The first day of many multi-day tours amount to someone picking you up from the airport and taking you to your hotel where you “have the remainder of the day at leisure.”
Not so in Pyongyang.
As soon as we arrived at the airport and had passed through immigration and customs (a relatively simple and painless exercise) we were segregated into our tour groups and met our local guides who would accompany us everywhere (except to bed and the toilet were where we were permitted to go unaccompanied!) for the next ten days. We had one young female guide and a young male one. Our bus driver also stayed with us for the full duration. All three were lovely people.
Within half an hour we were on the bus and headed into Pyongyang to begin our sightseeing – checking into our hotel would wait until lunch time after which sightseeing would resume again.
En route to our first stop and the subject of this review, the Mansudae Fountain Park, our main guide more formally introduced herself and the others but very quickly got into telling us about Korea and what was in store for us. While we had a detailed itinerary this could be discarded as it soon became clear we would visit sights and indeed cities at completely different times and on different days than those scheduled. We missed nothing however and indeed saw and experienced much more than was on the itinerary.
Interwoven with the fairly standard introduction we expected was “guidance” on photography and where we could and couldn’t go. Most importantly we were introduced to ‘the Leaders’ and appraised of their role and status within North Korea – though North Korea is a term the guides never used. They only refer to Korea or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) if they want to specifically refer to the northern part of the peninsula or, as they say, the northern part of their soon to be reunited country.
The Mansudae Fountain Park is a large paved park of fountains and water features right in the centre of Pyongyang and while beautiful and certainly worth a visit in its own right I get the feeling that this stop was more designed for us to get used to being in North Korea and to let the guides and assorted others size us up. Perhaps I was suffering a bit of early paranoia, on this our first stop outside the airport in North Korea, but I was sure that various people were watching us here and certainly there were people here with larger video cameras than the average person carries to film fountains, albeit it large fountains.
Anyway, as I am prone to do, I digress – back to the park. It which opened in 1976 and comprises a series of fountains – the largest of which shoots jets of water 80 metres high. Especially beautiful are the white marble statues of women dancing among the fountains. The main sculpture of 28 dancers is called “Snow Falls.”
Also in the park there are a number of nice rock fountains.
Like a lot of monuments and civic areas, the Mansudae Fountain Park is a popular spot for wedding photos and there were a few couples of newly weds here when we visited. Prior to coming here, or immediately afterwards, they would, without doubt, have paid their respects at the nearby statues (Mansudae Grand Monument) of Kim Il-sung (the Eternal President) and his son and successor, Kim Jong-il. It was also in this park that we saw our first group of school children in what we soon learned was a standard common blue uniform with red neck decoration. Do note the flower in the young girls hand in this picture – this will have been later laid at the feet of the Leader’s statues referred to above, and our next stop.
In addition to the Mansudae Grand Monument many of Pyongyang’s most important buildings and monuments, including the Grand People’s Study House (behind the fountain in my first picture), the Korean Revolution Museum, the Chollima Statue, the Mansudae Assembly Hall, and the Mansudae Art Theatre are located close to the Mansudae Fountain Park. More about most of these in separate entries.
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries on The Rambling Wombat’s trip to Pyongyang, North Korea which I recommend you read in a particular order. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Supreme People’s Assembly. If necessary, go to my Pyongyang introduction entry – Pyongyang – A Capital City Unlike any Other – to start this loop at the beginning.