By Alek Sigley, Tongil Tours founder and postgraduate student at Kim Il Sung University.
One of the perks of being a student in Pyongyang is that you can pretty much go wherever you want inside Pyongyang, with few restrictions and without the need for a guide to accompany you. I had previously travelled to Pyongyang about a dozen times with tour groups, but after exploring the city on foot after coming to Kim Il Sung University, I was able to see a whole other side to the city.
There’s a multitude of shops, restaurants, and leisure facilities, as well as interesting and unique architecture to discover walking the city, many of which are not accessible to tourists and people visiting Pyongyang on short term stays. While tourists are generally able to see the city along its main streets and thoroughfares, we are able to go inside its blocks and go down the smaller lanes and alleyways, down which it often feels like a totally different city altogether.
I’ll start with a few pictures taken not far from the dormitory on Ryomyong Street. Such as this looong apartment block behind Ryomyong Street.
The streets of Pyongyang can be quite empty during the day. But during the morning and evening rush hours, when people are going to and from work and school, the streets feel completely alive. The above photo was taken at around 6pm.
Back on the main road, it looks like this.
At the end of Ryomyong Street, around where Taesong District ends and Sosong District begins, near the “Tower of Eternal Life” (영생탑) and the so-called 300 Family Apartment (300세대 아빠트), you have a rivulet that comes off from the Potong River. Apartment blocks which typify what was being built in North Korea in the 70s and 80s can be found, brutalism with multi-coloured pastel.
The view back in the direction of Ryomyong Street from here is also quite nice.
Walking the streets in this area, like basically anywhere else in downtown Pyongyang, propaganda posters are ubiquitous .
In parts of the city, zebra crossings are almost absent. This means that to get to the other side of the road pedestrians use underpasses such as this one pictured above.
And below are some nighttime photos of the central part of Ryomyong Street, around where the tallest building in the area, the 70 Storey Apartment (70층짜리 아빠트), is located.
In the Puksae (북새) area, there’s another concentration of striking architecture. Located right behind the Arch of Triumph and generally only accessible by long-term residents of Pyongyang, it is also home to a great many high quality shops and restaurants, such as the Moran Restaurant (모란식당) and the Chicken Specialty Restaurant, as well as the Puksae Shop, which sells high end imported goods– all of which I visited in previous blog posts (this one on the late April Inter-Korean Summit and this diary entry from a spring Saturday in May). My Korean roommate in the Kim Il Sung University Foreign Student Dormitory, who used to live in the area, described it as the Pyongyang’s commercial district. In a way it is indeed the Champs-Élysées of Pyongyang.
This massive, wing-shaped, “mirror reflection” block in particular, may be one of the most eye-grabbing and unique designs I have seen in Pyongyang.
And here are a few more photos from a walk that started near the Changgwangsan Hotel, and ended near the Ryugyong Hotel in Potonggang District. This was on a nice day in early spring (late April) when the ginkgo tree buds had just started to shoot. Near Changgwangsan Hotel:
And further inside Potonggang District:
There’s also a few from an intensive walk we did started from the Changgwangsan Hotel, down past the Russian Embassy, then to the Haebangsan Hotel, from where we walked to the Koryo Hotel.
The beginning of the walk near the Changgwangsan Hotel:
Eventually we ended up at the Mansudae Art Theatre:
We pass the Grand People’s Study House from the side, and go through Kim Il Sung Square, the No. 1 Department Store, and that area of central Pyongyang on Sungri Street.
We then turn right at the Haebangsan Hotel and Rodong Sinmun offices, and walk over to the Koryo Hotel, passing Ponghwa Station and Pyongyang Medical University (the medical college of Kim Il Sung University).
On another early spring day (early April), while we were at our friend’s house in the Vietnamese embassy, we came out of the embassy compound to enjoy the cherry blossoms in full bloom in front of the nearby Pyongyang Maternity Hospital.
In mid-April, on a visit to the Kwangbok Department Store to do some shopping, we had a little stroll down the street during which I took these photos:
The last photo is one of the most imposing apartment blocks I’ve seen in Pyongyang, and there are quite a few like this.
On yet another day in early spring (late April), I went to the Taedonggang Diplomatic Club in East Pyongyang not far from the Juche Tower to get my hair cut (Han Sol had recommended the hairdresser there, so I thought I might try it). The hairdresser wasn’t in and I would have to wait another hour, they said. So I went for a walk in the nearby neighborhood. In this area, the blocks are huge and square, and lined with more long pastel apartment blocks that feel like they stretch on into infinity.
Arriving back at the Taedong River, I took a relaxing walk along the eastern bank, watching people fish, row, and take leisurely strolls.
Some of the most enjoyable times I spent in Pyongyang this past semester were spent like this, outside, in the nice weather, seeing the city on foot– walking sometimes with a destination in mind, and at other times simply picking a direction that took my fancy and going to see what awaited me there.
It was sometimes a bit strange to go about for entire hours and not even see a single foreigner (I didn’t see another foreigner outside once during the entire semester, excluding obvious places like the area near the dormitory or in the diplomatic compound). But I was never made to feel unwelcome or told I couldn’t go anywhere.
After I bought a bicycle it became even easier for me to go further afield and see more of Pyongyang. But I’ll leave that for a future blog post!