March 9, 2010

North Korea: The Ryugyong Hotel

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.