By Alek Sigley, Tongil Tours founder and postgraduate student at Kim Il Sung University.
This is part of a diary entry from Saturday the 21st of April, 2018, and a continuation from the last part on visiting the Tongil Market
After our visit to the Tongil Market, we went to the Potong River for a walk. The Potong River is quite famous as a scenic spot in the centre of Pyongyang. A promenade has been built along its banks, with footpaths, parks, bridges, and a long line of weeping willow trees that follows the river as it snakes its way into the Taedong River further downstream. It’s a popular place for couples to visit on dates. In the 1990s DPRK romantic comedy movie “Oh, Youth!” for example, the couple, consisting of a male history PhD student and female Taekwondo athlete, are seen going for a walk in the area. I’d heard a lot of good things about the Potong River promenade but had yet to visit myself because it isn’t open to tour groups (yet!).
We got a taxi to Ansangwan near the Potonggang Hotel. We walked to the river bank and crossed to the opposite side across a very colourfully painted bridge. We then began our walk following the river away from where it meets the Taedong River, to the northeast, aiming to follow it all the way back to the beginning of Ryomyong Street near the April 25th Hall and the “Tower of Eternal Life”, and back to our dormitory a little further down Ryomyong Street, a good seven or eight kilometres or so.
We soon passed the famous Chongryugwan restaurant, the distinctive Ice Skating rink, and the People’s Palace of Culture on the opposite side of the river. Along the river banks were a fair few people. It was a Saturday afternoon and the weather was nice and warm, the sky clear and sunny. It was a lovely day to be walking there. There were men, women, and children of all ages walking down the path along the riverbank, and we saw quite a few couples too. In park areas to the side were old men playing Korean chess, Changgi. Some women were playing Yunnori, a Korean board game (like Snakes and Ladders but more complicated and more fun). We passed Potonggang Department Store and by the path there were tennis and volleyball courts where people were playing games. The weather being warm and us beginning to work up a sweat, we took off our jackets down to t-shirts and felt refreshed.
There were also quite a few old men fishing along the riverbank. We saw boards that had the rules for fishing in the river painted on them. We saw a fashionably dressed young couple. The young lady was playing with a Maltese dog while the young man sat down on the grass eating snacks. A simple picnic from the looks of it.
Further down the path we saw two middle-aged women playing with two chihuahuas. We passed the Mansudae Grand Monument and the Chollima Statue on the opposite bank of the river. Under a bridge where the trains go over the Potong River were some people doing some sort of training for what looked like Taekwondo. Some young girls were jogging in pink tracksuits.
Then we stumbled upon a lovely little island in the river with a park and a small zoo. It was called Kumran Island (금란섬). We crossed the bridge over and looked at the animals. They had peacocks, deer, some exotic breeds of chicken, among others. There were benches where local people sat talking and relaxing, and a nice pavilion with a good view out onto the river. It was a really nice spot and we were there at the best time, while the trees were in full flower and the weather was sunny and warm. We crossed the bridge back to the path running along the western river bank and continued.
Eventually we reached Mansu Bridge. We had to go up onto the road because the river went past the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum, and the riverbank by the museum was a part of the museum compounds and fenced off (the Pueblo is currently kept there). Eventually we found a way to go back down. We ended up at the bit of the river near Pipa Street. We saw two boys playing with a toy truck, submerging it in the river with the Ryugyong Hotel towering in the background.
At the next bridge we decided to go left instead of continuing to follow the river (because we had already walked down that stretch before), and then a right onto the street that goes past the April 25th Hall and to the “Tower of Eternal Life” and eventually onwards to Ryomyong Street. We were now entering a more suburban area.
Victor wanted to buy some water so he went to one of the drink and snack (청량음료) stands just to the left of the bridge. He approached the stand speaking Korean. The two ladies inside had huge smiles on their faces and were very enthusiastic and friendly, surprised to have a white person speaking Korean to them. They complimented Victor’s Korean and chatted with him about his studies at Kim Il Sung University.
During this walk in fact a couple people had waved at us and said “hello” to us in English. Children especially were delighted to see us and looked at us. We often waved in return and they became ecstatic. A bus full of young ladies was stopped at the intersection and they were all looking curiously at Victor. Perhaps they were from the provinces and had never seen a white person before. I tapped Victor on the shoulder and pointed out the bus. He waved at them and they smiled and laughed. On the street down to the April 25th Hall, not far from Hyoksin Station, were a few parks. They were full of children playing and while their parents waited nearby. I saw a mother with her son. She had dressed him up in a fedora and a hoodie covered in yellow stars on a dark blue background.
Finally we reached the intersection with the “Tower of Eternal Life” in the middle, by the April 25th Hall and the beginning of Ryomyong Street. We saw some buses of Chinese tourists coming down to Pyongyang from the airport. They would have been coming down from the Saturday afternoon Beijing to Pyongyang Air Koryo flight. They had their phones out and were taking video of the street. We waved at them. They must have been surprised to see two Westerners walking on the street without guides. We walked down Ryomyong Street and went to our rooms in the dormitory, legs aching, ready for a well-deserved rest.
The Potong River promenade really is one of the nicest scenic spots in Pyongyang. I only hope that it becomes open to tour groups soon (I’m sure it will eventually). Until then please enjoy the photos in this post!