A night at the Ryugyong…

…is not something you’re likely to get anytime soon.

I’ve written about strange places before, but few places on the planet are quite as strange (or so it would seem, from what little we, on the outside, know about it) as North Korea. And there are few places in North Korea as strange as its capital, Pyongyang. And… perhaps the strangest place in Pyongyang is the one that does not exist (or so I’m guessing the official line goes by now): the Ryugyong Hotel.

I’ll leave it to you to research all the details, but suffice to say it would have been something of a monstrosity, even if it hadn’t been a complete architectural disaster… or had at least been finished. As it is, it remains little more than a sagging, eerie pyramid towering over the city’s horizon. (It’s said to be visible from anywhere in the city.)

Damn Interesting has some… damn interesting things to say about it. Someone has even registered the domain name on the pretense of creating an official site. (Don’t bother clicking the ad on the page for reservations.) There is an intriguing picture on the bottom of the page though, showing what appears to be a sign on the construction site with a picture of what the hotel will/would look like when completed. If its concrete bulk were in fact concealed behind a seamless façade of mirrored glass as shown, it might actually look kind of cool. But still a bit… weird? creepy? ominous? You decide.

Another of my favorite blogs, The Shape of Days, has also covered the subject in detail. Ultimately though, I think you just need to see it for yourself:

I think the most interesting aspect of the video above is something I’d never been able to glimpse in any of the photos I’ve seen before: the large numbers painted on the side of the building, indicating the floors.

Of course, maybe we’ve all misunderstood the real purpose of the hotel. This CGI video would seem to suggest that Kim Jong Il is going to perhaps load up all of the party faithful in the hotel’s copious accommodations, and blast the entire population of the country off into space in search of a new home planet. (Of course, such a venture, even in a Communist country, would require considerable funding via international corporate sponsorship.)

Despite my insatiable curiosity about places like this, there is just about no possible way I would ever want to actually visit North Korea, so I’ll happily settle for doing so vicariously via a bolder soul’s travelogue. It’s a fascinating and detailed account (which I’ve just spent the last two hours reading) of a rare, brief (and yet, in the moment, seemingly interminable) American tourist’s visit to the strangest country on the planet.

Prypiat, Ukraine

I’m not quite sure what it is that fascinates me about abandoned structures (ghost malls, disused freeways, etc.) and dying remote outposts (like Resolute, Nunavut). Maybe it’s the potential to explore the mystery behind the downfall of a place. Maybe it’s apocalyptic fear. Maybe it’s a melancholy over the crushed hopes and dreams of the developers who created these places. At any rate, whenever I hear about something like the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, I have to learn more. Or more specifically, I have to see pictures.

Prypiat was a moderately-sized city of about 50,000 residents, located about a mile from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine. At least, it was a moderately-sized city up until the disaster in 1986 that turned it into a ghost town.

T. A. Mousseau, a biologist from the University of South Carolina (of all places) is one of the leading researchers on the effects of the Chernobyl explosion and subsequent radioactive fallout on wildlife in the area. Humans have been banned from within a 30-km radius of the site, but plants and animals are on their own.

As genuinely useful as studying the effects of the radiation on wildlife may be to productive civilization, I am most interested in vicariously exploring the urban wasteland left behind, and fortunately, Mousseau was kind enough to oblige my interests with a photo gallery of scenes from post-Chernobyl Prypiat. Further research (thanks of course to Wikipedia) led me to this fascinating photo gallery.