North Korea by Google Earth: Kim Jong Il’s Largest Palace

[Updated; The Mystery of the Tangun Tomb] Remember my March 28th post,  a stream of consciousness  that washed against  the subject of EU sanctions against North Korea?   Among the items sanctioned were  pure-bred horses, which are the kind not even  North Koreans would dare eat — because of who owns them.   That led me  to the one location in North Korea where I suspected that such horses might be kept.  I had recently found that location on Google Earth  while spying on an  area  a few miles east-by-northeast of Pyongyang.  Because of the extraordinary security surrounding this complex, I had speculated that it was probably the pleasure dome of none other than His Porcine Majesty:

It’s not marked, “Kim Jong Il, the Lodestar of the Universe, lives here,” but the extraordinary security and luxury of the place suggest as much (did I mention the anti-aircraft missile sites and the airfield?). I hope to do a more complete GE tour of this place some time, along with some of the other high-end real estate on this highway, north and east of Pyongyang.

Today, some North Korean defectors are confirming my amateur photo-interpretation, and Yahoo Korea (in Korean only) is publishing satellite photos of what it believes to be Kim Jong Il’s house and palace.  (Translation note:  the caption says jip-mu-shil, which I take it means “home office.”)   There are at least two different  locations shown here.  I’ve only identified two of these locations; the one you see above (see, e.g., the distinctive oval track in Images 5 and 6 below)  and one other, which I’m pretty sure I’ve placemarked, and which is about five miles or so from the other.  The  headlines say, “This is how Kim Jong Il lives!”  I put together a Google Earth tour  of the palace below.  First, here are the published pictures verified by the defectors:

1     2     3     4     5     6     7

Supposedly, Kim Jong Il has a whopping 17 palaces, and I’ve found other candidate locations, including another large complex near Paektu-San and suspect locations in Wonsan and near his plutonium reactor  at  Yongbyon.  Those will wait for another day.

Update:  For those  who know how to use  Google Earth or Google maps, if you click the images and enlarge them to full size, you can see the coordinates printed along the bottom of  each screen.  Let’s start our tour about 18 miles northeast of Pyongyang.

a-from-pyang.jpg

Here’a an overview of the area around the palace.  Note the  surface-to-air missile sites, the airfield, and  the mysterious political monument.  We’ll zoom in on those in a moment.

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Taking obsessive security to a new level, the road leading from the main Pyongyang highway to the palace is not just gated, it’s completely fenced off.  Locals can’t get near it.

a12.jpg   a11.jpg

The SAM sites have a characteristic floral shape, making them easy to recognize from above.  Many of North Korea’s SAM sites are inactive, but not these.  They’re fresh and well-maintained.

a5.jpg   a6.jpg   a7.jpg

Here’s the palace complex.  As you can see, there are a quite a few other buildings in the periphery of the complex.  The “fl” placemarks show the triple fencing around the place, and the “G” placemarks are gates.

a1.jpg

You can see two of the fencelines and the bunkers along them here.  So is Kim Jong Il really that worried about  our Special Forces?  Well, maybe.  Another theory is that he’s worried about his own special forces.

a2.jpg   a-fence-lines.jpg   a-fence-lines-2.jpg   a-fence-lines-3.jpg

The large oval object appears to be a horse track.

kim-jong-ils-palace-and-horse-track.jpg

I’m watching you, Fat Boy.

a8.jpg   a9.jpg

Suppose they have those big goldfish in the ponds?

This complex is right next to the palace, and inside the outer layer of fencing.  That leads me to think that it’s  associated with the palace, but I can’t even venture  a guess as to what it is.

a10.jpg

Two and a half miles past the palace exit on the highway is an airfield.  Off to the right, you can see some aircraft, possibly AN-2 Colts, parked.

a-airfield.jpg   a-aircraft.jpg

Almost exactly one mile further is this bizarre monument.

a-pyramid-close-up.jpg   a-pyramid-2.jpg   a-pyramid.jpg

It’s just over 50 yards across at the base.  By any chance, does anyone know what on earth this thing is?

How about the rest of the North Korean people, you may ask?  Do they know that their leader lives this way while they starve, and while their kids are stunted from malnutrition?  In most cases, probably not.  For those who raise such questions, you can learn more about their living arrangements here.

Update 2:   Another mystery solved, and Bruce Klingner wins  the cookie.  According to official North Korean historical interpretation, this is the tomb of  Tangun.  Another reader who wishes to remain anonymous even e-mails to say he’s even been there, and was surprised to learn how close he got to Kim Jong Il’s main palace without knowing it (I hope he’ll let me publish a part of his e-mail).  There are ground-level  pictures of the tomb here and here, but this one (ROK blocked) is my favorite:

fat-boy.jpg

My, but he simply projects charisma, doesn’t he?   If Tangun were actually buried here, he’d be thinking, “There goes the neighborhood.”   But he never was.

Once again archaeologists were ordered to make a discovery by the Great Leader himself (this time, it was Kim Il-sung). Once again, the discovery was made immediately  — I just wonder how great life would become had the North Korean scientists been able to produce, say, a high-temperature superconductor upon receiving the proper order from some Dear or Great Leader. The aging Kim Il-sung instructed them to find the tomb of legendary Tangun, the son of the she-bear and alleged founder of Ancient Choson. The tomb was found  — near Pyongyang, of course. This once again proved the city’s credentials as the nation’s capital for five thousand years.  [Korea Times, Prof. Andrei Lankov]

Internet writings  about the Tomb of Tangun are dominated by North Korean inspired propaganda about the tomb and its fictitious historical  significance.  One can sift through these and find the accounts of more skeptical visitors, too.

How much more interesting a story is when you discover it by accident.

Update:   A reader who has visited the “Tomb of Tangun” has graciously given me permission to print his description of the place.

“The Tomb of Tangun” is indeed a very strange place to visit. I’m a trained archaeologist, which is why I had a particular interest in this monument. My professor at University has specialised in ancient Korean history and it was through him I first got to hear about the place. He attended a conference in England in the early 1990:s where North Korean scientists presented their findings. According to him, everyone, including the North Koreans, were “embarrassed” by the claims. Scientists as they were, they fully understood the “improbability” of their discovery, and naturally everyone else felt the same way. But they had be ordered from home to present this “amazing discovery” to the world, and there was nothing they could do about it.

Anyway, knowing this background story, I wanted to visit the tomb for myself. I do not believe it is a  major tourist attraction. My travel agent said the place was just “too boring” and, well, a fake too…so why go there? All the same, I went with two guides and  a driver. I clearly remember crossing the bridge with the hydroelectric plant and locks, seen on the Google Earth photos,  and then continuing for a little bit longer, passing the “hidden road” to the palace complex.I had to pay 10 Euros extra to enter the pyramid, which was opened up by a young lady in military uniform.

Inside there was almost a small labyrinth, leading to the cold burial chamber where two coffins, one for Tangun and one for his wife,  stood side by side. On the wall was a mural painting of Tangun himself. Surprisingly, my guide suggested that the black wooden covers be removed so we could take a look into the glass coffins. The lady  almost panicked  and quickly responded that it was impossible! Only scientists were allowed to look inside and would also have to pay 100 Euros for the privilege. I clearly noticed that this explanation  did not  impress  my guide, who might not have believed the story and/or  just felt embarrassed  I’d travelled all this way for nothing. Personally I think it’s likely that the coffins might have been empty. Although  I did have  a 100 Euros  on me, I didn’t feel compelled to  spend them all there and then…

Outside I looked at the monumental statues and the engraved stones. The statues were all newly made, which was no secret, however the supposedly ancient, engraved stones did look suspiciously new as well. Although I didn’t get to see a lot, I don’t regret going there. I concluded that the Tomb of Tangun wasn’t a memorial over the person Tangun (fictional or not), it was constructed for the “idea” of Tangun. The idea that the founder of Korea came from the north and was buried close to  Pyongyang even. Like so many  things in North Korea, it was an entirely political monument.

In retrospect one can wonder if the  location of the tomb was chosen for its proximity to the palace? It would certainly have a strong, symbolic meaning in that case.” (END)

I’ve agreed to keep the reader’s identity to myself, as he may want to go back to North Korea. Yes, I’m ambivalent about travel to the North, but at least this reader will at least be honestly skeptical  about what he observes there.  Thanks much for writing in.

31 comments

  1. Bruce Klingner says:

    It’s Tangun’s (legendary founder of Korea) tomb.

  2. NKeconWatch says:

    This area is called Kang Dong. Recent guests include Japanese Sushi Chef Kenji Fujimoto. I think the area has been recently renovated (at least according to older photos of the place here: http://www.dailynk.com/english/read.php?cataId=nk02300&num=83)–But I believe it is the same place. The buildings have obviously been rebuilt–losing the old Soviet modern architecture in place of more western, stand-alone housing. Also, the houses are built using the new “blue” roofing that is popping up all over the place. Still, the pond matches.

    The nearby airfield is called Kangdong Airfield.

    Joshua, I am working on a massive Google Earth project myself. If you are interested in a beta version, I am happy to send you one.

  3. Joshua says:

    Bruce, Thank you. I’m impressed.

    NKEcon, Yes, I’d be interested if I can read “beta.” I don’t actually consider myself very technically competent. Thanks.

  4. [...] Other Google uses? Spying on one of Kim Jong-il’s many palaces. Highlighting the destruction in Darfur. [...]

  5. Meena says:

    Joshua, you are nothing but a belligerent neo-con, like this website. The North and South Koreas are working to reunify, and they will do so without your help.

    And as far as the Kim residence is concerned, that should come as no surprise to anyone. World leaders often live this way, so why should Kim be an exception? Since you’re so interested in Googling palaces, why not give us a glimpse of the Bush mansions? Why not give us a glimpse of that so-called “Crawford Ranch” in Texas, which really IS a palace.

  6. usinkorea says:

    Oh gee wilikers — I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anybody blow off their foot with such devastation so quickly in an argument…!!

    Great golly, if I were Onefreekorea, I’ve probably have a heart attack in my giddy rush to fullfill this request.

    Oh please, please, somebody compare the palaces of US presidents to those of Kim Jong Il….please please with sugar on top! That should be a hoot to read…

    I’d also recommend throwing in some real American palaces – the ones build for the likes of a Bill Gates or the older money families in American society….

  7. usinkorea says:

    As for the great desire for unification, go to You Tube and look for Access to Evil, Welcome to Korea parts 1 – 6, and Inside North Korea. You will get to see how the governments of both societies want to avoid unification at all costs – one to keep power (Pyongyang) and one to keep the 12th largest world economy (Seoul).

    I got to see South Korean society turn on a dime in 1997-98 on the question of unification. When the economic collapse happened in Asia then, my adult students went from hypothetically talking about unification as a desire to saying unification with a bankrupt NK should be avoided until its economy was much stronger – which means putting unification (by anything but complete collapse of the North) off indefinately.

  8. Joshua says:

    I think all world leaders whose people are not balanced between famine and mass malnutrition are entitled to a reasonable degree of dignity of office.

    I don’t think anyone is entitled to 17 palaces at the public’s expense.

  9. Sonagi says:

    Belligerent neo-con, you forgot to mention that America doesn’t go begging for handouts from the rest of the world to feed its poor. 1600 acres is a nice patch of grass, but the 4,000 squ. ft. home is probably smaller than any of KJI’s palaces.

  10. Joshua says:

    I also forgot to mention all of the weapons and fine automobiles the owner of this real estate purchased while his people starved, or the $7 billion in South Korean aid that failed to produce one single signficant reduction of military tensions, mass hunger, or internal oppression of the North Korean people.

    I could go on forever, but I’ve only been blogging for three years.

  11. usinkorea says:

    One serious point I’ve always thought about in discussions like this has been —- what to make of the use of statues and pictures? Image if Bush or Reagan or Clinton had started a multi-million dollar project to have their face carved on Rushmore or have statues of themselves placed in cities across the US.

    If you want to keep a quick score card on levels of oppression vs democracy —- this is one key item to check off.

  12. NKeconWatch says:

    Joshua,

    I have been working on a Google Earth North Korea project for a while. I have finally posted it on line. I guarantee your readers will learn something about North Korea:

    http://www.nkeconwatch.com/2007/04/12/north-korea-uncovered-google-earth/

    If posting a link here violates any of your policies, I apologize and you can delete it.

    Best,

    NKeconWatch.com

  13. Joshua says:

    Totally OK with me. Thanks for posting it. Can you explain how this kml file thing works?

  14. NKeconWatch says:

    On my computer, you just double click on the .KMZ file, and it opens in Google Earth. If your computer is asking what program to use to open the file, select Google Earth.

    If Google Earth is opening and nothing is appearing, then look to the “Places menu” on the left of your screen. At the bottom of the list is “Temporary places”…the file should be listed there. Make sure it is checkmarked for everything to appear.

    That is the extent of my computer knowledge!

    Best,

  15. [...] When I put up my post on Kim Jong Il’s palace northeast of Seoul — if you haven’t seen it yet, we’ve revealed an interesting answer to the pyramid mystery – NKEconWatch commented and pasted in a link to this Daily NK article, really a comprehensive field guide to all of Korigula’s various palaces and residences.  One passage in there sounded familiar: Wonsan Chalet [...]

  16. [...] I was especially pleased to hear from one of this site’s readers, a trained archeologist who has even been there, and who graciously agreed to let me publish a brief travelogue of his visit.  I’ve appended it to the bottom of the Kim Jong Il palace post.  My thanks to this reader, who wishes to remain anonymous. [...]

  17. usinkorea says:

    I don’t remember most of the details about this, and I’ve emailed somebody else who might have been there to see what he remembers, but I have a vague memory of a South Korean prof who was on a short visit to the US who gave a lecture.

    It wasn’t focused on Tangun much. It might have even come up in the Q&A session for all I remember.

    But, I do clearly recall that he gave some validity to the argument.

    As I remember it, he said the Korean profs showed him the bones and the other evidence, and he said a case could be made for its validity – that it could not be dismissed so easily.

    A Korean prof at my school, on the other hand, made fun of the North Koreans for the Tangun claims when he covered the Tangun myth in history Korean history survey course, and I seem to remember him also relating perhaps the same conference in England when he said even some North Korean historians were ashamed to have to make such claims to foreign archeologists at some conference.

  18. Meena says:

    I’m still waiting for the Crawford Palace of Dear Leader Bush, but I guess I’ll be waiting a long time.

    And since you neo-cons are so fond of mentioning starvation (repeatedly), I’d like to remind you that the starvation you talk about in NK was caused by mass flooding in the mid-Nineties, followed by years of drought. Those are called “natural disasters”, Joshua, not deliberate policy by the government.

    And since NK is resource poor, it cannot trade anything for the food it needs. So if crops fail, the country starves. If it starts making electronics like SK, that could change.

    BTW, I don’t see what the shootings at Virginia Tech have to do with the reunification of the two Koreas. Just because the shooter was Korean-American? Big deal.

    Frankly, I find the whole tone of this website to be crypto-racist in character, with the attitude of “we know what’s best for North and South Korea even if they don’t”. No doubt the intention here is to turn North Koreans into corporate wage-slaves with the South Korean market severely reduced in output. No wonder both are reluctant to unify under such circumstances.

  19. Joshua says:

    Pure juche nonsense. Ten consecutive years of floods? Please. Read Marcus Noland and Stephen Haggard’s book on the subject. That’s pure garbage, and every NGO that worked in North Korea knows it. North Korea had a famine because its agricultural policies are a disaster, its infrastructure is a wreck, it refuses transparent and monitored food aid, and above all, because it misallocated the resources that should have paid for food and spent them on arms, and on the luxuries that fill this palace. Two million preventable deaths don’t bother you? This was a crime against humanity, and you’re comparing that to the ranch of a president you didn’t happen to VOTE for? (I noticed you didn’t bring up John Edwards’s house.)  When we have a famine in Arkansas you’ll have a valid comparison.  Meanwhile, you’re comparing apples and road apples.  The fact that the rest of us didn’t go for Dennis Kucinich certainly has embittered you.

    Your second paragraph is the most amusing of all, especially given how some South Koreans are actually enslaving and exploiting their “brothers” in North Korea today. Why conjure slavery in your fantasies when it’s right in front of you?

    If this site is “crypto racist,” the Korean and Korean-American readers here are not seeing what you’re hallucinating. And when you speak of “you know what’s best,” aren’t you really saying, implicitly, that only ethnic Koreans are invited to this discussion? Only my taxpayer dollars are welcome? Who’s really the racist here?

    Ref. Virginia Tech:  One of my rules here is that I expect a reader to actually read the post before commenting.  You obviously didn’t read the post.  To that, I’ll just add that I write about whatever interests me, and if you’re not interested, don’t read the post (or comment).

    I’m going to go out on a long limb and say you don’t know the first thing about North Korea. So here, as a public service, I present the first thing you ought to know.

  20. usinkorea says:

    “crypto-racist in character”

    hahahahahahahahahahah…..

    …hahahahahahahahahahahahaah…

    That got my morning off right…

    Hahahah…

    I’ll repeat a favorite moment from higher education here in the US at a good Korean Studies department…… “Who are ‘WE’ to say Juche doesn’t work!”

  21. Sonagi says:

    Well, now that you’ve been outed by Meena, you’re not a crypto-racist anymore. :)

  22. [...] [Update:  Welcome Weekly Standard readers.  Please take note of some of the other North Korea Google Earth tours here:  the concentration camps at Camp 22 (of gas chamber infamy) and Camp 16 (the site of a recent mass escape), North Korea’s “ghost cities,” and Kim Jong Il’s palace complex northeast of Pyongyang, which comes with its own “pyramid scheme.”] [...]

  23. John says:

    I think the group of buildings whose purpose you could not guess. Are the Barracks of his Special Forces. The ones that guard him that is. Those look like they have all the facilities
    for sustaining a large group of military type personel.

  24. Joshua says:

    John, did you compare them to the numbered links to the photographs verified by defectors? You have to admit that the shapes of the racetrack, the buildings, and the ponds in images 5 and 6 are a dead-ringer.

  25. [...] Lee Myung Bak, the current front-runner, has all of Park’s bad qualities and none of her good ones.  Several years ago, I wrote this profile of Lee Myung-Bak and described his Stalinist-sounding public-works schemes, his poor track record for ethics in government, and his tendency to say adolescent or zany things.  Who can forget the time when, as mayor, he offered the city of Seoul to Jesus Christ, despite the fact that Seoul’s population must be nearly half Buddhist?  Lee still hasn’t dropped the idea of building a canal through the mountainous spine of a peninsula ringed with excellent, modern ports.  Since then, Lee M.B. has been running to outdo Chung Dong-Young on the amount of the taxpayers’ largesse he would funnel to Kim Jong Il.  (Yes, this is what passes for “conservative” in today’s Korea.)  Lee M.B. has proposed a new industrial park to harness North Korean slave labor.  Much sillier is his idea of raising North Korea’s per capita income to $3,000.  Only a fool can doubt where the vast majority of this wealth would end up:  aimed at Seoul and Osaka, ticking on the wrists of Pyongyang bureaucrats, and flushed down the urinals of this palace.  Either Lee M.B. (a) doubts that, and you can complete the syllogism yourself, or (b) he’s being deliberately insincere to get votes.  I prefer Theory (b), but neither option should give Korean voters much comfort.  And now, he finds himself immersed in a stock-manipulation scandal.  Question the timing if you will.  Like last-minute candidacies, last-minute prosecutions are a fact of Korean political life. [...]

  26. jake 15 says:

    kim jong il is tha best if i had a dying wish it would be to meet him in person and get a V.I.P. tour of his house in pyongyang

  27. Joshua says:

    Aim high, jake.

  28. Jack says:

    Be careful what you wish for…

  29. The alien says:

    Kim Jong-il the greatest?
    Man, you got problems!

  30. Daniel says:

    Doesn’t kim jong il hate traveling in airplane?

  31. Trevor says:

    I’m no expert – but I’ve spent a lot of time both in and out of uniform looking at pictures of various army bases. I’m assuming what you are seeing in the unidentified picture of a crop of buildings within the wire is a guard or Army post. The buildings on the right side look distinctly like barracks, with training/classroom facilities surrounding them on their north eastern side. In the center is what looks like a parade ground, which is faced by a larger building – probably general staff offices or a battalion HQ. The structures on the western side of the parade ground could be either more staff offices, storage facilities, or billets. But in all the make up of the compound plus it’s location relative to the palace (over a hill, so out of sight while still close enough to quickly defend the area) would point to this explanation.

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