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North Korea: Beijing Pyongyang Train Journey

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Beijing Pyongyang Train Journey > North Korea > Asia

[Visited: July 2000]

OK, so North Korea is the most closed country in the world. The next logical question for those interested in visiting the country is: how to get there? On the map of Pyongyang, for the convenience of the visitor, all possible connections from the outside world are listed. There are 4 trains a week from Beijing, and two international flights. Where for most destinations in the world the options are getting almost endless, the traveller to North Korea does not have to ponder for a long time how to reach his destination. We opted for the train from Beijing. Upon entering the compartment which actually accomodated two other persons, we discovered that it was empty. However, we also came across a large amount of beer under the seats, and a piece of luggage in the compartment. Strangely enough, the compartment remained empty the whole night. This was especially puzzling, because all the other compartments were stuffed with people and loads of luggage. Actually, since the passenger compartments apparently were not enough, luggage was also stored in two of the three toilets, as well as in three of the four exits of the carriage. Obviously, our peace would not last until Pyongyang.

Picture of Beijing Pyongyang Train Journey (North Korea): North Korea leader adoration

While in the railway station of Dandong, the border with North Korea, two persons entered the train, sweating, suffering, and looking desperate. They were trying to push an enormous package through the aisle, struggling with what appeared to be an impressive weight. When they finally arrived in front of the door to our compartment, they stopped and smiled. The package had arrived at its temporary place. With a superhuman effort, moaning and trembling, the two men managed to park the package on one of the top beds. We had watched this spectacle with our eyes wide open. When we returned to the aisle, a second package, at least the size of the first, had mysteriously entered the aisle, leaving us little to guess as to where its destination was concerned. To make a long story short, after we had left the compartment on the North Korean side of the border, it had been reorganized completely. By now, it contained two more packages of enormous size and weight, some boxes with fruit, a smaller box with a dirty dog which before meeting his owners had been white one day, and a complete family of three. The son was positively mentally retarded, enjoyed playing with sharp objects, throwing them through the compartment, cleaning a watermelon with a knife and then using the same instrument to help put on his shoes, and demonstratively putting used chewing gum under our seat. His sister had fun in throwing the dog around, either through the air or just by kicking the poor animal inside where she thought it belonged.

Picture of Beijing Pyongyang Train Journey (North Korea): Door of the train carriage totally blocked by luggage

Since our time in North Korea was limited, we decided to occupy one of the few windowd which could be opened, to look outside at the countryside and the villages. After all, this was the mysterious, closed country which we had wanted to see so desperately. Already at the border station we found out the function of the beer bottles: they were offloaded and disappeared in a car which was driven by someone clearly sanctioned by the heavily guarded soldiers whose task was to prevent interference of train passengers with the outside world, and vice versa. This very first station also provided us with the very first sight of a face which would be etched in our heads for the next days: that of late President Kim Il Sung. During the many hours it took the train to reach the capital, we saw a lot of different crops in the fields, poor people working the land, very old and obsolete tractors, almost no traffic, and every entrance to a village marked by a huge arch with a slogan. Although we unfortunately could not read them, we could guess their meaning. They were all praise to the country's superior system, persuaded the people to work harder to serve their country and its dead President, and basically reminded people that there was no escape from this paradise. Instead of leaving at the first station in the country, our friends in the compartment accompanied us to Pyongyang. With a 3-hour delay, we arrived in the evening. In an attempt to escape the crowd and the struggle to offload the incredible amount of luggage, we also unintentionally escaped our guides who had been waiting for us. With slightly worried faces, they found us at the hands of a female official with whom no sane person would like to argue. Our visit to North Korea had really started now.

Picture of Beijing Pyongyang Train Journey (North Korea): North Korean train travel: propaganda on a railway station
Picture of Beijing Pyongyang Train Journey (North Korea): People on the tracks and soldiers on the platform in a railway station in North Korea
Picture of Beijing Pyongyang Train Journey (North Korea): Beijing-Pyongyang train carriage
Picture of Beijing Pyongyang Train Journey (North Korea): Train compartment stuffed with luggage leaving no space for passengers

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