Resorts of Pyongyang: New e book takes readers inside North Korean capital’s colourful lodging
Hong Kong (CNN) – For most travelers, spending a lot of time at a hotel means you haven’t really gotten out and enjoyed your destination.
For James Scullin, who has visited the Hermit Kingdom eight times, hotels have been the driving force behind the trip – and it is one of the best ways to introduce locals to social media.
Then hope for her new book, “Pyongyang Hotel,” written by Scullin and illustrated by Nicole Reed.
“The whole world is all over the world now. There are few places you can go that have a bespoke culture and look and feel,” says Scullin.
After moving to China back to Melbourne, he joined Reed, who specializes in photography and photography. The two spent five days in Pyongyang filming hotels and staff.
North Korea has many interesting homes and buildings to photograph one question – why a hotel?
Scullin first visited the country as part of an accredited group, then volunteered to lead the company. As they become better acquainted with Pyongyang’s design, they also look at other hotels that have not been accommodated before and may ask their guides if it is safe to visit them.
“You go to the same place all the time – you go to the same museum, monuments, railway stations,” says Scullin. Since North Korea’s tourism industry is tightly regulated by the government, travelers often reside in places like DMZ and Kim Il Sung Square.
Hotels offered the only safe way for a foreigner to receive a variety of items without going anywhere on the risk list.
“I wanted to try out these hotels for myself, as well as re-book these hotels in Pyongyang that cater to foreigners,” he explains.
“It’s amazing how a very isolated country can have so many hotels. I think this change really sparked the idea (of the book). Hotels and North Korea who want to show visitors. What does an independent country want people to come to visit?
Karaoke is a big business in Pyongyang, and the karaoke room at the Sosan Hotel is said to be the most popular in English.
Pool? Yes. Room chores? No.
Reed realized one thing in a hurry when he arrived in Pyongyang – his drink of choice.
“Coffee was a big thing for me,” he says. “We didn’t take coffee anywhere but bars in hotels. That’s what was really important.”
But these bars have also become Reed’s favorite place for many reasons than the availability of caffeine.
He was eager to photograph some hotel staff, and this often required consulting hotel officials or other supervisors. In the latter part of the day, he and Scullin were able to associate with North Korean workers and get to know them better, just as people do with their peers in coffee markets around the world.
Hotels had a variety of amenities. The bars, karaoke rooms and pools were almost everywhere, but there was no sleep service or Wi-Fi. Koryo, which Scullin and Reed named the most popular, has a round restaurant on top of it.
Scullin compares the interior design of many hotels with Wes Anderson’s movies – the brightest colors, the closure of colors and similarities. Each hotel also has its own registration. For guests accustomed to hotel logos, this may not seem like a necessity. However, North Korea is often brandless – no ads, no TV commercials and no banners.
The unobtrusive insignias help every hotel to be private, and also trust the ideas below.
And while all the hotels in the country are state-owned, each has a different management system and is designed by different people, providing an opportunity to create something unique.
“Nature is there anyway,” he says. “Instead, the hotels are an excuse for someone to express their views.”
There were some things, however, that the cameras could not capture. Scullin says the biggest contributors to the “vibe” of the whole country are those found everywhere in North Korea’s changing music scene, which always plays in the backyard of hotels.
The pool is located in Koryo, the second-largest hotel in Pyongyang.
Learning to quit
Most of the time, Reed explains, when he’s taking pictures he works by “melting” his camera on his laptop, allowing him to view and edit photos in real time. But he didn’t want to bring his laptop to North Korea, so he just walked away with his most important equipment.
Although he has only been in the country for five days, he feels that his trip was more important than ever because he did not spend much time on his computer or use a radio.
“I didn’t know how to do it without my phone but after half a day without this expertise, I just love it,” he says. “I became very aware of myself and the people around me. It gives you a chance to have more time.”
Scullin agrees, and has seen how the people in the group he organized had deep knowledge without the phones being found everywhere. It also encourages more conversations, as people are not tied to Twitter or Instagram.
“You have to find a mixed space,” he says to those who want to visit Pyongyang. “If you have a good relationship with the regulator I ask you ‘can we go for a walk tonight?’ they will call their boss and ask if they are allowed to take you elsewhere. “
Scullin and Reed both say that the most enjoyable experiences were simple, such as watching North Korean shoppers, singing in a karaoke room, or visiting a lounge.
However it was in hotels where the most connected events take place.
“There are places where local people go but foreigners are not allowed, that’s why you hang out at the hotel. A lot of people see this as a barrier, but for me it’s good because that’s where you can hang out with the leaders,” says Scullin.
“As long as you don’t talk about Kim Jong Un or the programming, you can have interesting conversations.