How would an open Rygugyong Hotel look?

On my regular trips to Pyongyang KITC (Korean International Travel Company), guides often refer to the Ryugyong Hotel as the “biggest hotel” In Pyongyang. Guests usually then ask if it is actually open, to which the Korean guides – skillful in diplomacy as they always are – reply “not yet”.

So, what does not open “yet” mean? Well, let’s look at this from two angles: what it was supposed to look like, and what it might actually look like if and when it actually opens.

The Original Plan

The Ryugyong Hotel is 330 metres high and has 105 floors. Do you want that in perspective? It is 12th in the world for most number of floors. At the time, though, it would have been the biggest hotel in the world.

The original plan for the 105 floors was anywhere between 3000-7000 rooms (estimate depending on the source), and 5 revolving restaurants. The revolving restaurants thing is a funny one: no idea why, but for whatever reason revolving restaurants are a BIG deal in Pyongyang (try the one at the Yanggakdo). And at the top? Eight revolving floors. Not sure really sure how that would have worked, but it does sound cool. Interestingly, if you ever visit the “Three Revolutions Exhibit”, which celebrates the technological innovations of the DPRK, there’s a really cool miniature of Pyongyang showing the Ryugyong in full force! I digress.

The plan is still to open, BUT rumors persist that the lift shafts are wonky, and you cannot expect people to walk up 105 flights of stairs.

Since 2009 there have been consistent talk of it opening, with me personally hearing anything from between 3-24 floors being opened as “mixed use”, as in hotel, retail, and office space, although what businesses would come here is up for debate.

As of today? Work is on/off; the outer exterior has indeed been beautified, but no one really knows if real work has continued.

To the future!

It really is a question of who knows, but it shows how important it is to the government how much work they’ve put in to at least make it look nice. My own personal opinion is that eventually they will open anywhere between 3-6 floors, declare it a success (after all it would be open) and call it a day. Maybe in the future technology, might move us to a phase where more can be done with it.

As a North Korean friend once opined to me when I asked about the changes that would happen in 2012: “Rome wasn’t built in day”. The Ryugyong is much like Rome.

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