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A Fascinating Aviation Week In North Korea  
User currently offlineCYP353 From Switzerland, joined Jun 2005, 26 posts, RR: 2
Posted (3 years 7 months 2 days 21 hours ago) and read 31413 times:

Hi everyone!

since this is my first post here, let me introduce myself quickly. My name is Tis, and I am a 24-year old aviation enthusiast and -photographer from Zurich, Switzerland. My fascination for travelling on rare and old planes to places off the beaten track has taken me to many interesting parts of the world already. I love writing trip reports about those travels, but usually only publish them in a large german-speaking discussion board as well as on my personal website (see my profile).

However, Nicholas (NZ107), who's a good friend of mine, has kept pushing me to start publishing the reports here, too, for quite some time. I was always a bit hesitant, since translating my long texts from german to english is a tedious job, and quite some of the humour from writing in my mother tongue gets lost in translation, too.

Anyway. After spending an amazing week in North Korea in September joining one of the popular "Juche Travel Services" tours, I realized that there hasn't been a coherent report about a complete week in North Korea here so far (I think). Eager to fill this void, I finally decided to publish my first report in these forums...please be kind!  )

I think I will have to split it up in several parts. After the flight to Pyongyang, there's an extensive section of sightseeing photos from the capital and the country first, before I start with the proper flight reports.

Hope you enjoy the read, and I'm looking to your feedback or any questions you may have!



Following the invitation from a German aviation enthusiast late last year, I convinced myself to join a one-week tour through North Korea, despite many concerns brought forward by family and friends. The relatively new English tour operator “Juche Travel Services” offered a one-week tour around the country, focusing on flights on the popular Soviet airplanes, but also on sightseeing in Pyongyang and beyond.

On September 8, the big day had finally come: 40 aviation enthusiasts from around the world, almost bursting with sheer anticipation, gathered in a hard to find North Korean restaurant in Beijing for a pre-tour “welcome dinner”. By that time I’d already spent two packed weeks travelling through Japan and might have been a bit tired; but the outlook of the adventures lying ahead didn’t take long to get me all excited again!

After some small talk, and the handover of our North Korean visa, we were invited to take our seats on the huge round table and enjoy a wide range of Asian and Korean dishes.


But that wasn’t all! No sooner had we finished eating, some gracious North Korean musicians in evening gowns stormed the stage. Whoever thought that just one of the usual tedious folk music presentations would follow was immediately proved wrong. The petite girls put on their electric guitar, jumped behind the drums and keyboard and started rocking the room with unbelievable energy. The first, but not nearly the last surreal experience this trip!

After that night we were all even more excited about the week that was to follow. All ready? Almost. Before I start with the report, I want to include a very brief summary of the recent North Korean history, which might conduce to a better understanding here and there later on.

The entire Korean Peninsula was occupied by the Japanese since 1910 and suffered badly from their suppression of the local culture. On August 15, 1945, Japan had finally capitulated under pressure from the Allies, and handed over the northern region of Korea to the USSR, and the southern region to the United States. The Soviet Union had a great interest in North Korea as a buffer to Japan, which quickly became an ally of the United States. Accordingly, the USSR was eager to shape “their” North Korea after their communist ideals.

Following a UN resolution, the USSR withdrew its army from North Korea in 1948, while the U.S. remained present in the South to this day – one of the main points of conflict from the North’s point of view. When elections were held in the south and the business of government was transferred from the Americans to the South Koreans, the North responded to this with the establishment of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) on 9 September 1948, with Kim Il-sung to become its first president. Both governments have ever since seen themselves as the legitimate rulers of (whole) Korea.

Following his proclaimed “Juche” ideology, according to which it is the central task of every state to ensure the political, economic and military independence of the country, Kim drove North Korea into an ever greater isolation. This worked out pretty well in the beginning and the North overtook the South in economic terms (especially thanks to its heavy industry), which helped Kim gain a godlike popularity among his people. However, the growth eventually stagnated more and more. Because of the little arable land, it became increasingly difficult to grow enough food to support the whole population, culminating in a catastrophic famine in the 1990s. Lack of food is still a huge problem even today, but at least the international aid that had been refused for a long time is now being accepted.

Kim il-sung was followed by his son Kim Jong-il in 1994, who replaced the “Juche” ideology by the slogan “Army First”. While the isolation slightly degraded and made way for small beginnings of a free economy, a huge part of the resources were spent on military power and development, preparing the army for the war the country still sees itself taking part in.

2011, after Kim Jong-il's death, his son Kim Jong-un came to power, which brings a lot of uncertainty with it. While it is expected that the new ruler follows the old line of the dynasty and will need to mark his presence in the first few years, observers and experts of the country have started to report of unprecedented openness and optimism in the past one to two years.

Flying the IL-62 from Beijing to Pyongyang

In the midst of this uncertain situation, our group assembled early at Beijing’s huge airport the next morning, to make its way to the hermit kingdom. And we weren’t the only ones! The Arirang Mass Gymnastics Festival, which will be featured later on in this report, drew large crowds of tourists to North Korea. In total, Air Koryo sent two IL-62, one Tu-154 and one Tu-204 to Beijing on that day alone. Even the lengthy 2-hour check-in process this resulted in, couldn’t take away any of the excitement!

It took until 30 minutes before departure until finally every member of our group was checked in. A quick run through security followed, and then we were good to go!


The fact that half the Air Koryo fleet was in Beijing had us fearing we wouldn’t get the planned IL-62 for the past three hours, but here she was, at our gate! The 33-year-old beauty with the registration P-885!


With a delay of about 20 minutes the aircraft was pushed back, we listened enthusiastically to the start-up of the four Soloviev D-30 engines, and after a brief taxi and a very short wait at the runway (for Beijing standards), the IL-62 finally took to the hazy Beijing skies!

For an adequate background noise, open this great video of our take-off made by my colleague Simon de Rudder, sitting a few rows behind me!



View from my seat in the rear cabin (separated business class in front). The aircraft was filled to the last seat!


Who thought darkened windows were a novelty of the B787 hasn’t thought of Russian ingenuity! In addition, a look at the business class...

More impressions of the cabin

The flight time of 80 minutes left barely enough time to serve all 180 passengers, and the food was distributed very quickly

Mmmhm, now how do I make an appropriate bridge to the next picture! Nooo, the food really wasn't all that bad!  http://www.planepics.org/reiseberichte/nordkorea/008.jpg

We had barely swallowed out last bite when the nose of our all-metal aircraft was lowered, speedbrakes extended, and we set course for Pyongyang’s airport. Previously, when crossing the border, an announcement in honor of the "great leader” was made and the national anthem played


A quarter of an hour before landing a loud *clunk* sound was heard, and the landing gear was extended (a practice that was repeated on later flights). Eventually, we turned over attractive landscapes onto the final approach to the 4,000 meter-long runway 19 of Sunan International Airport in Pyongyang. Here we are on finals, my colleague hitting the jackpot with this photo!


After landing and an eternally long taxi (those interested, look up Pyongyang’s airport layout on Google Maps – only the far runway remains in use) we finally arrived at the main apron. Now we were allowed, one after the other, into the cockpit to take a photo – something which takes quite a lot of time with 40 enthusiasts! Just when it was about my turn, the session was terminated, as the fourth airplane from Beijing was about to land and they wanted us crazy guys to leave the apron. It obviously wasn’t really my day, and so another outside photo will have to do.


Welcome to Pyongyang! Unfortunately, the old "Soviet-style" terminal was demolished a few weeks earlier, and had to make way for a modern-looking temporary building. Behind the blue planks on the left, construction work for the new terminal is starting.


Yummy yummy, a look at the static display! From front to back: Tu-204-300 P-632 (built 94, with Air Koryo since 2007) , the Tu-154B P-561 (delivered to Air Koryo directly in 1976), then the Tu-154A P-552 I in which should fly a week later (delivered directly to Air Koryo in 1983), followed by the IL-62M P-885 (1979). Knowing observers have of course already spotted the stranger in the background: The IL-62M P-886P, which was transferred from Cubana (ex CU-T1280) to Air Koryo only some weeks before. Whether it will fly for the airline or just be used for parts couldn’t be determined. But it is rumoured that Air Koryo will soon announce the purchase of new aircraft, and the IL-62 might be withdrawn from international service starting next year.

Currently, the Air Koryo fleet looks about as follows:

- 5x An-24 (2x -24B active, 2x -24RV active, 1x -24B stored)
- 2x IL-18 (1x pax, 1x cargo)
- 5x IL-62 (2x pax, 2x VIP, 1x ex Cubana)
- 3x IL-76 (at least two active)
- 2 Tu-134B (only one seen)
- 2x Tu-154 (1x-154B, 1-154B-2)
- 2x Tu-204 (1x -100, 1x -300


A look at the small temporary terminal of Pyongyang (pictured on a different day, on Saturday it was brimming with people). Immigration itself was quick and easy - for the subsequent security check however, we had queue for about 30 minutes.


Here our mobile phones were collected and stored at the airport for a week. Apart from those, the only thing else that bothers the North Koreans, are GPS. Therefore I left my beloved GPS watch in Beijing, and could truthfully answer “no” even the fourth time an official asked me if I had any GPS device. After critically eyeing my laptop and my camera for a few seconds, I finally entered this strange country without any further losses.

In front of the terminal, we were greeted by our four guides who doubled as our companions, tour guides and observers for the next week. These were two men and women from 21 to 35, who had been trained for four years at the University of Tourism, had profound knowledge of their country and spoke pretty decent English. Dealing with them was really enjoyable and warm, marked by a lot of laughing, and after a few days we had become friends. They also answered all our questions about the construction of their country, their lifestyles, etc. – just our cynical remarks about some of those things weren’t really appreciated.

They never really interfered with our photography plans either – they just prohibited taking pictures of military installations or personnel, but apart from that, we were pretty free about what to shoot.

Two buses were waiting for us. A group of 20 people each was assigned to a bus, and joined by two guides each, we set out for the city center about 30 minutes away. On the side of the road, the “great leader” already welcomed us  http://www.planepics.org/reiseberichte/nordkorea/021.jpg

The road is lined with several monuments. Here the Immortality Monument, which is actually dedicated to Kim Il-sung and located on the road to his mausoleum, but now carries Kim Jong-il’s name as well.


Just ahead is the next impressive sight: the North Korean triumphal arch, which is modelled after Paris’ version but tops it by three meters. It was inaugurated in 1982, commemorating the 70th Birthday of the “Great Leader”. The number 1925 represents the propagated year when Kim Il-sung started the resistance against the Japanese, and 1945 the year when the Japanese surrendered.
In the background, Pyongyang’s TV Tower can be seen.


After these impressions we continued to the hotel - but even this was quite striking! The Koryo Hotel with its two 143-meter high twin towers was built in 1985, as a status symbol for the country.

While the hotel is considered to be 5-star in North Korea, I would personally rate it somewhere between a 3 and 4-star. The suite rooms had a separate living room plus a bathroom, which was up to Western standards. Oh, and we got a great view of Pyongyang from the 20th floor for free too!
(The photo’s also busting the myth that Pyongyang is completely dark at night due to power shortages)

By the way, here's a little room tour video of my room  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pz4MhhWPtPE&hd=1


[Edited 2012-10-28 10:27:49]

[Edited 2012-10-28 10:30:57]

46 replies: All unread, showing first 25:
User currently offlineCYP353 From Switzerland, joined Jun 2005, 26 posts, RR: 2
Reply 1, posted (3 years 7 months 2 days 21 hours ago) and read 31770 times:

Sightseeing in Pyongyang

I’m trying to provide a coherent overview of the capital in this section, while in reality, the pictures were shot during the whole week – be it on dedicated sightseeing days, before or after the flights or even just through the bus window…

First, an overview shot of the center of the metropolis of 3 million people, taken from the Juche tower. The Taedong River divides the city in two, and not surprisingly it’s the three big hotels that dominate the skyline. On the far right, the TV tower can be seen again.


Of course, the portraits of the revered leaders are ubiquitous: Left the "grandfather" Kim Il-sung ("Great Leader") who started it all (always shown in a suit), right his son Kim Jong-il ("Dear Leader", in fashionable garb) who deceased in 2011.


On arrival after a delicious dinner at the revolving restaurant on the roof of the Koryo hotel, we set out for a spontaneous night stroll through Pyongyang. First stop: The Grand Theatre - thankfully with perfect photo-puddle!  http://www.planepics.org/reiseberichte/nordkorea/032.jpg

The Mansudae Apartment Complex with its modern building style didn’t really fit into our mental image of Pyongyang. The futuristic urban living area was inaugurated only this year, marking the 100th Birthday of the "Great Leader"...


Not far from our hotel, Pyongyang's main train station: From here trains to all parts of the country depart; some even go to Beijing (several times a week) and as far as Moscow, 10’000 km away (twice a month).


At the central square in Pyongyang, named Kim il-sung Square (what else?), some beautiful buildings can be admired. Here, the building of the Ministry of Foreign Trade (wondering how much work they have?). On its façade it is adorned with a huge flag of the Korean Workers' Party; consisting of hammer, sickle and brush - representing industrial workers, peasants and intellectuals, which are regarded as the three main pillars of the working community.


Dominating the famous place is this massive building. However, unlike in normal cities, it is neither a government nor a religious palace – rather, in perfect alignment with the communist idea, it serves the people. The Great People’s Study Hall was built in 1983 and doubles as the national library as well as a community college.


On another day, we got a tour of the building. At the entrance we were of course greeted by the “Great Leader”, and the two guys were also present at study rooms' walls. The staff were proudly demonstrating us their school desks featuring fancy mechanisms to adjust height and tilt, too ...  

The highlight of the visit, however, was the view from the large roof terrace on the sixth floor: The view extends over the Kim Il-sung Square across to the Tower of the Juche Idea - it measures 170 meters and is crowned by a 20 meter high red torch. It was also built in 1982 - whose 70th birthday this was should be clear by now...  http://www.planepics.org/reiseberichte/nordkorea/037.jpg

Of course we also visited the tower itself on another day, which also includes the symbols of the North Korean Trinity ...


The view from up above is breathtaking! First, a look at Pyongyang's futuristic side: once more the Mansudae Apartment Complex, while in the back Pyongyang's tallest and most prominent building can be seen: The Ryugyong Hotel, unfinished for years.


“Our” Koryo hotel looks pretty stuffy and old in comparison!


A view of the residential area on the east bank of the Taedong River. In the distance you can spot the May Day Stadium, the largest stadium in the world featuring 150’000 seats. It’ll play a role in this report a bit later on, too!


On that occasion, a few more impressions of houses (one is tempted to say, housing batteries) in the capital


As a brief interruption from the city life we’re now visiting the circus! Yeah, there was even time for that in our jam-packed tour program. Together with a few thousand soldiers we enjoyed great North Korean entertainment for 90 minutes. The artistic performances were world-class, some have even won the Monte Carlo Circus Festival I believe. Unfortunately photography was officially banned, so it had to be done in secret ...


Well, yeah. Besides all the outstanding performances, there were some that took a little getting used to for Western eyes. Pet lovers should maybe close their left eye and continue reading below. But at least the baboons looked as if they were having fun on the ice (the skinny bruin definitely not). The lady, who for three minutes balanced a glass on a broomstick all while hanging on a rope was great again, though!

Let's continue with something more beautiful! Unarguably, what North Koreans do best are monuments; and this is one of my favourites. Located on the main road leaving Pyongyang to the south (i.e. in the direction of South Korea), the Reunification Monument is standing. It’s made up of two exactly identical statues of Korean women in traditional dress holding together a board with a map of a united Korea.


Neeeeext! To anyone who has been paying attention, the symbolism should be familiar. Other notable facts: It’s the Party Founding Memorial, and it was built in 1995 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Korean Workers' Party.


Finally we were able to get a bit closer look at the Ryugyong Hotel. The construction of the (then the world's highest) hotel began in 1987. However, it was never completed because of various problems, and its grey concrete shell towered over the city like a massive eyesore for many years. Only recently, with the money of Egyptian Orascom company which is also responsible for the construction of a North Korean mobile network, the façade was completed and work on the inside is said to continue.


The next place to visit is hard to beat in terms of symbolism and propaganda importance: In 1968, the North Korean Navy captured the American spy ship USS Pueblo, which was cruising along the coast of the communist country. The soldiers on board were sent to torture camps, but were released after eight months following a (faked) apology from the U.S. government. The Pueblo remained in North Korea though and is the only ship in the U.S. Navy which is in the hands of a foreign power.


Of course, the Pueblo, which is now anchored in the Taedong River, was turned into a major tourist attraction, doing its very best to hit you with a propaganda overdose. Preppy female officers with chirpy voices (left, on the right one of our guides) tell tourists the North Korean version of the Pueblo incident – while I believe it was clear to anyone involved that our group was far more interested in obtaining pictures of Madame in uniform than of the ship itself. Anyway. After touring the ship’s secret rooms, we just had to endure a 10 minute propaganda film, and then we were good to go again.

The next place visited was far more interesting again! We dove down into the underground world of the legendary Pyongyang Metro!


The system consists of two lines, which at a depth of 100 meters run below the city center west of the Taedong River, and whose tunnels are said to double as bomb shelters, too. At least the five stations we visited were richly decorated with monstrous chandeliers on the ceiling, detailed mosaics on the tunnel walls, and of course statues of the national demigod. The rolling stock was taken over from the Berlin subway, but received a new color scheme.


Since we're on the subject of public transport, here are some more impressions from the city’s transit network. Since 1962, Pyongyang has an extensive trolley-bus network. While the numerous antique busses in all degrees of decay ploughing the city’s streets were obviously at the center of everyone's attention, it must be noted that an increasing number of top modern-looking models can be spotted, too. By the way, each star painted on a vehicle represents 50,000 kilometers travelled (for example the yellow bus below).


The trams on the other hand seem to consist only of very old Czech Tatra sets, which were either built directly for Pyongyang, or were taken over second hand from Leipzig, Dresden or Magdeburg in Germany. On a separate line, which unfortunately we didn’t get to visit, old trams from Zurich are cruising about, too ...


User currently offlineCYP353 From Switzerland, joined Jun 2005, 26 posts, RR: 2
Reply 2, posted (3 years 7 months 2 days 21 hours ago) and read 31658 times:

Arirang Mass Gymnastics Festival

On Sunday evening, we were treated to a very special spectacle: the visit of the Arirang Mass Gymnastics show in the already mentioned May Day Stadium. Here we are!


The 90-minute show is loosely based on the Korean folk song Arirang, which is about a love story. Mass gymnastics involving a total of 100’000 dancers tell not only the love story, but also include references to the North Korean history and celebrate the most important technical achievements.

Here is the beginning of the story, starting with a sunrise - the sun at the same time also stands for Kim Il-sung.


Almost as spectacular as the synchronised dancing on the lawn is the background: It is made of 30,000 students who create ever changing mosaic images by holding coloured plates up in the air. Of course the national flag is one of them.


The love story is interwoven with the history of the country - I think this scene treated the invasion of Japan, which separated the two lovers.


Many of the mosaics pay tribute to the country’s infrastructure: This one here’s unmistakably about modes of transport, and clearly includes Air Koryo’s IL-62!


From time to time it gets very cheesy ...


... before military precision returns (all soldiers were played by actors though). Impressive!





Time for the ‘grande finale’, showing Korea as the center of the world (they were kind enough to include some peace doves in there, too though)!


Under a bombastic firefork, all 100‘000 dancers present themselves to the audience. The whole show was really something of the best that I have seen in my life. And even though the country is unarguably plagued by huge problems – such an evening can really make you forget it for a while!

In short, if someone is planning to go to North Korea, I would certainly recommend to do so during the Arirang festival (usually in August / September)


The whole beauty of this spectacle can barely be captured in still images. Therefore I recommend to anyone who’s interested to take a look at my video here, in which I stitched together a few impressive sequences.


Daytrip to Kaesong and the DMZ

After Pyongyang is now covered, I’ll continue chronologically. Back to Sunday, our first day in the country. A 2-hour bus ride over eerily empty (and unnervingly bumpy) highways took us to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) on the border to South Korea; and to the border city of Kaesong – the country’s fifth largest city with 300’000 inhabitants.


A deserted access road cuts through the endless rice and soybean fields


A hamlet along the route


More impressions of buildings and towns along the route – the one on the lower left being a rest stop restaurant which we briefly visited

The center of our visit: the border area at Panmunjom. The border between North and South runs through the center of the blue huts, which are therefore often used for conversations between the two governments. The massive building with a dozen cameras on the roof is the South Korean visitors center.


Left is a picture from inside the barracks, one of our Americans sitting on the South Korean side (right), one of the Dutch guys on the left in North Korea. The line passes through the center of the table, where the microphones are.

On the right you can see the monument that carries Kim Il-sung's signature, with which he’s supposed to have signed a document for the desired reunion on the day before his death (07/07/94). Of course, the panel is 8.7 meters wide and the whole monument is 9.4 meters long (representing the death date of 8/7/94), and 82 Kimilsungia flowers (yeah, they exist!) carved into the stone represent the “Great Leader’s” age when he died.

After the trip to the border, we visit the city of Kaesong, which is dominated by a giant at Kim Il-sung statue on a hill


The city was richly decorated for the National Day (September 9) - and as usual, children (and often adults and soldiers, too) joyfully waved at us!


Kaesong was the center of medieval Korea under the rule of the Koryo Dynasty (Koryo -> Air Koryo -> Korea) and therefore has a distinct cultural and culinary history. Once again we enjoyed a varied and tasty meal, while the people around us have to live on 700 calories a day ...


During our stay most clouds had disappeared, and I was able to get some more beautiful impressions of the countryside during our drive back to Pyongyang.


Again and again we drove through hilly and mountainous regions, which are also one of the main reasons for the continuing Korean famine: Only 18% of the land area is flat enough to be cultivated and the rather arid climate during most of the year isn’t conducive to farming either. This leaves me with the impression that, regardless of how good the “Great Leader’s” intentions with his Juche ideology of isolation and self-sufficiency may have been, he simply picked the wrong country to pull it off!

But yes, the scenery is absolutely beautiful!



Alrighty, now you’ve waited long enough: Fasten your seatbelts, here comes the flying part of the report!

User currently offlineCYP353 From Switzerland, joined Jun 2005, 26 posts, RR: 2
Reply 3, posted (3 years 7 months 2 days 21 hours ago) and read 31659 times:

Heading for the mountains in the IL-18: North to Mount Paektu


6 o’clock wake-up call (once again ...), 6:30 breakfast, 7 o’clock departure to the airport. During the half hour drive through dense fog we wonder if our old lady would be able to fly in these conditions. But the closer we get to the airport, the more the sun peeks through the clouds - and once we’ve passed the lax security check and catch a glimpse of the apron, the 44-year-old Russian beauty is sitting there in the best morning light!


Soon after, everything is ready for boarding. Together with a Belgian tour group we climb up the stairs in the back of the Il-18D P-835.


Seat reservations worked more or less, and I could enjoy my desired view of the huge four-bladed propellers, measuring 4.5 meters in diameter. Soon the four Ivchenko AI-20M-turbines had been started, and after the usual 10 minute taxi time we climbed into the hazy morning sky. What a great feeling!

Here's a video from another tour member: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6PX6M0oyEM


Simply beautiful!


Cabin View


And a few more features, including speed and altitude displays in the Business Class cabin in the rear of the aircraft. Oh and I’d love to have these folding seats in Western airlines, too!


Soon again the relatively short descent began, as we aimed for Samjiyon Airport, with a considerable elevation of 1’400 meters.


The landing was unfortunately totally backlit, hence no photos. Here we are already on the small apron at the end of the runway, with a view of the VIP terminal


We were in no hurry to leave the aircraft though, as every group member got to have a look in the cockpit. What a great pleasure!


Looking under the beauty' wings...


…and admiring the modern ground equipment  http://www.planepics.org/reiseberichte/nordkorea/210.jpg

The 40 aviation enthusiasts were free to roam around and photograph the classical Russian from all angles, with ever growing grins on their faces. But that wasn't enough! Our organizers asked the crew to carry all cargo bags out of the picture and persuaded the driver of the boarding stairs to bring his vehicle in position for us photographers. And here we are, in North Korea, at a military airbase, with tested MIG engines howling in the distance, shooting pictures of a rare aircraft from the boarding stairs. Am I dreaming?


The result: The best possible picture one could hope for!


While the others were still taking turns at the stairs, I went looking for other interesting perspectives ...

And finally ... the boarding stairs driver could even be won for a second promising position. Fantastic!


After we had besieged the elegant aircraft for no less than half an hour, we deployed to the terminal for a Q&A session with a part of the five-person crew (in addition to them, a complete second crew accompanied us on the trip!). The Captain (left) was answering our questions, while the young radio operator eagerly translated, clearly enjoying the opportunity to practice his English. We learned that this IL-18 with which we had flown, was a specially well-equipped variant, because she had been used for presidential flights, and that Air Koryo has enough spare parts to keep the IL-18 flying for another ten years (and fully intends to do so).

Now you have to endure another small round of sightseeing: Next to the airport we were picked up by a bus and embarked on a trip through dense alpine forests and barren plains…


...to Mount Paektu, located on the Chinese border. The 2’744 meter high stratovolcano is the highest mountain in the entire Korean peninsula, and has always been regarded by Koreans as an important spiritual place. It is also of great importance to the North Korean propaganda, as it’s said to have been the base of Kim il-sung's guerilla resistance against the Japanese and the birth place of the second leader, Kim jong-il. For this reason, it can be seen glorified on posters and murals all over the country – but even the natural live version is breathtaking!


A rumbling old funicular (for once unfortunately not made in Switzerland) took us to just below the summit, where we enjoyed a picnic we had brought from Pyongyang as well as the fabulous views


Well rested we then set out to climb to the very top, which we reached in a 20-minute walk. From there, we had a superb view of the amazingly beautiful crater lake Chonji ("Heaven Lake") and all the way to the Chinese side of the crater rim.


View during the descent; in the distance (below the somewhat larger cloud almost exactly in the middle of the photo) the runway of Samjiyon Airport can be spotted


By cable car (which is apparently broken more often than it works) we went back down again…


... and continued our journey to the next attraction, following never-ending narrow forest roads through no man's land – where, to our astonishment, we passed countless groups of marching soldiers, while we had no idea where they could possibly come from or be headed out here. It felt almost like artificial intelligence people aimlessly walking the streets of some computer game!

The destination of our painfully bumpy 90-minute ride? A simple log cabin, would you believe it! But of course, it’s not just *any* log cabin, but the one where (according to propaganda) the “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il was born in (soviet records state he was born near Khabarovsk though). Admittedly, the hut doesn’t look much older than 10 years – and the position of doors and windows differs significantly compared to the propaganda picture, too. But like so many times on this trip: Just listen to their story, and take it with a smile.

Exhausted from the flight and the rough rides in the bus we retired for the evening in a remote hotel. This was not quite as luxurious as the Koryo Hotel, but still pretty okay. The mild electric shocks when washing your hands and the non-functioning toilet ensured a bit of welcome adventure to write home about though. The in-room amenities didn’t bother us too much though, since we spent the longer part of the night at the bar anyway.

User currently offlineCYP353 From Switzerland, joined Jun 2005, 26 posts, RR: 2
Reply 4, posted (3 years 7 months 2 days 21 hours ago) and read 31590 times:

Relatively tired, we continued our sightseeing mission the next morning, but we were treated with a real gem! The Rimyongsu Falls, topped by a beautiful pavilion.


Of course we couldn’t leave without seeing the Samjiyon Grand Monument, which commemorates the guerilla war against the Japanese. The bronze statue of the "Great Leader" dominates the area…


...and his soldiers were sculpted so lifelike that you’d think snapping with your fingers is all it takes to make them spring into action!


Then we went for a hearty lunch and some last electric shocks back in our hotel, and finally left for the airport


With no seat reservations anymore, 40 enthusiasts could be observed walking faster and faster as they approached the aircraft, finally running up the stairs, eager to get one of the four coveted window seats in front of the props!

Anyway. I let the others go first, and contented myself with a seat behind the wing. After a seemingly endless takeoff run (even the old IL isn’t immune to high altitude!) we climbed out very flat and headed for Pyongyang.


The flight was uneventful, and after half an hour we were back again in the extended final approach path to Pyongyang – the landing gear long extended already


Enjoying the last seconds in the air


Hello Pyongyang!


While we were taxiing to the terminal, our guide announced over the P/A system that he had a little surprise for us. After we’d parked, a bus picked us up and brought us to the “famous” Ilyushin-14 other tour groups had spotted standing on the apron. According to information provided by a representative of Air Koryo, she was given to the “Great Leader” by Stalin in 1955, and Kim il-sung flew her himself.


The Il-14 is reported to have been flown the last time in 1987. While she’s obviously not airworthy anymore, she is kept in impeccable condition, due to her large sentimental value to the country. She is said to be moved to a museum near Pyongyang in 2013.

While the previous tours were allowed to look at the classic from outside, we were the first Western people who were granted access to the inside, too. Here the beautifully furnished cabin:

And finally, passing the desks of radio operator and navigator ...


...we reach the holy office!


While we were gathered around the IL-14, we also had a chance to snap some apron shots: First, our IL-18 being towed back to its parking location made for a great tail parade picture…


…and then, this sleek jet came taxiing by, too!


User currently offlineCYP353 From Switzerland, joined Jun 2005, 26 posts, RR: 2
Reply 5, posted (3 years 7 months 2 days 21 hours ago) and read 31607 times:

Riding the Tu-134: A daytrip to Hamhung

The plane pictured above also plays the leading role on the next day: We chartered it for a day trip to the East Coast.


Once again: All aboard! This time we had the plane to ourselves, which made for a more relaxed atmosphere on board.


So we were all quickly seated, and ready for the next adventure. The startup of the Soloviev engines was again a feast for the ears, and 10 minutes later we received the full roar. Takeoff!

(once again a colleague's video of the trip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6K1qutUEJBo )


Shortly after take-off, we turn to the east ...


... and enjoy a few minutes’ cruise through the clouds


Cabin shot: Checked!


Same thing applies to detailed shots of the interior

Shortly after, we were in the final approach to the airport of Sondok near Hamhung on North Korea's east coast. Taking photos during the approach was officially not allowed (probably due to some military installations on the ground), so it had to be done in secret…


The usual procedure followed: Before vacating the plane, everybody got a quick peek inside the cockpit!



Our sleek beauty during a short sunny spell...


... and in some more detailed shots. Here, too, we had plenty of time to satisfy our photographic hunger

Yet another bus was waiting, and it took us to a somewhat strange sight: a fertilizer plant. Both the group and the guides – we already got along really well by then – couldn’t wait for the touristic highlight of our visit, and mimicked feverish anticipation. Et voilà – it’s super nice here, eh?


I do not know exactly what is coming out of the chimney there, but the whole place was drenched in a terrible smell of ammonia that left you hardly daring to breathe.

After all, the visit at least yielded a few "typical" North Korea pictures: That’s how I’d imagined the whole country to be before my visit: gray, dark, rough and full of propaganda.

After walking through a noisy machine hall, the hour-long visit was thankfully completed…


...and we could turn to more beautiful destinations!


Unfortunately there was not much time for splashing in the water: Lunch was already waiting in the dining room of the adjacent beach resort. On a side note, despite all the raw and strange foods we were eating, none of them caused any stomach troubles – it was the salami pizza in Pyongyang’s Italian restaurant on the same eve that got some of us though  http://www.planepics.org/reiseberichte/nordkorea/314.jpg

The trip to Hamhung was originally planned to include an overnight stay at the beach resort. However, since our Tu-134 was needed to fly a Chinese tour group the next day, we had to return again the same afternoon. Not that I minded too much! So, buckle up again, off we go!


The sun shyly peeked through the clouds by now, but since bleed air and air conditioning were shut off for the takeoff – a common procedure on those flights – the dirty and scratched windows fogged up quickly, taking away most of the good views


Our Indian class clown made for some entertainment in the air, and was quick to replace the Air Koryo Flight Attendants with his own service concept – a very effective one at that!


After less than half an hour we were already back in familiar surroundings, the northern approach corridor of Pyongyang


Just as we taxied to our stand, we could see how one of the hardly used IL76 was towed for an engine test. A good sign for our last big highlight, which was to take place after a rest-day filled with sightseeing in the capital.

User currently offlineCYP353 From Switzerland, joined Jun 2005, 26 posts, RR: 2
Reply 6, posted (3 years 7 months 2 days 21 hours ago) and read 31609 times:

The big day: Flying in the IL-76's cargo hold

On Friday, the birthday of two tour members, the long awaited highlight was finally taking place: Flying on the Il-76 and the An-24. Yipee! And as if this hadn’t been enough, we were blessed with decent weather after two days of rain and overcast clouds. Perfect conditions for an unforgettable day!

Originally, two half-hour sightseeing flights around Pyongyang had been planned. Shortly before our departure for Korea, however, we received the information that the administration had banned such scenic flights without any apparent reason. Our tour operator didn’t just give up and cancel the flights though – he converted them into a round-trip to Sondok and back, at his own cost. This not only left us with more airtime, but also with plenty of good photography opportunities at the more laid-back Sondok airport.

The Il-76 was the means of choice for the outbound leg...


... and sure enough, there she was already waiting for us! Even just to *see* an Il-76 has become a rare highlight in my part of the world. Riding in her belly however is almost unbelievable, and definitely a once in a lifetime experience!


Accordingly excited, the mob stormed the 22-year-young freighter...

...and immediately took every corner of the huge cargo deck under scrutiny!


A quick "clean shot" of the cargo compartment ....


…and then we’re strapped down on the troop seats and get ready to rumble!
On the right, the Load Master can be observed watching his instruments (and our picnic supplies)

Unfortunately, I wasn’t lucky enough to get one of the four window seats, but even without any view of the outside world, the flight was an absolute highlight! The huge empty cargo space increased the engine noise similar to a cathedral, and when the takeoff thrust was set, we had to take care not to slip backwards on our seats. A real experience!

Luckily, one of the guys at the windows was kind enough to share his video with the world: Definitely recommended! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N1hkpo3DSn4

My roommate also took the Il-76 on the way back (while most others rode on the An-24), and was able to obtain the following wing views. Cool!

It didn’t take long till the nose was lowered, we slipped forward on our seats, the landing gear was extended, and after what felt like an eternity, with a loud screech of the 16 main gear tires, we touched down hard. Speeding along the runway was so bumpy that I feared we’d landed on the grass next to it, but finally the reverse thrust kicked in and the howling engines brought us to a halt on the small apron. Here’s a video of mine showing the inside view of the landing.: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ChMMJkgkhY&hd=1

Welcome to Hamhung!


No getting off yet though! First, we embarked on a tour of the maze that is the two-story cockpit. Yes, while the first group in March was lucky just to see the IL76, and the August group was denied visiting the flight deck, we were treated to the full show!

First I went to the lower level - the glass nose, workplace of navigator and observer


And finally, I progressed to the ultimate hotspot!  http://www.planepics.org/reiseberichte/nordkorea/405.jpg

Then the outside shooting began. My friend immediately darted to a well-located photo puddle, and now there were six of us getting dirty lying at the Ilyushin’s feet. But it was so worth it!


It just looks awesome from every angle!

Wow, wow, wow!


A classical shot for the purists out there...


...and a souvenir shot for me and a Swiss colleague!


Nose parade


Finally we retreated to the VIP room inside the terminal to have our picnic - always observed by the great leaders!

In the afternoon we got ready for the flight home - and finally, I was able to settle my bill with the An-24, which had escaped me on an earlier visit to Cuba. Yay!


Calm before the storm when all the crazy people return…


Even though it was clearly overshadowed by the fantastic IL76-ride, I also looked forward to flying aboard the Antonov workhorse!

Before we boarded however, we were treated with watching the IL76 starting up its four engines only a few meters away, and then see it taxi around us and depart for Pyongyang. What a spectacle! Here’s my shaky attempt at recording the show on video!


While the Ilyushin was still in sight, the first few already began to run toward the Antonov to secure a good window seat. I could at least grab one with a decent view of the gear and engine, and looked forward to the ride to Pyongyang!


The An-24 really surprised me: The seat pitch was unexpectedly generous after all we’d gone through the last week, and the noise level seemed to be almost as low as in an ATR or an older Dash-8. The only thing to complain about would be the lack of an air-condition, which had us madly fanning around with the few remaining safety cards for the whole lengthy flight.

We say goodbye to the East Coast ...


...enjoy the comparatively long ride (after three jet flights on the same route) by admiring the scenery...

...and are finally being welcomed again by Pyongyang’s northern areas.


Once again, we start our now well-known approach procedure: Quickly wave at the Kyonryong Reservoir lake and then head straight for Rwy 19.


But wait, something's wrong! We are higher than usual, and suddenly a right turn is initiated! Yay, stronger winds from the north make us fly a Visual Circling onto Rwy 01! And I was sitting on the right side to collect the airport view ...  

Clearly visible in the front is the active runway runway 19/01 (4'000m), then the loooong taxiway including a bridge over the channelled Taedong River, leading to the old and blocked runway 17/35 (3'500 m), and finally, to the apron and terminals. Admittedly a somewhat strange airport layout but oh well - what isn’t strange in this country?


Advantage number two of the circling: A few extra minutes overhead the pretty colourful parcel rice fields! On the right, the airport can be spotted again as we’re due to turn onto the final approach course.


Aaaaand here we are, touchdown on 01!

And yeah, I did indeed switch sides while on final. But seeing the locals *standing* in the connecting corridor behind the cockpit for the whole landing, I assumed it was safe to do so... http://www.planepics.org/reiseberichte/nordkorea/422.jpg

Aaaand even here, a cockpit shot was possible! The deep black of the panel appears quite logical, too, after we could smell the cockpit crew lighting up their cigarettes the minute after we touched down!  http://www.planepics.org/reiseberichte/nordkorea/423.jpg

Even the small turboprop obviously requires a crew of four, so once more there are stations for the radio operator and flight engineer

Before we headed back to the terminal to re-unite with the IL76 part of our group, the crew quickly posed for a neat picture in front of their aircraft (also take note of the state-of-the-art passenger bus in the back!)


Overjoyed by the experienced, we were transported back to the city, completed some final sightseeing, and enjoyed one last delicious dinner (while many group members couldn’t wait to leave the Korean cuisine behind and sprint into the first McDonalds on their way, I thoroughly enjoyed it and would’ve loved to taste some more – except for the cute domestic animal starting with d... we once tried in a soup maybe [and no, it wasn't donkey]).

The next morning, the group split up: one part was flying directly to Beijing in order to catch the most modern Air Koryo plane, the Tu-204. It featured an attractive, modern cabin including LCD displays on the ceiling, where a North Korean action movie was shown in a deafening volume. Here are three pictures of my German colleagues – on the large one, Beijing Capital International Airport and its characteristic Terminal 3 can be recognized.


Back to China in the Tu-154

I, however, opted for the "classic" version and was hoping to also get the last missing member of the “old” Air Koryo fleet: the Tu-154. While it is scheduled to carry out the flights to the northern Chinese city of Shenyang just beyond the border, it is quite often replaced with bigger aircraft.

As you can imagine, tensions were rising as we headed to Pyongyang airport for the last time and assembled in the busy departures hall. Which plane would await us on the apron?

Yay, here she is! While we weren’t treated to the Tu-154B (which would have been the oldest flying Tu-154 in the world) but “only" the slightly newer "B-2" version, we were more than happy just to get it!


We got our phones back (finding yours in a heap of shiny black iPhones isn’t the easiest of things, but mine turned out to be the one covered by a myriad of scratches…) and then we were ready for departure. Just the 30-year-old steel rocket (the fastest active civilian aircraft!) needed some time until it was ready and boarding was delayed for 30 minutes.


But then the terminal's sliding doors opened, we boarded the bus, and were brought to the Russian beauty! All hands aboard!

What a great view along the sleek wings, swept back at a 35 degree angle, and our IL-76 in the background!


Soviet-style cabin covered with the typical wallpapers!


One last time we taxi over the Taedong River to the new runway, and finally take to the North Korean skies…!

While the Tu-154M shares its Soloviev D-30 engines with the IL-62 and the IL-76, we were treated to the older and much louder Kuznetsov NK-8s on our Tu-154-B2. What an unbelievable sound – even a bit better than the other jets on the trip!

Here's a video from a friend on the other side of the cabin, Simon de Rudder: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGshjr29cQE&hd=1


Turning left after departure: Bye bye pretty rice fields!


Finally, the flight attendants served the long-awaited Koryo Burger. An apparent contradiction, if you bought propaganda postcards displaying crushed US soldiers just the day before. But only till you remember that it was actually Kim Jong-il who invented the hamburger, and not the evil capitalists!


The short flight was a walk in the park for the fast Tupolev, and before we know it, we are already in the descent towards Shenyang.


Ten minutes later, the Tu-154 is fully established on final approach to runway 06, and we enjoy the last moments aboard this exotic plane before re-entering the ordinary, boring, modern world!


As soon as we had touched down on the runway of Shenyang and the howling reversers had been silenced again, the sound of 160 phones finding a connection and downloading a week’s load of messages instantly brought us back to reality.


Well, what impression remains of North Korea? First and foremost, I was very positively surprised by the openness towards us photographers and enthusiasts.

The Tour

David, the young owner of Juche Travel Services, has achieved a lot in a very short time, thanks to lots of hard work and tremendous organizational skills. The program was very packed, but this also allowed us to get the most out of our limited time in this fascinating country. More or less everything went as planned, except for the Mi-8 flight which was cancelled as the choppers had obviously been transferred to another company shortly before our visit. Apart from that, our guides were fast to improvise and provide a smooth experience for us even when stuff didn’t go according to plan. But they also did their best to tailor the itinerary to our needs, and didn’t hesitate to throw out some sights so we could take more pictures of our airplanes on sunny days.

Both inside the aircraft as well as elsewhere in the country, I had always felt safe and very well looked after. I can therefore truly recommend the tour to anyone who is interested in old airplanes and not afraid to visit a not so normal destination. Several tours have already been announced for the next year, however there are rumours that the IL-62 won’t be used on scheduled international flights anymore and would have to be chartered at higher costs instead. I’m sure that as soon as he receives more detailed information, David will publish it on the Juche Travel website, www.juchetravelservices.com .

The country

Well, this is of course a double-edged sword. I readily admit that what we got to see of North Korea has positively surprised me and had a lasting impression. It was a fascinating exeperience that I wouldn't wanna miss. And so I come to the conclusion that from a purely and superficially touristic point of view, the country is very well worth the trip: You see attractive landscapes, impressive buildings and immerse yourself in a world that can’t be found anywhere else on the planet, which will definitely broaden your horizon. All this at a pretty high level of comfort and safety, which is why I can definitely recommend the destination to almost anybody out there. Provided of course you are willing to arrange yourself with the special travel conditions for a week (almost no communication with the outside world, continuous monitoring and observation, unorthodox beliefs and opinions, lots of propaganda sites).

That is the one, as I said superficially-tourist side. You will definitely only be seeing what the government wants you to see, and this differs quite a lot from the actual life in the country. And it can’t be disputed that lots of things in the country are going terribly wrong, and the people have to endure unbelievable suffering. This is the other side, which one should never forget.

In the end, you have to ask yourself if you can live with this contradiction. I, for myself, decided that I can. And yes, I would not hesitate to go back to North Korea. In addition to the tour cost, I spent about the equivalent of a North Korean annual salary for attractions, shows and souvenirs alone - not only in the rich Pyongyang area but also in the outlying regions. And even if this money goes to the regime people first – even those rich party members will have to buy groceries at one point, and finally the money does end up with the poor farmers or craftsmen. I am convinced that my visit hasn’t had a negative effect on any of the people, and maybe even a positive one for some. That's all I need. I am also convinced that it can only be conducive to a further opening of the country if more and more tourists get to see North Korea with their own eyes. It will not only help their understanding of the country. It also makes it harder for the regime to keep up its façade, and it also shows the locals that there is actually an outside world of people like you and me, who aren’t so mean after all!  


User currently offlineContinental From United States of America, joined Jun 2000, 5557 posts, RR: 15
Reply 7, posted (3 years 7 months 2 days 15 hours ago) and read 30563 times:

Holy cow, what an unbelievably unique trip report. Thank you for sharing this! All of your photos were fantastic.

User currently offline747438 From UK - England, joined Jan 2007, 838 posts, RR: 4
Reply 8, posted (3 years 7 months 2 days 15 hours ago) and read 30484 times:

Fantastic. The best trip report I have read on here. Many thanks for taking the time to share the experience.

User currently offlinejoffie From Australia, joined Mar 2006, 886 posts, RR: 1
Reply 9, posted (3 years 7 months 2 days 14 hours ago) and read 30398 times:

Without a doubt, one of the most interesting well informed reports I have seen here for a long time.

Thank you for taking the effort for making this report.. Such an interesting country many people would never dream of visiting.

Very good report, you should be getting plenty of views.

User currently offlineAirAfreak From United States of America, joined Apr 2012, 750 posts, RR: 0
Reply 10, posted (3 years 7 months 2 days 14 hours ago) and read 30369 times:


I thoroughly enjoyed your first report and was a nice Sunday afternoon read! I think this report has to be THE MOST comprehensive travel report on North Korea so job well done!

I love Korean Cuisine and really enjoyed the photos of your meals... were there any sorts of protein during your stay?

Also, I watched the youtube video of the hotel with the creepy music and now I have the sound of that music in my head! It would be fitting for a haunted house during Halloween! lol!

Thank you again for taking the time to write this report... this was totally awesome!!!

Bon Voyage,


Do you lead an Intercontinental life?
User currently offlinePlymSpotter From Spain, joined Jun 2004, 12167 posts, RR: 56
Reply 11, posted (3 years 7 months 2 days 13 hours ago) and read 30281 times:


Really great to see this - excellent report which brings back lots of great memories. I'm glad somebody had the time to do one because I've been run off my feet with work since the day I got back - the only reports I'm writing these days are boring ones which don't include flying!

Quoting CYP353 (Reply 1):
First stop: The Grand Theatre - thankfully with perfect photo-puddle!  

That was very convenient indeed!

Quoting CYP353 (Reply 1):
Pet lovers should maybe close their left eye and continue reading below.

Yeah blast from the past there for most of us. That poor bear looked tragic.

Quoting CYP353 (Reply 5):
I do not know exactly what is coming out of the chimney there, but the whole place was drenched in a terrible smell of ammonia that left you hardly daring to breathe.

They 'love the youth', as the sign beneath the smoke stack reads. Love them to death perhaps...

Quoting CYP353 (Reply 5):
Unfortunately there was not much time for splashing in the water:

I was surprised only three of us went in. To date, seemingly no ill health from it!

Quoting CYP353 (Reply 6):
Unfortunately, I wasn’t lucky enough to get one of the four window seats,

I wish the crew let us change during cruise - when I got up mid flight to let others see out I tried to give my window seat to somebody else for landing, but was told I had to sit back in the same place. Awesome experience, the Il-76 is a beast.

Quoting CYP353 (Reply 6):
The An-24 really surprised me: The seat pitch was unexpectedly generous after all we’d gone through the last week, and the noise level seemed to be almost as low as in an ATR or an older Dash-8.

I thought the same thing, although I'm not sure if that's a criticism of the Dash 8 or a credit to the An-24. Got noisy up front though!

Quoting CYP353 (Reply 6):
We got our phones back (finding yours in a heap of shiny black iPhones isn’t the easiest of things,

I should use that as an excuse for having such a brick of a personal phone - always know which is mine. I completely forgot that I'd taken my work Blackberry with me though - it spent the week in the bottom of my case in the hotel and I only realised around the fourth day. Ooops!


...love is just a camouflage for what resembles rage again...
User currently offlinemodesto2 From United States of America, joined Jul 2000, 2898 posts, RR: 5
Reply 12, posted (3 years 7 months 2 days 13 hours ago) and read 30209 times:

Undoubtedly the most fascinating trip report I've ever read. Simply amazing. Thanks for the stories and pictures!

User currently offlineHOONS90 From Canada, joined Aug 2001, 3375 posts, RR: 51
Reply 13, posted (3 years 7 months 2 days 11 hours ago) and read 29632 times:


What a brilliantly written trip report!

I've always wanted to visit. I'm a Canadian national with South Korean heritage and my CDN passport displays my birthplace as Seoul, so I'm not sure if that will cause any issues. That's why I am afraid to visit, and why I certainly appreciate your report about a place that I probably will never get to visit.

Thank you!

The biggest mistake made by most human beings: Listening to only half, understanding just a quarter and telling double.
User currently offlineUK_Dispatcher From United Arab Emirates, joined Dec 2001, 2608 posts, RR: 28
Reply 14, posted (3 years 7 months 2 days 9 hours ago) and read 29473 times:

This is an incredible report which I think sums up all of the tours so far. Thanks so much for taking the time to write this.

I have just got back from the October tour, having also been on the inaugural tour in May. The tours just keep getting better; and whilst I had some reservations about going again, I had a fantastic time last week. Two sectors on the IL-76, flying another IL-62 frame, catching the Tu-154-B P-552 back to Shenyang (sorry!!), experiencing a go around in a Tu-134, seeing old friends, making new ones, singing karaoke and being the last ones out of the bar every night - all just made for one of the most memorable weeks ever.

Quoting PlymSpotter (Reply 11):
Yeah blast from the past there for most of us. That poor bear looked tragic.

I was dreading seeing that, but luckily we went to a different 'circus' which I can only describe as captivating. Not what you think of when the word circus is mentioned.

Quoting PlymSpotter (Reply 11):
I was surprised only three of us went in. To date, seemingly no ill health from it!

Four lunatics, myself included, had a dabble this month. It was bloody freezing!

Once again, superb report. Thanks so much.

User currently offlineMSS658 From Belgium, joined Oct 2010, 2474 posts, RR: 14
Reply 15, posted (3 years 7 months 2 days 5 hours ago) and read 29108 times:


Great trip report, thanks for sharing it with us.
Looks like some interesting and unique flights you had! Very nice to read.
Glad you where able to make so many pics in North Korea as well, looks very awesome.


Next trip report: Well worn A330s and Hassle free MUC transfer
User currently offlineairkas1 From Netherlands, joined Dec 2003, 4519 posts, RR: 51
Reply 16, posted (3 years 7 months 2 days 3 hours ago) and read 28922 times:

AMAZING photos Tis! Very, very nice and kinda jealousmaking  



User currently offlineglobalflyer From United States of America, joined Dec 2005, 1048 posts, RR: 3
Reply 17, posted (3 years 7 months 1 day 23 hours ago) and read 28505 times:

What an absolutely stunning TR. Both in writing and in photography. Thanks so much for sharing! Cheers, Will

Landing on every Continent almost on an annual basis!
User currently offlineCYP353 From Switzerland, joined Jun 2005, 26 posts, RR: 2
Reply 18, posted (3 years 7 months 1 day 17 hours ago) and read 28091 times:

Hi everyone,

woooow, thanks so much for your overwhelming and positive feedback! I'm glad I got to take you all along on this unique trip, and it sure motivates to translate another report soon. Even if it won't be *that* exclusive, haha.

Quoting AirAfreak (Reply 10):
I love Korean Cuisine and really enjoyed the photos of your meals... were there any sorts of protein during your stay?

Oh yes, the food was great (I love Asian food anyway) and pretty varied (in contrast to Cuba, where I survived almost exclusively on canned peas and potatos in all shapes and sizes despite staying in a 3* hotel!). As you're probably aware, there are lots of different plates served for each meal, and yes, various kinds of meat were always part of it. The last course was always a bowl of plain white rice to make sure you're full. I was really positively surprised by the variety and quality of the food we were served, and have started regularly adding Kimchi and spicy chilli cucumber salad to my meals at home, too!  
Quoting AirAfreak (Reply 10):
Also, I watched the youtube video of the hotel with the creepy music and now I have the sound of that music in my head!

Hahaha, I really missed it the first few days after leaving! It goes *so* well with looking out over foggy Pyongyang during dawn. To me it always sounded like some "game over" music from old gameboy games  
Quoting PlymSpotter (Reply 11):
I wish the crew let us change during cruise

Is this you, Dan G....n? Yeah, indeed. And I still don't understand why they prohibited taking pictures in approach to Sondok, while on climbout nobody cared (and those russian planes ain't fast climbers, as we know... )

Quoting HOONS90 (Reply 13):
I've always wanted to visit. I'm a Canadian national with South Korean heritage and my CDN passport displays my birthplace as Seoul, so I'm not sure if that will cause any issues.

Puhhh, hard one. I think that generally they're very open, as they admit Americans, too, and I had no problem entering after having been to Seoul just days before. Probably ask David of Juche Travel, or maybe an NK embassy somewhere, if such thing exists in Northern America (I didn't even know there was one in my country, till I got a call from them in the middle of the night asking me some questions about my visa data, haha).

Quoting globalflyer (Reply 17):
What an absolutely stunning TR. Both in writing and in photography.

Aww, thanks! I'm doing my best to please! Unfortunately my english skills seem to go seriously downhill after 1 or 2 hours of writing, so I need to take lots of breaks to re-focus. I hope it was understandable  

I also noted that by limiting width to 800px, the forum kinda ruined my layout (two smaller 500px are actually meant to stand next to eachother), but I'll improve this on my next report.

Thanks again for reading and commenting! I'm not as good as you guys in noting every detail of every flight like in other trip reports, but I'm doing my best to get there!  

If you have any questions about the trip, feel free to ask!

Best regards,


User currently offlineRebelDJ From United Kingdom, joined May 2007, 122 posts, RR: 0
Reply 19, posted (3 years 7 months 1 day 16 hours ago) and read 28048 times:

What an interesting TR - thanks for taking the time to write and to post!

User currently offlineThe777Man From United States of America, joined Jul 1999, 6832 posts, RR: 54
Reply 20, posted (3 years 7 months 1 day 16 hours ago) and read 28018 times:

Hi Tis !

Thanks for an amazing report with amazing pictures !

Looks like you had a very interesting week there!

Any Americans in your group ?

Thanks again for posting!


Need a Boeing 777 Firing Order....Further to fly....LX and LH 777s
User currently offlinevlad1971 From Netherlands, joined Jul 2005, 113 posts, RR: 0
Reply 21, posted (3 years 7 months 1 day 16 hours ago) and read 27985 times:

Nice trip report ! Glad the tour and David doing well . I was on the inaugural tour in May2012 and very pleased to see places visited again . An amazing place to visit !!!! Will be back soon .

User currently offlineCYP353 From Switzerland, joined Jun 2005, 26 posts, RR: 2
Reply 22, posted (3 years 7 months 1 day 15 hours ago) and read 27947 times:

Hi 777Man!

Quoting The777Man (Reply 20):
Thanks for an amazing report with amazing pictures !

Looks like you had a very interesting week there!

Any Americans in your group ?

Thanks a bunch! It was a most interesting week indeed! We did indeed have two (or three?) Americans in our group, and I believe we were the first aviation tour to have them. Except for one soldier who didn't wanna pose for a picture with them after learning they were Americans, I believe they didn't encounter any problems.

User currently offlineJetboyTWA From United States of America, joined Jul 1999, 392 posts, RR: 4
Reply 23, posted (3 years 7 months 21 hours ago) and read 27322 times:

What an amazing report! I've been on airliners.net for over a decade and this is by far the most detailed, engaging, and unique trip report I've ever read. It really makes those trip reports in various premium cabins on the A380's and 787's of the world look bland and boring. Great job!

User currently offlinejetblast From United States of America, joined Nov 2004, 1232 posts, RR: 9
Reply 24, posted (3 years 7 months 20 hours ago) and read 27213 times:

I have to echo the sentiments that this is one of the best trip reports I've seen here. Really incredible. Makes me wish visiting NK wasn't so cost-prohibitive 

Speedbird Concorde One
25 FI642 : Fantastic trip report! I recognize two of my friends in your pictures! They both had an amazing time too! Bravo!
26 Post contains images NZ107 : Hi Tis, Welcome to the A.Net trip reporting world! What a fantastic read! A great insight into what it's like in North Korea, even if that's all you'r
27 drerx7 : Absolutely Fascinating!!!
28 767747 : Amazing report, which has some incredible photos from a place I've never seen photos of! How incredible! What kind of camera do you use? You are very
29 ZKSUJ : Great trip report to what I'm sure was an amazing week. Stunning scenery in that country. I'm sure you totally enjoyed yourself
30 Post contains images CYP353 : Hi again! Thanks a lot Nicholas! You know what for Exactly my thoughts, too (although I'm very happy the whole country didn't smell like that!). And a
31 AA94 : Wow. This trip report goes beyond what I can express simple words. Not only did you satisfy my need for aviation-related material, but you provided a
32 Jetsgo : Simply amazing. I'm speechless. This is without a doubt the most fantastic trip report I have read in my 10 years on this site. You are so incredibly
33 FlyingRoo82 : Brilliant trip report! North Korea looks like a fascinating place to visit. And to fly on those Soviet-era aircraft - simply incredible. Thank you for
34 Post contains images LXa332 : Wonderful! Congrats on your first report. On a side note, I'm only 16 years old, but I traveled to Europe in the summer of 2011. Switzerland was by fa
35 CPAir : Wonderful report! Thanks for share.
36 Post contains images CairnterriAIR : Hands down, this is the best trip report I have read as of yet on this website. I loved all the interesting pictures and angles you took of the variou
37 mvecchi4 : Tis, Probably the best report I've seen on the A.net yet. Absolutely stunning. Brilliant! Congratulations. Thanks for sharing. I never imagined North
38 Loran : Definitely one of the best trip reports I have seen in here, congratulations. Very well written, excellent photos and also great layout. It's called "
39 Post contains links cedarjet : Agree with those above - this is more like a book than an online trip report. Amazing work, thank you so much. FYI here is the info for 2013 trips cop
40 cedarjet : In addition - I have learned the direct translation from Korean for aviation enthusiasts / spotters / a.netters. They call us "Flight hounds"!!
41 Post contains links and images CYP353 : Sorry guys, was away for a few days Thanks for your continued support and great feedback. That's *so* nice! Aww, that's so nice of you! Well, my count
42 YLWbased : this is simply jaw dropping beautiful! YLWbased
43 777way : Wonderful report and pics, glad to see some progress being made in the North, wonder why Orascom was keen on getting that hotel back on track.
44 christao17 : Wow! This has to be the best trip report I've ever read on A.net. Despite its length, every bit of it was fascinating, well-written, and illustrated w
45 MHTripple7 : Wow! Thank you so much for sharing this, CYP353. What a truly unique experience. Your pictures and descriptions really make me want visit North Korea.
46 palmjet : Hi Tis I've been meaning to leave a comment for ages - sorry it's taken so long. What a fantastic report - commentary, background, pictures - all brou
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