Mar 09 2010

North Korea: The Ryugyong Hotel

by in Asia, North Korea

Ryugyong Hotel, September 2009. Older photos (pre-glass paneling) can be found here.

In the center of Pyongyang stands the Ryugyong Hotel, a bizarre, incomplete pyramidal structure that has often been deemed the “hotel of doom” and “ugliest building on earth.”

Construction on the 105 story hotel first began in 1987. Because everything is bigger in the DPRK, it was to be the tallest hotel in the world. The Ryugyong was scheduled to open in time for the World Festival of Youth and Students that was being held in Pyyongyang in the summer of 1989, but the opening was delayed due to various construction-related problems. Construction was finally halted in 1992 due to a lack of funds, and the 3,000 hotel rooms and five revolving restaurants remain devoid of guests. The shell of the Ryugyong is the persistent eyesore of the Pyongyang skyline, and for several years the North Koreans denied its existence and airbrushed it out of official photographs.

However, construction on the Ryugyong restarted in April 2008 after a deal was struck with Orascom Telecom, an Egyptian company that won the rights to develop a cell phone network in North Korea. Completion of the hotel is now set for 2012, when North Korea will be celebrating the 100 year anniversary of Kim Il-Sung’s birth. I am still puzzled, however, as to why they need an additional 3,000 hotel rooms when they can’t even fill the 1,000 room Yanggakdo Hotel.

Since abandoned buildings and ruins are an endless source of fascination for me, I took quite a few photos of the Ryugyong Hotel while I was in Pyongyang. I really wish I knew how to shoot decent night shots, because the best view of the Ryugyong was during our final night in North Korea. After a long night of karaoke and gambling in the basement casino, I stumbled back to my room at 3am. Off in the distance, a powerful storm was heading towards Pyongyang. I opened my window and just started out into the darkness for 20 minutes as the storm came closer. It was one of the most intense storms I’ve ever experienced – the thunder was deafening, the rain was coming down hard, and every few seconds flashes of lightning would illuminate the pitch black city, bathing the Ryugyong Hotel in a soft, purple glow. It literally looked like a scene from a horror film.

A lovely view of the Ryugyong from my hotel window.

Early morning fog

Early evening view of the skyline

Yeah, it kinda sticks out.

This is the closest we came to the Ryugyong, when we visited the Victorious Fatherland Liberation Museum.

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11 Responses to North Korea: The Ryugyong Hotel

  1. From Kim Henry:

    How did you take these pictures because I thought that North Korea did not allow cameras and tourist. I remember the one guy who took a video camera of the hotel had to sneek and do that.

    Posted on November 6, 2010 at 1:06 pm #
  2. From Lindsay:

    Yes, North Korea does allow tourists. You can take tours through several companies, including Koryo Group, which is based in Beijing:

    As for the pictures, yes, photography is restricted in some areas, but for the most part you can take photos of almost anything.

    Posted on November 7, 2010 at 10:20 pm #
  3. From Sean:

    Thank you for the update on the Ryugyong Hotel over the last couple years I have checked online to see updates on this Unique building. Do you think the end plan is a major Gambling Casino?

    Posted on November 27, 2010 at 2:49 pm #
  4. From Lindsay:

    I have not heard anything along those lines, but you certainly could fit a lot of slot machines and card tables in the building…not sure if it is structurally sound, however!

    Posted on November 30, 2010 at 1:51 pm #
  5. From johnny alonso:

    love the photos you posted on this mysterious hotel? i and many others im sure would like to know if there are any photos inside the hotel? do you know of any? and if you do have some could you please post – thanks so much for your time 🙂

    Posted on April 24, 2012 at 4:44 pm #
  6. From Lindsay:

    Hi, I personally have never seen any interior shots of the hotel. However it will supposedly open this year so perhaps in the future there will be!

    Posted on April 24, 2012 at 9:13 pm #
  7. From Darmon Richter:

    Hi there, just to answer one of those last comments… yes, there are photos of the interior.

    I wrote a blog post recently about this hotel (from the outside, sadly), and while I was researching it I found that someone from Koryo Tours had actually been allowed inside the construction site for a look around.

    Here are their shots:


    Posted on April 26, 2013 at 8:58 am #


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