MYSTERY OF THE YANGGAKDO
While it's possible to choose from a number of foreigner-friendly hotels in the DPRK, it's more than likely that when you visit you will be staying at the famous Yanggakdo hotel
Isolated on its own island in the middle of Pyongyang, the hotel provides an amazing view of the city on sunny days. Early morning you may open up your window on the 40th floor (briefly notice there is nothing stopping you from jumping straight out to your demise) and take a listen to the eerie sounds of the city waking up. This unsettling music can be heard through the dense grey fog of Pyongyang each and every day and is played by the government reasons I have yet to understand.
In the evenings, once arriving back from your day of touring, you won't be allowed to exit the hotel, so there are many activities indoors. On the first and lower floors, you will find a swimming pool, bowling alley, barber shop, massage parlor, tailors, gift shops, coffee bars, cocktail lounges, karaoke, a post office, and multiple restaurants. I recommend trying all of these at least once, but by far the most popular activity was rejoining as a group for some beers and discussion of everything we saw that day.
But whatever you do, beware the 5th floor. Don't be fooled by the Yanggakdo's fun amenities and weird attractions, this hotel holds some secrets. You are always being watched; particularly when traveling between floors. A few floors of the hotel cannot be accessed via elevator and you will need to use the stairwell to find the 2nd (and 5th) floor. At one point, I had an interest in finding the tailor and had a free 15 minutes to explore the hotel
After unsuccessfully trying the lift to reach the second floor, we cautiously tried venturing up a dark stairwell with no lights. We nervously made out way up and found a dim corridor with a door at the far end. As we approached, almost straight out of a thriller, the door creaked open!
A small woman stood in its frame, she had expected us from the moment we turned towards the stairwell. Freaky-factor aside, she ended up being an excellent tailor, fixing my pants and creating Corey a custom DPRK flag for his backpack - But it was a lesson that we were never alone.
The ever watching eyes of the regime are simply par for the course when visiting a totalitarian, communist country like North Korea. This isn't something to be shocked by, just expected and should be approached with an open mind and a respectful attitude.
THE 5TH FLOOR
Which brings me to the topic of the infamous and uniquely sought-after, 5th floor. Popular on the internet as an anarchists achievement, this restricted floor is nothing to play with and has a history of getting travelers in trouble. Clearly labeled as a communications and security area, the 5th floor is plastered with propaganda murals, has a shorter than average height, and is strictly off limits to foreigners. Hunting for and exploring the 5th floor sounds fun, but will end with you writing an apology to the government before being allowed to leave the country.
The famous, Truman-Show-esque, Yanggakdo hotel is a must see when visiting the DPRK. Whether it's the eerily empty pink ballroom, the mannequin-like hosts that unexpectedly wait around corners or convenient grey fog that obstructs your view from the windows... This hotel is exactly everything you expect from a visit to North Korea.