg

221.jpg  232.jpg  252.jpg

113.jpg  33.jpg  27.jpg

42.jpg 53.jpg 72.jpg 93.jpg

82.jpg        103.jpg        114.jpg

123.jpg        143.jpg        153.jpg


The Koryo Museum was kind of interesting and very pretty.  This museum is on the north-east side of Kaesong.

173.jpg 183.jpg 193.jpg 203.jpg

213.jpg 222.jpg 233.jpg 243.jpg

253.jpg    115.jpg    28.jpg    34.jpg

Tomb of Wanggon, founder of the Koryo Dynasty.

54.jpg  64.jpg  73.jpg

While in Kaesong, we stayed at the Folk Hotel.  Many people stay here, and as a result, most of the pictures of Kaesong that visitors post on the web look the same.  We visited a children’s palace there and saw a great show.  The children there were absolutely adorable and put on a very talented performance.

83.jpg       94.jpg       104.jpg

116.jpg       15A.jpg       14A.jpg

13A.jpg       17A.jpg 19A.jpg

20A.jpg  18A.jpg      16A.jpg

124.jpg  *134.jpg  144.jpg
* Thank you Father kim Jong Il

154.jpg        *163.jpg**174.jpg
*   We will honor the Great Leader Kim Il Sung as our eternal sun
** Lets become bullets and bombs protecting the Dear Leader Kim Jong Il

*184.jpg  194.jpg**214.jpg
*  The Leader goes to the front line, and the children go to the camp
**Lets armor ourselves with Kim il Sung’s revolutionary ideas

223.jpg  234.jpg  4A.jpg

5A.jpg        6A.jpg         7A.jpg

8A.jpg  10A.jpg  11A.jpg


Pakyon Waterfall
One of the most famous in the country.  It is truly beautiful and my pictures do not do it justice.  I was too busy having fun playing in the waterfall and throwing the Frisbee in the water to even explore the surroundings.

35.jpg    117.jpg     43.jpg

55.jpg    29.jpg    pakyon.jpg

Back to Pyongyang

“Monument to Victory in Fatherland Liberation War”
The Fatherland Liberation War is the official name of the Korean war in the DPRK.  This site, next to the war museum, is a huge plaza with statues laid out symmetrically along the sides which depict specific stories that took place during the war–highlighting various acts of heroism by the Korean People’s Army.  The scale of the plaza or the size of the statue behind me is not accurately portrayed by the pictures.

95.jpg    118.jpg    125.jpg

84.jpg  74.jpg  215.jpg

135.jpg       *145.jpg         155.jpg
*Lets destroy the American invaders

175.jpg        164.jpg        195.jpg

204.jpg        185.jpg       *216.jpg
*Unity of military and people

Pyongyang Metro
Most visitors to the Pyongyang metro visit the same two stops: from Ponghwa to Yonggwang (near the Koryo Hotel).
*105.jpg  119.jpg       126.jpg
* If the Americans attack us, let us destroy them off the earth forever

136.jpg  146.jpg  est.jpg

165.jpg        176.jpg        186.jpg

196.jpg        217.jpg        205.jpg

225.jpg        235.jpg

Kumsusan Memorial Palace
This is the mausoleum where Kim Il-sung is preserved in state like Lenin, Mao, and Ho Chi Minh.  I have seen all of these except “Uncle Ho” because he was in Russia getting touched up when I visited Hanoi.  Anyway, none of their facilities are nearly as complex and ornate as Kamsusan.  This building used to be Kim il Sung’s office, like the White (or blue) House.  Although plans were initially to bury Kim il Sung in Kim Il Sung Square, they decided to keep him in is office, since that “is where he spent all his time.”  Visitors to Kumsusan begin by checking any materials that they should not have, then they travel about a quarter of a mile by air conditioned moving sidewalk.   Along the way, you have the opportunity to clean your shoes and will also go through a metal detector.  At the end, you enter the first chamber playing the Song of Kim Il Sung.  Here you march in 4 person formation up to a large statue of the president in front of the room, upon which you are supposed to look at quietly for a few seconds.  Afterwards, you exit the room and go through a tunnel that blows air on you to remove any lint you might have, and then you are in the room with Kim il Sung himself.  You are supposed to bow respectfully on each side of his coffin.  The large tumor on the back of his neck has been removed.  After you exit the room, you observe the medals and awards Kim received from various nations and dictators.  You will also see his Mercedes, propped up on blocks, and his train cart.  After that you enter a room where a tour guide explains all of the great exploits of the leader.  Finally, you enter the last room where you can write something nice in the guest book.  It is illegal for south Koreans to visit here by South Korean law.

ght.jpg 65.jpg *75.jpg
* The Great Leader Kim Il Sung will always be with us

96.jpg 85.jpg*106.jpg 1110.jpg 040815_sthankiya_nkmorse_03.JPG
*Lets get “armed?” with Kim Il Sung, Revolutionary Leader

Taesongsan Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery
This is the graveyard for Kim Il Sung’s guerrilla fighters that served with him in World War II, including his most famous wife, Jim Jong Suk, mother of Kim Jong Il.  It is also illegal for South Koreans to visit here by South Korean law.

127.jpg  137.jpg        147.jpg

rft.jpg  166.jpg        177.jpg

*187.jpg        197.jpg  206.jpg
*Grave of Kim Jong Suk, mother of Kim Jong Il

218.jpg        226.jpg  236.jpg

Mangyongdae Funfair
Mangyongdae is where Kim Il Sung’s parents lived and he spent a lot of his childhood.  There is not much to it.  While we were there, the North Korean media were all over us.  I was never asked that much.  Afterwards we went to a nearby amusement park.  At first it was creepy as it was nearly deserted.  It seemed like we had discovered something that no one had seen in decades.  Eventually more people showed up in buses and livened the place up a bit.  There was a roller coaster there, but I gave it a pass.   It was fun to interact with all the children that showed up.  They got a kick out of playing “keep away” and posing for pictures with members of our group.

On a completely economic note, the fair seemed to operate a textbook two-part tariff pricing system.  This is when you pay an entrance fee to get in the park, but also a price per-ride.  This is a clever way for the provider to capture all of the “consumer surplus” of the visitor.

120.jpg  255.jpg  210.jpg


36.jpg        44.jpg         h.jpg

66.jpg  76.jpg *86.jpg
*Amusement Hall

*97.jpg         107.jpg**1111.jpg
*  I don’t envy anyone
**Refreshment and drinks

128.jpg  138.jpg  148.jpg

g.jpg        167.jpg

Trip to Wonsan
We never had the opportunity to see much of Wonsan city itself.

188.jpg *198.jpg**207.jpg
*  Hail to the Great Leader Kim Jong Il
**Great integrity of mother party
37.jpg  45.jpg

Wonsan Childrens Camp
Empty but pretty fancy.  You can see this from Google Earth and you will also see that it is surrounded by some very nice houses.

219.jpg  227.jpg  237.jpg

245.jpg  256.jpg        129.jpg

Sijung Lake and beach
This was a nice beach/lake experience.  Just chillin’.

220.jpg *56.jpg  67.jpg
* Lets form ideology, technology, and culture in juche’s [way?]

77.jpg        87.jpg         98.jpg

picnic1.jpg  1112.jpg

…then back to Pyongyang, and BOWLING!
Initially we asked to go bowling when we were bored in our hotel one night and we were told it was reserved for Koreans.  Then when an armistice day celebration was cancelled they decided to take us there.  Golden Lanes bowling alley, it turns out, has a “foreigners only” bathroom.

1210.jpg  139.jpg  149.jpg

156.jpg  168.jpg  178.jpg

Mansu Hill
Korean visitors to Mansu Hill approach the statue in formation, bow and leave flowers.  They also stand looking at the statue while a giant speaker reads out exploits of the great leader.  I don’t know how long it lasted, but it was longer than I could pay attention.  This statue was initially coated in gold, but was removed after the Chinese threatened to reduce direct assistance.

130.jpg  228.jpg        38.jpg

46.jpg        57.jpg         68.jpg

78.jpg  88.jpg  r.jpg

108.jpg        1113.jpg         1211.jpg

238.jpg         246.jpg  257.jpg

Peoples’ Study House and Kim Il Sung Square
This is the large traditional style building that dominates Kim Il Sung square.  It offers language classes and meetings with specialists in various fields.  In a sense it offers some university-type services.

1311.jpg  1411.jpg  1511.jpg

1611.jpg  1711.jpg  1711.jpg

1911.jpg          12324.jpg         1201.jpg

1212.jpg  1221.jpg  239.jpg

*431.jpg   12324.jpg  **1251.jpg
*   Spirit of Pektu revolution
** Using the revoluitonary spirit of Pektu, build a strong great country

*441.jpg **451.jpg***461.jpg
*Long Live the DPRK
**Long live the the honorable DPRK Workers Party
***The Great Leader Kim Il Sung will always be with us

47.jpg  48.jpg  16A1.jpg

17A1.jpg  18A1.jpg  19A1.jpg

Kimjongilia Flower Exhibition
How many politicians do you know that have flowers named after them?  Well the DPRK has two!  And both kinds are on display in a dedicated facility.

89.jpg  109.jpg  f.jpg

1114.jpg 1213.jpg 1310.jpg 1410.jpg

157.jpg  169.jpg

Arch of Triumph
The arch is supposed to be built on the site Kim Il Sung delivered his first speech after World War II.  Its big. Its an arch.

23A.jpg  140.jpg  229.jpg

39.jpg 49.jpg 2110.jpg 208.jpg

2210.jpg  247.jpg  258.jpg

Moranbong Middle School
Moranbong was great.  We visited lots of classrooms, and while in in many classes the children did not look up from their notes, in others they were quite friendly and open.  I remember watching a girl take notes.  She wanted to look at the foreigner standing in front of her (me) by making repeating glances.  After realizing that I was just flat out looking at her without being coy enough to hide it in glances, she smiled and pulled half of her hand above the desk to wave at me without anyone else being able to see.  Priceless.

After touring the school and its numerous facilities, we were given another great performance by the school kids.  The incredible thing was that in the middle of the show, there was a power outage.  But they did not skip a beat.  They transitioned to an acoustic performance and opened up all the windows.  I felt bad for them, but they were professionals and took it all in stride.

*58.jpg**69.jpg 810.jpg 79.jpg
* Lets become true children of father Kim Jong Il
** 100 wars, 100 victories, Korean Workers Party

*1115.jpg e.jpg 1010.jpg**1214.jpg
*The Great Leader Kim Il Sung will always be with us
**Lets become youth heroes for fruitful struggle that ields the Kim Jong Il era

*1312.jpg**1412.jpg       158.jpg
* Lets learn from the Dear Leader Kim Jong Il honorable youth
**Get rid of the Americans and unite the motherland

1610.jpg  179.jpg  189.jpg  199.jpg

209.jpg   2111.jpg   2211.jpg   2310.jpg

248.jpg  259.jpg

Tower of Juche Idea
This is one of the most famous landmarks in Pyongyang.  The view is incredible.  Our visit was at the same time as some Chongryun dancers from Japan.

*811.jpg      1313.jpg      **y.jpg
*The Great Leader Kim Il sung will always be with us
** Unity

1011.jpg  1116.jpg      1215.jpg

1413.jpg  159.jpg      1612.jpg

1710.jpg  1810.jpg  1910.jpg

2010.jpg  2112.jpg  2212.jpg

2311.jpg  249.jpg  2510.jpg

Film Studio

150.jpg  230.jpg  310.jpg

410.jpg  59.jpg DSC_4673.jpg

Kochang Cooperative Farm
I did a lot of yard work here so I was sweating like a pig.  Although I had come to the DPRK expecting lots of propaganda, I was officially tired of it on this day.


Nampo is on the west coast of Korea and home to the famous “Sea Barge” which prevents salt water from the sea from flowing up the fresh water Taedong River.  We spent a very stress-filled afternoon sitting on the beach wondering what was going to happen to Andrew.

1117.jpg  1216.jpg  1314.jpg


Mangyongdae Children’s Palace

1510.jpg  1613.jpg  1712.jpg  1811.jpg

1912.jpg   children.jpg   children2.jpg

children3.jpg  children4.jpg  children5.jpg


USS Pueblo
I was able to briefly recapture the Pueblo, but unsucessful at getting it out of Pyongyang.

15A1.jpg     13A1.jpg     12A.jpg

14A1.jpg  pueblo 2004.jpg *video.jpg
*this is a video of me on KCNA

Random Pyongyang Photos

*311.jpg**411.jpg  510.jpg
*Pyongyang Metro station
** Let us inherit and complete the great work of the juche revolution

610.jpg *6A1.jpg     **710.jpg
*Famous Air Koryo hamburger (served on all outgoing flights)
** With Rifle, lets protect the socialist red flag

9A.jpg *10A1.jpg       1713.jpg
* May day stadium

*1913.jpg**2011.jpg8**2113.jpg 2213.jpg
*Lets keep our factory and workplace prudently
**Firm Protection
***Singe hearted unity

2312.jpg  2410.jpg  24A.jpg

* Let us inherit and complete the great work of the juche revolution
**Lets become a fortress and shield protecting the revolutionary leaders
***Single hearted unity

*611.jpg 671.jpg 711.jpg
*Protect the Leader Kim Jong Il

*Hold the torch of Lenin and rush to build a strong and powerful nation
**Military service is the peoples divine obligation! Death to the enemies of unification!

*Changwang street restaurants
**Koryo hotel
***Founding a strong great country is everlasting
****100 wars 100 victories

s.jpg*street.jpg    **sosan.jpg
* Lets become a fortress and shield Pyongyang!
**Product learning and living all anti-Japanese squad style

ryug 2.jpg ryug.jpg*h1.jpg
Billboard for thw whipperan, or “Whistle,” a fiat car made in the DPRK.

*gate.jpg**g1.jpg Cigarettes.jpg
*Protect the leader Kim Jong Il
**These people are our heroes.  Lets be like them!& Lets accomplish what the party gives us!

*812.jpg *Protect the leaders of the revolution!

Back in Beijing!

chilling in beijing.jpg


10 Responses to “DPRK Travel – 2004”

  1. Ethan says:

    Love the pictures! The pictures show so much of what N Korea really is. I wish I could travel to N Korea and visit that Amusement Park <3

  2. season says:

    Bravo! I am also researching the NK economy. Thank you for the live pictures.

  3. Rick says:

    Nice article.

    I love that the North uses Samsung air conditioning;


    or is that a UN building?

  4. Acropolis7 says:

    Er, thats Panmunjon.

  5. NKeconWatch says:

    Whats Panmunjon?

  6. A great photo album i must say…..Loved it…..Cheers!!!
    blue morpho butterfly

  7. Dr Malcolm Mudge says:

    I loved working at Lake Changjin in a gold area. seetin gup equipment for the Senate JV. Kumsan JV. Nth Korea ahs large gold tailings deposits worthy of treaing at 15 grms per tonne. Arsenopyrite but new tech. allows close to 100% recovery.
    Dr. Malcolm Mudge   The senate was very accomodating with me and i enjoyed my stay in DPRK. LOVE THE PLACE