Destination: Kaesong City, DPRK!

That Pyongyang Soju headache felt awful! Yes, those mixed drinks had been enjoyed the previous night and then some! Suited and booted, after a bit of breakfast, we made our way out of Pyongyang to Kaesong City. Driving along the 'Reunification Highway' in a southward direction, we had a lot to see. Two years after that 2019 day of discovery, Kaesong is ready now!

Before checking into our Pyongyang hotel, we had all enjoyed our dinner at a restaurant within Ryomyong New Town. With our bags dropped in our rooms at the 'Rakrang Hotel, we hit the hotel bar with much anticipation. I noticed that the Pyongyang Soju wasn't pre-flavoured like the bottles are in South Korea, that didn't matter because myself and Tori made sure we mixed the juices with the soju to get the best flavour. Cut to the next morning, I won't lie because my headache was pretty bad but after a bite to eat and some coffee, I was feeling better. I wasn't alone, most of the tour group members weren't feeling their optimum best but we were all ready for the day and on-time. Heading out towards the 'Reunification Highway' we left Pyongyang behind us, the road from there on was long and very wide. It took about one hour before we made a rest stop, I managed to get some more coffee and then it was back on the coach because we more miles to cover. As Kaesong grew nearer, we would be meeting up with that border city. 

Pyongyang felt like a really long way away, from the window we saw a new and interesting place emerge. Our Korean guides informed that we had arrived in Kaesong, for the next hour we made our way over to Panmunjom Village to see where the armistice had been signed in 1953, the all important signature, which halted the Korean War. The immediate scenery impressed me much, the co-operative like farmland gave me the only view of that concept because nothing stood ready to be harvested due to the season, I'll have to return during the summer to see such a sight. The weather played ball, the blue sunshine was a step above the previous days shenanigans, we didn't need any rain or cloud to be present in Kaesong! No! After our visit to the DMZ, we made our way back over to Kaesong to continue our discovery of that Southern DPR Korean city. What would we see? Where would we go? If truth be told, we didn't find out until we arrived at our first port of call. 개성시 knew I was excited to experience another DPRK city! 

Stopping at one of Korea's oldest educational institutions, showed us all something very interesting, it was on a different level compared with Panmunjom and the DMZ. Known as Sungkyunkwan, during the late Goryeo and Joseon dynasties it was a very famous lecture hall with many other buildings, those shown to us housed many historical relics that corresponded to the time period. It was interesting! With a specific tour guide who was dressed in the national Korean women's dress, she showed us all of the artefacts that had been preserved. I noticed that a few groups of people were also making there around the former university, the couples looked as if they had just said their marriage vows because the men were dressed in their best suits and their wives in their most prettiest Hanboks. It almost felt like a smaller version of Seoul's Gyeongbokgung Palace with the same kind of courtyard and steps that lead to out buildings, it shared the same Korean feeling. We continued on, listening attentively and paying attention. K! 

The Myeongnyundang Lecture Hall showed us much history, I didn't know that the ancient university had been awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status back in 2013. Founded in 922 during the 918-1392 Goryeo Kingdom Capital of Gaesong. Now, we didn't know how much of a history lesson we would be receiving, no! Scrap Seoul's Gyeongbokgung comparisons because after some reading during 2021, I have found out that Seoul has the same structure, making up one of the nine top Confucian institutes for learning between the one divided Korean kingdom. Before we left for our lunch, it was time for us to see a gift shop that specialised in DPRK propaganda postcards. I bought some for my English Corner, the children wouldn't be able read Korean but the cards look extremely colourful and they each told their own story. I would use the postcards as jigsaw puzzles, buying two of each, using one postcard as the guide and the other to follow the pattern. I was sure the kids would love their DPRK language material. Oh, K! 

Kaesong stood as a pint-sized city, the buildings were mostly painted very brightly with many hot pink and canary yellow tones served as we approached the restaurant. Like many places in the DPRK, it was a rare sight to see any cars because most people used bikes! Why so many bright colours? We would be told the following day that after Kim Jong Un took over from his late father, Kim Jong Il. He had decided that all of the houses must be painted with bright colours in order to give the people something uplifting to look at during their everyday lives. Now, that 2019 question has finally been answered! We were able to walk from the coach around some of the streets that were near the restaurant, it felt as if breakfast never happened because I for one felt so very hungry! Those Kaesong streets were awfully quiet, we didn't question why they were quiet. Our guides informed us that being lunchtime, it was likely people were at home, enjoying their meal. Kaesong showed us something away from Pyongyang's showcase city vibe. 

Kaesong City to that point had presented quite a lot of things to us, I was really finding it interesting to see the contrast between landscapes. We had left Pyongyang really early that morning, the road along the Reunification Highway was quiet and showed us the uncomplicated views that went on for miles and miles. Why did I wait two years before serving this 'Destination' post? The photos came into my possession a little while ago, with my restrictive stance back in 2019, I had disregarded these Kaesong photos for some reason. Kaesong really had me interested, since watching the Michael Palin documentary, I saw some places in Kaesong that I really want to see. The ancient style hotel would be great to see, I already know I want to try some of that beaten rice! After independent research, I would love to visit the Tomb of Kongmin and Namdaemun for sure! Kaesong has more in-store for sure, there's no doubt about that. Honestly Kaesong, it was freezing cold, I was hungry! Where were those golden bowls? Go, go! 

During my South Korea trip during October 2018, I didn't eat any Korean food whatsoever, so being in a place that wasn't commercialised allowed me to be more adventurous! I had done my research, but after those documentaries those gold bowls still meant nothing to me. Being in the DPRK was the challenge I needed, being in the convenience of South Korea had me feeling lazy with trying Korean food. It was part of the whole experience to try the Korean food in DPRK. Now, dog meat soup was on the menu and being that once in a lifetime experience I had to have a word with my conscious, it was all about the moment. Paying my surcharge to the foreign guide, I had made my decision to try that soup at least once. Diving into the soup, I tried a few mouthfuls of the suspiciously sweet tasting meat. The dog meat had the same consistency as pulled pork with a resounding sweet after-taste, if truth be told I couldn't carry on eating because my former family dog Murphy, he was judging me hard! I was content, no more for me. 

The golden bowls were questionable, some of the food tasted fine but for me it was all about the presentation. We were the only party in the place, it was nice to be honest because the service was quick and the food was served immediately, it was like they knew we were on our way. Getting things in order, we made our way back to the coach without any issues, it was parked outside of the restaurant for us to board. Kaesong had been interesting, a different place during the Summer I was sure about that. This is why I would aim to return during a future Summer break. With the university done, gifts bought and that dog meat soup tried, we made our way closer to our next port of call. Kaesong had hidden charms, it gave us something quieter to see and being away from the centre of Pyongyang gave us some breathing space. The DMZ visit had us following protocol, Kaesong gave us a brief moment to relax before we moved onto Sariwon City. Perspective is golden, now in 2021, I'm ready to return when I can! Kaesong, stay ready B! 

Coming For You Kaesong! 

Joseph Harrison

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