Nampo / Nampho is the center of the North Korean shipbuilding industry and has a population of about 370,000, making it the fourth biggest city in the DPRK; other important employers are the Nampo Fishery Complex, the Nampo Smelter Complex and the Nampo Glass Corporation as well as several sea salt producing companies.
My trip to Nampo began, like most trips there, on the Youth Hero Motorway, a 46 kilometer long expressway between Pyongyang and the industrial city on the north bank of the river Taedong. Construction started in November 1998 with the massive support of young Korean volunteer workers; hence the name Youth Hero Motorway. While on the highway Mr. Yu told us that he was one of the volunteers when he was a university student – you could read between the lines that it must have been an excruciating project for everybody involved… Opened in October 2000 the widest motorway in North Korea (5 lanes in each direction!) already is in really bad condition. At least half of it is full of potholes, so we were able to drive faster on most countryside roads. (A video taken on the Youth Hero Highway came with *the first article of this series*.) I didn’t have a look at the watch how long it took us to get from Pyongyang to Nampo, but I guess it was about 2 hours, probably longer…
Nampo itself looked a lot more like how most people imagine North Korea to be – a bleak industrial city full of decay, with a lot less of those colorful apartment blocks and post-futuristic buildings I loved in Pyongyang; the streets being in a lot worse condition, too. We never stopped anywhere within the city limits, but parts of Nampo would be a perfect location to shoot a remake of Michael Radford’s 1984. When we drove past the Nampo soccer stadium I thought that most of the abandoned buildings I visit were in better condition – the FIFA would never approve of that one! (A *look at GoogleMaps* confirmed that the stadium basically is a ruin…)
The sun was setting and it was a beautiful evening, but quite a bit of Nampo looked rundown and rather depressing. Some government buildings and the huge paintings of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il looked nice, but overall it was pretty clear that Pyongyang had priority over Nampo in many ways. I am actually a bit surprised that we drove through Nampo as there is a bypass north of the city center – so they could have avoided showing us stuff like the soccer stadium if they really wanted to… (I took some photos and both videos published with this article the next morning on the way to the West Sea Barrage, just in case you wonder about the different lighting conditions.)
The Ryonggang Hot Spring House (in most itineraries referred to as the “Dragon River Hot Spa Hotel” is not in Nampo city, but 20 kilometers northwest in a small town called Onchon – and like so many rather modern things in Korea it dates back to when the country was under Japanese occupation; which also might explain why you take off your shoes at the entrance and switch between house slippers, apartment slippers and bathroom slippers… The House actually is a resort, consisting of seven small villas with four apartment units each, and a so-called service center with a restaurant, a karaoke room, a pool room, and all the other usual stuff. Each apartment has its own private hot spring tub; the water is said to treat “hyperpiesia, non-tubercular arthritis, neuralgia, neuritis, lumbago, varieties of wound (sic!), sequelae of operations, chronic gynecologic inflammation, functional disorder of nidamental gland, sterility, chronic gastritis, chronic colitis, skin diseases including eczema and prurigo” according to the spa’s brochure. Speaking of the brochure – it was too large to scan as a whole since it was three big pages each side wide. So I scanned the more interesting two connecting pages on each side, leaving out the pages that mainly consist of water analysis data and tourist spots nearby.
Upon arrival Mr. Yu, Mr. Kim and Sarah started to set up the famous petrol clam BBQ *I wrote about in the food article*. By then it was pitch-black and rather cold outside, but the soju and vodka warmed everybody from the inside. Half an hour later the whole group went to the main building to enjoy dinner – a pitch-black dinner at times as Nampo, unlike Pyongyang, suffers from regular blackouts. But the food was good and the company was nice, so it was a really successful evening again…
Oh, one last thing about the Ryonggang Hot Spring House: The tree covered resort is surrounded by a barbed-wire fence and the main entrance (facing open fields, not the town’s center) is guarded by an armed soldier – your guess whether he is there to protect guests from locals or locals from guests is as good as mine!
(Please *click here to get to Abandoned Kansai’s North Korea Special* and *here for a map about the tour at GoogleMaps*. If you don’t want to miss the latest article you can *follow Abandoned Kansai on Twitter* and *like this blog on Facebook* – and of course there is the *video channel on Youtube*…)