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Being the capital of North Korea, Pyongyang is a very quiet city and used as a sort of showcase by North Korea regarding culture and education, with main attractions being several schools of art, music and other sorts of cultural activities.
The city is spread out along the shores of the Taedong river and at first sight you would not believe there are actually living 3 million people in Pyongyang. Cars, especially private ones, are almost non-existent and people move around on bikes and foot mostly. As a tourist, you are not allowed to move around freely and because of that it feels like being in some sort of box, or moving around in some place that is not real. But it is and it's a perfect example of Stalinistic building styles, combined with surprisingly green areas as well.
You will not easily forget the sight of the Juche Tower or watching the body of Kim Il Sung in his mausoleum. It is also home to the highest structure that has never been finished: a hotel of more than 300 meters high.
Although it's almost impossible to have real contact with the local people in Pyongyang, a visit to the capital of the last true communistic country, is highly recommended and memorable.
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There are many statues and even more portraits of Kim Il Sung then you could ever imagine, but the best known and the biggest is the official Mansudae Grand Monument with a much larger than life statue of the Great Leader. The bronze statue was erected in 1972 along with the neighboring museum, in honor of President Kim's sixtieth birthday. The statue measures around 20 metres and in the back is a 70-metre wide mosaic of Mount Paektu. Literally every visitor to the country will pay a visit to the statue and you are expected to pay your respects by leaving flowers at his feet. If you arrive by air, this will be the first stop on your way to your hotel. No one just drives by the first time!
The Mass Games in North Korea are famous throughout the whole world, a show which combines dances, gymnastics and acrobatics with songs. The Arirang festival is the showpiece among the Mass Games and if you are lucky enough to be in the country around one of those festivals, try to visit it.
North Korea in general has a land climate, meaning cold but usually dry winters and hot summers. In summer most of the rain falls and it's often rather humid. Temperatures can reach 35 °C for days on end and in winter temperatures can plummet way below zero. Therefore, autumn but especially spring (when it's usually dry), are the most pleasant times to visit Pyongyang.
Taking the train between Beijing (China) and Pyongyang is an option, but not as an individual. You have to arrange it with a travel agency and be part of a tour group. Most tours have tourists fly one way, for example with Air Koryo, and then take the train the other way back. Trains leave Pyongyang for Beijing at Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays around 10am. From Beijing trains leave on the same days at around 5.30 pm. It takes 24 hours in both directions, including formalities at the border towns of Sinuiju (North Korea) and Dandong (China).
There is even one train a week between Moscow (Russia) (Yaroslavski station) and Pyongyang, usually leaving on friday (Moscow) or Saturday (Pyongyang) and it takes a week to complete the entire journey.
Getting around Pyongyang by yourself is not allowed. You are most likely to be part of an organised tour so you will travel around by car/bus. With a guide, it is possible though to walk around the city and take a ride in the metro system, which is an attraction of its own.
Unfortunately, Pyongyang and North Korea in general are no budget destinations. On a fixed tour, you will stay in top end hotels. These hotels are generally good value and full board is almost always included. One of the best hotels is the Yanggakdo hotel on an island in the Taedong river. It is 47 floors high and on the top floor there is a revolving restaurant with great views over the river and city. It is similar like a 4-star hotel in China. It has a restaurant, karaoke, coffee bar and post counter where you can post postcards or letters. Rooms are nice. You can get CCTV channel and BBC channel as well.
In February of 2013, Koryolink announced that mobile 3G internet will be accessible by foreigners. It is currently possible to access 3G internet in North Korea by purchasing a SIM card in Pyongyang, but the rates can be hefty and some higher data plans require monthly plans for frequent travelers or foreign residents. Through the 3G internet, you can access most websites including Facebook, Twitter and all other social media sites. It's not recommended to access banking information from North Korea, as financial institutions can track your IP address and will block your account.
See also International Telephone Calls
In January 2013, Koryolink announced that foreigners can now bring their cell phones into the country and can purchase mobile SIM cards, which allow you to make international phone calls straight from your phone. The rates are expensive (about $5 per minute to call overseas). SIM cards can usually be purchased at the Koryolink counter found in the Sunan International Airport, but there are days where the counter is not staffed.
In Yanggakdao Hotel in Pyongyang you can make international call but it will cost around €1-3 per minute, depending on where you are calling.
You can post international postcards or letters from the Yanggakdao Hotel in Pyongyang. It takes about 10-15 days to reach your destination.
You can purchase postage and postcards in several souvenir shops. The best place for postcards is at the Korea Stamp Shop in Pyongyang next to the Koryo Hotel or at the Koryo Stamp Shop in Kaesong. International postage is about €1 Euro and postcards are usually €1.20.
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