travel

Nami Island, Korea

Planning for my upcoming trip to Korea in Dec got me recalling my past trips to Korea. My last trip there was in 2014. Part of the itinerary for the trip in 2014 was a day trip to Nami Island, also called Namiseom Island, 남이섬 종합휴양지

It is popular for as filming location of popular Korean drama, “Winter Sonata” and has beautiful scenery of nature.

Namiseom Island is 63 km away from Seoul, 30 minutes away from Chuncheon and an hour away from the suburbs of Seoul.

Here’s  a video of the day trip I had to Nami Island

If you’re interested for a day trip there, check out their website (it’s in English!) which is REALLY comprehensive. It has all the latest info about fees, how to get there (we took ferry!), what to do there (lots of photos and we cycled too!), restaurants on the island and lots of other info.

You’ll definitely have a memorable time there!

Yangon Circle Line

One of the best way to explore Yangon and immerse yourself with the locals is to get on board the Circle Line Train!

It’s a 3 hr train ride for about 200 kyat. You can buy your ticket at the station itself, at platform 6 or 7. Take note that foreigners will need your passport to buy a ticket.

Be prepared to be amazed by how old-school the station is… From the station’s colonial look to even handwritten schedule and vintage ticket! If you’re adventurous, you can drop at any station, do some sightseeing and catch the next train to continue your journey.

Signs are clearly positioned at the station. You’ll just need to go over to Platform 6 or 7 to purchase your ticket and board the train.

While waiting for the train, I made small talk with the conductor and found out that the locals prefer non-aircon train to air-cond train.

Waiting for train at Platform 7

Me: What time is the next train?
Conductor: an hour later, but you’re lucky to catch this one. It’s the last local train for today.
Me: Local train? Then the one an hr later?
Conductor: oh, that one is air-conditioned. But people here don’t like it. They like local train better.
Me: but why don’t they like air-cond train?
Conductor: *looking bewildered that I don’t seem to get it why aircond train is not good* oh, aircond train has windows… it’s closed. Not good. They don’t like it.

Riiiighhhtt. So, the locals don’t like aircond train cuz the windows are close. Hmmm, I’m really puzzled by his response but was eventually enlightened when I was on board  it.

Just look at how they sit. Not your typical facing the opposite seat, like in MRT. Everyone was just looking out of the window, enjoying the breeze and the view. There are quite a few sitting pose, and over the 3hr odd ride, I pretty much had done all too- stretch out my leg, cross legged and rest my back, cross legged and faced the window or just simply just sitting facing sideway.

#yangon #yangoncircleline #myanmar #burma

Trip on 12 Sept 2014

#throwback

Hari Nyepi

One of the most significant learning point I had during my trip to Bali is Hari Nyepi.

I travelled to Bali in early March. It was just a week before Hari Nyepi, which is how I learnt about it. Locals keep talking about it to tourists and of course it’s a popular topic to share with tourists cuz it’s something unique to Bali.

Hari Nyepi is a New Year, based on one of the traditional Hindu calendars in Bali. In 2017, it falls today, on 28 March. But, unlike a typical New Year that’s celebrated with much fesitivities, Hari Nyepi is observed by switching off from the hustle-bustle of life. All lights switched off for 24hrs, even street light. All activities halt and everyone remain indoor. Nobody will be walking out in the streets. Airport in Bali too was shut down during this period. Amazing right?
I think it’s really a good practice that their community have a date for all to switch off, being zen, tuning ourselves to nature, spending time with family- simply total relaxation and peacefulness. A great opportunity for uninterrupted reflection and rejuvenation 👍
Perhaps a reminder for us to set a Hari Nyepi in our life too ☺

National day in North Korea

So, one of the excitement for this trip was that it coincides with North Korea National day on 9 September. I expected it to be with much fanfare, because 2012 also happen to be the year of Juche 101 in North Korea, 100th anniversary of Juche.

Fun fact: North Korea uses Juche calendar (more about Juche in another post). Juche year 1 is 1912, the year in which Kim Il Sung was born. So, current 2016 is Juche year 105 in North Korea.

However, national day was celebrated without much fanfare. In fact, when I arrived 3 days before the national day, it didn’t even look like the country will be celebrating its national day in a few days. Unlike in Singapore, in which buildings will be decorated with flags at least a week before National day, in North Korea, the flags and buntings were up only the day before. Then, everything was taken down right the day after (in Singapore, the flags remain up for at least a month). I understand from the guide, celebration is more eleborated on Kim Il Sung’s birthday, 15 April. There will even be fireworks display.

In North Korea, National Day seems more of a solemn affair, a day for remembrance (something like Total defence day in Sg) rather than a day for big, fancy celebration.

Before we set off for the day, we were repeatedly reminded by the guide that the places we’ll be visiting will be crowded and that we had to be mindful of our manners, be solemn and respectful, which means don’t smile too happily, laugh loudly etc and to follow protocols and not to stray away from the group. We were also reminded not to interact with locals or foreign media that might be present and not to take photos of military vehicles and personnel.

5 Places Visited for National Day in North Korea

Mansudae Grand Monuments

mansudae-grand-monument

Mansudae Grand Monument

Gigantic bronze statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il on Mansudae Hill. The backdrop is a mosaic image of Paekdu Mountain, the highest mountain in Korean peninsula. It’s a sacred place for the North Koreans as they believe it’s the place of their ancestral origin. Originally, it was only the bronze statue of Kim Il Sung. We were lucky that the bronze statue of Kim Jong Il was unveiled just a few months before the trip (early 2012).

img_2274-e1401789891538

22 m high bronze statues of Kim Il Sung (left) and Kim Jong Il (right) [Credits: Nilsen Travels]

On both sides of the statues, there is a structure made up of a long line of figurines of workers, farmers, soldiers etc. This represents the people fighting in the wars against Japan and USA.

We were warned that it will be more crowded and greater presence of media than previous years because it was the first national day with the new statue. Despite the crowd, the flow of people was well coordinated. Almost all locals carried flowers to be placed at the foot of the statues as a mark of respect for the Great Leaders. They walked up towards the statue, bowed, walked closer to lay the flowers at the feet of the statue and then another group of visitors will take over their position… this cycle repeats continuously due to endless crowd.

Some interesting points to note:
– We were encouraged to purchase flowers to abide by the customary act of showing our respect to the Great Leaders (a few of us pooled some money to share a bouquet of flowers)
– We were reminded to look respectful when taking photos with the statues (e.g not widely smiling/ laughing while posing, no peace sign, no rabbit ear sign etc)
– The statues cannot be cropped in the photo, which means it has to appear as the whole figure.

Chollima Statue

chollima statue.jpg

Chollima is a mythical winged-horse which fly at very high speed.

Chollima represents the vision of the Great Leaders for the nation to advance rapidly. Chollima flies very fast that it almost impossible to ride it. But, the statue is also made up of a man and woman riding it. So, this represents bravery of the people and their fighting spirit to move forward at great speed. Chollima Statue was constructed in 1961 to encourage the people to reconstruct the country after the Korean War.

Revolutionary Martyrs’ Cemetery

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dedicated to those who fought in the Korean War, this is where their national heroes are laid to rest.

cemetery3.jpg

It is situated on the top of Jujak Hill of Mt. Taesong, overseeing Pyongyang, symbolising the heroes laid to rest witnessing the growth and progress of the capital city.

martyrs-cemetery

Statue of Kim Jong Suk is in the centre

One of the notable heroes is Kim Jong Suk. She’s Kim Il Sung’s wife and mother of Kim Jong Il.

Mangyongdae Native House

native-house

This is the (supposed) birthplace of Kim Il Sung. It looks like a regular thatched house, which apparently shows his humble beginning.

Here, you’ll get to see exhibits of stuff that he and his family used over 4 generations. Personally, having been to folk village in South Korea before, I think this village is almost typical of any other Korean traditional village.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What struck me most though was how passionately the guide spoke about Kim Il Sung and his family… in a freaky way. She was praising him high and mighty all the time and her intonation shows just so much love and adoration for Kim Il Sung as she narrate to us his life story. I’ve been to many history musuems and guided tour, but this really takes the cake. So vivid in her description and passionate that it was as if she knew him personally. Not surprising I guess because they really hold him in high regard. But it did get a bit annoying at some parts that I almost roll my eyes at some of the exaggeration, like… “he even sleep on the floor”. Ermmmm, which is common for those living in traditional houses.

SAM_1844

His family is poor and humble that even when the water jar is dented, they still continue using it.

Another interesting point is… how much the locals treasured this place. The moment I alighted from the bus, I was surprised to hear faint, classical music playing. So, apparently speakers are placed up on the trees. It was just a short work to the house from the bus drop-off point but it was really an interesting experience walking through the lush greenery around while enjoy the calm, soothing music. I’ve never had a walk in a park in that manner ever. Maybe Singapore NParks can consider installing speakers too?? 😁

Kim Il Sung is so revered by them that so much care taken to beautify the place and to provide the best experience for visitors. Afterall, this is another sacred place for the North Koreans, with many visiting it to pay homage to Kim Il Sung.

Kim Il Sung Square
Save the best for the last… the highlight of the celebration is the mass dance at Kim Il Sung Square, located in the heart of Pyongyang. It was pretty simple steps to follow and anyone can just join any of the locals. Some of them are shy, but they will welcome you warmly and willingly agree to ve your dance partner. They  will guide you through the steps and all you have to do is to enjoy the dance 💃

Here’s a video (not mine) to show you what’s the mass dance is like…

Well, it has to come to the end of the list of how I celebrated National Day in North Korea. Lookout for my next post on other places of attraction there!

My trip to North Korea in 2012

Way back in 2012, I made a trip to North Korea over the September term break.

baggage-tag-to-pyongyang-north-korea

Destination: Pyongyang

Crazy, I know. But, why did I really wanted to travel to the hermit kingdom? and wasn’t I worried about war, nuclear bombing, missile attack etc?

Couple few reasons why North Korea was my choice of destination..
1. I had been teaching 2 North Korean students. Yes, I know you guys are probably shocked that there are North Korean students enrolled in normal government school in Singapore (background info: the girls are cousins who joined 3NA class in mid-2011. The elder girl was new to Singapore and the younger girl had been studying in Singapore up to P6, then returned to Pyongyang for 2 years. Both said they’re in Singapore with their grandfather who has business in Singapore.). I was quite close to both of them and through my interaction with them and occasional questions about North Korea, I realised that North Korea is not too bad. It’s really unlike what it’s portrayed as in media. I became really interested to see and experience the country by myself.
2. Term 3 2012 was really a busy period for me in terms of work that I felt I needed a crazy adventure. A trip to North Korea does sounds like a crazy adventure, right??
3. Traveling during the September break in 2012 coincides with North Korea national day, which I thought will be pretty cool to see the country in celebratory fanfare.
4. 2012 is the 100th Anniversary of Arirang Mass Games (which is iconic of North Korea), which runs only in August and September and… there was rumours that it’ll be the last year for the Mass Games.
5….. because I can.

So… lets start with some FAQs!

Who can travel to North Korea?
Anyone can travel to North Korea. Even South Koreans! I was also surprised that even Americans and Japanese are allowed to travel to North Korea. I thought they are probably not allowed considering the anti-sentiments by North Koreans towards Americans and Japanese as portrayed in news.

Basically, it is legal for almost anyone can travel to North Korea! The only restriction on travelers to North Korea are journalists, writers, media staff etc. North Korea does not issue Visas for them. If you’re journalists/writers, please do not submit fake details as this will compromise not only your safety but also the staff of the tour group.

For those keen to travel to North Korea, you have to apply through authorised agents. Even if you’re travelling alone, you still have to sign up through authorised agents. There are quite a few which you can consider… Koryo Tour, KTG, Lupine Travel, Explore North Korea and New Korea Tours. Then, during your stay there, you have to be accompanied by the assigned tour guide at all times when you’re outdoor. So, if you signed up for individual tour, you’ll have the guide all for yourself the whole day. And when I accompanied by tour guide at all times, it is really at all time. You are not even allowed to step out of the hotel on your own, even if it’s a just to walk around for fresh air.

But, you’re a civil servant! Are you allowed to?
Well, I didn’t really look up on that. But I did follow through the regular paperwork any government officers have to do – “Request to Leave the State” form. No comments from my RO or the principal, so I guess no problemo!

Did I travel alone?
From Singapore yes…  But for the trip, I signed up for a tour group under KTG, based in China. My tour group was made up with people from all over the world, US, Europe and me- sole Asian representative, yo! All of us had similar story- found out about the company through googling and made all arrangements (visa, forms, payment etc) with the company via online.

How much is the trip?
1200 Euros for 5 days 4 night  (include Air Koryo return flight Beijing-Pyongyang), hotel accommodation and all meals. Entrance fees to certain places not included (eg theme park, Mass Games). Exclude return flight Sg-Beijing.

How did you arrange of the visa to North Korea?
After my trip, I found out that Singaporeans do not need Visa to visit North Korea. (Fun fact: Only Singapore and Malaysia do not need Visa to North Korea for up to 30 days)

However, as I was simply following the SOP by the tour group (basically completed and submitted all documents that were emailed to me), I did eventually applied for Visa. You’ll just need to submit a copy of your passport and a scanned photo and the tour company will make the necessary arrangement. It’s hassle free! I collected the Visa card from the tour leader in Beijing on the day of the flight to North Korea. Unfortunately, it is a separate piece of paper, which the immigration officer took away upon exit.

cover-page-visa-to-north-korea

Cover page of Visa card to North Korea

inside-page-visa-to-north-korea

Inside pages of Visa card to North Korea

back-page-visa-to-north-korea

Back page of Visa card

By the way, there is no evidence in my passport that I traveled to North Korea because they stamped on the Visa card (which was taken away before leaving departure gate) instead of the passport. . Grrrr!!

Can you take photos?
Yupps! But we were advised not to take photos of restricted stuff (mostly military vehicles, places and personnel- we were reminded about this numerous times during the visits we had on the National Day as most places were crowded with military personnel). We were also not allowed to take inappropriate photos with iconic stuff (e.g the tour guide told off someone who posed with a “peace” hand sign next to a statue of Kim Il Sung).

At the start of the trip, the group was also advised that the tour guide or officials periodically may look through our photos to ensure no inappropriate photos taken. We also have to oblige if they identify any inappropriate or restricted photos and instruct us to delete it.

If there are places that we can’t take photos (e.g airport, International Friendship Exhibition), the guide will warn us beforehand.

Anything that you can’t bring to North Korea?
During my trip, handphones are not allowed in North Korea. We have to surrender it after luggage collection before walking through security and we can collect it back on our departure. Initially I was worried if it was safe, but oh wells, have to follow the rules and everyone doing it too.
Anyway, from 2013 onwards, tourists are no longer required to surrender their handphones.

GPS-enabled gadget items are also not allowed. In the briefing notes provided by my tour group, it was stated that if our cameras are GPS-enabled, we have to bring another camera instead. Well, my brand-new camera has the GPS function but I’m not gonna buy another camera just for the trip, or borrow another camera (which might be tricky too, cuz who would be willing to lend me something for a trip to North Korea??). Desperate, I went ahead to bring my GPS-enabled camera. So yeah, I actually smuggled in an illegal object into North Korea. How did I manage to smuggle it in? I pasted a sticker label to cover the GPS word and logo on my camera and wrote my name on. I used sticker label on the pretext of labelling my camera though it’s actually to hide the GPS label =D

Anyway, there’s also an interesting story about my GPS-enabled camera. Whenever I traveled, the GPS function of camera is accurate and quick to detect the city I am in once I switched on the setting. But in North Korea,  whenever I tried at different locations, it failed to detect the location. Really shocked that they have GPS blocking mechanism. So, whether I am really in Pyongyang or it the whole place is fake and just a set-up for tourists… I’ll leave it to you guys to ponder over it 😉

What’s the currency in North Korea?
There is “Won” currency for North Korea, but it’s not used by tourists. Tourists can make payment with Euros, USD, Yuan or Yen. However, Euros is commonly accepted.

How did you travel into North Korea?
By flight! There are two airlines that fly into Pyongyang, Air Koryo and Air China. For this trip, I flew on Air Koryo.

air-koryo-boarding-pass

Air Koryo Boarding pass

Yes, I know Air Koryo is the only airline with 1-star rating by Skytrax but it’s been arranged by the tour group. But I didn’t mind as traveling on Air Koryo is a good first experience to receive North Korean hospitality. Also, most companies travel by the national carrier, Air Koryo, too anyway.

There is also train between China and Pyongyang (23 hours from Beijing!) and some tour groups do make such arrangement for it. You can also make arrangement to enter by flight and depart by train or vice versa if you wish to have a richer experience.

north-korea-national-carrier-air-koryo

North Korea national carrier – Air Koryo

So, there! I hope I’ve answered most of your questions! But if there are stuff that you’re curious about and it’s not covered here, drop a comment at the end of this page 🙂

Halal restaurants and eating places in Siem Reap

Accurate as of Dec 2015.

Along Hospital Street, near Pub Street area

Both restaurants are next to each other. They are opposite the Blood Bank Centre/ Provincial Hospital.

1. Vanakkam India
Map
image

image

2. The Indian
Map
image

image

Along Sivutha Road

1. KFC
Map

image

2. Curry Walla
Map
image

image

image

3. Khmer Chef, next to Curry Walla
image

image

image

image

image

image

4. Namaste Restaurant, formerly known as Taste of India (Next to 24hr Angkor Mini Mart)
Map
image

image

image

5. Maharajah
Map
image

Near Sok San Road

1. Taj Mahal
Map
Facebook

2. Muslim Family Kitchen
image

image

image

image

image

image
image

image

image

image

3. Muslim Family Restaurant (also known as Haji Musa’s Restaurant), behind Siem Reap mosque
Map

image

4. Cambodian Muslim Restaurant
Map
image
image

image

image

5. Wau Restaurant, relocated from National Road to Sok San Road
Location: Next to Cambodian Muslim Restaurant

image

6. Toba Yana Restaurant
Map
Website

Bonus!
Hotel with Halal restaurant
1. Jasmine Garden Villa

2. Kirin Marry Angkor Villa
image

image

Vegetarian
Chamkar
Map
image
Kinda difficult to find this place. Walk down the alley next to Pub Street, called “The Passage”.

image

image

Cycling around Angkor World Heritage

Angkor is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s a significant archeological site which dates back as early as 9th century.

It’s really a large area of about 400 square kilometres with various temples within it. At each temple ground, visitors can walk around, but to travel from one temple to another, it’s best to do so on wheels.

image

As we were up for an adventure, our choice was the bicycle instead of tuk-tuk or car. There are plenty of shops and guesthouses that provide bicycles for rents, from 1-2USD per day. We got ours from our guesthouse for 1.50USD per day.

image

Just some tips before setting off on bike…
1. ensure bicycle is in good condition, such as brake and lamp are working.
2. ensure seat is at a good level for you. it’s better for them to adjust it for you rather than adjusting it yourself after setting off.
3. have a map in hand.

If you think we’re crazy to tour it on bikes, check out the many other crazy travelers too 😁

image

Our goal for the day was to complete the “small circuit” route.

image

Here’s a timeline journal of our adventure.

9am

image

Our guesthouse is along Street 20 which is nearby to Charles de Gaulle, the road to Angkor. The first challenge for us was to cycle through the busy road, towards the junction at the Old Stone Bridge. We were slightly taken aback by the congestion but as long as one keep right, it’s pretty ok. Junction is kinda tricky to clear though as not vehicles obey traffic rules to follow traffic light. If you’re not confident, it’s best to push the bike to cross the road.

The long road to Angkor was slightly busy especially at the main entrance,

image

9.30am

image

Purchased our day pass!

image

Tips:
1. Look good for the camera as that photo will be printed on the pass.
2. Do not lose the pass as you will have to flash it to the staff for entry at all temples.

10.15am
Arrive at Angkor Wat temple.

image

image

This is symbolic to Cambodia and is printed on its national flag. Angkor Wat is the largest site as compared to the other temples on the site and it’s one of the most well-preserve.

image

image

image

image

image

image

Angkor Wat is also the largest religious monument in the world. Another interesting fact is, it was originally constructed as a Hindu temple for the Khmer empire. Toward the end of the 12th century, Angkor Wat gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple, which continues to today.

Travelers can climb up to the highest part of the Angkor Wat, about level 4 but it’s very steep. But we gave it a miss as the queue was really long and it was noon.

image

image

Last interesting point, no buildings can be higher than Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, which is why the tallest building in Siem Reap is only about 4-5 storey high.

1pm
Left Angkor Wat

image

image

1.30pm
Arrive Bantaey Kdei

image

image

image

image

image

image

It’d one of the smaller temples on the site..

2pm
Arrive Ta Prohm. It has 2 entrances, East gate and West gate.

This temple is popular as the filming site of Tomb Raider. The popular attractions are…  trees!

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

4pm
Set off for Bayon

image

4.50pm

image

image

But just a few shots as we were running late to chase the sunset.

5.15pm
Hike up Phnom Bakheng.

image

Only to be greeted by crowd.

image

image

image

Long queue for the sunset view from top of temple.

image

image

And a large crowd on the platform.

5.45pm
But it’s ok..we still got a nice view of sunset.

image

image

image

6pm
Ride back home in the dark and congested road cuz everyone’s heading back.

image

image

More stories and reflection in another post 🙂

From Bangkok to Siem Reap

Finally setting off to Siem Reap!

Started the day early and checked out at about 5am because we had planned to catch the 5.55am train from Hua Lamphong Station. If we miss this, the next one is at 11am and that means arriving Siem Reap late at night.

Some cab drivers were touting their services outside the hotel, for about 150baht. None were agreeable for metered-fare cab ride, so we walked down to main road. Luckily it was easy to get a cab.

image

We were staying at Pratunam area and the cab ride took about 15-20min. It was 60baht, less than half of whay quoted by the touters.

We purchased our ticket  to Aranyaprathet, for 48baht per person. Tickets were still available though we bought them only half hour before departure. Hua Lamphong is the first station, thus not as packed. So, it’s safe to say that travelers need not be at the station more than an hour ahead to purchase the tickets.

image

With still 15-20min to spare,we made our way for Fajr prayers before boarding the train at Platform 6.

image

The train departed punctually at 5.55am…

image

image

It’s the third class cabin, but it was a comfortable ride.

image

We didn’t encounter any cockroach, bugs or other creepy crawlers, so that was good enough. Some cabins are wooden seats, so do avoid that as that won’t be comfortable for long ride to Aranyaprathet.

What was the 6hr train ride like..? The first few stops are in Bangkok, so it was not much of a view. But I think it was quite interesting sight to see parts of Bangkok getting ready for the day.

Then, we slowly drifted to sleep since we were tired from starting the day before sunrise. The next moment, I woke up to this view.

image

And this was pretty much what for most part of the journey. Plenty of greenery of paddy fields, crops and plantations, vast field and forested area.

image

image

image

image

image

But not all are beautiful scenery. Some parts were constructions and manufacturing stuff, but it was really few.

image

image

image

As the train approached town stations, one can get views of temples, houses, schools, roads etc. Somehow, I kinda remembered snippets of Geog Elective lessons back in Sec 3 on something along the line of town planning??!

image

image

image

Some stations are more popular than others… perhaps because of school, trading or travel destination.

image

image

image

But some are quite deserted and even dilapidated.

image

image

image

How did I spent the 6hr in the train?
Sleeping, snacking, people watch, gazing out the window, watching videos on phone, taking photo and… pondering over possible lesson materials, like…

image

image

image

image

Serious job hazard =\ oops!

Back to the trip!

image

image

image

image

Upon arriving at  Aranyaprathet, we took a 10min tuktuk ride for 70 baht to Thai custom for exit.

image

Then, we crossed the friendship bridge to Cambodian custom area. It was about 5min walk.

image

And tadaaa… finally we’re a Poi Pet, the border town of Cambodia.

image

Our journey sounds kinda uneventful, right…? But, just when we thought we had a good trip, we had a weird encounter on our last leg to Siem Reap.

After completing Cambodian custom, we were ‘ambushed’ by alot of touters but continued to walk ahead to shake them off. One of them was quite persistent though and quoted 20USD for a 2-3hr ride to Siem Reap. It was quite cheap as to what we read online (about 25USD-30USD), and we were wondering what’s the catch. Some stories we read online include drivers making a stopover where tourists will be pressurised to purchase some stuff. But he assured us that it will be a direct ride with no stopover.

We eventually agreed to take his service. During the ride, I did comment to Dayah that it’s quite strange that the driver seems to be always busy on the phone…

So, we eventually found out why. He was actually on the phone with another passengers he gonna pick up- a couple with a baby.

image

Yeah, the couple sat at the front seat, so we kinda let it slide as we were still comfortable at the back.

Then, again he was busy on his phone and…

image

Yupps, he picked up another passenger.

Remember at the start we were wondering what’s the catch… why he offered a cheaper price? well, we got our answer. He didn’t even ask our permission and simply told us non-chalantly that those passengers were going to Siem Reap. Well, since our safety wasn’t compromised, we didn’t make a big fuss about. Pretty amusing though cuz when we agreed for a ride to Siem Reap, we didn’t expect to be sharing it with others.

So, never ever think a trip is uneventful. There’s always some stories to remember about for any trip 😉

Kaeson Youth Park – Amusement park in North Korea

Kaeson Youth Park, 
an amusement park in Pyongyang.
Reopened in 2010, with about 10 rides.

 

This is one of the unexpected places as part of my tour itinerary to North Korea. I really did not expect that there is an amusement park in North Korea. Like.. woa, they actually know how to have fun? Oh wait, are they even allowed to have fun?
Another surprise was that, it was at night. I didn’t expect any activities in the evening for my trip to North Korea due to my impression of North Korea as a country with strict regime. I thought the roads would be deserted and quiet at night cuz Kim Jong Un strictly make sure everyone goes to bed by 9pm.. Ok, I exaggerate, but it goes to show just how much assumptions we have due to how the country is portrayed by the media. Anyway, after the trip, I found out there are 3 others in North Korea.
I did wonder if the amusement park was for tourists only. But, when we arrived, it was crowded with families and young couples. Well, I guess the locals do get to have some fun activities. But, some friends pointed out that these people could be planted by the authorities to give an impression to tourists that it’s a normal country. I have no evidence for or against that, so just think what you want it as yeah…
Other than families, group of friends and couples, there were also kids looking like they are on excursion because they were in big group, led by some adults. I found it strange because in Singapore, having an excursion at night is quite unheard of. Then, we found out from the guide that this theme park is open only in the evening, 7pm to 12am.
 
About the kids… Some of them are dressed in formal wear (shirt and pants for boys, and dress for girls), others in school uniform (identified by their white top and red neck scarf), but most are just in casual wear of shirts and shorts.
When we had just arrived, we were standing around waiting for instruction from the guide, when one of the ladies from my tour group offered the children nearby some candies she had in her bag. Soon, there was a crowd of kids around us. They were curious about us as much as we were curious about them. But before we can have interaction with them, our guide quickly stepped in to disperse the crowd. I don’t understand what he spoke to them, but one can sense that it wasn’t pleasant. After that, he told off the ladies who gave the candies and reminded us not to take or give anything with others. He also told them that those kids are not beggar. Since he raised his voice at them, I guess he was pretty much angry and upset of the incident.
The tour guide, the guy with lanyard, quickly dispersed the crowd forming around us. He snapped at the kids to scoot off.
Generally, I did observe on the trip that my tour guide seems to dislike it whenever we try to communicate with the locals. This incident also is one of the times that gives me the impression that the guide really do not like it when a negative impression is portrayed. The kids crowding around us for sweets may give us the impression that the kids are pitiful, and he was clearly embarrassed about it. It seems like he thinks it’s his duty to ensure that tourists have nothing but only the good and positive takeaways from North Korea.
Anyway… back to the amusement park.
The place was pretty and cheerful with bright lights hanging even on trees and songs being played.
They also have pretty much all kind of rides..
Credits: abandoned kansai
viking ship…
Credits: abandoned kansai
drop tower

 

belly-down rollercoaster…
360-degrees pendulum swing…
As we were tight for time, we were offered VIP treatment. For VIP treatment, the rides are 1-3 Euro, without having to queue. As the tour group has to remain intact and accompanied by the guide at all times, we were not allowed free and easy.
Flow of event…
The guide brought us as group from one ride to another ride. At each ride, he quoted the price and asked who was interested for the ride. These people were then accompanied by the theme park staff to the ride, bypassing the queue, whilst the rest remain with the tour guide. The rest waited for those on the ride to return before moving on the next ride.
There weren’t many tourists, so we got a lot of attention from the locals when we got on the ride. There were some who will be blushing and looking away timidly when they sit next to tourists while on the ride, while others who were more confident, shook our hands and smiled.
One of the memorable rides for me was the drop tower. It took us quite awhile to get everyone seated, fastening the belt etc.. and so, while waiting, since we were facing the crowd, some of us smiled and waved at the crowd. We actually got some cheers! Lol… Driven by the response, we cheered along and waved more vigorously…. and the cheer got louder.
We felt like superstar…
but only after seeing this photo taken by my guide,
the view from the crowd,
it seems more like we’re caged display in human zoo =/
Other than the incident with the kids in the earlier part, it was pretty much just a regular evening. I went for most rides and the experience was the same, like any others that I had before in Singapore or anywhere else. It does not feel unsafe, weird or any different just because it was in North Korea. If you’re expecting adventurous stories like failed ride that stop halfway cuz you know, it’s North Korea… well, I’m sorry to disappoint you cuz it was really just simple night spent having fun on the rides.
It was uneventful, but you can check out more actions at the amusement park in this video.

 

But if you prefer the propaganda kind from North Korea media, it’ll be this video..