You may read a lot in the tabloid newspapers about prisoners having the life of luxury. Well a stay at this hotel is certainly like staying in a luxurious prison for real. When booking a trip to North Korea you don't usually get much say in the accommodation. Certainly if you stay in Pyongyang then this hotel is where 90% of tourists end up. The hotel is on and island, which you cannot leave without your guides. Once on the island though you are free to walk around the grounds of the hotel at your leisure, in fact our guides had no problems with us leaving the hotel without even telling them, although once we were at the hotel we really hardly saw our guides anyway. You will literally only be here to sleep at night and eat breakfast, almost all of your time in North Korea will be spent on excursions or on the bus. The hotel itself has a lot to offer guests but is rather dated. There is bowling, a swimming pool, several shops selling imported and Korean goods, a few bars, a barber, a karaoke bar and a revolving restaurant at the top (which DOES revolve). The food is all paid for, so all you need to buy are drinks if you wish to do something in the evenings. The prices are very cheap. I don't know why but everything is priced in Won, yet foreigners cannot spend the local currency. The staff will ask for the money in Euro anyway. You may request some Won from the currency exchange desk but the staff may be hesitant to hand it out (took me 3 attempts and the rate will be extremely poor and in their favour but you won't get real North Korean Won anywhere else bar maybe some markets back in China). The shops close around 9-10pm so get some supplies before that time. Bottled water, for example, is €1 for 5 bottles...a must as the tap water is by all accounts undrinkable!
The staff, on the whole, are friendly enough and seem keen to interact with foreigners. There are one or two older staff members who perhaps aren't as welcoming, but they are probably tasked with keeping the others in check, so perhaps they have to come across as being strict. The table tennis room downstairs had some very nice girls working in there who seemed to love talking to us in their broken English, we talked with them until quite late on one of our nights.
The rooms themselves are spacious and like something you'd find in a fairly good hotel in the West, but they are dated and dusty smelling. The lights are dim, but that is probably due to power shortages. We had an unbroken supply of electricity though during our stay. The fridge was unplugged in our room, but we didn't need to use it anyway. There are some plugs to use too.The bathrooms were always clean and the TV had several international channels as well as the local stations. We were on the 30th floor. There didn't seem to be many other guests around and our group had floor 30 to ourselves anyway. The Chinese tourists were a few floors below us and the guides seemed to be on floor 15. The hotel seems far too big for the number of people it really handles, but that seems to be the North Korean way!
The communications centre worked fine when I stayed, a phone call is about €8 for 2 minutes, but worth it to say you called someone from Pyongyang. There is a laundry service which I think officially charges €1 per item but I only paid €10 for most of my suitcase, so I'm not sure how they work it out. It's quick anyway. Put it out in the morning and you come back in the evening to nicely folded and clean clothes on the bed. The restaurants are nice, but again, seem too numerous (I think there were 6 in total) and big for the number of people. We had breakfast in the same room, at the same table, every morning. The staff look after you and will bring fresh tea and coffee, water and any other drinks when you ask. The buffet selection seems more aimed at Chinese tourists, but they do offer toast and eggs. The one night time meal we had here was a good introduction to North Korea, it was warm (not hot) and consisted of a lot of Fish and vegetables and some noodle soup. The food was fairly standard, but I think they put out the best spread they can. The hotel seems to have large vegetable gardens outside the main entrance so I think most of the produce is fresh.
The elevators seem to take forever to arrive, but I would not recommend using the staircase. For starters you are likely to be on a high up floor and the stairwell was in total darkness when I tried to use it one morning, so I gave up and wait for the lift. There seems to be some floors missing from the floor selection in the elevators . Various reports exist as to what's on floor 5, the lift doesn't stop there and I didn't venture down 25 floors to find out, so I'll never know. I wouldn't recommend snooping around as the staff are probably already told to keep a close eye on us when our guides go to bed and you never know what may happen if you're caught somewhere "off limits". It's pretty clear where they want you to be and where they don't want you to go. They close off some areas at night with bike locks and turn off the lights, so if it's in darkness I personally wouldn't venture to that area.
All in all the hotel is pretty much the perfect place to stay in Pyongyang...it offers great views of the city and plenty to keep you entertained during the short time you actually spend there.
- Also Known As:
- Yanggakdo Hotel Pyongyang