On my second day in North Korea, I went on a day trip to the Myohyang Mountains approximately 150 km north of Pyongyang.
The Myohyang Mountains are most famous for the International Friendship Museum situated in a beautiful wooded valley. While looking comparatively small from the outside, this museum is incredibly big with more than 150 rooms (many underground). It exhibits more than 200,000 gifts presented to the leaders of North Korea by foreign politicians (including President Trump), dignitaries, companies, and even private persons. Unfortunately, photography inside the museum is not allowed, but a visit to this absolutely unique place is really quite impressive. The collection is sorted after countries and I was allowed to choose which continent’s presents I wanted to see. Some more prominent exhibits include armoured cars and train carriages gifted by Stalin and very life-like and life-sized wax figures of presidents Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il (bowing is necessary!). Following the tour of the International Friendship Museum, I visited the nearby Pohyon Temple. This Buddhist temple complex was founded in the 11th century CE and became a very important pilgrimage site over the next centuries. During the Korean War, the US Army bombed the buildings leading to extensive damage. In the meantime, the complex has been renovated and even though there was a man dressed to be a monk in one of the halls, I doubt that any religious meaning is left.
This day trip also enabled me to see something of the North Korean countryside. A massive highway connects Pyongyang with the Myohyang Mountains leading through a beautiful landscape of wooded hills and wide valleys full of golden rice fields which were almost ready for the harvest. The driver was speeding on the bumpy highway, so almost all video clips I took were quite shaky.
Life in the North Korean countryside seemed simple. It appears that most farming is done by hand and every now and then I saw oxcarts (which I was not supposed to photograph). My guide told me that North Korea has tractors, but they are not used very much, because the country does not have any oil. Similarly, traffic on the highway was very limited with most cars transporting other tourists – locals seemed to travel mainly with bicycles (many e-bikes, too!). The villages were all set at a distance from the highway and it was hard to get a glimpse of living conditions. In any case, I did not see any starving or poor people eating grass as I have seen some people wrote on other blogs. I also read previously that there are no birds in North Korea, because any animal is caught and eaten, however, I saw common birds like crows, pigeons, sparrows, magpies, and egrets again and again.