The 168 km drive from Pyongyang through empty highways will offer remarkable sites of the North Korean countryside and glimpses of people's daily activities outside of the capital.
Unlike other major cities in DPRK, Kaesong was not destroyed during the Korean War as it belonged to South Korea during the war. As a result many historical sites in this city remain intact. In fact Kaesong boasts 12 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
South Koreans were also allowed to visit Kaesong, albeit just for a day and in spite of not being able to go to Pyongyang. We used to be able to spot them until 2008 on modern buses and with guides in blue outfits wearing headsets, walkie talkies in hand.
South Korean citizens have not been able to go to as tourists to North Korea since 2008. They used to be allowed to go there and to Mt. Kumgangsan but that has no longer been the case since 2008. It is possible for us though to arrange for Westerners to go to Kumgangsan.
View of the Old Part of Town. Unlike most cities in Korea, Kaesong was not destroyed during the Korean War.
The former capital of Koryo is renowned in the DPRK for its Ginseng and for hosting the Koryo Museum, which in the 10th century became the highest educational institution of Koryo holding up to 2000 students. It now holds ancient items of such dynasty. Its gardens and courtyards offer are truly relaxing. There is a stamp shop outside the hotel where we can not only purchase a wide variety of DPRK stamps, but also artwork, postcards and coins.
The twin tombs are one of the best preserved historical sites in DPRK. King Kongmin was King of the Koryo Dynasty and started building this tomb when his Mongolian wife passed away in 1365. We will be able to see too the tombs of generals and officials of the Koryo Dynasty on several hillsides as we drive to this site which in 2013 was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Image Above: The tombs of King Kongmin and his Mongolian Wife. This tombs have undergone relatively little restoration and the place was declared UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013.
Although much older than the tomb of King Kongmin, this Mausoleum was restored in 1994 and therefore shows much less of its original appearance compared to the Mausoleum of King Kongmin. King Wangon (also spelled Wan Kon) was the founder of the Koryo Dynasty and died in 943. We actually drive by here when visiting the Tomb of King Kongmin.
As we approach Kaesong we can see the giant bronze statue of President Kim Il Sung overlooking the whole city and the surrounding region. Spectacular views of the city are offered from here and the entire old part of town can be seen from the hill too.
This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built in 1216 and symbolised loyalty in Korea. Jong Mong Yu was a political advisor and scholar loyal to the King of the Koryo Dynasty. He was murdered in 1392, the year the Koryo Dynasty was overthrown, as he refused to betray the king. The Choson Dynasty was set up after the Koryo Dynasty.
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, we usually walk to Nam Gate when staying overnight in Kaesong. It was built towards the end of the Koryo Dynasty and beginning of the Choson Dynasty between 1391 and 1393. The gate was rebuilt in 1954, a year after the Korean War ended as part of it was destroyed by US bombs. The gate has a bell that weights 14 tonnes. This bell actually belonged to another temple, Yonbok Temple, which was destroyed by fire in the 16th century. This bell was used until the early 1900s to tell the time in Kaesong. The bell could be allegedly heard from a distance of 40 km. There used to be 7 gates in the city fortress.
Stopping for lunch at this historical city is always a treat with separate dishes being served in individual covered metal bowls. A few hundred metres up the road from the restaurant yet another impressive statue of President Kim Il Sung looms on a hill over the entire city.
When we stay in Kaesong overnight we stay at the Minsok (meaning Folk in Korean) Hotel. This is a traditional Korean Courtyard Hotel where we eat and sleep on the floor as per Korean tradition. The hotel is divided into courtyards which are surrounded by rooms where we stay. Chatting in the courtyard at night with other travellers and our guides is a very pleasant experience especially on clear nights where the number of stars above in the light-pollution free skies offer a great night scenery. The statue of President Kim Il Sung can also be seen lit at night, at a distance, from the hotel compound.