There are very few places where visitors are permitted to stay in Kaesong and you, like me, will most likely stay at the traditional Korean style Folk Custom Hotel, opened in 1989 and situated on the periphery of Kaesong old town. This is a good thing as long as you are aware that it is a traditional Korean hotel so you will sleep on a padded floor mat and eat sitting on the floor.
The hotel is essentially a block of the old town which has been hived off and developed into traditional Hanok style accommodation for tourists. Judging by the central steam and the wide paths separating the small compounds of accommodation units and by comparing this to the crampness of the old town as seen from Mount Janam, the hived of block may not be entirely representative of the remainder of the old town. As you are not allowed out of the hotel and into the old town you will not be able to do a direct comparison.
A large wooden gate keeps you inside the hotel compound – naturally for your own protection or as Tan Wee Cheng rather sarcastically puts it in his book – ‘Hot Spots and Dodgy Places’:
‘To protect honoured tourists from the harassment and dangers of excessive interaction with residents of the old town, our beloved, Dear Leader has turned an entire area of the old town into the Folk Hotel, where tourists stay in traditional houses and wander along a few short alleys within the walled confines of the hotel beside a picturesque stream, without ever stepping on to the open streets of Kaesong’.
How incredibly thoughtful of the Dear Leader.
The majority of accommodation units are aligned in accordance with the ‘Baesanimsu’ principle which requires that homes should feature mountains behind and running water at the front.
The grounds themselves, while small, are nice for a stroll and after dark you can admire the lit statue of Kim Il-sung on the hill behind the hotel. Two pictures on my Kim Il-sung Watching from on High review were taken from the hotel grounds.In addition to a restaurant, the subject of a separate review, the hotel has a small bar (where we got an early coffee while waiting for breakfast the following morning) and a gift-shop – nothing special there.
The units are basic but cosy. Our unit had two small rooms located either side of an entry hall and a bathroom. The floors (excluding the bathroom) are covered in mats and heated by the traditional ondol system. Traditionally in the ondol system hot air/ smoke from open fireplaces was forced through flues under the floor. Imagine a chimney below the floor until it turns upwards and exits the house. Nowadays, typically, pipes carrying hot water under the floor are used.
My bed consisted of a fairly thin padded floor mat and a rather hard rice pillow. I found the under floor heating a bit warm and was hoping for a power cut during the night though I later found out that that would not have had any impact given the ondol heating system in use at the hotel.
There was no hot water in our room – we had been warmed that this was typically the case here.
Overall a delightful experience and a nice variation to the 1950s soviet style rooms we had in other locations on our North Korean trip. Another more regular style hotel was offered as an option to this one. Unless you have a particular impediment to sleeping on the floor I strongly recommend you stay here, as everyone in our group did.
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 Folk Custom Hotel: ‘Royal Pansanggi Banquet’ – or to start this loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – North Korea’s win from the Korean War.