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Eight hours in North Korea: a cold reality check (2)

November 26, 2008

Heritage that needs protecting and recognising.

North Korea may seem a barren infertile country on the surface, but hidden underneath away from the tourists and UNESCO eyes (I’m sure they are very aware of what’s there), the country has some great relics in need of protection. And recognition.

Kaesong’s heritage is rich, even if its economy seems poor to the capitalist eye. The city has over 500 years of history and some historic sites date back to the 13th century. The preservation of these sites is pretty good given the circumstance. Put it down to lack of pollution and low tourist numbers.

Fortunately North Korea has allowed some of its heritage to be viewed and photographed by visitors. These sites are probably the only attractions that North Korea doesn’t fall into a paranoic fit over.

Buddha, temples and shrines are all on the list. Even a museum. Sitting inside the Koroyo musuem is a large bronze statue of Buddha. Guarded over by the ever present ‘eager eyes’ of the minders, you couldn’t touch him or get close to him. He had only a little natural light to sit in, just enough to take some shots with my little point and shoot. 

This Buddha is reputed to be 1000 years old ( quoted by an enthusiastic tour guide). My guess is he is about half that. Still very old and well maintained. This Buddha even survived the civil war. 

by Cate

by Cate

 Surrounding the famous Koryo museum are relics and pagodas dating back over the centuries. It was late in the afternoon and the temperature was cold when I was there. But the time was good to wander the paths and take close-ups of some of North Koreas religious past.

by Cate

by Cate

It is ironic really. North Korea seems willing to show visitors some of their heritage, heritage which has probably never been shown to the local people. Do you think the average North Korean has stepped into a museum that doesn’t contain propaganda? Or ever been able to look at Buddha or religious icons? That would be a no with both a capital N and O.

by Cate

by Cate

Has North Korea better relics than South Korea?

Hard to say, but North Korea certainly has a good collection which really needs to come under the watchful eye of UNESCO. I know that towards Pyongyang there are famous tombs that have UNESCO protection, but thats about all.

One of the oldest sites lies within the city of Kaesong. It is a very old small stone bridge with a romantic history – Sunjukgyo.

by Cate

by Cate

Sunjukgyo was a type of land bridge and dates back to the 13th century. Supposedly it has a bloodstain on one of the stone slabs, blood from one of the king’s loyal followers who was killed on the bridge. You can see a faint red stain but I’m sceptical whether the stain is original. Romantics keep the story alive and all South Koreans know about the story.

Would I go back to North Korea?

 That night, after arriving back to South Korea, I was certain I wouldn’t go back there until I was able to interact with the people. Sitting inside a bus being watched by minders and only being able to see ancient relics, was not my kind of trip.

But after thinking about it, I do want to go back to North Korea. To travel around for two or three weeks and take in the northern area would give me a rounded view of the country. Sure I will have a reliable trustworthy tour guide by my side like a loyal dog. Even the conversations will be rehearsed.

But – no matter what they say I can and cannot photograph, and who I can and cannot talk to, they can never take away my ability to observe, and document their life in my mind. That is my freedom.

I tried to research what sites fall under UNESCO in North Korea. The information is sparse. So if I’m incorrect please let me know.

Hope you enjoyed this post.

Caffeinated Traveller

  1. November 27, 2008 1:49 pm

    I can’t help but admire the photos from your trip to NK! I think you are very adventurous and brave to visit and wanting to go back to NK in the future. I mean most of us wouldn’t dare leave our “comfort zones.” But then again its only when we’re able to see the other side of the world that the world doesn’t revolve around my Cappuccino and ramen. Thanks Cate for sharing! I don’t think I want to visit NK though, but you can count on me to visit SK in the future. 😀

  2. November 30, 2008 1:17 pm

    Shucks Gigi, me adventurous.. I really didn’t it see it that way. But you are right, most of us prefer the safe places. I guess we all have different travel styles. I usually die of boredom in resorts and comfort spots.
    I’m like you though, I do get comfortable with my coffee, computer and regular paid job. Which is why I have to take myself off somewhere to be challenged. NK is not easy and I found it frustrating being watched all the time. I can’t imagine how the North Koreans live like that. Perhaps they have resigned themselves to their situation.
    I was very pleased to see South Korea once we crossed back over the border.

  3. Zowie permalink
    December 5, 2008 10:37 pm

    Those relics really do look well preserved!! was it really quiet in a peaceful way or in a creepy abandoned kind of way? I heard on the news that relations between the North and South have worsened again and that they are going to stop doing the bus tours. Is that really true? and how easy or hard was it to get on one of those tours?

    • December 7, 2008 5:37 am

      Creepy in an abandoned way. It wasn’t too quiet due to the number of South Koreans visiting. Yes relations between the two countries has worsened. They always do. I don’t understand their politics but I know that the South Koreans have invested heavily in industry just over the North Korean border. They may stop the tours temporarily but not for too long I should think.
      Its really easy to book a day trip, anyone can go including US citizens. You just need to book 2 weeks in advance, supply a scanned image and passport info. And pay the money. The travel agent I went with is geared for foreigners and they ahve very good english speaking staff:

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