Thursday, April 4, 2013

[PYONGYANG] Yanggakdo International Hotel

You do not really have a choice when it comes to accommodation in North Korea because the tour organizer decides where the group would be lodged. Come to think of it, how inconvenient would it be if different members of the group were to stay in different hotels? Yanggakdo is one of only four deluxe hotels in Pyongyang, as your guide would tell you. Situated on an island in the middle of the Taedong river, the 40+ story hotel gives you a good vantage point to view the city, depending on which floor you end up on.

For Koryo Tours, there is an option for a single room supplement. Otherwise, you would be sharing the twin room with someone by default. The room is equipped with television (limited channels, but surprisingly has NHK world), aircon, refrigerator, desks, the twin beds, and a bathtub. You could also find a safety deposit box, a radio, a calendar, and oddly enough, a telephone on the wall next to the toilet bowl. From our window on the 33rd floor, one could see that pyramid shaped building from afar, as well as the river down below.

There is a business center at the lobby where you can send postcards to any country in the world EXCEPT South Korea. The estimated shipping time is a week to ten days. A post card costs 1 renminbi. The postage fee is 1 euro for the Philippines. Sending postcards to your loved ones and friends abroad seems to be the in thing here. Ref magnets and key chains do not seem to be as popular as they are in other countries. You are not allowed to possess North Korean won, so better load up on small denominations of both euro and renminbi. As for US dollars, I heard that they are accepted at the basement casino, which is off limits to locals.

Dinner for our first night as well as breakfast for both mornings were served at restaurants in the hotel. There are several of them within the building, including a revolving one on the 47th floor which could only be accessed through two of six elevators from the ground floor. You can call home by using the business center's phone but the rates are not cheap. Rumor has it that you can also send an email. WiFi is not on the list of the hotel's amenities, unfortunately. Sorry, no Instagram for you. If you badly need internet connection then you can buy a local sim card with 3G (some say this has been suspended) but you have to purchase an exorbitant plan, not worth it if only staying for a few days. Yes, mobile phones are now allowed into the country since February 2013. They are no longer confiscated at the airport.

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