Before & After: Pyongyang – Kaesong Highway Rest Stop, North Korea
For almost all visitors to North Korea a trip to the historical city of Kaesong and the infamous Korean DMZ is part of their tour package. The road from Pyongyang to Kaesong is 160km long and is notable for being almost completely empty most of the time.
Around halfway along this 3-hour journey (by tour bus, the road is somewhat bumpy and so high speeds are discouraged) the visitor finds themself at a rest stop, the only one on this highway – this building is impossible to miss and is very much a must-stop for both those in need of the WC and those looking for snacks and even some light entertainment on the journey (as well as the de rigueur ‘look at me in the middle of an empty highway’ photos that must be taken here).
Over the years this rest stop has been painted, repainted, renovated, caught fire (!), repaired, and repainted again. In the middle of the building is a very retro sitting area with views up and down the highway. However, this is almost never open anymore as the staff prefer to set up shop outside in the car parks, from where they sell drinks, snacks, souvenirs, and (when tourist levels are not too high) will often play some music and put on a sing and dance show too.
The staff here, all women, also know well that in the morning tourists depart from Pyongyang for the long drive south, and that they will all do it at around the same time (as the DMZ is only open to visitors in the morning). So, they set up their tables and display their wares on the west side of the building and close the east side completely. After lunchtime they can be confident that almost all traffic will be day-trippers heading back from Kaesong and the DMZ to Pyongyang, so they schlep it all across the road to the other side.
A stop at a bathroom and basic service station may not be among the absolute highlights of a visit to the DPRK. Still, it is one that is pretty unforgettable anyway – when one stops to look at and visit an unusual building, straddling an empty highway, in the middle of the most enigmatic country in the world, how could it be anything other than a singular experience?
These photos show some of the changes made to the exterior of the rest stop in the 21st century.
The official name of this place is the Unjong Teahouse, and some general information can be found here at the exclusive Koryo Tours Travel Guides