From any trip to North Korea it is definitely the subtleties that will remain with you long after you leave. The highly unusual instances of daily life that you will see and the general peace and quiet on the streets. People’s body language, facial expressions, curiosities towards you and how they deal with their own experience of meeting a foreign visitor in their country.
I have a lot of really stand out memories from my trip to North Korea with Global Village Tours but one that comes to mind would definitely have to be a visit to the Revolutionary Martyrs’ Cemetery which sits at the top of the 270 meter high Mount Taesong just outside Pyongyang with spectacular views over the city below.
The cemetery itself, like much of Pyongyang and other sites of importance around the country is completely immaculate. Every blade of grass appears level, every leaf in perfect uniformity and the granite slabs seemingly clean enough to eat from. There are hundreds of perfectly laid out tombs here each with a bronze bust of the martyr buried within. Overlooking these is a gigantic granite red flag surrounded by pine trees. I visited here with a small group on a glorious sunny day.
As we arrived at the cemetery I noticed that a large number of military trucks had assembled at the entrance, each one neatly packed with soldiers. I didn’t think much of it as the site of military personnel is an everyday thing and something you will come across regularly throughout your trip.
We made the short climb up the granite paved thoroughfare leading to the cemetery. It is an incredible sight as you approach it. There was nobody around except a few caretakers and two or three guards. I walked my way upwards stopping to view the individual busts and turning around a few times to view the city below. The sun was beating down and the trees around us had these amazing colours going on that pretty much mirrored the bronze statues themselves.
Upon reaching the top and now facing the huge red granite flag, I turned around again only to see that 400 or 500 North Korean soldiers had assembled at the bottom of the hill. For as far as my eye could see, it was just this giant green military formation. So I’m standing in one the most sacred sites in the country, on top of a mountain, looking down on the capital city of a country that has the whole world on edge when it feels like it and looking back up at me is what feels like North Korea personified, everything I should have been afraid of. I can’t really describe in writing or otherwise how I felt at that moment but as I say it’s definitely the subtleties that you remember.
I made my way out a side entrance at the top and regrouped with my group. We hopped back on our bus and made a short journey from Mount Taesong to a nearby forest area for a traditional outdoor Korean lamb BBQ. There were a lot of locals there kicking back so we joined them and spent the rest of the day drinking, eating and listening to traditional Korea musicians. As I say, it’s the subtleties that stay with you!
I can’t recommend the guys at Global Village Tours enough, they looked after everything and North Korea was by far the best place I have travelled to in my life so far.