axisofevil North Korea Story pg. 4, Yanggakdo International Hotel - Axis of Evil World Tour
home - contact me - help desk
Yanggakdo International Hotel

"Was the hotel ok? Did you have electricity? Water? Food? Were the rooms bugged? Could you leave?" People are always curious about our hotel in ways I've never heard after trips to other countries. The hotel, while far from luxurious, was fine. Though the anti-US and anti-Japanese photo displays in the lobby next to check-in were somewhat less than welcoming.

The hotel, complete with meeting rooms, restaurants, a nightclub, and a revolving bar at the top, is located on a small island in the center of the Taedong River. Relatively isolated, with the only connections to the rest of the city being two bridges, the hotel seemed a perfect spot to house foreigners. Though free to walk the grounds any attempt to leave the island was regulated by our guides and the guards on the premises. We could leave - as long as we had permission and went with one of our guides.

Yanggakdo International Hotel
Yanggakdo International Hotel
Photo courtesy Thomas St. John
The rooms were big with incredible views stretching from the heart of Pyongyang to the distant countryside. They had beds, hot water, fridges (though no little rip-off mini-bars in the People's Republic) and, for all we know, bugs. Any time we talked in the rooms we tried to keep things general, especially avoiding direct criticism of the Kim clan. Were they bugged? I don't know. Could we have gotten into trouble for saying something negative about the Kims? Again, I don't know. But there's something about the pervasive presence of big brother in the North that discourages regime commentary until the voyage home.

That first day after we arrived the guides oversaw check-in and divvied us up, two per room. They were very clear on wanting to know who was going to be in which room - no switching once we'd gotten our keys.

Before we were allowed to go up to our rooms we first had to decide which class of tickets we wanted for the Arirang performance. We'd seen signs and heard from the guides about how great the show was and we were all looking forward to our chance to see it in person.

The hitch was which tickets. They ranged in price from $50 to $300. Our travel agent in Beijing had warned us we'd have to choose shortly after arrival.

Juche Tower View
View north from our hotel -
Juche Tower visible in the distance

Photo courtesy Thomas St. John
Morning NW from Hotel
Morning view NW of hotel -
Ryugyong Hotel visible in the distance

Photo courtesy Thomas St. John

He'd also been kind enough to tell us there was little difference between the $100 and $50 seats, and that both were fine. At the time we'd discussed it and decided on the cheap seats - $50. Here in the North though the guides weren't so helpful. They'd obviously sized us up as lower-priced buyers so they split our German and American group away from the Japanese and, after a brief explanation, urged us to get the $100 tickets.

Front row at a football game? Okay, maybe I'll pay $100. To see the Arirang Festival? Not going to happen. A look of consternation passed over Mr. Baek's and Mr. Huk's faces when we said we wanted the $50 seats. "Yes, that's possible, but I think there aren't many Americans that come here. If you only buy the $50 seats then everyone will see you and maybe you'll embarrass your country . . . "

Morning View Out Hotel
Morning view SW of hotel - power plant
smokestack visible in the distance

Photo courtesy Thomas St. John

Of all the things I've done that could be considered embarrassing to America (not that many by the way - any time something weird happens I always say I'm French . . .) this one seemed pretty benign. Our German comrades concurred and we stuck with $50 a ticket, much to the chagrin of our guides.

The more I think about it the more I get the distinct impression that the guides were judged by how well they sold the Arirang tickets, obviously the more high-priced seats, the better. For some time after this they seemed somewhat surly. I don't think it helped that the Japanese group also went with the cheap seats.

Once we got the tickets we were finally free to proceed up to our rooms for a couple of hours of free time. All this with the admonishment to be back down to Dining Room Two by 6 o'clock sharp for dinner. After that was the big event - the Arirang Festival.

Copyright 2006-2007 Scott Fisher and All Rights Reserved.