North Korea resumes construction on world’s most hideous hotel

North Korea

North Korea is the hermit kingdom; a strange land of mass games and dear leaders trapped in a 1950′s communist time warp. While they may not have modern supermarkets or PlayStation 3, North Korea does have one of the tallest hotels in the world, and it looms high above Pyongyang like a tribute to the ill advised whims of dear leader Kim Jong Il.

According to USA Today, The pyramidal Ryugyong Hotel began construction in the late nineteen-eighties and was spearheaded by Orascom – an Egyptian architectural firm. Construction of the abominable structure was halted after the fall of the Soviet Union. Without Soviet subsidies, North Korea could not afford the expensive project. Today, the 105 story building is again under construction and may cost as much as two billion U.S. dollars to complete, or 5% to 10% of estimated North Korean G.D.P. Relative to American G.D.P. terms, it would be like the United States sinking over a trillion dollars into a hotel project.North Korea The windowless and hollow structure stood vacant for decades, just towering above the city. It is a metaphorical monument to a country plagued by its own agitprop claims of supremacy and the central lunacy that drives this madness further. The North Koreans even spent years denying the structure’s existence, removing it from photographs and excluding it from maps of Pyongyang. Too much shame, it seems, in the very obvious failure.

When completed, the Ryugyong Hotel will have 3000 rooms and roughly 3.9 million square feet. The original plan entailed three wings rising at 75 degree angles capped by several revolving restaurants and an observation deck at the hotel’s pinnacle. For a country that just opened its first burger spot last year, it is very ambitious stuff.

Many architects in the international community are questioning the suitability of the project. Bruno Giberti, a professor at California Polytechnic State University’s department of architecture, called it “the worst building in the world.” The European Union Chamber of Commerce in Korea deemed the structure irreparable almost fifteen years ago, citing curving elevator shafts. From a humanitarian standpoint, a nation filled with malnourished children could probably make better use of the estimated $2 billion project.

With elevator shafts more crooked than Kim Jong Il’s epic golf game and decades of structural decay, the “ghostscraper” faces a long road to accepting its first guests. North Korea plans to open the hotel to coincide with the posthumous 100 year birthday of Eternal President Kim Il Sung in late 2012.

flickr images via John Pavelka

Video of the Day – Inside North Korea

North Korea is undoubtedly the most difficult country in the world to gain access to, especially if you’re a journalist aiming to produce a video about the reclusive nation. For months, the travel bad boys over at VBS.tv corresponded with North Korea’s representatives to arrange a guided tour of the infamous Mass Games.

After being selected as one of the only groups to cover the event, VBS Founder Shane Smith and director Eddy Moretti were taken on a journey that gets more bizzarre by the minute. From the streets of Pyongyang, to the International Friendship Museum, to deserted banquet halls – it’s worth watching the entire series to get a rare look at a country that rarely exposes itself to the world.

Do you have clips from an epic investigation of your own? Found a video online that inspires you to travel? Share it with us in the comment section below and it could be our next Video of the Day!

Five North Korea trips for 2011, and a “no taxation” celebration

It isn’t easy to visit North Korea. The country makes it intentionally difficult for outsiders to get in. For those of us in the United States, the distances to be traveled increase the barrier even more. Well, I just got the list of tour options from Koryo Tours, and it looks like North Korea is more open than ever!

There are several ways you can get to Pyongyang and other cities in 2011 – and not just for the Arirang event. Chartered planes, bikes and new destinations are on the itinerary, making this an exciting company to reach the most isolated nation on the face of the planet. Take a look below at five ways you can visit North Korea next year.

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1. Arirang 2011 confirmed: if you’ve always wanted to see Arirang in Pyongyang, next year’s dates have already been confirmed. Westerners will be able to witness the spectacle from August 1, 2011 through September 9, 2011. For those short on time or cash, consider taking a Mass Games Mini Break jaunt for three days.

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2. Second city access: don’t stop at Pyongyang! In 2011, you have the option to visit Hamhung, on the east coast of North Korea, and Rason, the country’s free trade zone. From Rason, you’ll leave the country by train to Vladivostok.

3. Take your time: visitors to North Korea who don’t want to miss anything can take advantage of a 16-day excursion into the world’s most isolated country. In addition to a deep look at Pyongyang and the surrounding areas, you’ll fly by chartered plane out to Mount Paekdu, one of the most important sites in relation to the Kim family. Chongjin, Hamhung and Mount Kumgang are also on the itinerary.

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4. Ride a bike: for the first time, you can bike across parts of North Korea (five-day and nine-day options are available). Pyongyang, Nampo and Sariwon are on the list, as well as Kaesong, the ancient capital. For the long option, you’ll also fly to Mount Paekdu by chartered plane for even more scenic cycling. This has never been done before!

5. No taxation: visit Pyongyang in late march to celebrate Tax Abolition Day (March 21, 2010). This is the anniversary of North Korea’s abolishing what the sixteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution permitted. Maybe we’ll see some of the “Tea Party” folks on this one?

[photo by David Stanley via Flickr]

Arirang extended in North Korea

Arirang, also known as the “mass games,” has been extended until October 25, 2010. The North Korean festival features thousands of dancers performing in unison and is packed with local symbolism. The event consists of 100,000 performers in all. Koryo Tours, which brings westerners into North Korea, has put together a short trip from October 23 – 26, 2010 to catch the last of the event.

This is a rare chance for westerners to enter the reclusive state, not to mention witness its primary cultural event. While you’re there, take a look at the intersections and let us know if the Pyongyang traffic girls are back!

Five facts about the North Korean Arirang festival

North Korea’s Arirang festival is in motion, and people from all over the world are traveling to the isolated communist country to watch what truly is an impressive undertaking. But, what do we really know about it? So much about North Korea is shrouded in mystery, making it hard to really learn much about what goes on there.

Instead of relying on the accounts of tourists, the western media or other “unreliable” sources, let’s go straight to the horse’s mouth. The Korea Central News Agency is the country’s official news organization regime’s mouthpiece, and has plenty of carefully selected stories to share with people outside North Korea … since nobody in the country has a whole lot of access to the website, which is based in Japan.

So, let’s learn a little about Arirang – from the folks who know it best!

1. Truly performed by masses: 100,000 performers participate in the Arirang festival, which is “admired by the spectators for its kaleidoscopic background and wonderful scenes”

2. New this decade: Arirang was introduced in 2002 to celebrate the ninetieth anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung

3. Countless of performances: Over its eight-year life, Arirang has been performed “several hundred times”

4. World record-setting: The Guinness Book of World Records picked up Arirang in August 2007, but that’s not nearly as impressive the fact that it was “the first to receive Peace Order and its diploma in April of the same year since it was instituted by “Protectors of Arts for the Century”, a Russian international charity fund, to appreciate epoch-making masterpieces, inventions and works”

5. Millions and millions served: Apparently, 12,127,000 people have viewed all the Arirang performances held, 118,000 of them foreigners … but who’s counting?

Of course, according to the KCNA: “‘Arirang’ is recognized as cultural asset of humankind.”

[photo by yeowatzup via Flickr]