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.