North Korea – Day Two – afternoon

It’s 160km from Pyongyang to Kaesong and the DMZ, but it’s an easy route to follow: just turn into Thongil Street and drive for an hour and a half. Simple. There’s barely any other traffic on the road, and the only major attraction passed is the Monument to the Three Charters for National Reunification. This is a 30-metre granite statue showing two women representing the divided Korean peninsular leaning towards each other in a gesture of reunification, a scene also acted out at the previous day’s Mass Games. Interesting, the figures shown at the foot of the ‘South’ side of the statue are portrayed as cowed, pleading for help, while those to the North are strong, healthy specimens offering assistance to their beleaguered southern cousins.

The journey is otherwise uneventful, and soon we arrive at Panmunjom, a few kilometres beyond Kaesong, home to the most intense concentration of military personnel on the planet. US troops used to be based here, but withdrew in 2004, leaving the Southern soldiers face to face with those from the North. Despite all of this, the atmosphere is surprisingly carefree, the military guide showing a scale model of the area before clambering on board our bus to guide us further into the DMZ. It’s here we learn how the two sides are still officially at war – an armistice was agreed in 1953 bringing a temporary halt the the bloodshed, but a peace treaty was never signed. Outside the Armistice Hut I have my picture taken.

My new trousers are too tight, they don’t match my tie, and I could only have this photo taken if I stood two steps below the military guide. These factors combine to make me look like a twat.

Another kilometre into the DMZ finds us at the Joint Security Area, where North Korea comes face-to-face with America and the southern ‘puppet army’. Until recently tourists could enter one of the three small blue huts that straddle the demarcation line, circling a table and technically crossing into the Republic of Korea, but we’re disappointed to learn that the Americans have apparently put a stop to this, simply by putting a padlock on the door to the hut. Never let it be said that warfare in 2005 isn’t a high-tech affair.

The border.

Elsewhere in the DMZ we’re walked through a series of climbing bunkers to a place where a rather jolly, gold-toothed officer from the DPRK army relates the story of one of the true oddities of this half-century stand-off, the Korean Wall. For northerners this is their version of the Berlin Wall, an eight-metre high concrete barrier segmenting and humiliating the nation, cleverly constructed to appear invisible to viewers from the South and devised as a springboard for attacks from the ROK. The southern version of events is that it’s a basic anti-tank barrier hindering invasion from the north, and although we’re given high-powered binoculars to focus across the rather hazy valley to where the wall sits, it’s difficult to confirm exactly what’s going on. It might as well be made of custard.

The officer takes us into a hall where we watch a film reinforcing the North Korean perspective, the two Kims gazing down on us as usual. When the video brakes down for the second time, the show is over.

Kim & Kim.

Evening beckons and it’s getting dark, so we drive back to Kaesong, where we check into the Folk Hotel, a genuinely beguiling, rather lovely place where our beds are rough mattresses lying directly on a heated, mat covered floor.

Kaesong Folk Hotel.

And so to dinner. It’s the usual fayre of kim’chi and cold egg, but there is one treat awaiting. Earlier, our guide Mr Lee had asked if anyone would be interested in sampling a bowl of the local delicacy, dog meat soup. He tells us how Koreans will eat this dish twice a year – once in winter to ward off the cold weather, and again in summer to protect from heat stroke. While half our party recoil at the very suggestion, the rest of us are keen to try this fabled broth and cough up the requisite €5.

The soup itself is a very spicy affair, and quite delicious, while the meat, hoisted from the hot liquid with chopsticks, is most reminiscent of lamb. At least it doesn’t taste like chicken.

Quite literally dog food.

After dinner we settle down with a few bottles of (excellent) RyongSong beer, and get our first taste of karaoke, North Korean style. We’ve been trying to get our waitresses to show us how it’s done, but they seem a little shy, despite the obviously well-used karaoke machine in the corner of the room. A disc is inserted, the microphone plugged in, and after much whispering and tittering and several false starts, a number is finally selected by the younger of the two girls. She chooses a love song, and the results are staggering. Within 15 seconds every man watching is transfixed. By the end of the song we’re all completely besotted. There’s a brief moment’s silence before the applause rolls around the room, while she giggles and trots off to the kitchen. It’s a remarkable, surreal end to a quite amazing day.


Read on (day three).


  1. Sorry, that is utterly disgusting.

  2. I’m curious — how is eating dog substantially different to eating, say, lamb?

  3. Cultural differences are not disgusting. The French find it completely normal to eat horse, whereas many people on the other side of the channel find it repellent. On the other hand, if you were to put a slice of stinking gorgonzola in front of a Chinese eater they’d most likely be horrified. Some Muslims must find it abhorrent when others eat pork. Many Hindus won’t touch food that even resembles meat. In Peru guinea pigs are a delicacy. In Mongolia it’s completely normal to ferment mare’s milk and drink the alcohol, but you’d struggle to find it served in a bar in New York. In the US Oreo cookies are popular, even though anyone with a fully-developed set of taste buds must surely come to the conclusion that they can’t possibly be meant for human consumption.

  4. That was quite a smack down, and one i totally agree with. I’d never be happy with the world if everyone agreed on things

  5. It was probably a little on the harsh side, but there’s not much that annoys me more than a person in one culture finding another’s actions offensive, especially when it comes to something as basic as food. Even more so in the case of somewhere like North Korea, where choice is so much more limited.

    Or maybe Janet was merely referring to my trousers.

  6. 1. I had dog meat when in Seoul. Rubbery.

    2. That poor-quality trouser-and-tie combination. Fantastic. You could make a fortune as a Colin Hunt impersonator.

  7. I’m sorry, but that’s disgusting. I’ve never been a fan of gorgonzola.


  9. I’ve met many a person in Vietnam who freaks out about the dog thing. But really, if it’s farmed and/or not endangered, get stuck in.

    The only problem in Korea (possibly a myth, dunno) is that ‘they say’ that Koreans beat the dogs to death in a sack to help tenderise the meat and make it ‘stronger’ – as in increase its knob expanding qualities.

    I remember dog meat eating season in South Korea. I think it was in October. I’m not joking when I say that 5 months after the season I saw an AWFUL LOT of pregnant women walking around. Way too many for it not to be a coincidence.

    Oh and… errrmm… as can be seen in your diagram above – Korean women make returning to the UK somewhat depressing.

  10. Pieman, you’re not wrong. As far as female beauty goes, North Korea outdoes any other nation I’ve been to. Not what I expected at all.

  11. Actually, Koreans have a saying about how the chicks in the north are hotter than those in the south. The saying also goes that the guys in the south are more handsome.

    Haven’t had much exposure to north Korean women – just one or two diplomat wives from a distance – but I got to know quite a few South Korean women. They’re stunningly attractive and great fun too and the ones I worked with and/or socialised with were a real laugh too. Well bonkers. And beautiful. Nice.

  12. So what do they call ‘dogging’ in Korea then?
    And are all the laydeez little indie pop dreamboats?

  13. Jelb: “Set meal for two”

  14. Sorry, that is utterly disgusting. She’s wearing pink and blue. What is she, some sort of hermaphrodite ladyboy?

    Those trousers… I’m speechless. They’re almost this season’s new skinny silhouette. But not quite, somehow.

    And I agree totally about the whole dog thing. Or should that be bits-of-dog thing?

  15. SO – do you need a tie to get into North Korea??

  16. No. Just the mausoleum.

  17. No, from the previous week. Looks like these guys saw some action in Kim Il-sung Square – maybe rehearsals for the dance celebrating the 60th anniversary of the worker’s revolutionary party. The square was near-deserted when we visited.

  18. Excellent idea Mr Pieman. I’ve set up a couple of feeds.

  19. All looks scrummy! and the food too. The picture of the blue buildings on the border is like something from another world and time.


  20. hubba hubba indeed!

    btw, gorgonzola – great stuff. chinese “stinky” (fermented) tofu – also great stuff. I’m not to keen on the fact that animal “right’s” groups are going into these countries to try to teach how their food are good pets, thus “saving” them from the butcher.

    I say keep those dog shops the way they are! (not pet shops).

  21. Fraser are you wearing a hoodie with advertising the mispelt quaint town of Kilbirnie in Ayrshire?

  22. Fraser. Are you related to Jack Osborne? I ask this in a confused manner as for years I thought that I was your biological sister…. The new look is… beyond words!

  23. Well, it seems evelything was velly velly funny. I lemember evelything when you come back to Buk Chosun.

  24. Of COURSE women from NK are more attractive to the average western male, they’re STARVING. And in keeping with the standards of the west, South Korean men would be by definition more fetching than Northerners, they have more MONEY, duh! Lest anyone not realize that male virility is measured in dollars, Euros and won and female beauty is measured in the ability to appear prepubescent, vulnerable and underfed.

    Reunification should be a fun spectator sport.

  25. All of you mother #%@&er’s who ate dogmeat are going to hell.

    Have a nice day.

  26. The saying is ‘nam nam buk nyo,’ and means ‘South for men, North for women.’

    The problem with dog mean is how they kill it in Korea, not the meat itself. The will beat, strangle, drown, shock, hand, burn, etc. the dog to death. The idea is that torturing the animal to death will release a lot of hormones into the mean just as it dies, which they believe is good for the mans… strength.

    I\’d never eat dog in Korea as you are directly contributing to the animal being tortured. And I\’m no animal rights nut; I love all of God\’s creatures… right next to the mashed potatoes. But shoot them and get it over with.

  27. There are not 40,000 US troops stationed at Panmunjom. There never have been. The US used to have a QRF (Quick Reaction Force) stationed at Camp Bonifas (The joint/UN Base south of Panmunjom) in case shit ever hit the fan. The rest were merely diplomats and tour guides which did not add to more than 5,000 tops.
    However, by the time you were there in 2005, there were maybe 3 or 4 US troops there just serving as tour guides. The rest of Camp Bonifas and the JSA (south side) had been turned over to the ROK Army (Republic of Korea) by then. In fact, the entire southern side of the DMZ is now completely manned by the ROK Army.
    All US troops are stationed some 25 miles south at Camp Casey, (US 2nd Infantry Division) and other bases/camps south from there to Busan. The plan is to consolidate all US forces in SK to Pyeontaek just south of Seoul by 2007.


  28. Thanks for the heads up. I have now GOT MY FACTS STRAIGHT and updated the entry.

    I believe there are still more than 20,000 US service personel based in the country.

  29. Jesus u’ll not be allowed in to that country (or piece of land i call it) ever ever again or u’ll be one ingredient in the pooch stew hehe lol

    nice blog. entertaining sexual organ shot there. lol . thx for d info n laugh

  30. arlo….i;m travelling to korea in seotember….first timer there…ayn suggestion to do fun stuff in korea e.g nite life?party?great clubbing places to visit and cool interior deco places to look around?

  31. Excellent site! I love the open-mindedness of it all. Incidentally, I noticed that you mentioned you had never seen more beautiful women than in North Korea. They have a saying in Korea (both North and South): “Nam Nam Buk Nyeo” – basically means that the southern peninsula has the handsome men and the northern part, beautiful women. But, have you traveled to Seoul? Pusan? Taegu? Chinhae? South Korea has millions of beauties, too, my friend.

    I lived in North Korea for a couple of months and got to see women from the countryside, small towns, and Pyongyang. I admit that they are charming in their own way, but they don’t hold a candle to the women in the South. I’m sure it has something to do with food…actually having it. :

    Love your site and pictures!

  32. I’m a Korean and I have never seen in person someone from North Korea. This, however, is very very common. While wandering thru the vast internet, I was lured in by your flickr icon using this girl’s picture. It took me some time to realize that you’re quite the opposite but your wonderful blog kept me very interested and I read thru it. I’m now waiting for you article on Turkmenista.

  33. Heh heh heh, “fag break.”

  34. You are either a very ignorant human being, who has no idea of the terror, pain and suffering dogs experience in the Dog Meat Trade/Production/Murder, usually beaten, stabbed, electrocuted and often skinned alive by brutal murderers, or you are just plain inhumane yourself, non-compassionate – and don’t give a damn about these unspeakable practices that inflict untold misery to “Man’s Best Friend.” (as well as cats or anything they can get their bloody hands on) “Man’s Best Friend” has no friends in N. Korea – and S. Korea is not any better. Unforgivable!

    • …All while you sit at home, contently eating your burger or steak, acting like it was killed humanely. You do know that beef and pigs are very often killed in slaughterhouses via the cutting of the jugular to bleed out.

      People like you are the reason why our country is viewed by the world as a bunch of intolerant bigots.

  35. I don’t think there’s a problem with eating dogs. I personally don’t eat it because I have a dog. In other countries people don’t eat beef, because they have cows working for them and giving them milk.
    But I think people like Richard Gear should shut up about not doing free trades with dog eating courtries. Americans eat pork and they are buying oil from Islamic countries!!

  36. thank you for the website. this is a great amount of information. i’ll be over there for a year, so i hope to follow your lead!

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