The are only a small number of hotels in Pyongyang at which tourists are permitted to stay. One of those, and the one at which the vast majority of tourists stay, is the Yanggakdo International Hotel situated on an island in the Teodong River. Our group stayed here while in Pyongyang.
The hotel is graded as a four star but, while pleasant enough, it is tired and jaded.
The hotel has 47 floors. Tourists stay on the upper floors which have access to the BBC World television. Lower floors are used by guides and other locals without the requisite clearance to watch foreign television, as these floors do not have access to the BBC.
A question everyone asks is “Are the rooms bugged?”. In answer, I don’t know, and certainly didn’t go searching for devices. I suspect they are not – what has the common tourist got to say that would interest the authorities? If you were in North Korea with ulterior motives authorities could reasonably assume you would not reveal these in your room anyway so why bother bugging the rooms?
The Yanggakdo has its own power generators so continuity of electricity supply is not a problem here. Hot water was available 24/7.
While hot water, for drinking, is available, tea and coffee is not provided in the room and there is no minibar.
The hotel has a number of restaurants. We ate breakfast here daily while in the city. Food choice was basic and identical every day – ample but certainly not a highlight of our trip. While we were there (over Kim Il-sungs birthday celebrations) the hotel was quite busy and they constantly ran out of things on the breakfast buffet. We had lunch in the hotel on two days – once in a downstairs restaurant and once in the revolving restaurant on the 47th floor. Food was good and naturally the views from the revolving restaurant were also good – though our room also had excellent views towards the centre of the city and the Juche Tower.
Other facilities in the hotel include:
• A three lane ten pin bowling alley (we went to the Pyongyang Gold Lane bowling alley in the city for our bowling fix)
• A Chinese casino in the basement (locals not admitted)
• A couple of bars – Karaoke in the downstairs one
• Swimming pool and table tennis room
• A few well stocked and reasonably priced shops (good for water/snacks and North Korean reading material)
• Gift shops
• A tailors where you can order your Kim Jong-il suit, etc and it will be ready in a few days.
Beware of the vicious lift doors – they bite!
Back to the title of this review.
In North Korea you are not permitted to leave your accommodation unless accompanied by your guide. People suggest that the Yanggakdo was deliberately placed on an island to ensure that you cannot escape unnoticed and wander into the city on your own (hence its nickname the Pyongyang Alcatraz). If you had time, and unless you are a very early riser you won’t, you are permitted to walk around on the island without a guide. You are not permitted to bring you camera while walking around outside.
While not of a four star standard the hotel is certainly one of the best in North Korea and is a very pleasant place to stay. Would I stay here again? Yes.
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 – Pyongyang Metro – The Metro. If necessary, go to my Pyongyang introduction entry – Pyongyang – A Capital City Unlike any Other – to start this loop at the beginning.