Korea’s former capital Kaesong was the next major destination on my itinerary, but before reaching the DPRK’s last city with lots of historical buildings surviving the Korean War we had a busy yet unspectacular day; most of the locations visited during that time I will talk about in the other locations article at the end of the series. (I already mentioned the lamb BBQ in the *Food For Tourists* entry the other day.) Since there is no direct highway between Nampo and Kaesong we had to go back to Pyongyang via the Youth Hero Motorway and then take the Reunification Highway (a.k.a. Pyongyang-Kaesong Motorway) south, making a stop at the “tea shop” mentioned in the Vice documentary. Just in case you saw it – the (unspectacular) building is a very basic highway rest, not a tea shop. And the “tea shop girl” has company now as there were two sales stands outside of the building both times we stopped there, although I can’t say for sure if Pun-Yun-Chi a.k.a. the original “tea shop girl” (pitied by countless Youtube comments) is still working there; heck the place was so unspectacular I didn’t even take photos or a video… And unlike claimed in the generally quite outdated documentary they are not waiting for six or ten months for customers! Even during both of our short stops (about 15 minutes each on May 2nd and May 3rd) we saw other tourist groups and local cars stopping there. Sure, only a fraction of customers a highway rest in North America or Europe has – but nothing like the out of thin air assumption made by Shane Smith, who IMHO tended to interpret everything he saw and experienced in the most negative way anyway. While it’s always a bad thing to jump to conclusions based on observations (especially when travelling alone and wondering why you are always alone…), it gets a bitter taste when it’s done to sell a product; in this case his documentary. I feel sorry that he and his cameraman had a bad time, but I think it was at least partly their own fault. Anyway.
Although built ten years earlier than the road to Nampo, the Reunification Highway is in much better condition, probably due its strategic importance, which was made clear by several military checkpoints (none of which we were allowed to take photos of) and countless tank traps – huge concrete blocks at the side of the road, some disguised as monuments, that can collapse onto the motorway in case of a foreign invasion. (I’m sure most of the bridges were rigged, too.)
By the time we arrived in Kaesong it was almost dark. What really struck me was the fact that the city didn’t have many lights. Maybe one in five apartments were lit, the rest was dark. The only construction lit up like a Christmas tree – the statue of Kim Il-sung on top of Mount Janam… (Interestingly enough some buildings had what looked like solar panels on their balconies. Not many, but still… Who would have thought that?)
The statue actually was our first destination the next morning after a night at the Minsok Hotel, but to the disappointment of all foreign visitors (…) it was closed since some people were cleaning the square in front of it – so we had a look at the city from a nearby viewing point; beautiful! When we came back to the statue we still weren’t allowed to see it, so to everybody’s surprise we were asked to board the bus to head out to the Koryo Museum since it was still too early to hit our time slot at the DMZ. And so that’s what we did…
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