Sep 25 2009

North Korea: Cheating death at the Mangyongdae Fun Fair (the Disneyland of Pyongyang)

by in Asia, North Korea

The happiest place in Pyongyang

Thankfully, a tour of the DPRK doesn’t consist solely of bowing before Kim Il-Sung monuments. That would get incredibly boring, very quickly. Sometimes you get to do things like ride old, rusting roller coasters at a Pyongyang amusement park. That is what we ended up doing one afternoon when our guides took us to the Mangyongdae Fun Fair. Since it was a DPRK national holiday, there were a lot of locals there enjoying their day off. I think many of them were quite shocked to see 16 U.S. Imperialists walk into their amusement park.

As with everywhere in the DPRK, you couldn’t just wander away from your guide and ride whatever you wanted. One of the guides would say “Who wants to ride the roller coaster?” and those of us fools who obviously had a deathwish would raise our hands. Half the group wanted to ride the roller coaster, so one guide took us there while the other guides watched the other group members. When he took us straight to the front of the very long line, we protested, pointing out that it wasn’t fair for us to cut in front of all the people who were waiting in line, and that we would gladly go to the end of the line. But the guide and one of the park employees would have none of this and herded us onto the stairs leading up to the roller coaster platform. We all felt pretty bad. The North Koreans are fed enough anti-U.S. propaganda, and then here comes a group of us cutting in front of them on one of their few days off.

Once we got to the ride’s platform we surveyed the half yellow/half rust track that lay before us.

“Did you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

“It sounds like a bunch of bolts just fell off.”

“Well, I’m sure they do regular safety checks…”

The amusement park employees wouldn’t allow any of the North Koreans onto the platform or let them fill in the ten or so seats that were left empty as we climbed into the roller coaster. Perhaps the ride operators feared that their countrymen’s ideological purity might be corrupted while riding with a bunch of U.S. Imperialists. Or maybe they were just planning to flip a switch and kill us. As the roller coaster began to climb upwards, I realized that the latter was a definite possibility.

Are you sure you want to do this?

I noticed that my shoulder harness wasn’t locked. I could basically just raise and lower it at will. Some people had harnesses that locked, and some didn’t. Hmm…that was a bit odd, but whatever, this seemed like a pretty tame coaster.

Until I saw that there was a loop on this roller coaster, which, for whatever reason, none of us had seen until now. Now, I actually love upside down roller coasters, but that is usually when there are, you know, working safety harnesses.

As we slowly made the uphill climb, a series of thoughts began to flash through my mind. “Well, Lindsay, this is it. You’re going to plummet to your death on a North Korean roller coaster. Your friends and family will file past your coffin, muttering, ‘We told her not to go, but she just had to.’ Hmmm…at least my death will make CNN: ‘American tourist killed on North Korean roller coaster after harness failure.’ What a way to go. Thankfully my travel insurance policy covers the repatriation of my remains.

When we entered the loop I held on for dear life and somehow managed to not fall out and die or lose my camera (oh yes, I filmed the entire thing). Later, when I got back to the United States I discovered that this had something to do with physics and not pure luck, but whatever, I’m a political science major, remember?

Dude, where did that come from?

The rest of the roller coaster ride was spent leaning as far into the car as possible so as to avoid decapitation by the rusty steel poles that you fly by when turning. I would not recommend riding this roller coaster if you are very tall.

Keep your arms and legs inside the ride at all times. Seriously.

We were all quite relieved once the roller coaster pulled into the platform, as we felt like we had cheated death. After we got off the coaster, three of the guys in our group went over to a woman selling ice cream bars from a cart, purchased every single one of them, and then handed them out to the North Koreans who were still waiting in line to ride the roller coaster. This “ice cream diplomacy”, as we called it, was meant to make amends for cutting in front of them.

The U.S. Imperialists bought all the ice cream!

We’re sorry.

Our group went on a few more rides, including this one:

The military cadets loved us

And played some games:

We attracted quite an audience:

As with any amusement park, you can buy souvenirs:

So Jason went and bought a bunch of toys and handed them out to the kids. I think he still felt guilty for cutting in line.

This place is so much better than Disneyland

We skipped this one

We rode on the carousel. Haven’t been on one of these in ages. Oh, wait…I mean 2004, in London, after a few pints of Strongbow.

The last ride we went on was the ferris wheel. The cars were really rusty and I was certain some bolts would pop off and the car would plummet to the ground. It didn’t.

See, just like Disneyland

View of the coaster

As far as amusement parks go, the Mangyongdae Fun Fair can’t really compare to, say, Cedar Point, but it’s a nice break from the Kim Il-Sung monuments and is one of the few opportunities you will have to interact with the locals while you are in Pyongyang.

More Fun Fair photos are here.

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21 Responses to North Korea: Cheating death at the Mangyongdae Fun Fair (the Disneyland of Pyongyang)

  1. From Mark:


    Which ferris wheel would you rather ride:

    1. The rusty, but still used DPRK ferris wheel, or

    2. The ferris wheel that hasn’t run for 23 years in Pripyat

    I know … it’s probably a toss up. 🙂

    Posted on September 25, 2009 at 12:17 pm #
  2. From Lindsay:

    LOL, given a choice between the two I’ll stick with the DPRK ferris wheel!

    Posted on September 25, 2009 at 12:25 pm #
  3. From LiberateLaura:

    So does mean that if the North Korean soccer team wins the World Cup next year in South Africa, one or more players will be bellowing “I’m going to Mangyongdae!” ?

    Posted on September 25, 2009 at 12:59 pm #
  4. From Ryan Hughes:

    You couldn’t pay me to get on one of those roller coasters.

    Posted on September 27, 2009 at 4:49 am #
  5. From Nancy:

    Great pictures of North Korea! I was there in September 2008 and would love to go back (as crazy as that sounds). Hopefully, I’ll make it in 2010. If you love ‘strange’ travel, let me recommend Yemen! My favorite trip thus far. Fabulous country.

    Posted on October 21, 2009 at 12:24 pm #
  6. From Ella Peng:

    This is Ella from CIAE2011 Organizing Committee.Our trade show–7th China (Guangzhou) International Game&Amusement Exhibition(CIAE2011) will be held on March 3-5,2011.I have sent you some details by accessories.If you are interested in it,check it please!
    Welcome to exhibit or visit the fair!

    show name:7th China (Guangzhou) International Game&Amusement Exhibition(CIAE2011)
    Date:March 3rd –March 5th,2011
    Venue:China Import and Export Fair Pazhou Complex, Guangzhou
    Address:Hall 2.1, China Import & Export Fair Complex, Guangzhou

    Posted on January 21, 2011 at 9:23 pm #
  7. From rachel:

    stumbled on your site when googling photos of Ryugyong Hotel. This story is hilarious, but only because it has a good ending, of course! I’m going to peruse for another hour and THEN maybe I’ll get back to work 🙂

    Posted on November 11, 2011 at 1:15 pm #
  8. From Carles:

    Hey! You tell it the funny way, but in Barcelona a well maintained attraction of Tibidabo park fell off the mountain, and few years ago, in Universal Studios Port Aventura, a man went away flying off a new roller coster called STAMPIDA weeks after its inauguration… So maintenance is not always the important thing 😉

    Posted on December 19, 2011 at 11:06 am #
  9. From Jung Kim:

    I would like to travel to North Korea with American group.
    Please let me know how and when. thanks.


    Posted on January 2, 2013 at 3:52 pm #
  10. From Lindsay:

    See for tour group information.

    Posted on January 7, 2013 at 8:48 pm #


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