Review | Koryo Hotel, Pyongyang

Who wouldn’t like to stay at “Pyongyang’s best hotel”?! One of the few choices for guests to the city, the Koryo is a twin-tower building frequented by diplomats, officials, teachers and delegates, whilst tourists most often stay at the Yanggakdo Hotel.

This is the fifth component of the November trip:

We were greeted by bell-hops on arrival, who took our luggage and placed it on trolleys whilst our guides took care of check-in. They also informed us that we were absolutely not to leave the hotel on our own at any time through our stay. The lobby looked surprisingly grand and opulent, offering hope of a really nice hotel. These hopes were later crushed…

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Following this, we were introduced to the facilities, including a bar and restaurant on the ground level, as well as a very comprehensive store. The store had everything from alcohol to birthday cakes to tradition Korean clothing to perfumes and gift sets. It was rather strange, but served as easy access for things during our stay. Whilst we didn’t visit the bar or restaurant, we did spend a night in the Karaoke Bar, which was quite memorable. The hotel also had a swimming pool, which could be accessed for 5 Euros.

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Heading to the lift, there was at least one attendant who sat outside all the lifts, waiting to press buttons for guests. The lifts were very old, lacking any infra-red door sensors that most modern lifts feature. After a rickety climb to level 26, we headed down the very dark and ominous hallway, with gloomy green carpets and pale yellow walls. Surprisingly the rooms had keycard access.

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Lift buttons
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Eerie hotel hallway

Once inside, it was apparent that this was quite a 2-3 star hotel/ motel. Although it featured somewhat separate bed/ lounge areas, the whole room was extraordinarily drab and dull. There was a small TV in the corner, which surprisingly aired the likes of AlJazeera and BBC World News (as well as North Korean state TV).

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There was a ‘lounge area’, consisting of two seats from the ’60s in a dark section of the room that lacked any lighting.

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The bathroom was very ordinary, featuring a bathtub, shower, sink and toilet. Unsurprisingly, there was an unbuilt dispenser for tissues, which was always left completely empty. The hotel provided amenities (shampoo, conditioner, lotion, body wash), which smelt like some horrible lolly. Thankfully, though, there was continuous and responsive hot water.

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Like China, the air-conditioner was out of our control. Whilst there was a thermostat, the air-conditioner would continue to blow at 26 degrees, as opposed to the 15 degrees it was set at.

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There was something resembling a mini-bar, consisting of a completely empty fridge as well as 2 tissues from a pocket pack, a bottle opener and tongs for ice. There was absolutely nothing else. No ice, no bottles, no food, nothing.

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When it came to sleeping, we were unable to switch off one of the lights, and could never do so for the whole stay.

At breakfast each morning, we were told to go to the level 3 restaurant. It’s our understanding there was one on each level for different types of people: guides, delegates, and others. The breakfast offering was the worst I had seen anywhere in my life. They presented a ‘buffet’ consisting of: ‘juice’ (it was actually a super-sweet North Korean soft drink); two plates of nuts; a basket of bread (this was actually the highlight, due to its lightly sweetened nature); coffee and tea; and one egg per guest, prepared fresh by a chef. The fried egg was given to us at our table, along with two garnish dishes containing a weird paste and two tiny slices of cheese. Unbelievably underwhelming. The table itself was set out fairly well, apart from the ‘napkin’, which was actually another tiny tissue from a pocket pack.

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The people staying at the hotel were interesting. We met several Russian Military delegates in full uniform, an American-Chinese man teaching opera singing, an American-British man who didn’t say what he was doing (but for some reason was allowed to go for a morning jog around the city), a lady who said she was there doing “training”, and several others.

So, despite the regular power outages (at least 4 times each day), the very poor quality food and the fact that the hotel hasn’t changed at all since 1960, it was a somewhat pleasant stay. From what we heard, it was far better to stay at the Koryo than at the Yanggakdo, so I guess we should be grateful!

I can’t say I’d explicitly recommend the Pyongyang Koryo hotel, but if you decide to tour North Korea, I do recommend sticking with a tour company who will choose this hotel. This is purely for the fact that everyone we ran into said that it was far better than the other alternatives.

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