Pyongyang Travel Guide
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After little less than a month of 3G internet access for foreigners visiting North Korea, Wired UK reports that the signal has been shut down as the hermit kingdom once again retreats into its usual campaign of warmongering.
Still, for that brief period, a few journalists were able to post tweets and Instagrams live from within the borders and, ever so briefly, skyrocket international cultural interest in a country that's usually only making headlines for their politics. Perhaps the 3G access was cut because of this, these images of a "softer side" of North Korea that's contrary to the propaganda officially proliferated by Pyongyang? We can only wonder as, of course, the last thing we can expect is clarification of any actions taken by North Korea.
If you missed the stream of social media during the brief 3G period, it thankfully all lives on in the internet. Here's where to find it:
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This is an airline meal. It's not just any airline meal, however; it's a piece of digital imaging and travel history and it was only created this morning.
David Guttenfelder, Chief Photographer in Asia for the AP, is currently in North Korea on assignment and taking advantage of the newly un-banned 3G network to share some Instagrams from daily life, like this seemingly banal image of his in-flight meal on North Korea's state airline, Air Koryo.
We say "seemingly banal," because it's in fact incredibly interesting. For one, has there ever been another digital image like this, instantly shared from an Air Koryo plane, location-tagged to Pyongyang's Airport? The answer is "kind of," as Guttenfelder also posted another of his Air Koryo meals (view the meal & view the plane) 29 weeks ago, but done after the fact and without a geotag.
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So you want to go to North Korea but can't figure out a plausible excuse, hmm? How about golf?! That's right...golf. According to the Wall Street Journal, North Korea is hosting an Amateur Gold Open from April 26-30 and it may not be too late to enter (since we happen to know someone who just did).
The fee is 999 Euro ($1,375), but at least it gets you more than just a few hours' fun of hitting some balls around in the 18-hole Pyongyang Golf Complex; the fee also includes "travel by train into the country from China, visas, meals and accommodation, as well as a 3 day tour of the country." That's 5-star accommodation in Pyongyang, mind you.
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Who's game for a nice little package trip to North Korea? Anyone? Bueller?
It was announced yesterday that Kim Jong-il is feeling a little neighborly lately and less bomby, and wants to restart family reunion trips from South Korea. Although South Korea hasn't yet said yes to allowing their people to venture over the border, North Korea is re-opening an enclave for reunions at Mount Kumgang, which was once a major money generator for the poor country.
Thinking about heading to North Korea for the Arirang Mass Games? You better hope that former President Bill Clinton has got your back, just like he has with the two Current TV journalists who were arrested on the North Korean border in March and sentenced to 12 years in a hard labor camp for "committing hostilities against the Korean nation and illegal entry.”
During Clinton's brief visit, which focused solely on negotiating the freedom of the womenLaura Ling, 32, and Euna Lee, 36and not North Korea's recent nuclear tests, he met with good old Kim Jong-il, who wasn't looking all that ill.
Despite what the South Park guys identified as chronic "roneriness", Kim Jong Il's health is just fine, thankyouverymuch. At least that's what the Dear Leader's propaganda machine is insisting. Stroke? Don't even suggest it. Seriously. They'll arrest you.
This past week, an envoy of journalists were given a controlled, guided tour illustrating the country's booming economy and happy populace, of course. This is how an Asia Times reporter recounted his trip to Pyongyang:
Participants in the annual Gumball 3000 road rally are known to be a little nuts, racing their souped-up rides across continents at blistering speeds, stopping only to spray Champagne on each other at glitzy locations around the globe. But they may have just carved another notch in the crazy tree with their latest gambit, a pit stop to party in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.
The 5,000-kilometer rally began on August 9 in San Francisco, and its globe-hopping route will pass through Los Angeles, San Diego, and Las Vegas before ending in China on Saturday, where drivers and crew will cheer on their countrymen and women at the Olympic games. (No, they don't drive across the ocean. There are airplanes involved.)
The Gumballers stopped in North Korea for about 16 hours on Thursday on their way to Beijing. The reclusive regime banned their technologically-advanced vehicles, but, amazingly, extended a welcome for the ragtag band of moneyed misfits to check out the colorful and creepy Arirang Mass Games. Attendees said there was plenty of merry-making, karaoke, and skateboarding, with no reports of incidents, arrests, or reeducation.
Wired has a gallery featuring photos of some of the world's "most impressive" subway systems. Moscow clearly wins best in show with "chandeliers, marble moldings and elaborate murals" in some of the city's stations. Opulent subways must be a Communist thing, because Moscow's seems quite similar to the infamous Pyongyang Metro in North Korea.
Perhaps Pyongyang's public transit system was missing from Wired's list because foreigners are only allowed to tour it on closely guarded single-station trips. Still, the photos that have emerged from the secretive North Korean subway show more chandeliers, marble columns and great propaganda murals such as "The Great Leader Kim Il Sung Among Workers."
If seeing inspirational artwork during your morning commute doesn't get your day started off right, maybe you'd prefer a refreshing river cruise?
[Photo of the Pyongyang Metro: Pricey]