Staying at the 5 Star Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea

Staying at the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea

Staying at the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea

While backpacking in North Korea, we were based in the capital city of Pyongyang. North Korea is slightly different from other backpacking destinations because your tour company organises everything for you. I’m not normally a fan of this way of travel, until I met Gareth Johnson, and the lads and lasses of Young Pioneer Tours!! Young Pioneer Tours are far and away the best tour company to use for travelling to North Korea. Their motto is “group tours for people who hate group tours” and one of their staff members is fellow Northern Irish backpacker Chris Kelly. They are the cool backpackers choice as they are the cheapest and the best ones to party with plus you can get 5% off your tour if you organise through DSL! I’ve partied with the YPT guys in 4 countries now and loved my nights out with them.

Staying at the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea

Staying at the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea

So after getting my North Korean visa, flying from Beijing into Pyongyang, I needed a base in Pyongyang. We would be staying in the 5 star Yanggakdo International Hotel in Pyongyang. Yes that’s right – I stayed in a 5 star hotel in North Korea! FIVE STAR, baby.

best hotels pyongyang north korea

The 5Star Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang

I haven’t got round to reviewing the hotel yet so here’s my take on it, aiming to give some detailed analysis of the place so you know what to expect on your North Korean tour. I’ve done the best with my memory to remember everything as well as I could, there may be a few inaccuracies or changes but we were there in September 2013 and this should cover what the hotel was like then.

In our room 2425 in the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea

In our room 2425 in the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea

About the Yanggakdo International Hotel
The Yanggakdo International Hotel is the largest operational hotel in North Korea. With 1,000 rooms it can fit the most people. It has lots of shops, bars, restaurants and facilities inside its complex. It is also the second highest building in the country – the highest is the Ryugyong Hotel, also in Pyongyang. It has a 5 Star Rating (at least by North Korean standards).

Front entrance to the Yangakdo International Hotel in Pyongy

Front entrance to the Yangakdo International Hotel in Pyongy

The weird thing is that the YIH doesn’t have an official website or an Official Facebook Page!! For a 5 Star hotel this is really hard to believe, and I have yet to stay in another 3,4 or 5 Star hotel without either of those. In fact the Wikipedia Page on the Yanggakdo is providing the place with a free website more or less. The Yanggakdo is 170 metres (560 ft) high and has a slowly revolving restaurant on the 47th floor. The hotel is said to contain 1,000 rooms and a total floor space of 87,870 square metres (945,800 sq ft). The structure was built between 1986 and 1992 by France’s Campenon Bernard Construction Company and opened in 1995. It’s the hotel of choice for all YPT tours to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Out the front of the Yanggakdo International Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea

Out the front of the Yanggakdo International Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea

Getting to the Yanggakdo Hotel
Backpacking through North Korea is different to China and South Korea – you have some independence of course as it’s not Big Brother, but you’re never far away from your tour guides.

north korea to china

With my North Korean tour guides at Pyongyang station.

In terms of getting to the hotel though, you can’t just get on the Pyongyang metro and go here, there are no metro stations on the island. You will be brought here on your tour bus each time. If you have organised a private tour for smaller groups, sometimes you will use taxis, but for us on our budget, it was the tour bus every time. There is security on the bridge to the island.

Arriving at the Yanggakdo Hotel by tour bus

Arriving at the Yanggakdo Hotel by tour bus

Exterior of Yanggakdo Hotel and Yanggak Island
The Yanggakdo Hotel is on an island called Yanggak Island, which sits on the Taedong River in Pyongyang. The hotel is about 2 kilometres from downtown “Pyongy” and due to its height it is instantly recogniseable. Yanggak Island is pretty big.

The Yanggakdo Hotel sits on Yanggak island in Pyongyang

The Yanggakdo Hotel sits on Yanggak island in Pyongyang

On the island itself there is a cinema and some leafy gardens. The island is surprisingly big! It makes a nice walk for sunset. It felt really odd to be staying in a 5 star hotel, on an island in Pyongyang.

Sunset from Yanggak Island, Pyongyang

Sunset from Yanggak Island, Pyongyang

Our guides have informed us that every time we arrive back at the island, we are not allowed to leave the island. There is security on the way in across the bridge, so please respect this. Despite its reputation, North Korea remains one of the safest countries in the world for tourists. You are well looked after – respect their culture and they will most definitely respect you.

Sunset on Yanggak Island

Sunset on Yanggak Island

We asked our guides if we could wander around Yanggak island and we were allowed to – there isn’t too much in the way of sightseeing but some nice views of Pyongyang and a pleasant stroll. Apparently there used to be a mini golf course on the island, but there are now some buildings built over it, including a Health Complex and a Cinema Hall.

Relaxing on Yanggak Island, Pyongyang, North Korea.

Relaxing on Yanggak Island, Pyongyang, North Korea.

I also found it crazy how there is a 30,000 seater stadium on this small island. That’s almost more seats in one ground than my favourite three football stadiums put together (The Oval, Dean Court and Windsor Park). A local league team play their matches here.

The football stadium on Yanggak Island

The football stadium on Yanggak Island

Touring Yanggak Island, Pyongyang, North Korea.

Touring Yanggak Island, Pyongyang, North Korea.

There was a lot of work being carried out on the island when we were there, as you can see from some photos I took from inside the hotel. This also restricted the paths we could and couldn’t take when wandering around.

Yanggak Island from the hotel lift

Yanggak Island from the hotel lift

Yangak Island from the 24th floor

Yangak Island from the 24th floor

The Reception Area
Once you go through the revolving doors, you are on floor 2 of the Yanggakdo Hotel. This is the reception area. You get checked in here and get your room key card.

Front entrance to the Yanggakdo Hotel

Front entrance to the Yanggakdo Hotel

Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea

Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea

We had a gold room key and were in Room 2425.

Our room key card at the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongy.

Our room key card at the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongy.

Our room key card (2425) at the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongy.

Our room key card (2425) at the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The reception is stylish, massive and elegant. The staff are warm, helpful and friendly.

The reception area at the Yanggakdo Hotel

The reception area at the Yanggakdo Hotel

The reception and lobby area is clean, modern and spotless. Though there does seem to be an emptiness in the air – like something is missing. It’s an odd feeling I can’t describe and I must admit I have pondered on it a few times since we left North Korea.

Lobby in the Yanggakdo Hotel

Lobby in the Yanggakdo Hotel

The reception area has a postal facility – you can get stamps and postcards here, though I did all of my posting from the excellent stamp shop in the city of Kaesong.

Telephone, fax, e-mail and posting facilities at the Yanggakdo Hotel

Telephone, fax, e-mail and posting facilities at the Yanggakdo Hotel

I sent my usual textbook postcard to my youngest brother Danny. You might also find Race it Home a useful postcard service for places like North Korea.

Sending postcards from North Korea

Sending postcards from North Korea

The reception also has an internet and telephone area. For a price you can use both facilities. We were here to get away from that so we didn’t bother.

The telephone and internet area

The telephone and internet area

The Lifts at the Yanggakdo Hotel
There are 4 lifts at the Yanggakdo Hotel and they all work. Sometimes staff join you in the lift. There is no floor 5 option on the lift, which is noticeable. Our guide, Chris told us not to go to floor 5. There will be a reason for this, explained later. One of the lifts offers a decent view over Yanggak Island.

In the lift at the Yanggakdo

In the lift at the Yanggakdo Hotel with a view

No Floor 5 on the Yanggakdo Hotel Lift

No Floor 5 on the Yanggakdo Hotel Lift

Shops at the Yanggakdo Hotel
There are a few shops in the Yanggakdo Hotel selling a range of North Korean (Korean) and Chinese goods from further afield. If you read about my Blueberry wine and beer experiences in North Korea – then you will be glad to know you can buy both North Korean blueberry wine and North Korean beer here. Prices are reasonable. Payment is taken in US Dollars, Euros or Chinese Yuan. For us, we used Chinese Yuan, it’s just cheaper and easier. We were backpacking in China before and after the trip so this made sense.

Shopping in Pyongyang, North Korea

Shopping in Pyongyang, North Korea

1. General Shop
This general shop seemed to have the longest opening hours. It is on floor 2 of the hotel, near the reception and the dining hall. It’s open early morning and also late at night.

The Shop at the Yanggakdo Hotel for general goods

The Shop at the Yanggakdo Hotel for general goods

I found this to be the best place to buy cans of coffee and energy drinks for the day ahead. At night and for souvenirs, it’s also the perfect place to buy some North Korean alcohol – they have a huge range from local whiskeys to rice wine to beer to soju. Prices are listed in Korean Won but they have calculators at the till to convert it for you. I can’t remember exactly but a bottle of beer was about $1.50 US.

North Korean alcohol in the Yanggakdo shop in Pyongyang.

North Korean alcohol in the Yanggakdo shop in Pyongyang.

North Korean beer at the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang

North Korean beer at the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang

2. 2.Book Shop
The book shop sells a good range of North Korean books and souvenirs.

The Book Shop in the Yanggakdo Hotel

The Book Shop in the Yanggakdo Hotel

As well as North Korean books, it also has some souvenirs and back issues of the Pyongyang Times, North Korean’s English newspaper. I picked up a few free magazines on my flight and during my trip but if you want more local literature this is an easy place to buy it. We also visited a really cool bookstore in downtown Pyongyang though – and it had more selection and locals inside it.

Book Shop in the Yanggakdo Hotel

Book Shop in the Yanggakdo Hotel

3. Souvenir Shop
You’ll get plenty of opportunities to buy souvenirs throughout your time in North Korea. But just in case, there is a souvenir shop in the hotel.

Backpacking in our hotel - to the souvenir shop

Backpacking in our hotel – to the souvenir shop

Please note the prices in it are much dearer than the rest of North Korea so you might not want to buy your souvenirs here.

Souvenirs in the Souvenir Shop at the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang.

Souvenirs in the Souvenir Shop at the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang.

4. Clothes Shop
There is a shop that sells some typical North Korean style clothes and this was on the 1st floor. It was quite odd because as well as clothes it sold sausages and alcohol. One thing North Koreans haven’t quite grasped yet is the idea to really sell separate products in separate shops. Like it makes more sense to put all the clothes in one clothes shop, or all the sausages in the same fridge etc. The willy nilly scattering or products in these shops (as well as some in downtown Pyongyang) was somewhat bewildering. In the Ragwon department store, I saw Arsenal FC shirts being sold next to flat screen TVs, cheese and washing powder! I am by no means a fuss pot, but I’d rather not buy a shirt in a shop that smells of Korean sausage, if given the option 😉

The clothes shop (which also sells sausages)

The clothes shop (which also sells sausages!)

Restaurants in the Yanggakdo Hotel
Food in North Korea, as with South Korea, I found to be bland and average. Except for Kimchi which I like. But then again, I’m not a huge fan of Asian cuisine and I often say the same about Chinese and Thai dishes. But really, for me the food is something to eat only.

Dinner at the Yanggakdo Hotel

Dinner at the Yanggakdo Hotel

I wrote about my experience at the Barbecued Lamb restaurant in Pyongyang but sometimes you will just eat at the Yanggakdo Hotel restaurant. We had breakfast here each day in the main dining hall. Breakfast here is included in the price of your tour/hotel. However for an added price, you can also try the other restaurants in the hotel. We didn’t.

1. Pyongyang Cold Noodles Restaurant
Situated on floor number 1 is this a restaurant that specialises in cold noodles. We had the cold noodles one evening in a downtown restaurant so there was no need to eat here.

Pyongyang Cold Noodles Restaurant

Pyongyang Cold Noodles Restaurant

Pyongyang Cold Noodles Restaurant

Pyongyang Cold Noodles Restaurant

2. The Revolving Restaurant
The Revolving Restaurant was my personal favourite restaurant in the Yanggakdo Hotel. It revolves very slowly, serves up a decent buffet lunch and offers scintillating views of that non commercial Pyongyang Skyline.

The revolving restaurant on the 47th floor.

The revolving restaurant on the 47th floor.

There was also a darker beer being served up here and one thing that is good is that included in the price of your tour will be a limited number of beers, wine and soju. If you speak to your guides nicely, you’ll ensure you always have a beer included in your meals. This was a lunch and I got a couple of beers with it thanks to Rowan our guide. My girlfriend Panny doesn’t drink beer so I had hers 😉

Lunch at the revolving restaurant on the 47th floor.

Lunch at the revolving restaurant on the 47th floor.

Lunch at the revolving restaurant on the 47th floor.

Lunch at the revolving restaurant on the 47th floor.

The lunch in this restaurant was slightly better – the pasta was good and there was a good range of vegetables and meat. Plus the view makes it all the more spectacular. Undoubtedly this was a highlight and my favourite meal in North Korea.

Lunch at the revolving restaurant on the 47th floor.

Lunch at the revolving restaurant on the 47th floor.

The view from the Revolving Restaurant over Pyongyang

The view from the Revolving Restaurant over Pyongyang

3. The Main Restaurant
On the 2nd floor (to the left of the reception) is the main restaurant. This is where breakfast is served. Despite the fact that there is a huge range of buffet food at the breakfast, I still didn’t warm to the food much here. I took a lot of photos here but have included just a few from our breakfasts (and one dinner) here. Beer was served with the dinner. Tea and coffee was served with the breakfast as well as an odd red coloured juice.

Breakfast in the main restaurant in Yanggakdo Hotel, Pyongyang, North Korea

Breakfast in the main restaurant in Yanggakdo Hotel, Pyongyang, North Korea

Tea in the main restaurant

Tea in the main restaurant

The main dining hall/restaurant

The main dining hall/restaurant

Actually on writing this post and looking back, breakfast was decent enough. Tea and coffee was hot and strong and always good. The chefs were able to cook up omelettes and there were donuts which I used to put in a bag to take away to eat on the bus during the day time. But overall the food experience in this country was bland, similar to my food opinions of Myanmar and South Korea.

Breakfast in the Yanggakdo

Breakfast in the Yanggakdo

With Karianne from Norway who was on our tour

With Karianne from Norway who was on our tour

Breakfast in the Yang

Breakfast in the Yang

More from the buffet breakfast

More from the buffet breakfast

Chefs in the morning at the Yanggakdo

Chefs in the morning at the Yanggakdo

There may have been other restaurants in the Yanggakdo Hotel but those are the only three I personally visited (and ate in two of them).

Breakfast in the Yang

Breakfast in the Yang

The Bars in the Yanggakdo Hotel
Surprisingly there are lots of bars and restaurants inside the Yanggakdo Hotel. This is done so there is always something to do at night for foreigners, so they won’t venture off the island and go partying in Pyongyang’s top bars. You can of course do the cheap option and take a carryout up to your room (as I did one night to blog).

A beer and some blogging in the bedroom

A beer and some blogging in the bedroom

Though, as you may have seen, we went thrice at night in Pyongyang – to see the Mass Games, to eat Barbecued Lamb, to Kaeson Park and to visit some of the bars including “the Diplo”. However here are the best bars within the Yanggakdo Hotel Complex, so realistically you don’t have to leave.

Bars in the Yanggakdo Hotel

Bars in the Yanggakdo Hotel

1. The Brewery Bar
The Brewery Bar is my favourite bar in the Yanggakdo Hotel. They brew their own beer here and it is good. The bar is situated on the second floor (Floor 2) which is just by the reception.

Ordering a beer in the Brewery Bar at the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang.

Ordering a beer in the Brewery Bar at the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang.

A pint of the local beer was 22RMB (so around £2) and it was REALLY GOOD!

A pint of home brewed North Korean beer at the Brewery bar in Yanggakdo Hotel

A pint of home brewed North Korean beer at the Brewery bar in Yanggakdo Hotel

2. The Revolving Restaurant Bar
As mentioned, the Revolving Restaurant is on the 47th floor and is the bar with the best view of the city. You normally come here for a meal though instead of just a party but the beer is good, the experience unusual and the views outstanding.

The Revolving Restaurant bar and the epic views

The Revolving Restaurant bar and the epic views

If you want a sneaky balcony view of the Yang, head down the steps to the 46th floor and out onto the terrace.

The balcony with a view of the Yang from floor 46

The balcony with a view of the Yang from floor 46

3. The Bowling Bar
The Bowling Bar also on the first floor (below the reception) is a good place to pit your wits at bowling against your backpacking buddies and the tour leaders. This was the cheapest bar on the complex.

The Bowling Bar in the Yanggakdo Hotel, Pyongyang

The Bowling Bar in the Yanggakdo Hotel, Pyongyang

Bowling in the Yang anyone?

Bowling in the Yang anyone?

4. Pyongyang Casino
There is also a Casino in the Yanggakdo Hotel as well as lots of fruity machines. I’m not much of a gambler myself but I popped in for a look. You cannot take photos inside the Casino itself (the same for most casinos) but there were a lot of people in swanky suits playing poker and blackjack! I remember getting lost and a bit confused walking round but I’m nearly sure this was also on the first floor, down a staircase by the reception.

At the Casino entrance

At the Casino entrance

Playing on the fruit machines. It was a bit quiet!

Playing on the fruit machines. It was a bit quiet!

5. The Karaoke Bar
Karaoke is massive in Korea and you might remember I was in the Noraebangs of Seoul in 2011. Here in 2013 I headed for Karaoke with my buddies. The karaoke bar serves alcohol and all the songs are available in Chinese, Korean and English.

Karaoke Bar in Pyongyang's Yanggakdo Hotel

Karaoke Bar in Pyongyang’s Yanggakdo Hotel

I played a Michael Jackson cover to complete the Korean double (I had sang it in Seoul in 2011). The Amazing Marawa sang the Copacabana while Huiyen and Rowan treated us all to Barbie Girl!

Doing the Jackson.

Doing the Jackson.

Karaoke in English

Karaoke in English

So as you can tell to have a choice of 5 great bars in the hotel is quite amazing. There may be even more if you explore around the place. We also found a games room for pool, snooker and darts which was licensed so there are at least 7 bars if you also include the dining hall. There is also a Chinese massage parlour.

Brewery Bar in Yanggakdo Hotel, Pyongyang.

Brewery Bar in Yanggakdo Hotel, Pyongyang.

The Rooms at the Yanggakdo Hotel
We were on the 24th Floor and had a large room, in two parts. It was room 25 on floor 24 so room 2425. I must stress that no matter what tour you take, travelling in North Korea is a very busy trip so you really don’t have much time to yourself and you won’t get much sleep or spend too much time in the room. Here is an overview of our room none the less.

1. Comfy Beds in Bedroom
In the large bedroom we had 2 single beds rather than a double. Obviously we had asked for a double when we applied for the tour, but I’m not a fusspot and don’t like to create arguments so we didn’t complain (I personally hate people that moan about stuff like this).

We had two single beds rather than a double

We had two single beds rather than a double

The beds were really comfy and easy to sleep in.

Our bedroom in Pyongyang, North Korea

Our bedroom in Pyongyang, North Korea

2. Large Sitting Room
The sitting room has two settees (sofas). There is a small table and I used it for doing my blogging on. There is no WiFi so it’s a great chance to get some offline blogs typed up and one of the chapters from my upcoming book Backpacking Centurion was written right here in North Korea!

The large sitting room

The large sitting room

There is also a fridge and a kettle. I kept my beers chilled in the fridge but we were so busy we didn’t use the kettle.

Fridge and Kettle

Fridge and Kettle

On the shelf there are cups, glasses, spoons and a bottle opener. There was no mini bar and no tea or coffee was provided sadly.

Crockery and cutlery

Crockery and cutlery

3. Bathroom
The bath room is basic for a 5 star. The hot water comes on after turning the immersion on. The toilet works, the shower works and it’s relatively clean.

a toilet in north korea pyongyang

North Korean toilet

Our bathroom in the Yanggakdo Hotel

Our bathroom in the Yanggakdo Hotel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also you will know that I never buy shower gel, so yet again we nabbed all the free toiletries that were on offer.

North Korean toiletries - free shower gel, shampoo and toothbrush

North Korean toiletries – free shower gel, shampoo and toothbrush

4. Wardrobes and Cabinet
There was a wardrobe and a cabinet to keep things in. They also provided us with a laundry bag and laundry facilities are available at a price.

Wardrobe

Wardrobe

In the wardrobe were two pairs of Yanggakdo Slippers.

Yanggakdo Slippers

Yanggakdo Slippers

5. Desk and Information
There was a desk with a TV on it and some seats. There was a calendar, a mirror, an information booklet on external phone calls and a lamp.

Desk, mirror and TV

Desk, mirror and TV

6. Television with BBC
Yes perhaps the biggest surprise was seeing a television in our room that had BBC news on it in English. I made a video of it which is one of the videos at the bottom of this article.

Watching BBC News in my hotel room in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Watching BBC News in my hotel room in Pyongyang, North Korea.

The TV and the curtained section back into the sitting room

The TV and the curtained section back into the sitting room

7. No WiFi
There is no WiFi available in the Yanggakdo Hotel for guests. Internet is available in reception for a price. Due to government restriction by the North Korean government, a lot of sites may be unavailable. The only time I checked the internet in North Korea was when we were in Pyongyang library and the three sites I checked – Google, YouTube and Don’t Stop Living were all blocked. Take the hint and use your trip as an offline period. If you work online like me, let your clients know you are going to be offline and if you blog, write all your blog posts in advance like I did.

Viewing Don't Stop Living in North Korea comes up as this.

Viewing Don’t Stop Living in North Korea comes up as this.

8. Views
All rooms have a window view and the views are great. I won’t dwell on it much as unless you’re there it’s useless but here’s a photo.

View of Pyongyang out of our bedroom window

View of Pyongyang out of our bedroom window

Here are just a few other photos from the room and our floor.

Blogging with a beer in my bedroom

Blogging with a beer in my bedroom

Door to our room

Door to our room

The corridor on floor 24

The corridor on floor 24

North Korean tourist card and entry stamps etc.

North Korean tourist card and entry stamps etc.

With my Belgian friends from the tour

With my Belgian friends from the tour

With one of the staff at the Yanggakdo Hotel

With one of the staff at the Yanggakdo Hotel

Flying the Northern Ireland flag in the hotel

Flying the Northern Ireland flag in the hotel

View down from the Revolving restaurant

View down from the Revolving restaurant

Check in and Check Out Times
Check in and check out times vary depending on your tour. We were able to get an early check in at 1.45pm on arrival and we had to check out before 10.30 am on the day of departure before we headed on a train to China.

Bedroom view at night

Bedroom view at night

The Secret Fifth Floor at the Yanggakdo
No doubt all those “Self Titled Western Authority Experts” on the subject of North Korea will jump on the whole “Destructive regime bandwagon” but for me I don’t buy any of their shit or want to hear it from ill educated keyboard stars. If you want to have an opinion on North Korea – go there and see it and lose your status as an arrogant capitalist westerner. I have no time for Twitter twats or keyboard warriors (mostly people from the UK and USA) who slam the regime in North Korea when their own countries allow rape and murder daily and continue to open St*rbux and DickMonalds every week when there are starving people out there, not just in North Korea but in Rwanda and Somalia. So if you really care, don’t tweet me about it – put your money where your mouth is – sell your iPhone and put the money into supporting refugees. As for this guy who claims he “smuggled a video camera through customs”, well if you were in North Korea (as you were), you will know there is no customs, there is no strictness and I brought three video cameras into the country, my girlfriend had two. There is no “smuggling” about this so quite how you claim to have smuggled stuff into North Korea is baffling. Why not just tell the truth – that you backpacked here like everybody else and you can bring anything you want into the country as long as it passes airport security 😉

Bedside radio in the room

Bedside radio in the room

The fifth floor at the Yanggakdo Hotel is not on the list of available stops on the lift and it’s off limits for tourists. Yes that might sound suspicious – but it’s their country isn’t it? I respected this and I didn’t go to the fifth floor. Now according to our legend of a smuggler friend, apparently floor 5 is a concrete bunker full of propaganda and he took some photos of that. Looking at them – nothing out of the ordinary and who cares if they hate the USA? Lots of countries do, including Vietnam and Iraq. Floor 5 is also apparently the surveillance floor where it is alleged “they” are listening to your every word, filming you and recording you. Well quite frankly I think this is bullshit. Nobody has the time in their day or their life to spend listening to other people’s lives. Nobody. We all get on with our own lives. Maybe if there are some high profile visitors to the DPRK, then the surveillance team will put them in a wired room so they can listen in. But when we were there our tour group added to the other tour groups meant there were about 300 – 500 people staying in the hotel at the time. So yeah they recorded 300-500 conversations hoping to find one idiot slagging off Kim Jong Un? Yeah right. Not worth their time of day, or yours, or mine. That said, I knew I’d be asked about stuff like this, so I had a look around our room and didn’t see any suspicious wires or did I ever suspect that the staff here and North Koreans in general actually give a shit about what some Northern Irish travel blogger might say, or what my Belgium and Norwegian friends on the tour might say. The truth is they don’t care. They care that their country is the greatest in the world and that their leader Kim Jong Un is the saviour. That is what they believe and you learn this at their victory parades and the Mass Games.

mass games national day pyongyang

The Great Leader and the Dear Leader, Kim Il Song and Kim Jong Il portrayed by cards at the Mass Games on National Day in Pyongyang, North Korea.

The truth remains – there are more murders in the USA every year that should be prevented than there are in North Korea. North Koreans believe that the USA has infiltrated the south part of Korea and with St*rbux and DickMonalds on every corner who is to blame them? If the peninsula of Korea is to be united into one country once again, it needs to suit both the traditional North Koreans who have a communist mindset and the commercial South Koreans who are all about money and globalisation. I don’t think it is about the USA to intervene. It is about Korea. Having visited both countries, it is clear that the southern part of Korea has been influenced ridiculously by the USA and is no longer as real as the northern part in terms of being authentically Korean. South Korea is commercial, capitalist, outward and global. North Korea is communist, ancient and inward. So yes there is a fifth floor at the Yanggakdo and it might be a similar experience to my visit to the top floor of the Hotel Viru in Tallinn, Estonia which was once a KGB headquarters. I have yet to write about that and when politics and war rears its ugly head on my travel blogs, buck eejits without a clue get involved, so we’ll leave it at that.

Things the Yanggakdo Hotel Didn’t Have
While the Yanggakdo Hotel was a great hotel to stay in, as a 5 Star Hotel you might have expected a little bit more and here is what was missing that are reasons why perhaps it should really only be a 3 or 4 star. Let’s not forget I once worked in a basic 3 star hotel in Bournemouth which had all of the below (except number 2)!

1. No Swimming Pool
It was a 5 star hotel, so I was slightly disappointed to hear that there was no swimming pool or sauna/steam room.
2. No Brewery Tour
Since they brew their own beer “allegedly” in the Brewery Bar, a brewery “tour” would have been nice.
3. No WiFi
I’ve mentioned that they have no WiFi before – this can be a good thing of course and in my case I’ve no qualms as I was happy to have a bit of offline time. But most tourists will want it.
4. No Free Tea and Coffee in the Room
There was a kettle in the room, but no free tea and coffee.
5. No Safe
Most 5 star hotels should have a safe to lock away your valuables. Your stuff is safe here of course, but a safe in the room would have been nice.
6. No Room Service
Admittedly you can just get your own beers etc. and bring them up to the room, but there was no room service option as far as we could tell, unless in an emergency, which for a 5 Star is shocking.
7. Free Maps and Leaflets at Reception
Normally hotels keep free maps and information leaflets on tourism in the city. This one didn’t and I had to buy my own map of “the Yang”.

dmz guinness

Safe and happy travels from the North Korea to South Korea border, the DMZ

So head to the Young Pioneer Tours website and join Gareth Jonhson’s barmy army on tour of the DPRK. Trust me – you’ll have a great time and you’ll be opened up to a whole different world from the way the South Koreans see it.

Here are some of my videos from my stay in the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea:

Disclaimer – I visited the Yanggakdo Hotel in September 2013 and all photos and videos are mine and were taken then. All the information was correct during my visit, it may have now changed.

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About Jonny Blair

I'm Jonny Blair, a travelling Northern Irishman. Since leaving my hometown a decade ago I have managed to visit over 100 countries and over 600 towns or cities across all 7 continents. Along the way I have worked in countless jobs! Join my journey on Don't Stop Living - a lifestyle of travel as I provide you with tips and inspiration to live your travel dreams! Safe travels! Follow me on Jonny Blair Google Plus
This entry was posted in Accommodation, Asia, Hotels, North Korea, Pyongyang. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Staying at the 5 Star Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea

  1. Tina says:

    Looks nice, but feels surreal … did you find yourself censoring your own words within the room (there’s rumors that they are bugged)?
    Tina recently posted…Inspired travel amenities: Extras are the way forwardMy Profile

  2. Jonny Blair says:

    Hi Tina. Thanks for the comment. As mentioned in the article, the rooms are not “bugged” nor are they in any hotel I have stayed in! And even if they were I wouldn’t censor my words, nor would I ever censor any words in any hotel, restaurant, bar etc.. Safe travels. Jonny

  3. R Dub! says:

    Dude!!! My dream trip! I’m going to try and go in 2016.

    Thanks for this great, comprehensive review. I’ll check out the tour group you mentioned too. Great stuff my friend.

    P.S. DickMonald’s??? Hilarious!!!

  4. R Dub! says:

    Well, now you’ve REALLY done it. Great job, Johnny…because of YOU, my trip is now booked.

    I only read this article about an hour ago–I’m online in the sky, on the way back from Europe…

    It was YOUR article, that tipped the scales for me…and not but 20 minutes later, I was on United.com booking my flight into Beijing.

    You’re really something my friend. You are an inspiration!

  5. Jonny Blair says:

    Hi R Dub, thanks for the comment as ever. Glad you liked the article. I’ve about 20 other posts on North Korea in the archives and hopefully a few more to come. It was a bit weird staying in a 5star there having just come from a backpacker’s hostel in Beijing. The tour company Young Pioneer Tours offer the cheapest trips to North Korea (and the best) and you can also get 5% discount if you quote my website to them when booking. In all honesty, I’m prone to the odd Big Mac at DickMonalds, but it’s commercialism gone too far. They’re on every corner of London and Hong Kong and it’s nice to backpack through Pyongyang knowing there’s no chance of being shown an advert for a ChickMickin sandwich 😉 Safe travels, Jonny

  6. Jonny Blair says:

    Hi R Dub! Wow, really – you have booked it after reading my stuff. Amazing! North Korea is a real eye opener and a cool place to check out – very different to any other country I have been to. If you want some extra reading ahead of your trip, I have some more posts on Pyongyang and Kaesong: Hope you enjoy it! What month are you going in? Safe travels, Jonny

  7. R Dub! says:

    Yes! I am going at the end of May to see a Children’s Holiday celebration. I have already been in touch with Rowan at Pioneer and we’re setting everything else. The airfare to and from Beijing is booked! I am excited!

  8. Jonny Blair says:

    Hey R Dub! That is amazing. I know Rowan well – he is a top lad. We were drinking with him all the way from Pyongyang on a double train journey back through Dandong and into Beijing! You will love it! Safe travels. Jonny

  9. Pingback: 10 Nighttime Activities in Pyongyang, North Korea

  10. Neil K says:

    Just stumbled across this article two days before I depart for China, and then on to North Korea (we are crossing the border by train at Dandong). We will be staying 5 nights at the Yanggakdo Hotel. Nice to read an honest, unbiased and fair report from an open minded traveller. Well done mate!

  11. Jonny Blair says:

    Hi Neil, thanks for the comment. Yes, this was a great hotel. Enjoy your time in China and North Korea. Two cool countries to backpack in. Safe travels. Jonny

  12. R Dub! says:

    Neil, Johnny is the REASON I took this trip…it was the trip of a LIFETIME!!! And I was too nervous to go until I saw Johnny’s piece! You’re going to have a BLAST!!!

  13. Jonny Blair says:

    Hi R Dub, thanks for the comment. I am glad you enjoy my travels and the website and equally happy you loved your time in North Korea! Safe travels! Jonny

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