Sorry to interrupt...this will only take a moment.
This site is an independent reader-supported project.
Because you have viewed at least a few articles now...
Can you give a small donation to keep us online?
We can give you e-books and audiobooks and stuff.
This site is an independent reader-supported project.
The cost of keeping it running are considerable.
If you can spare a few dollars it would help us enormously.
We can give you e-books and audiobooks and stuff.
×
×
Experimental Feature

Select 'Atmospheric Audio' from the Audio menu to add subtle background audio to certain portions of the article.

North Korea's "Secret" Hotel

Article #157 • Written by Greg Bjerg

Under the personality cult of leaders Kim Jong-il and his father Kim Il-sung, North Korea has become fiercely isolationist, nationalistic, and totalitarian. Despite being one of the planet's poorest countries, the communist state looks for any achievement to boost itself in eyes of the world. Its people know little or nothing of other nations except for the fact that Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) is vastly superior.

The DPRK is also one of the world's most secretive nations. For a North Korean, contact with a foreigner can land one in jail... or worse. But there is one embarrassing secret that is hard for the government to hide, literally. It's the Ryugyong Hotel in the Potong District of North Korea's capital city of Pyongyang. It's difficult to hide because it's a massive, 105-story structure which dominates the city's skyline. It's an embarrassment because it's a complete engineering failure... its empty, dilapidated husk lurks over the capital, mocking the citizens of the proud country.

The hotel's story begins in 1987, when the North Korean government began construction at an estimated cost of $750 million, or 2% of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). By comparison, 2% of the United States' GDP would be about $220 billion. Construction of the hotel was a cold war response to other massive skyscrapers in Asia, most notably South Korea's towering Stamford Hotel in Singapore. The North Koreans expected the project to bring in western investors as a first move into their nation. Investors were told to expect little oversight, and assured that casinos, nightclubs and lounges could be added. The North Korean government was so proud of the project that they added it to their official city maps before the project was even started, and they issued postage stamps touting the hotel before it was even half-finished.

The Ryugyong or "Capital of Willows" Hotel stands 1,083 feet tall, and it was planned to have 3,000 rooms and seven revolving restaurants. It has a total of 3.9 million square feet of floor space. The hotel would be the tallest hotel and seventh largest building in the world if it were finished. It would also have been the first building with over one hundred floors outside of New York or Chicago.

The first event scheduled to be held at the hotel was June 1989's World Festival of Youth and Students. The hotel was nowhere near ready for that event. Its construction was plagued with problems, and after five years construction completely ground to a halt due to a shortage of everything... especially funding and electricity. Work on the hotel has never resumed; the project was abandoned, leaving a lonely construction crane perched on its peak.

Pyongyang skyline, showing the Ryugyong Hotel on the top right.
Pyongyang skyline, showing the Ryugyong Hotel on the top right.

The shell of the building is complete but it has not been certified as safe for occupancy. There are no windows, fixtures, or fittings. The extremely poor quality concrete used in its construction has left the building sagging to such a great degree that the structure can never be finished without a massive overhaul.

The North Korean government is still looking for foreign investment, hopefully around $300 million. It's going to be hard to find such an investor considering the DPRK has such a tight stranglehold on visitors coming to their nation. The DPRK only allows about 130,000 tourists in an entire year, and almost none of them come to Pyongyang. To make matters worse, the nation appears to be in a never-ending drought and famine cycle that is not conducive for the operation of a five-star hotel.

Today, few North Koreans are willing to discuss the hotel with outsiders. The hotel, which was once found on city maps before the construction even began, has now been completely stricken from the official maps. Tour guides usually claim not to know where it is. Either a majority of the country is in a state of denial about the whole thing, or they avoid the subject for fear of reprisal. Since the government's embarrassing monument is visible from practically every point in the city, it's most likely the latter.

Maybe someday North Korea will become a popular tourist destination, but not in the foreseeable future. If they ever do, there could be plenty of vacancies waiting for the throngs of outsiders... assuming some investors are willing to risk a third of a billion to reanimate the Ryugyong Hotel's rotting corpse.

Update: As of April 2008, construction has sort-of resumed on the Ryugyong hotel. It is still unclear whether it will ever be actually complete.

Article written by Greg Bjerg, published on 06 April 2006. Greg was born and raised in Iowa and graduated with a degree in Journalism from Drake University. Sadly, he passed away on 20 March 2011.

Article design and artwork by Alan Bellows. Edited by Alan Bellows. Story idea suggested by Simon..
SHARE

More Information
Related Articles


47 Comments
NuTT98
Posted 06 April 2006 at 10:57 pm

Looking at that picture I first assumed it was already complete. Looks remarkably similar to all other north korean buildings; plain cement with a whole bunch of squares cut into it.


Arcangel
Posted 06 April 2006 at 11:39 pm

From the article - its empty, dilapidated husk lurks over the capital, mocking the citizens of the proud country.

I would be very surprised if the majority of the North Koreans were proud. Seems to me that they would welcome Bush and the military with open arms if it meant that Kim Jong-il would end up like Saddam Hussein.


koshersushi
Posted 07 April 2006 at 02:34 am

"I would be very surprised if the majority of the North Koreans were proud. Seems to me that they would welcome Bush and the military with open arms if it meant that Kim Jong-il would end up like Saddam Hussein."

Sheesh - let our imperalists take care of Iraq and Iran first. They'll come after North Korea soon enough, especially if Kim Jong-il starts talking nukes again.


domokunt
Posted 07 April 2006 at 02:55 am

Furnace
Posted 07 April 2006 at 03:47 am

For other interesting buildings, you can find details on all the tallest buildings in the world, including proposed buildings that haven't begun construction at http://www.skyscraperpage.com/


mrjondoe
Posted 07 April 2006 at 04:39 am

thanks domokunt, the googles maps was awesome.

and:

""I would be very surprised if the majority of the North Koreans were proud. Seems to me that they would welcome Bush and the military with open arms if it meant that Kim Jong-il would end up like Saddam Hussein."

Sheesh - let our imperalists take care of Iraq and Iran first. They'll come after North Korea soon enough, especially if Kim Jong-il starts talking nukes again."

lets not start planning invasions with countries that may have China join in while the Army is too overstretched to handle Iraq. (and yes our military is stretched, i dont care what MTV tells you about the war in Iraq or Bush or what to think)


another viewpoint
Posted 07 April 2006 at 06:00 am

...now if only there were a way to pick up the hotel, transport it and drop it over Iraq, Iran or Tora Bora...we could have another weapon of mass destruction. Now there's a concrete idea!


Xiphias
Posted 07 April 2006 at 07:18 am

Such a shame it was never completed, it must be one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. Still, with South Korea next door maybe it can be saved if the North Korean government collapses.


SparkyTWP
Posted 07 April 2006 at 07:31 am

The one good thing I can say about North Korea is that they really know how to put on a really good show.
http://1stopkorea.com/index.htm?nk-trip5.htm~mainframe


wileybot
Posted 07 April 2006 at 08:43 am

Just to show you how far the rest of the world has gone and how N.Korea hasnt. look at this site http://www-static.cc.gatech.edu/~pesti/night/
A large black spot showing no major cities at night....sad.


andrew
Posted 07 April 2006 at 09:05 am

Fascinating.

Thanks also for the google maps link. I had no idea they had satellite images of the DPRK. In fact, the DPRK images in Pyongyang are higher resolution than my own city, USA.


Carcer
Posted 07 April 2006 at 09:35 am

Of course it's not finished. What do you expect from a puppet. A ronery, ronery puppet. It's failure was inebidibull.


Carcer
Posted 07 April 2006 at 09:35 am

"What do you expect from a puppet?" Damn typos!


klone
Posted 07 April 2006 at 09:38 am

Kim Jong makes a good boogy man though, we can always thank him for that, right...

RIGHT!?!?!?!?!


Philber
Posted 07 April 2006 at 10:21 am

I've just had a look at it using Google Earth (just enter 'Pyongyang', then scan up and left a little). You can see that the building's a mess and, ominously, there are no cars in the car parks! The best elevation is around 100ft. Reference: Pointer 39deg, 02'11.44"n, 125deg 43'48.28'e.


RichVR
Posted 07 April 2006 at 10:39 am

It used to have 151 floors, but that's another story...


Haywood Jablome
Posted 07 April 2006 at 02:38 pm

If it mocks their pround country so much and there is no hope for this being completed and restored why don't they just cut their losses and tear it down. I realize that tearing down a structure of this size is no easy task, but cmon what a wast of space.


Tynan
Posted 07 April 2006 at 05:11 pm

A severely diseased nation, that is.


Oax
Posted 07 April 2006 at 08:25 pm

I've seen some things about North Korea. Pyonyang is where the elite live. the rest of the country is on a starvation diet. They are very proud, at least the elite. events are astoundlingly tightly structured. when you see the army goose-stepping everything is exactly in unison, every hair in place. They are a scary bunch and they learn all their lives that their problems are caused by the USA.


Oax
Posted 07 April 2006 at 08:42 pm

Arcangel said: "I would be very surprised if the majority of the North Koreans were proud. Seems to me that they would welcome Bush and the military with open arms if it meant that Kim Jong-il would end up like Saddam Hussein."

They will welcome us as liberators with sweets and flowers. seems I heard that somewhat recently.


L. McLeod
Posted 07 April 2006 at 10:17 pm

Well Oax, perhaps you should move there and give it a try!

Just found your site, courtesy of "Good Shit" ( I think ). Well done and interesting. The more knowledge the better!


grey matter
Posted 08 April 2006 at 03:18 am

the ruler is the biggest idiot i have seen. instead of spending all that money(2% of GDP) in a dumb irregular structure like building, he should have used it for famine relief. surely all the poor and and those affected by the famines are angry at the government for 'burning off' such money.

the fact that the construction has stopped due to lack of funds is another a big disgrace

Philber said: "I've just had a look at it using Google Earth (just enter 'Pyongyang', then scan up and left a little). You can see that the building's a mess and, ominously, there are no cars in the car parks! The best elevation is around 100ft. Reference: Pointer 39deg, 02'11.44"n, 125deg 43'48.28'e."

thanks for that view. what a disgrace it looks


thamyris
Posted 08 April 2006 at 04:57 am

Arcangel: "Seems to me that they would welcome Bush and the military with open arms..."

Oh yeah! The last time went really well. Is there no limit to American imperial arrogance?


Stuart
Posted 08 April 2006 at 11:04 am

Arcangel said: "I would be very surprised if the majority of the North Koreans were proud. Seems to me that they would welcome Bush and the military with open arms if it meant that Kim Jong-il would end up like Saddam Hussein."

I'm not suprised that N.Koreans might be proud of their country. Their media networks only tell the people what the government wants them to know. It doesn't explain the whole truth of their country. Not too unlike FOX news.

wileybot said: "Just to show you how far the rest of the world has gone and how N.Korea hasnt. look at this site http://www-static.cc.gatech.edu/~pesti/night/."

From what i can see the rest of the world is mostly dark. Europe, USA and the other areas of relatively rare wealth are lit up like a xmas tree but have a look at Africa, S. America and northern Asia. Not to bright. Looks like N. Korea fits in well with most of the planet. Cool pic tho.


Adam
Posted 08 April 2006 at 11:15 am

Looks like North Korea would have done well to allow a little old time religion to penetrate its communism.

"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’"
Luke 14:28-30 NIV


myname
Posted 08 April 2006 at 11:40 am

grey matter said: "the ruler is the biggest idiot i have seen. instead of spending all that money(2% of GDP) in a dumb irregular structure like building, he should have used it for famine relief. surely all the poor and and those affected by the famines are angry at the government for 'burning off' such money.


the fact that the construction has stopped due to lack of funds is another a big disgrace

thanks for that view. what a disgrace it looks"

Well, yea. Theres no excuse for spending 2% of the GDP (and a weak one at that) on such a frivilous project. However it was a coldwar response to achitectural marvels in other parts of asaia. They were seen as signs of advancement and civilization, naturaly wanting to keep up the N. Koreans did something stupid.

Honestly I could criticize Reganomics in much the same way.


Pascal Leduc
Posted 09 April 2006 at 02:53 pm

The Koreans arent the only people to have spent vast amounths of money on ultimately useless and ill designed buildings.

Link

Let us all learn from our folly


NewEvolution
Posted 09 April 2006 at 07:38 pm

Adam said: "Luke 14:28-30 NIV"

Hah! I must somehow remember to remember this bible quote.

I'm not sure what this article is a better example of...extreme national hubris, or the continued awesomeness of google maps/earth. I'm STILL waiting for a full night-time picture update for the whole earth. That would be great.

As for the hotel itself, it makes me want to run around inside it in a massive 100+ story game of indoor paintball.
Wonder if Mr. Jong-il would allow us in to do that...


Armani
Posted 10 April 2006 at 12:05 am

HARROW?? HARRROW?!

stupid north koreans


paradox
Posted 10 April 2006 at 10:54 pm

Looks to me like a Portal for aliens. (really it fucking does) it looks weird too.

I wonder who designed this. I wouldve loved for it to be actually been FINISHED then closed down, so theres a tad more history in that place. Now that would rock, you would go and explore the rooms and such. :)


winampman
Posted 11 April 2006 at 04:15 am

"I would be very surprised if the majority of the North Koreans were proud. Seems to me that they would welcome Bush and the military with open arms if it meant that Kim Jong-il would end up like Saddam Hussein."

No. From an early age they are taught that Americans are evil, and that their "Great Leader" is their protector. Kim Jong Il used to make everyone have a picture of him in their homes too. If America invaded, most North Koreans would flee in terror because most of them genuinely believe what they have been taught. They have to believe it... or be killed (or someting equally bad).

However, if South Korea invaded... I would think a lot more North Koreans would love for that to happen.


Scott Bowers
Posted 11 April 2006 at 07:18 am

That building looks like something out of Command and Conquer.


cdog
Posted 11 April 2006 at 06:26 pm

I had to blow this building up in a videogame (Mercinaries for ps2). It was a bunker in that game, and now that i look at it, i think it would make a good one.


Korgmeister
Posted 15 April 2006 at 02:47 am

Damn! You beat me to it. Yeah, I remember my first reaction upon seeing that article was "Whoa! That thing was in the 'Mercenaries' videogame and I blew it up with a bunker-buster bomb!".

I thought it was pretty cool that they put a real-world landmark like that in the game, although I imagine the rest of the layout in the Ace of Clubs mission was made up.

As for Andrew's comment about the DPRK sat imagery on Google Earth being better resolution than those of his hometown, I'd wager that the DPRK has been monitored by military satellites for a long, long time and what you're seeing is declassified mil-sat imagery. I'd wager there's stuff of an even higher resolution, but it's classified.


joethecoat
Posted 17 April 2006 at 10:36 am

Removing Kim Jong Il would be great.. but it would be like removing a god for many North Koreans. What would happen if someone captured or killed the pope in a war? A pope who also was the ruler of everything you know.


Byrden
Posted 18 May 2006 at 03:35 am

Who put money into this? And why didn't they read their history? Stalin did much the same thing with a hotel in Moscow. Except it never got to the shell stage.


Rain
Posted 19 May 2006 at 04:27 pm

Korgmeister said: "Damn! You beat me to it. Yeah, I remember my first reaction upon seeing that article was "Whoa! That thing was in the 'Mercenaries' videogame and I blew it up with a bunker-buster bomb!".

I thought it was pretty cool that they put a real-world landmark like that in the game, although I imagine the rest of the layout in the Ace of Clubs mission was made up.

As for Andrew's comment about the DPRK sat imagery on Google Earth being better resolution than those of his hometown, I'd wager that the DPRK has been monitored by military satellites for a long, long time and what you're seeing is declassified mil-sat imagery. I'd wager there's stuff of an even higher resolution, but it's classified."

That's where I've seen it.

Looks like the kind of sweet abandoned building I'd like to explore (and/or order an air strike on).


iinka
Posted 11 August 2006 at 05:08 am

Arcangel said: "I would be very surprised if the majority of the North Koreans were proud. Seems to me that they would welcome Bush and the military with open arms if it meant that Kim Jong-il would end up like Saddam Hussein."

Umm... do you americans get any coverage from iraq? or do you just get dodgy reproductions of what the government wants you to think?

Ohh... wait - silly question! You wouldnt know if that was the case! silly me.


Jeffrey93
Posted 16 March 2007 at 07:25 am

Arcangel said: "I would be very surprised if the majority of the North Koreans were proud. Seems to me that they would welcome Bush and the military with open arms if it meant that Kim Jong-il would end up like Saddam Hussein."

Yeah...just like the Iraqis welcomed, and are still "welcoming" Bush and the military? Get your head out of the sand and stop thinking George W. Bush and the US Military are making the world a better place.

If Kim Jong-Il was put to death...does that mean North Korea would suddenly change? Doesn't appear to be working in Iraq, I don't seem to recall a huge shift in the average life of Americans when JFK was taken out either.

I think 'Dubya' should start worrying about his own country instead of trying to liberate everyone, even when they don't really want to be 'liberated' in the first place. I personally would prefer to live under the rule of the DPRK than be dead. If I was under their rule and wanted to die, I can take myself out. I don't need the US military to do it for me.

Living under communist rule still beats not living at all. I'm sure the souls of many innocent Iraqis would vouch for that.


J.K.
Posted 11 May 2007 at 06:09 am

Ahh more anti-Bush propagandist whiner behavior. Please people let it go. I know it was cool for awhile, then trendy to let the guy and the military have it. Now it's just boring, disgusting, cliched, and beyond tiring. In all honesty if people cared one bit of ass about all the hate that was spewed he wouldn't have been re-elected to office and there'd be a true push to put this sucker to bed. Hate seeing a good convo break into political crybaby stupidity. Please don't let this place fall from grace like the forum/comments place on fark.com has into finding some way to turn every last comment board into some stump against Bush...it's childish.


mir
Posted 10 March 2008 at 02:18 am

"...South Korea's towering Stamford Hotel in Singapore..."

Dude, Singapore isn't in South Korea, Singapore's a country in south-east Asia!


Mirage_GSM
Posted 17 June 2008 at 06:25 am

They started building again:
http://www.hotelsmag.com/articleXML/LN794108896.html
I wonder how long the funding will last this time...


Gimpo9
Posted 14 November 2008 at 03:07 pm

Don't "kid" yourselves. Citizens of the DPRK are proud of their country. If American and/or ROK forces crossed the DMZ the North Koreans would fight, probably to the "last" man (and woman!). They might win, as well: no cheese-eating surrender monkeys, they. Partly due to isolation and partly due to their hallowed and profoundly-evil Confucianism, Koreans (on both sides of the 38th parallel) are convinced that theirs is the best country in the world and that they are a pure and superior "race" of human beings. Such ignorance and bigotry might sound ridiculous to modern Western pseudoliberals, but what the hell - it has worked for England, and then for England's love-child, the United States of America.


allduerespect88
Posted 05 January 2009 at 09:46 pm

Gimpo9 said: "Koreans (on both sides of the 38th parallel) are convinced that theirs is the best country in the world and that they are a pure and superior "race" of human beings. Such ignorance and bigotry might sound ridiculous to modern Western pseudoliberals, but what the hell - it has worked for England, and then for England's love-child, the United States of America. "

Well it worked for Hitler... wait no it didn't..Darn


WymanV
Posted 28 May 2009 at 10:56 am

Changing North Korea will have to be a bit more subtle than turning South Korea into an island. Do what worked in Vietnam or the USSR. Open a McDonalds.


arthurk13
Posted 07 July 2009 at 10:11 am

"The Ministry of Truth--Minitrue, in Newspeak--was startlingly different from any other object in sight. It was an enormous pyramidal structure of glittering white concrete, soaring up, terrace after terrace, three hundred meters into the air."

Sigh...


homerer
Posted 18 August 2009 at 01:47 pm

iinka said: "Arcangel said: “I would be very surprised if the majority of the North Koreans were proud. Seems to me that they would welcome Bush and the military with open arms if it meant that Kim Jong-il would end up like Saddam Hussein.”

Umm… do you americans get any coverage from iraq? or do you just get dodgy reproductions of what the government wants you to think?
Ohh… wait – silly question! You wouldnt know if that was the case! silly me."

Hahaha Brilliant! You think that the Yankees would learn to keep to themselves. Nobody wants you to force your perception of life on them. Even though you think that the North Koreans would love for you to invade, they won't. At all!! Nobody does, ever!


END OF COMMENTS
Add Your Comment

Note: Your email address will not be published, shared, spammed, or otherwise mishandled. Anonymous comments are more likely to be held for moderation. You can optionally register or login.

You may use basic formatting HTML such as <i>, <b>, and <blockquote>.