Cityscape Wonsan

19Oct08

After spending 3 nights in Pyongyang, we moved on to Wonsan for another two nights. Wonsan is a port and according to Wikipedia, has a population of 330,000 compared to Pyongyang’s 2.5 million. The interesting thing about Wonsan is that the buildings actually have lights ! The bright line running diagonally across the bottom are the headlights of a car.  They still don’t turn on their street lights, though.

More photos of Wonsan by day are at http://picasaweb.google.com/stngiam/Wonsan. Wonsan looks like it could be a very pleasant seaside town if (when) they open up to the outside world.

The beaches are gorgeous and for now, completely unspoilt.

The Hotel Songdowon is definitely not a modern hotel and has the feel of a 1960s Soviet-era Beach Resort. We were told that the hotel had just been renovated and while that wasn’t obvious from the condition of the bathrooms, some construction work was still going on (see workmen in photo below).

There is a fairly large ball-room and many other function rooms with table settings fully laid out but while we were there I didn’t see any other paying guests besides our two Universal Travel tour groups (~60 people/35-40 rooms out of “more than 100 rooms.” On the other hand, it’s pretty late in the season for a beach hotel and we foreigners are probably paying many times their normal rate too, so perhaps they are doing ok after all. [Another foreign tourist, Eckart Dege was also there, but in early September. Compare his 1988 picture of Wonsan from almost the same vantage point in Hotel Songdowon.]

Another interesting thing about this hotel is that there is a sign at the reception desk apparently offering currency exchange service. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to actually try exchanging any money. It’s still illegal to take North Korean Won out of the country but I don’t think they are as strict any more on prohibiting locals from using foreign currency.

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