The Road From Pyongyang to Nampo
The Pyongyang-Nampo motorway, more commonly known as the Youth Hero Highway (청년영웅도로) connects the capital with North Korea’s 4th largest city, Nampo.
Maps show it as 46.3km, making it is one of the country’s shortest major trunk roads, but some guides prefer its far more patriotic official length of 42.216km- which helpfully happens to be the date of Kim Jong Il’s birthday (February 16th 1942, or 42/2/16).
Visitors should note that there is a back road alternative to the highway, following the Old Taeddong river route.
If you are coming back to Pyongyang after your Nampo visit, it’s worth enquiring as to whether you can take that route back to get a rare glimpse of the area’s shipping-related industrial base, and- if you call in advance- pop in to the Tae’an Glass Works and Chollima Steel Factory to see proper heavy North Korean industry in action.
In winter you may be able to spot ice fishermen cutting holes in the frozen Taedong River.
Construction on the highway began in 1999, with a reported 50,000 youth ‘volunteers’ drafted in to work on it.
It replaced the older Pyongyang-Nampo road, at a time when the country was putting great stock in the hopeful future of Nampo as a thriving port and trade zone.
The highway is really, really wide.
Originally 48m across, it was later extended to 64m, and leads many casual observers to wonder out loud if it might (if it came to it) double as an airstrip.
Your Korean guides are unlikely to be able to confirm or deny this, but it is highly plausible that in the event of an invasion then at least the Korean People’s army tank divisions would be rolling down this road to protect the capital.
The width makes the road look even emptier than it is, but you can still find yourself passing close by oncoming vehicles as everyone funnels into the sections which still have a reasonable quality surface- as with many other North Korean highways, the heavy trucks which roll up and down it every day have taken their toll.
Brace yourself for a bumpy ride.
Your driver can do the journey in just over an hour if you are pressed for time, but there are actually quite a few points of interest to stop along the way.
The road starts at a nondescript junction signposted ‘Nampo’ on Kwangbok Street near the Manyongdae Schoolchildren’s Palace.
As you leave the city heading south, look out for Ryonggaksan (Dragon Mountain) on the right-hand side- in summer it’s a great spot for a picnic.
As you cross over the Sunhwa river and turn right to head west, the motorway opens out in all its expansive glory. A great spot for a photo if you are near the front of the bus.
This factory is located 25km from Pyongyang, and a tour can often be arranged- sometimes at fairly short notice.
Like many North Korean factories, it is not just a place of work- the workers live on site with their families, with facilities including schools and recreation areas.
You can watch the bottles jostle along the conveyor belt getting filled and capped, and go outside to see the spring itself, bubbling up from deep underground.
You will see the blue bottles of spring water everywhere you go in North Korea- Koreans call it yaksu, or medicine water.
Whilst there are much bigger and undoubtedly more productive farms in the country, the one at Chongsan-ri is one of the most famous as it has come to epitomise one of the two ideal Korean farming methods (the other being state farms).
You can tour the vast greenhouses and if you ask nicely you may be able to sample some of the harvests.
As with the factories, this is somewhere that people don’t just work, but live as well, with schools and homes- and a PA system providing a steady stream of ideological encouragement from seemingly all around.
Built in 1987 on the edge of Taicheng Lake and 30km from Pyongyang, just off the Youth Hero Highway- Pyongyang Golf Course is (currently) the country’s only one.
There is a full 18 hole course and restaurant. And no, Kim Jong Il never claimed to have scored a hole in one on every hole- another one of those sensational tall tales that people around the world are aware of, but is news to most North Koreans.
Don’t believe everything you read!
On the final approach into Nampo, you will see the large Pyonghwa Car Factory.
You may have noticed these cars with their dove symbol and Korean writing around the country, and there is a gleaming showroom at the other end of the highway on Kwangbok Street, but it is here that they are made- or at least assembled.