A Rare Visit To One Of North Korea's Beautiful Ancient Cities

north korea travel story

Photo: Courtesy of The Bohemian Blog

On a 10-month long trek through Eastern Europe and Asia, Darmon Richter, a 28-year-old copywriter from Britain, spent a week touring North Korea.Tourism is strictly regulated in the “Hermit Kingdom,” and Richter, who currently lives in Varna, Bulgaria, spent his time there travelling with eight others under the watchful eye of the Korean International Travel Company. The group would wake early and be transported around the country by bus.

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“My favourite thing about North Korea was the sense of mystery,” Richter told Business Insider in an email. “It’s truly fascinating to be able to travel around a country about which so little is known, and the Korean people offer visitors a very warm welcome! However, there is still a sense that some things remain hidden from guests… which only added to my growing interest in the country.”

One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to the historic city of Kaesong, 84 miles from Pyongyang. Unlike the propaganda-strewn streets of Pyongyang, Kaesong was peaceful, and surprisingly lush. “The city features a wealth of traditional Korean architecture, less totalitarian branding and also the beautiful burial site of King Kon-Min—a ruler of the ancient Koryo Dynasty,” Richter said.

Of course, travel to North Korea is incredibly difficult, and the State Department warns U.S. citizens against visiting. Tourists must travel in guided groups, which are generally run by the Korean International Travel Company.

Richter wrote about his experiences on his blog, The Bohemian, and shared his photos from his tour of Kaesong with us.

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Kaesong is a popular tourist destination in North Korea, about 80 miles south of Pyongyang. It's home to just over 300,000 people.

This main street runs the length of Kaesong.

A giant bronze statue of President Kim Il-sung watches over his people from Mount Janam at the centre of the city.

The City centre was populated by pedestrians and cyclists when Richter visited this year.

An ambulance waiting outside a small hospital looks like a scene from a retro war movie.

One of the numerous tributaries of the Han River.

Oxen are a common sight here, whereas mechanised farming equipment is virtually nonexistent, Richter wrote.

These twin mounds house the bodies of King Kongmin and his queen. They are guarded by stone tigers and lambs, representing strength and compassion.

Stone effigies of the King's wise men watch over his resting place.

An old Confucian academy now houses the Koryo Museum. Inside, you'll find rare artifacts that date back to the Koryo Empire (918-1392AD).

Ancient trees are scattered around the grounds of the museum.

Another museum exhibit reconstructs the inside of a royal tomb from the Koryo dynasty.

The Kaesong Folk Custom Hotel is one of the few hotels here open to foreigners. The architecture of the hotel is richly traditional, according to Richter.

A stream running down the centre of the hotel grounds.

The on-site bookshop sells a range of souvenirs, such as postcards, stamps, and illustrated history books.

Cuisine in the ancient city is highly developed and refined. It is typical for guests to be served a wide range of small dishes, accompanied by a glass of rice wine.

After a big feast, Richter walked around Kaesong for a while.

A piece of propaganda on the streets of Kaesong.

Pakyon Falls is a popular scenic spot, located roughly 15 miles north of Kaesong. At a height of 37m, this is one of the highest waterfalls in North Korea.

Korean school children enjoy a picnic beside the Pakyon Falls.

The wooded park that surrounds the waterfall contains numerous walking paths, as well as several large areas for picnics and barbecues. Many Korean families come here to celebrate public holidays.

A lake just north of Kaesong, with a view of the Ahobiryong Mountains in the background.

This is one of the many streams which flow down from the mountains to join the Han River.

The highway that runs between Kaesong and the capital of Pyongyang.

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