Tag Archives: asia
July 1, 2012

North Korea: The Tomb of King Kongmin (Hyonjongrung Royal Tomb)

Note: I’m trying to play catch up here; there was a moment in 2010 when I stopped really blogging about my travels. I was laid off from my job with Big Oil in December 2009, and as the months progressed I felt guilty actually taking the time to blog when that time could have been spent more productively, i.e., writing cover letters or taking paid writing jobs (and let’s face it, after writing all day, the last thing you want to do is write in the evening). As a result, this blog fell by the wayside and I failed to finish blogging about my travels to North Korea and China in 2009, and barely mentioned my trips to Central Europe and the UK in December 2009/January 2010 and Costa Rica in February 2010. Then came a multitude of temp jobs, the move across country from DC to Seattle, a full time job in the travel industry, etc, and before I knew it almost three years had passed since I had completed these trips. So this is my attempt to finish writing about these places in time for a tour of Southeast Asia in December.

After touring Kaesong, we departed for Pyongyang, stopping enroute at the Tomb of King Kongmin which is located just outside Kaesong. I found this drive to be particularly interesting because we passed a lot of small farming villages along the way, all with the requisite propaganda paintings of the Dear Leader and Great Leader. Strangely, we weren’t allowed to take any photos during our drive to the tomb, which was unusual because our guides had not previously imposed any photo restrictions (aside from the DMZ, of course).

I was actually a bit surprised we even visited the Tomb of King Kongmin, as it was one of the few sights on our itinerary that wasn’t strictly “North Korean”. By that I mean there was no propaganda or lectures extolling the heroic feats of Kim Il-Sung, so visiting the tomb felt a bit out of place. It just seemed like a typical historical sight that you could visit in any number of “normal” countries. Our guide didn’t talk at length about it and actually seemed pretty indifferent about it.

Also known as the Hyonjongrung Royal Tomb, these 14th-century mausoleums contains the remains of Kongmin, the 31st king of the Koryo Dynasty, and his wife, the Mongolian princess Queen Noguk. Construction of the tomb was completed in 1372, six years after Queen Noguk’s death in 1365. Kongmin was interred here two years later after being killed by one of his court eunuchs. Apparently Kongmin had gone insane, threatening to kill several members of the court and subjecting them to depraved sexual acts, so the court members decided to kill him first (of course, they would later be executed for the crime). The whole incident was quite tawdry and would likely make an excellent script for a Hollywood film.


Steps leading up to the tomb area


One of the tombs


The “spirit road” lined with statues of military officers and Confucian officials.



Statues of sheep and tigers surround the tomb. The tigers represent fierceness and the sheep represent gentleness.


Surrounding area

All photos of the tome are here.

November 2, 2011

Pyongyang through a tour bus window

Here is the last of the footage shot while we were driving around Pyongyang. Not many recognizable landmarks in this video, but there are some large portraits of Kim Il-Sung and other propaganda.

May 20, 2011

POTD: Pyongyang high-rises

A high-rise apartment building in Pyongyang. The building on the left is the Koryo Hotel, which is basically the Ritz-Carlton of Pyongyang. Like most hotels in North Korea, it features a revolving restaurant.

May 14, 2011

Video: North Korean military officer gives a lecture at the DMZ

Gather ’round, comrades, and watch this excerpt from a lecture on the DMZ’s Joint Security Area, courtesy of an officer from the Korean People’s Army.

April 22, 2011

POTD: Rainy day in Tiananmen Square

Another photo of Tiananmen Square, located in Beijing, China. The structure adorned with a portrait of Mao Zedong is the Tiananmen gate. Located north of Tiananmen Square, this gate served as the entrance to the Imperial City, within which the Forbidden City was located. The portrait of Mao Zedong, the founding father of the People’s Republic of China, was placed on the gate in 1949. The soldier in the photo was part of the ceremonial guard located near the square’s flagpole. Apparently, the Chinese military puts on very impressive flag raising and lowering ceremonies during the morning and evening, but I missed them. This was unfortunate, as I am a sucker for anything military-related.

In addition to the military guards, there is a heavy police presence in Tiananmen Square for crowd control and monitoring. Since Tiananmen Square has been the site of important political demonstrations, the authorities continue to keep a watchful eye (via officers and a multitude of security cameras) on any activities taking place there. In fact, in order to gain entrance to Tiananmen Square, you are required to pass through a security checkpoint. You must walk through a metal detector and have your belongings scanned via an x-ray machine. It’s a bit like going to the airport, only the Chinese guards are much more pleasant than TSA agents.

April 14, 2011

North Korea: Driving through the streets of Pyongyang, continued…

Today I uploaded more footage taken while driving through Pyongyang.

The first video includes footage of Kim Il-Sung Square, the Ryugyong Hotel, Pyongyang Traffic Girls, and the Grand People’s Study House.

This second video was taken while driving through Pyongyang in the evening. There is not much to see, due to the lack of electricity, and therefore lighting, in Pyongyang.

April 5, 2011

POTD: Lecture in the Military Armistice Commission (MAC) Conference Room in the DMZ’s Joint Security Area

In this photo, an officer in the Korean People’s Army lectures our group of American Imperialists on, among other things, U.S. Imperialism. Before the officer began his lecture, our North Korean guide (also in the above photo), Ms. Lee, said “I apologize in advance. I will say ‘American Imperialists’ several times.” I was pretty floored when she said this. A North Korean apologizing for calling us imperialists? Never in a million years would I have expected that.

This lecture was held in the Military Armistice Commission (MAC) Conference Room in the DMZ’s Joint Security Area. Aside from being a major tourist attraction, this conference room is where the North Korean and South Korean/UN Command occasionally meet for diplomatic negotiations.

April 1, 2011

POTD: Octopus ride at the Mangyongdae Fun Fair in Pyongyang

Needs a new coat of paint, but yeah, it works.

March 30, 2011

POTD: The Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg

The official residence of the Russian Tsars from 1732 to 1917, the Winter Palace now houses the State Hermitage Museum, one of the greatest art museums in the world. Even if you’re not a lover of art, you can’t visit Saint Petersburg and not visit this place. It really is that incredible.

March 29, 2011

POTD: The second tallest flagpole in the world

Well, it was the tallest in the world when I saw it, but in September 2010 the Azeris completed a 162 meter flagpole in Baku, giving them the world record (although lately it has encountered a bit of structural trouble). I guess that news hasn’t reached Kim Jong-Il yet, because surely he would continue the trend of “everything’s bigger in the DPRK.”

This flagpole, which sports a 600lb DPRK flag, is situated at the entrance to the DMZ “village” of Kijŏngdong, which is really nothing more than a Potemkin village built to extol the luxurious living enjoyed by DPRK citizens. During the 1980s, a “flagpole war” erupted between North and South Korea, in which each country tried to best the other by building taller flagpoles until South Korea relented after realizing how ridiculous such a competition was.