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zolagola
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The Kim-Dom Calling-avgeek Heaven North Korea (P1)

Sat Oct 18, 2014 1:13 am



Background

Ever since Juche Travel started offering Aviation tours to North Korea a few years ago and reading a trip report from Sam Chui’s first tour, I had the hermit kingdom on my bucket list. The aviation part was of course what attracted me most, but I also wanted to see the country and, having been born in East Germany before the wall came down, I expected it to be a bit of a travel back in time as well.

Of course travelling to this country raises questions – from others but most importantly for oneself. Is travelling there just supporting one of the most ruthless dictators? Or is it a chance to learn about the country and contribute to better understanding on both sides? From my perspective isolation is never a good approach and I am with West-German politician Egon Bahr who promoted ‘Wandel durch Annäherung’ (change through rapprochement).

I never thought that I would go to North Korea anytime soon however. When looking for a potential time to travel in 2015, I realized it would not be possible due to other commitments. So on a Sunday morning in early August this year I called the German tour organizer and was told that this year’s Aviation tour would take place in 3 weeks’ time and I would have until 6pm the same day to sign up. So a long story cut short – I said ‘Yae’ and the guys did a fantastic job sorting out visa and everything in under 3 weeks for me. And so at the end of August, I flew to Beijing to start my spontaneous adventure (as you can read here: Beijing And Back In C: LH A346 Vs. CA B773 (by zolagola Sep 12 2014 in Trip Reports))


This trip report series covers:

       Tu204 flights PEK-FNJ-PEK
       A visit to the DMZ, the border between the two Koreas
       IL-18 flights FNJ-YJS-FNJ, visit to Mt. Paekdu
       An148, An24 and Tu154B @FNJ (from here covered in part II)
       Tu-134 flights FNJ-DSO-FNJ
       Pyongyang sightseeing
       Joy flights with IL-76 and IL-62M
       Mi17 helicopter flight


The Trip starts…

So after less than 24h in PEK, I was back at Beijing Capital, this time at terminal 2




Air Koryo flight 152 is what I´ll be flying today




Check-In was fairly busy already






Nice red carpet at the Business Class checkin




After a smooth checkin, the boarding pass was issued with Air China and Star Alliance branding - would be fun to start a retro claim with a *A carrier   Though security checks followed - I have never been body searched by a woman at any airport before, but this gal either really took her job serious or had fun touching me, a bit embarrassing to be honest.

Moving airside, we saw this beauty parked not too far away from our gate




We spent some time waiting at the gate, the Tu 204 had already arrived and funnily was parked between two Korean Air widebodies - so close yet so far apart




P-633, a Tupolev Tu 204-100, was built in 2009 and flew briefly for Moscow based Aviastar-TU (TUP) before joining Air Korya’s fleet in March 2010 after TUP was banned carrying passengers due to an accident at DME




Air Koryo flight JS152 from Beijing Capital (PEK) to Pyongyang Sunan International (FNJ)
Date: 30aug14
STD / AOBT: 13:05 L / 14:09 L
STA / AIBT: 16:05 L / 17:38 L
DUR: 2:29
Equipment: T20
Reg: P-633
Personal flight #260
Seat 26A

Boarding started without announcement, initially the crew was quite critical with taking photos inside the plane




Comfy old-style C recliners for the short haul




The Y seats did not only look neat but were also fairly comfortable, very nice quality leather seats, not as monstrous as the Eco seats of the past but also not as slim as the new Y seats. I definitely prefer these over LH’s NEK in Europe.




I had a seat in the smaller rear cabin, it was a fairly full flight but we were lucky to get a free middle seat




No issues with seat pitch here




Newspapers advertising the key achievements of Kim Jong-Un. You were not supposed to fold the newspaper as it is deemed inappropriate to “damage” a picture of the dear leader




A Hainan A330 next to our plane, this airline keeps following me, I have seen a plane on all major airports I have travelled to on a long haul flight over the last year




There was no safety ballet unfortunately but a short safety video was shown followed by Kim, army and happy people videos.

After an already delayed pushback it took 1 hour until we were airborne. It was probably the longest taxi I have ever had, not so much in terms of the lenght of the taxi way but time we spent waiting in line for runway line-up - it was entertaining though as people got up again and again to open the overhead bins or go to the toilet, always keeping the poor Air Koryo crew busy who had to get up and advise people to sit down again. No real information were given but I guess it was the standard PEK congestion




Once airborne, IFE was switched on – in Korean but with Russian subtitles




The crew then started the food and beverage service




The infamous Air Koryo Burger – tastes better than it looks






A look at the rear cabin




Yes, it is a Russian plane




The restrooms were more frequented on the ground than in the air






In Korean airspace – interestingly we did not fly over the open sea despite it seemed the shortest route to FNJ




Approaching FNJ




On short final




After a smooth landing we taxied past the whole Air Koryo fleet which was parked at the taxiways due to contruction works on the taxiways and apron




The sister aircraft, a Tu 204-300, which is usually used to Shenyang




A brief visit to the cockpit with a relaxed crew filing in my flight log




Stepping out of the plane we were greeted with nice evening sunlight, the advantage of our delay




What unities Air Koryo and Lufthansa? Of course, both use a crane as logo




The plane was deboarded on the taxiway, straight after exiting the runway




P-633 still featured the old JS livery




The crew leaving the plane




The regular passengers had already been shuttled to the terminal and only our group of 30 odd people was allowed to stay at the apron and take photos. So we snapped P-632, the Tu 204-300




As well as the rest of the fleet parked farther away – an avgeeks heaven with IL-18, IL-76, IL-62, Tu154




The catering truck arrived, in the back you can see the pushback vehicle




After half an hour on the apron, the shuttle bus returned and we had a bumpy 15min ride to the terminal. We could already see the new terminal for which construction started mid last year. It is expected to open in November (BER and DOH, did you read that?)




The new building is state-of-the-art from the outside, but we were only treated to the small interim terminal to the right




We were given a landing card in the plane and had to provide details on travel itinerary, foreign currency carried as well as ‘publications’ (I guess you can book some serious trouble when stating ‘bible’ there). Immigration however was a no-brainer, no fingerprints or photos taken, no silly questions asked - just a regular document check.

The great comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong-Il greeting us




Waiting area on the land side




We were picked up by our 4 Korean guides and driven to ‘downtown’ Pyongyang in two China-built buses called ‘King Long’ – I actually wondered why they didn´t rebrand to ‘Kim Long’  

From this moment on we were passengers only. The itinerary was planned by KITC, the Korean tourism bureau and whilst we still had (and used) some options to deviate from the packed agenda, one had to get used to the fact that you were restricted in your movement. Not as much as in prior years apparently but still a different experience to my other travels. However overall we had a great group with lots of interesting and entertaining people onboard, so it never felt like a massive restriction.

The first stop was at the Grand People's Study House, built in 1982/3 and housing a library




The first impressions of the capital, we were shown a modern city




Grandfather and Father are omnipresent




Next stop was the Mansudae Grand Monument, 20m high bronze statues of the great comrades. Note how small the cleaners look compared to the Kims.




Here we learned the SOP (standard operating procedure) for visits to Kim monuments: buy plastic flowers for 5 EUR, present to the great comrades, then step back and bow. We got fairly fluent with that procure during our one week tour






After eating dinner at a local restaurant, we eventually arrived at the hotel right in the city centre. The Koryo hotel is classified a 5 star hotel, by our standards probably more like 4 stars




Standard double room




Traveling back in time – the hotel information showed two dialling codes for Germany: 49 (West-Germany) and 37 (former East-Germany)




The next morning, view from the hotel room






Welcome to communism – motivating banners everywhere




Busy for a Sunday morning




Our breakfast room. Breakfast was rather scarce, according to our guide Koreans ‘eat breakfast like a beggar, lunch like a king and dinner like an emperor’




Two Mercs, a VW and an Audi Q7– not a great difference to home, but this is Pyongyang




The hotel from the outside




Today would be a non-aviation day – a 2 hour drive to the demilitarised zone at Panmunjom, followed by a visit to the old city of Kaesong






The motorway was pretty empty outside the capital




Roadside impressions of rural North Korea








The Kaseong industry complex where South Korean firms have been producing for a decade now, using more than 50,000 North Korean workers




Arrival at the DMZ, we had to wait a fair bit until our tour started – seems like it´s the same guy who does all the tours




One Korea?




Some propaganda postcards and posters displayed in the shop






A plan of the DMZ area




Once allowed into the DMZ (it´s called a demilitarized zone, but when entering it with our bus we were told “We will now enter the DMZ, this is why two soldiers with weapons will ride in our bus” ?), we found it quite green and peaceful, apparently North Koreas are allowed to do agricultural work there




Wherever one of the Kims has travelled, a monument is built – this is for a 1994 visit of Kim Il Sung where he left his signature




Taking photos was no issue, we were encouraged to take group pictures as well – completely the opposite to the handling on the other side of the border where taking photos is prohibited.

The large building in the background is in South Korea, the blue barracks are where negotiations are held




Inside the barracks – no way to escape to the South, the exit door is guarded




North Korean military – can you spot what is probably the only South Korean device in the whole of North Korea?




We then stopped at the barracks where the truce was signed in 1953, to date there is no official peace treaty in place to end the Korean war also on paper




We bid farewell to the DMZ and drove to Kaesong. It was interesting to see that many households had solar devices on their balconies




Here we enjoyed a wonderful lunch before setting out on foot for a walk around the old city






Kaseong impressions
















We then drove back to Pyongyang with lots of new impressions but also looking forward to the next day which would bring the first aviation highlight. We set out early and made our way to the airport again.

Airport construction workers on the way to their construction site



We would be flying to Samjiyon on JS3701 (but actually took off earlier than JS3601)




Air China (left) and Air Koryo (right) flight information




North Korea now also has a mobile network developed by Egyptian telco Orascom. Kim obviously still has many friends in Switzerland (where he went to boarding school) and France as rates are way cheaper than to other countries, including Russia




The network is also open to foreigners who can purchase a SIM card starting at 30 EUR




But the only call we were interested in was the boarding call. After passing security (checks were performed by females only, there are no liquid restrictions within DPRK) the checkin was supported by our group guides so went smooth




This gave us time to do some ‘duty free shopping’




Then we were shuttled to the plane, another 15min ride to the outer taxiways, past the usual motivation banners






P-835 would bring us to Samjiyon today…




… a 1969 built IL-18. A very special flight for me as my first ever flight was aboard an IL-18 back in 1993.



Air Koryo flight JS3701 from Pyongyang Sunan International (FNJ) to Samjiyon (YJS)
Date: 01sep14
STD / AOBT: 09:20 L / 09:58 L
STA / AIBT: 10:20 L / 11:05 L
DUR: 1:07
Equipment: IL8
Reg: P-835
Personal flight #261
Seat 8A





Cabin view, seats in 3-2 configuration. The crew confused with 32 avgeeks storming the IL18, they tried to restrict photographing but in the end gave up and even allowed moving round the cabin when seatbelt signs were on




All neat & tidy






There was free seating, window seats were occupied first of course




As known from other Russian aircraft, seats can be turned over to allow for easier cargo transportation (or in our case, provide additional leg room)




Studying the safety card…




… as I sat in an emergency row and did need to know how to operate the emergency rope




Overhead panel




Ready to go




Final checks by the young 19-year-old-FA




The Ivchenko AI-20M engines powering up, what a lovely sound




Taxing from the stand right at the end of the flight line




The take-off video can be enjoyed on Youtube

The cabin inflight



The cabin is divided into 3 sections, small forward cabin, then door 1L and galley (with fridge and Aeroflot containers in gold), then main cabin (over wing), then door 2L and crew seats, followed by the small rear cabin and rear lavatory. This is the rear cabin




It features true classic instruments showing flight information - who needs niceview™ when you can have this?




The spacious lavatory – Airbus would probably be able to squeeze 10 additional seats in here using the SpaceFlex configuration




My favourite #1 – a real old-style refrigerator




My favourite #2 – a golden kitchen trolley from the heritage Aeroflot




After take-off the crew served water, beer and apple juice, free refills were available and used by part of our group whilst the others moved round the cabin, taking photos from all sorts of angles








The one hour flight time passed by quickly and we touched down at YJS








After landing, we took all sorts of pictures from the aircraft, the crew and the group










Shortly afterwards JS3601 from FNJ arrived, an Antonov An-24








The YJS tower




We then boarded two small buses and ‘enjoyed’ a ride through northern North Korea




This cable car brought us all the way up to the holy mountain, Mt. Paekdu




What a view. It is said that it was here where Kim Il Sung hid during the war with the Japanese and where Kim Yong-Il was born and raised




The beautiful crater lake, very close to the Chinese border. We even had Chinese mobile network reception here.





We spend some time up here and were late for the return trip – which meant that half way down the cable car stopped because of a planned power cut. So we had to make our way downhill on some very fragile bridges and tracks






We then had another wonderful 2h bus trip ahead of us which brought us to this lovely picknick spot – we had lunch at something like 4pm




I never had Sushi with sausage instead of fish, but it turned out edible






This is not quite the vehicle we expected to come across here, but it tells you that there were some officials present as well




Back to the airport, we had to do an 'optional' security checks in this building - even if you didn't enter, you could still walk to the plane without someone complaining. But participating in the check was of course more fund – the hand held detectors used were switched off, so it was quite entertaining to hear no beep when staff checked a metal luggage piece




The YJS ‘lounge’




The back of the boarding pass showing the crater lake at Mt. Paekdu



All set for the return flight to FNJ. Of course we only had blank boarding passes but these were thoroughly checked during boarding





Air Koryo flight JS3702 from Samjiyon (YJS) to Pyongyang Sunan International (FNJ)
Date: 01sep14
STD / AOBT: 18:00 L / 18:04 L
STA / AIBT: 19:00 L / 19:06 L
DUR: 1:02
Equipment: IL8
Reg: P-835
Personal flight #262
Seat 13A

Unfortunately we had a medical emergency onboard (a local who was already in the plane when we arrived at the airfield) so everyone rushed to get the plane airborne as quickly as possible








There is usually not a plenty of leg room in the older Russian planes, this was no different here




Drinks anyone? Water, cider or beer were on offer




The bulkhead offered another option to put your drink down…








The forward cabin




After landing we paid a quick visit to the cockpit








We then returned to the hotel and called it a day, but had the opportunity to take more pictures of the IL-18 a few days later






Thanks for reading till here, watch out for Part II which I will look to publish later this year. In the meantime, why not check out my other trip reports:

The True Berlin Airport - Last Trip To THF (by zolagola Jan 14 2013 in Trip Reports)
Endangered Species - A Weekend Trip To Russia (P1) (by zolagola Aug 13 2013 in Trip Reports)
Endangered Species - A Weekend Trip To Russia (P2) (by zolagola Sep 9 2013 in Trip Reports)
Living The Dream(liner) – LAN FRA-MAD-FRA In Y (by zolagola Jan 25 2014 in Trip Reports)
Sleep Like An Egyptian:BRU-CAI-BKK-CAI-FRA In MS C (by zolagola Mar 14 2014 in Trip Reports)
Northwest In Style - FRA-SEA-FRA In LH F (old) (by zolagola May 16 2014 in Trip Reports)
A Visit To Kingman & Mojave Boneyards With LX & LH (by zolagola Aug 22 2014 in Trip Reports)
Beijing And Back In C: LH A346 Vs. CA B773 (by zolagola Sep 12 2014 in Trip Reports)
 
User avatar
Ytraveller
Posts: 1287
Joined: Tue Jul 09, 2013 3:47 pm

RE: The Kim-Dom Calling-avgeek Heaven North Korea (P1)

Sat Oct 18, 2014 3:03 am

Hi zolagola,



Amazing report! Putting aside all the politics and horror stories I’ve read, North Korea looks like an interesting place to visit. I agree with you about the “change through rapprochement” idea.

Quoting zolagola (Thread starter):
North Korean military – can you spot what is probably the only South Korean device in the whole of North Korea?

It took me a while, but ... Samsung?   


Quoting zolagola (Thread starter):
Approaching FNJ
Quoting zolagola (Thread starter):
On short final
Quoting zolagola (Thread starter):
The beautiful crater lake, very close to the Chinese border. We even had Chinese mobile network reception here.
Quoting zolagola (Thread starter):
We then boarded two small buses and ‘enjoyed’ a ride through northern North Korea
Quoting zolagola (Thread starter):
We spend some time up here and were late for the return trip – which meant that half way down the cable car stopped because of a planned power cut. So we had to make our way downhill on some very fragile bridges and tracks
Quoting zolagola (Thread starter):
We then had another wonderful 2h bus trip ahead of us which brought us to this lovely picknick spot – we had lunch at something like 4pm

Great photos. The scenery is so beautiful!



Thanks for sharing,
- Ytraveller  
 
N178UA
Posts: 1701
Joined: Sun Jan 07, 2001 9:56 pm

RE: The Kim-Dom Calling-avgeek Heaven North Korea (P1)

Sat Oct 18, 2014 3:50 am

Thansk for sharing with us your trip report. This really helps me to see the German language tour in August. (see how the weather, what you've done and what you've missed   Some great pictures! Looking forward to see the next part!

Sam
For more of myself and my flight reviews visit http://www.SamChui.com
 
SCQ83
Posts: 5501
Joined: Wed Oct 03, 2012 8:32 pm

RE: The Kim-Dom Calling-avgeek Heaven North Korea (P1)

Sat Oct 18, 2014 12:04 pm

So interesting; NK looks so unique.

I am curious about that Ford van. Aren't US imports banned in North Korea?
 
trijetsonly
Posts: 710
Joined: Tue Jul 21, 2009 10:38 pm

RE: The Kim-Dom Calling-avgeek Heaven North Korea (P1)

Sat Oct 18, 2014 4:09 pm

Quoting SCQ83 (Reply 3):
I am curious about that Ford van. Aren't US imports banned in North Korea?

That's what I thought but during the tour we've also seen several Chevy Astro Vans and even one Hummer H2 (with a military registration).
Happy Landings
 
Andie007
Posts: 829
Joined: Thu Jun 08, 2000 5:15 am

RE: The Kim-Dom Calling-avgeek Heaven North Korea (P1)

Sat Oct 18, 2014 6:38 pm

Great trip report! Thanks for that!!
 
777way
Posts: 6470
Joined: Mon Dec 05, 2005 1:38 am

RE: The Kim-Dom Calling-avgeek Heaven North Korea (P1)

Sat Oct 18, 2014 7:36 pm

What have the doene stewardess uniform? sex objects they look like now, it also seems they are tweaking tail livery with wavy flag,, how much does the trip cost per person, how come there are no women and kids in these tours dont you all like to take your family or just wife and girlf freinds with you? it is a kind of holiday.
 
taichen
Posts: 212
Joined: Thu Jul 26, 2001 7:33 pm

RE: The Kim-Dom Calling-avgeek Heaven North Korea (P1)

Sun Oct 19, 2014 3:18 pm

So I see Air Koryo has a new uniform for their FA, it seems. It does look good btw, not really near a "sex object" ...

also, their onboard product seems to beat many European and American airlines :P ...

Just waiting for a new usable Air Koyro website and a downloable app since there are now mobile phone there :P (Just 50% seriously, 50% kidding)
 
777way
Posts: 6470
Joined: Mon Dec 05, 2005 1:38 am

RE: The Kim-Dom Calling-avgeek Heaven North Korea (P1)

Sun Oct 19, 2014 6:05 pm

Compared to their old school, dignified uniforms they look a bit cheap now, like eye candy to waitress at an all male establishment, thats the image they are casting now, the short sleeve jacket is still ok but sleeveless top is not.

The wavy flag also looks silly and weak, lost it communist grandeur, time for a total refresh.



[Edited 2014-10-19 11:38:29]
 
trijetsonly
Posts: 710
Joined: Tue Jul 21, 2009 10:38 pm

RE: The Kim-Dom Calling-avgeek Heaven North Korea (P1)

Sun Oct 19, 2014 8:34 pm

Quoting N178UA (Reply 2):
(see how the weather, what you've done and what you've missed  

That's something we definitely didn't miss:

North Korea Air Force IL-62
Happy Landings
 
taichen
Posts: 212
Joined: Thu Jul 26, 2001 7:33 pm

RE: The Kim-Dom Calling-avgeek Heaven North Korea (P1)

Mon Oct 20, 2014 8:04 am

Well, this is getting OT-ish, but ... I am not attracted to women, but I think you are being way to prudish. The new uniform is nicer, has a retro-chic to it and it suggests JS is putting some effort on a refreshened brand image. I don't have the experience with "female waitresses for an all male audience" , whatever this might be in your country, but you are bein way to prudish. This outfit is certainly modest were I live.
 
777way
Posts: 6470
Joined: Mon Dec 05, 2005 1:38 am

RE: The Kim-Dom Calling-avgeek Heaven North Korea (P1)

Mon Oct 20, 2014 12:51 pm

Your aprt of the world even nudity is considered acceptable, and we don't have such joints in my country, I was referring to places elsewhere mainly in eastern Asia, a higher neck,line longer skirt and even short sleeves would have made it so classy.
 
The777Man
Posts: 6091
Joined: Sun Jul 04, 1999 4:54 am

RE: The Kim-Dom Calling-avgeek Heaven North Korea (P1)

Sun Oct 26, 2014 6:14 pm

Hi !

Thanks for a very nice report with great pictures !

The777Man
Boeing 777s flown: UA, TG, KE, BA, CX, NH, JD, JL, CZ, SQ, EK, NG, CO, AF, SV, KU, DL, AA, MH, OZ, CA, MS, SU, LY, RG, PE, AZ, KL, VN, PK, EY, NZ, AM, BR, AC, DT, UU, OS, AI, 9W, KQ, QR, VA, JJ, ET, TK, PR, BG, T5, CI, MU and LX.. Further to fly.. LH 777
 
EL-AL
Posts: 1471
Joined: Tue Oct 09, 2001 8:29 am

RE: The Kim-Dom Calling-avgeek Heaven North Korea (P1)

Wed Oct 29, 2014 4:59 pm

Hey Zolagola,

Thank you for this very interesting report. The aviation part was of course interesting, but I was more fascinated from the photos of the DPRK. Amazing how a country which is so green and beautiful is home for this brutal dictatorship which takes from its citizens basic human rights. I hope the money that tourists leave there go in a way, even in small part, to the local population and helps them.

Thx for shearing it, it was very educating. You also took some great photos. Jonathan
every day is a good day to fly
 
Birdwatching
Posts: 3708
Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2003 10:48 am

RE: The Kim-Dom Calling-avgeek Heaven North Korea (P1)

Tue Dec 30, 2014 2:42 pm

Thank you for the awesome report of our one-week trip to Korea, and for the excellent photos! I miss the wonderful group and the great time we had.

Soren   
All the things you probably hate about travelling are warm reminders that I'm home
 
wingman
Posts: 3824
Joined: Thu May 27, 1999 4:25 am

RE: The Kim-Dom Calling-avgeek Heaven North Korea (P1)

Thu Jan 01, 2015 9:02 pm

Really a fantastic report. I did the South Korean DMZ tour in August so it's fascinating to see it from the opposite side. One interesting note is the difference in physique between the soldiers manning the actual border line area. The South Korean soldiers were some of the biggest guys I saw during my entire visit, cut to piss and at least 6 ft. tall. The NK counterparts look very slim by comparison. The other very obvious difference is the complete absence of "bustle and hustle". It's very "cool" to see and yet pretty depressing at the same time, a tragedy to say the least.

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