Kaesong Ginseng Factory
If you have a little more time in town, then a trip to the Kaesong Ginseng Processing Factory is worth an hour of your time.
Ginseng, a wildly popular root used in traditional medicine and purporting to cure all ills and make you, shall we say, ‘energetic’, has been used for 5000 years.
The world market for ginseng in 2019 in just its pharmaceutical application is around $250m, and growing at almost 5% per year.
In addition to this, the root is used in food, beverages, dietary supplements and cosmetics.
The cultivated form is known as insam; the much rarer and higher prized wild version is called sansam, the availability of which is in decline.
Whilst there is extensive production to meet international demand in Canada, China, South Korea and the US, nowhere is more famous for ginseng production than Kaesong- although the chances of seeing it anywhere else in the world are very small.
North Korea’s failure to significantly capitalise on its highly sought-after ginseng in the international market has not stopped the producers of Kaesong being creative in uses for it.
You can see and smell ginseng products everywhere- everything from tea to soap to alcohol to face cream.
If you can put ginseng in it, chances are they’ve tried and a Chinese tourist or two have bought it.
Entering the factory grounds, you will see propaganda slogans, art and production targets on the wall, of the type you see in many North Korean factories.
Look out for bar charts that show how each unit is progressing towards its monthly goal. Depending upon the time of year you visit, you may even see ginseng growing or being harvested in the fields at the front of the factory.
As you step into the factory itself, your guide will ask you to don slippers and a white coat, for reasons that aren’t quite clear because the main production line trundles along on behind glass dividing walls. The overriding impression is that this really isn’t a very sizeable establishment, with manual intervention at several spots along the line.
Ladies in gloves and full-body boiler suits (who look as much like surgeons as factory workers) peer up as you pass.
Finally, at the end of what is really only one main corridor, you come to a room with various ginseng roots in glass bottles (some look rather grotesque, like pickled squids), and a range of ginseng products for sale.
Whilst there are many more spectacular factories to visit in North Korea, and this one does not take much time to look around, with Kaesong as such a noted source of ginseng, it is worth taking a look around and learning a little more about how it goes from the pure root form to the myriad of products that you see it in today.