The Kaeson Youth Park was the exciting final destination of my trip to North Korea. Visiting the most modern amusement park in Pyongyang’s city center was on our schedule almost every day, but every time it had to be pushed back; the first time it rained, the second time was “foreigners’ night” (which defeated the purpose of mingling with locals), the third time we were out of town overnight, …
After getting back from *Kaesong* and having dinner at the famous *duck restaurant in Pyongyang* we finally went to the Kaeson Youth Park on our last night – with the *Arch of Triumph* right across the street our tour basically ended where it began.
Originally opened in 1984, the 40 ha big park fell into disrepair quickly, giving all of North Korea’s theme parks a bad reputation. Being an avid urban explorer I was actually looking forward to seeing some quasi abandoned amusement parks, but it turned out that the ones we saw were all modernized recently. The Kaeson Youth Park for example received a whopping ten new attractions from Italy in April 2010, including a rollercoaster, bumper cars and a freefall tower. It wouldn’t be able to compete with elaborate theme parks like Universal Studios or Disneyland, but it’s attractions would be popular at any funfair in world – hence the place’s nickname Kaeson Funfair, because that’s what it basically is; a non-travelling funfair.
In an article by the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun I’ve read that enjoying all ten rides costs locals 1600 won, more than half of what the average person in Pyongyang earns per month (3000 won) – two things about that:
1.) According to their article 1600 won were about 40 US cents in 2011, according to currency converters it was about 12 dollars back then! (A little less today… Maybe there is a different black market exchange rate?)
2.) What the article fails to mention is the fact that most people in Pyongyang don’t have to live off their 3000 won income, it’s kind of an allowance since the state provides accommodation and their place of work provides meals (though I am not sure if it’s just lunch or three meals a day).
So yes, visiting the Kaeson Youth Park is very expensive for locals (a ride on the subway costs 2 won…), but it is possible for them to enjoy an evening there. Not a whole day though, because the funfair opens at 7 p.m. and closes at midnight or 1 a.m., depending on which guide you asked… 😉
At the *Taesongsan Park & Funfair* we didn’t go on any rides, so our group was set loose and we were able to explore on our own – at the Kaeson Youth Park we had to stick together, nevertheless I was able to take an almost foreigner free video since the group stretched quite a bit. We basically walked to the end of the park and made our way back to the entrance, people hopping on the rides in mini groups; with VIP treatment, i.e. skipping the queue – which came at a price: 1.5 to 3 Euros per ride, according to a guide more than 30 times of what locals pay, which means that the whole exchange rate thing is off completely…
Despite the fact that we arrived past 9 p.m. there were still quite few children around (usually in groups), but overall it was a good mix of locals again (youth groups, couples, families, soldiers), so it felt kind of natural being there, despite the fact that clothing usually was less individual than what you are used to from amusement parks in Europe or the States. We even witnessed a heated argument between two guys, most likely military – much to the embarrassment of our Korean guides. Personally I enjoyed seeing that, it gave the experience quite a human touch.
The Kaeson Youth Park was another hint that things in the DPRK are changing. Like I said, amusement parks in North Korea have a horrible reputation and most articles on the net make fun of them, but all three parks I saw had been renovated since Kim Jong-un became the leader of the country. The KYP looked like a modern funfair and it seems like that the powers that be intend to keep it that way. An estimated half of the park’s staff was busy cleaning and swiping, contributing to the image that I had during my whole trip to the DPRK – a struggling but upcoming country that is trying extremely hard to make the best of a bad situation.
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