Kamsusan Palace of the Sun is the name given to the mausoleum of Kim Il Sung and his son, Kim Jong Il.
If you already know a bit about The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea then you’ll be aware that they basically worship the two deceased leaders like Gods- especially Kim Il Sung who the Korean people still consider their official President. So when they passed away, a simple burial was not enough and they turned the presidential palace into a mausoleum.
Inside the palace, the embalmed bodies of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il lay in glass coffins on display for people to come and pay their respects. I was lucky enough to have a chance to visit the mausoleum during my time in DPRK and needless to say, it was one of the most bizarre mornings of my life. Tourists can only visit on Thursdays and Sundays so if you definitely want to see the mausoleum make sure your trip dates coincide with at least one of these days.
If you are planning a trip to DPRK and want to visit Kamsusan Palace of the Sun or you’re simply interested to know what it’s like, here is a short insight into my visit there:
Arriving at the Palace:
We arrive early in the morning – I think it was around 8-8:30am. We had been told to dress smart and that jeans and trainers are not allowed but we immediately spot other tourists wearing jeans and T shirts and they are not turned away. So I am assuming this is not a strict rule but just recommended. Our guide actually thanked us for dressing smart- Josh wore his smart work shoes, tailored trousers and a smart polo top (we figure a shirt was just going to get creased in his backpack) and I wore a black dress with tights and smart black shoes.
You actually enter through a side building that connects to the main palace. Upon arrival, we leave our coats at the cloakroom and put our phones and valuables in a locker. Men are allowed to keep their wallets on them. We then pass through a metal detector and security check and the guards pat you over.
Then the travelators begin! (Yes, I do mean the flat moving platforms that you get at airports and stations). This travelator is the slowest moving thing ever and you are not allowed to walk on it! So we just stand there for a good 10 minutes and there isn’t much to look at it’s basically just a long corridor. Our guide does explain some stuff about the palace so this helps pass the time. At the end of the long travelator we walk over brushes that clean the bottom of your shoes.
Just when we thought the travelators were over we get on another one! Again, this moves so slowly that you could walk it faster and the whole thing feels like it takes around 15 minutes. At least this time there are some pictures to look at- all along the wall there are pictures of Kim Il Sung throughout his life. The pictures of Kim Jong Il are on the opposite wall where there is another travelator for when you leave (more travelator time to look forward to!).
The Main Entrance Hall:
By now, I feel like half of my life has been spent on a travelator. But finally we make it into the main hall/entrance. It’s huge with marble floors and pillars but it feels so bare and empty. At the end of the hall are two large wax models of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. We bow to them and move out.
Inside the Palace:
Once inside the main part of the Palace our guide goes very quiet and only comments on a few things. Me and Josh are very aware that from this point onwards it could be seen as offensive to smile or laugh so we remain neutral and I avoid all eye contact with Josh through fear of giggling! Our guide explains that the shiny specks on the floor represent the tears of the Korean people. I realise that it is going to be very tough to keep my composure.
It is eerily quiet in there and we walk around in single file with our guides. It looks so shiny and grand inside but it did feel a little bare too. There’s just so much space with nothing really going on- corridors with a few pictures and that’s it. It really hits you just how much money has gone into the palace.
The Glass Coffins:
Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il’s bodies lay in two separate rooms but the process you go through is the same for each. We visit Kim Il Sung first. Before entering the room we walk through a doorway which blows air onto us like a huge dryer you get after going on the log flume at a theme park! I assume this must be to blow off any dust before you enter the room.
The room that contains the body is large and square. It has high ceilings but its dark and lit with dim red lighting which gives it such a dramatic feel. Only the coffin has a bright spotlight upon it so you can see the body clearly. As soon as I enter the room it dawns on me just how special and important this place is for the people of DPRK. I no longer feel like I might laugh and I actually get a little nervous that I might do something wrong or not bow properly. There are 4 armed guards in the room all facing the coffin. We stand in a line with our guides and bow at the feet and then either side of the body (bowing a total of 3 times for each leader) then walk out in single file.
The bodies are embalmed so they just look like they’re asleep. It is quite hard to get your head around the fact this this is actually them and not a wax model!
Medals & Awards Rooms:
After seeing the body you enter a room full of display cabinets that are filled with awards given to Kim Il Sung / Kim Jong Il (They have a medal room each). There are lots of awards given to them from DPRK itself but also many from other countries. I was surprised to see random things like ‘The Key To Cuzco’ from Peru. There were quite a lot from South American and African countries and then a fair amount from Russia and China too. Most of them are just nonsense though and the leaders would’ve done nothing in order to receive them. A lot were simply gifts from countries rather than actual awards. But I could tell our guide wanted us to be so impressed by it all. My favourite award was one given to Kim Jong Il for ‘Peacekeeping’! We only saw one award from England and that was for Kim Il Sung-it was a small silver medal/plaque that just said it was from Derbyshire. Our guide didnt know and we found nothing on Google about this afterwards so I have no idea what that was about! The room also has large paintings and photographs of Kim Il Sung meeting world leaders including Muammar Gaddafi and Fidel Castro.
The train carriages that the leaders used during their lifetime are also on display in a large room! (again, a separate room for each leader). Both carriages remain decorated as they were when in use. Kim Jong Il’s train contained his trademark green tracksuit and glasses plus a piece of paper with his writing on which they claim is the very last thing he wrote since he actually died on the train. On the walls there are maps which display all of the train routes taken during their lifetime. Another map shows every plane journey taken.
In the next rooms the leaders cars were on display. In Kim Jong Il’s room there was also a golf buggy that he sat in one time to take a tour of a factory – bare in mind that the atmosphere here is still very solemn so it was extremely hard not to laugh at this.
I couldn’t believe it when we walked into another room and there was Kim Jong Il’s boat! They even noted exactly how many times he had used the boat!
The ‘Mourning’ Room:
Towards the end of the tour we visit a room which our guide describes as the ‘mourning room’. This is where Kim Jong Il’s body was placed for a few months after he died so the Korean people could come and mourn his death. The room is now empty apart from two engravings on opposite walls. The engravings depict people crying and looking pretty distraught. Our guide explained to us that it shows the Korean people (North and South) mourning his death as well as people from around the world who were saddened by the news of his death. The engravings included an African man, what appeared to be a Muslim woman, a white man and even an American- all of which were looking extremely upset! I didn’t break it to our guide that nobody in the UK was upset when he died!
We go out the way we came in- so it was back on the travelators ! As we left we saw lots of Korean people on their way in. All the men were dressed really smart or in military uniform and the women wore beautiful colourful traditional dresses so that was really nice to see.
You are only allowed to take photos outside so we use this opportunity to get a couple of pictures. Sadly, the lighting isn’t great but here they are anyway:
For more on my visit to North Korea please see my other blogs here.