Kaesong has a very long history and has the best preserved old town area in North Korea. While most of North Korea was razed to the ground by US bombing during the Korean War, Kaesong was spared by virtue of the fact that, until it was captured by the North Koreans, it had been on the South Korean side of the border – the 38th parallel north- as determined by Russia and the United States at the end of WWII. It is the only town that changed hands in the three year long war which cost the lives of nearly three million people.
While pre-dating 918, Kaesong was the capital of the Koryo kingdom from 918-1392, after which the capital was moved to present-day Seoul (now the capital of South Korea) only 80 kilometres to the south, but accessible today to the average visitor only via Beijing.
Kaesong has a very extensive old town area dating from the post Koryo, Ri dynasty period which, unfortunately, is (with one exception) not accessible to visitors (2014).
So, while the Kwandok Pavilion is pleasant enough in itself the main reason for visiting it is for the view of the old town, brimming with traditional Ri dynasty (post 1392 to Japanese occupation in 1910) style single story housing. While in Ri style the buildings we see today probably date from the 1930s with some later. They look very similar to that of similar era towns in neighbouring China with their very narrow streets, walls separating small clusters/compounds of houses and outdated facilities. Looking closely (using my camera zoom), while indeed brimming with traditional Korean houses they unfortunately appear to be in varying stages of decay.
It is a great shame that a visit into the streets of the old town is not possible. I suspect that, charming as it looks from the Kwandok Pavillion, the poverty and squalor within the old area is more than the powers that be wish to share with visitors.
The exception that I referred to above is the Kaesong Folk Custom Hotel were we stayed. This comprises a block of the old town converted to accommodation for visitors which, I suspect, is totally unrepresentative of the remainder of the old town as it stands today.
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on my visit to Kaesong, North Korea. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Kaesong Students and Children’s Palace – or to start this loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – North Korea’s win from the Korean War.