The Koryo Hotel is one of the hotels we’ve stayed during our trip to the DPRK. It’s also one of the two 5 star hotels in Pyongyang. Built in 1985 under the supervision of President Kim Il-Sung, the hotel is easily recognisable by it’s twin towered building equipped with two revolving restaurants on it’s top floor. We arrived at night on our first day in Pyongyang after paying our respects to the leaders at the Mansudae Grand Monuments and checked in to the 22nd floor. We stayed at block 2 which was to our left. Boasting to have 500 rooms, the hotel is situated in Changgwang Street of central Pyongyang. It has a walking distance to the Pyongyang Railway Station. It’s also pretty awesome to note that Dennis Rodman stayed in this hotel while he was visiting North Korea.
My first impression of the hotel was that it was vintage both in it’s exterior and interior. Much like most of the buildings of Pyongyang, the hotel was filled with old-fashioned greyish marble tiles on all of it’s walls and even throughout it’s floor. This is a feature that is extremely popular and common during the 1980s and if you’ve ever stayed in a hotel back in the 90s, you know what I’m talking about. The entryway of the hotel resembles a wide dragon’s mouth in golden colour which leads into an expansive lobby filled with beautiful North Korean mosaic symbols and a huge landscape painting. The receptionist counter is to our right from the entrance and the hotel restaurants are to our left. As we pass by the receptionist counter, there is also the hotel gift shop, which sells groceries, clothes, souvenirs and many more.
Our room was fantastic. It was a huge room and there was a lounge and an attached bathroom with a bathtub. Our room came with twin single beds and what got me all hyped about it was the control panel in between the beds. Like back in the 90s, when all the hotels we stayed in had this panel with radio dials and old-school buttons that controlled the lightings of the room and the alarm clock. I was beginning to feel extremely nostalgic. The carpet had this soviet-era floral designs and the lounge was furnished with retro sofas like the ones you see on Madmen. As we pulled out our bed covers, we found out that the bedsheets had this cool looking diamond shaped cutout of a floral designed cushion. I have never seen such a design before and I thought it was pretty cool, provided we are in North Korea! I guess North Korean interior designs can be a great reference for hipsters and it’s absolutely a one of a kind experience.
What surprised me most in this retro room, was that there was a flat screen television. I was expecting an old-school CRT TV, but I was wrong. Turns out North Korea produces their own flat screen TVs and I had got to check out the channels. To my amazement, the programmes in this hotel included international news channels like CNN, BBC, RT News, NHK and more. Also, there were a couple of local channels that was broadcasting local news and old retro North Korean drama. One of the dramas had english subtitles, so I guess that’s what we were gonna watch throughout the night.
Our room also came with gigantic glass windows where we could get a look at good old Pyongyang. Opposite our hotel was this huge condominium complex and in the distance, you can also catch a glimpse of the magnificent Juche Tower, glowing away in the night. Pyongyang is awkwardly quiet and dark at night. I tried capturing a slow shutter shot of the view from my window and it was still considered quite dim from my experiences of shooting different cities. But still, the glow from the Juche Tower gave the shot a very unique feel to it. The floors seemed pretty empty and a bit eerie and dim for my taste but that didn’t stop us from having a great time in North Korea. I still can’t believe I’m standing right here in North Korea. I was too excited to sleep.
One morning, Fann and I decided to explore around the hotel and check out what cool facilities were equipped in the hotel besides the restaurants. We first went down the staircase at the lobby and there were quite a few interesting facilities and services that the hotel provided. Down the colourful stairs we went, we were welcomed by a set of empty seats with some fountains of some sort. Still the floors were filled with the tiles I mentioned about. Then to the back there was a signage that listed all the services they had and there it continued to an eerie looking pathway that led to rooms of all the facilities. There was a beauty parlour and a barber shop, a shoe repair shop, a pinball saloon, a billiard room, a tennis and a badminton court, a sauna, a massage room, a wading pool, and a clinic. Then we went up to the 1st floor, there were photos of the great leader Kim Il-Sung and his contributions, also there was a bookstore, a photo studio and further down in the other block, we found a mini post office.
There was also a gift shop at the ground floor beside the receptionist. It sold fruits, snacks, beverages and many more. They also sold shoes, clothes, bags and cigarettes. Due to the lack of things and probably the lighting in the store, it just didn’t feel like an ordinary 7-Eleven. Most of the snacks were imported goods and they were from various countries. We even found keropok from Malaysia. That was pretty awesome. When we wanted to buy an apple from the store, we couldn’t because we had to buy the entire bag of apples. The bag had at least 8 apples and they were huge. Without any options, we just got the entire bag and shared half with the other members of our group. The oddest thing about the store was that when we brought our food over to the store keeper’s counter, she had to write down the items on a piece of paper and we had to bring the paper to the cashier at the shop entrance and pay there. After getting the receipt, then only can we collect our purchases from the shop keeper.
The staff at this hotel were surprisingly friendly. The bellboy at the entrance was a smily man and he was extremely helpful. He helped us with our bags and opened our doors. Just after any tired day of touring the city, the smile on the bellboy’s face will just make your day and feel like home. The guard at the elevators were also very helpful and considerate. Every time when they see the two of us back heading to the lifts, he will automatically help us get an elevator readu so that we could get to our floors as soon as possible.
The most remarkable staff I would say, would be the housekeepers of the hotel. Not only do they do their ordinary job well by keeping our rooms clean and tidy, they were also super duper great. Every single day after we are back to our room, it was always tidy and the toilet was never wet. Once, we had to leave the hotel and travel to the outskirts and not be back for a few days time. We couldn’t bring along Fann’s anniversary bouquet, so we left the flowers in the room and took the beautiful wrapper only with us. When we came back after 2 days, the housekeepers had trimmed the flowers and arranged them nicely in a glass of clean water and placed it on the dressing table. It was so heart warming to see it. Also once, when we were out for a tour, we forgot to put a slice of our anniversary cake back into the fridge. There was still about half of the cake. The housekeepers cleaned up the box of our cake and placed it into the fridge for us. They were the best.
We had our first dinner at Pyongyang in this very hotel’s restaurant. The dinner consisted of fish, tofu, some salad, egg and salami. The food was cold but it was okay considering where we were. Not to compare it with any international 5 star hotel, but the food was so-so to me. The breakfast at the hotel restaurant came with toast, eggs and yogurt. Also, we get only either a cup of tea or coffee per day and additional refills of coffee would require us to pay 1 Euro. Only through this breakfast and the restaurant staff’s reluctancy to refill our coffee, did we found out that coffee is a rare beverage in North Korea.
We once had lunch at another restaurant of the hotel. This restaurant had a different entrance and was oddly not connected to the hotel and couldn’t be accessed from the hotel lobby itself. We had to get out from the hotel entrance and then take a short walk to the end of the building and walk up the stairs to get to the restaurant. The food was much better. We had steamed fish and a piece of pork chop that looked dry. Despite the looks, they tasted pretty good. We really appreciated their effort in preparing these lovely dishes for us considering the hardship the country goes through in terms of international sanctions.
One of the odd thing about this hotel is that every time after we check out and leave the hotel for another hotel in the outskirts, and come back in a day or two, we would still be checked into the same room at Koryo Hotel. It’s as if the room has been reserved for us the entire 12 days even though when we weren’t staying in it. Pretty odd for a hotel in my experience. Nevertheless, this gave us the advantage of leaving our stuff behind in the hotel and not bringing any unnecessary things along when we go to a smaller town.
Throughout our entire trip, the Pyongyang Koryo Hotel has become a home to us and every time we come back from any hotels from the outskirts, we are always grateful we are back to this one, well except for the Masikryong Ski Resort. Anyways, Koryo Hotel has provided us with comfortable beds, friendly and beautiful staff, a beautiful sunrise view and an unforgettable experience.