To be deterred from visiting Pyongyang this weekend by Kim Jong Un's latest fit of pique is to let the bluster of a 29-year-old -- nuclear-backed though it may be -- deprive you of seeing one of the world's strangest cities at its most surreal. The traditional tourism season in Pyongyang is from August to October, when visitors can attend the famed Arirang games -- and it's true that the spectacle of thousands of brainwashed children doing gymnastics in perfect synchronicity does have its own unique charm. But this weekend marks the lead up to the anniversary of Kim Il Sung's birthday, a chance to get an up-close look at one of the world's last great personality cults in action. And North Korea is not a country to let a temporary fit of nuclear brinksmanship stand in the way of celebrating the birth of its Eternal President.
Alongside the traditional military parade on April 15 -- the actual birthday of the nation's founder -- this weekend will feature both the Kimilsungia flower festival and, for the sports-inclined, the Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon. As an added bonus, the North has a tradition of sorts of staging its most provocative actions to coincide with Kim Il Sung's birthday. And the founder's grandson, Kim Jong Un, has just the ticket primed and ready, reportedly having moved his Musudan test missile into launch-ready position. So book now, and don't miss out on the fireworks.
1. Thrill Rides
Late-night activities start a little earlier than expected in North Korea, which plunges into darkness every evening due to chronic power shortages. But don't let the state-wide dearth of electricity ruin your first night in the Hermit Kingdom. Head for the Kaeson Youth Park -- Pyongyang's answer to both Times Square and Disneyland -- where the government has laid two special cables to ensure a steady supply of power. Originally opened in 1984, the park underwent renovations in 2010, and despite an abundance of sanctions against the country, has reportedly managed to get hold of several Italian-made roller coasters. If Kaeson isn't enough to scratch your itch for excitement, it's just a short walk across Moranbong Park to Pyongyang's newest amusement park: the Rungna People's Pleasure Ground, where you might be lucky enough to sit in a seat that once graced the backside of Marshal Kim Jong Un himself.
2. The Alcatraz of North Korea
For dinner, check out the Yanggakdo Hotel, the second-tallest building in Pyongyang, and its revolving restaurant on the 47th floor. Its décor may have been described as having "all the glamour of a 1980s airport lounge," and the view, once the rest of the city goes dark for the night, may not be much to write home about. But from here you can rub shoulders with Pyongyang's jet set -- often less-than-sober Russian and Chinese businessmen -- and give your government minder a break (the hotel is on its own isolated island and is one of the few places where he doesn't have to watch your every step).
When you're finished with dinner, head to the lower floors, where you'll find a casino and a nightclub. Buy a few glasses of soju for your guide, who's waiting for you -- it never hurts to be in his good graces -- and try your luck at a few rounds of slots.
3. Reveille, Pyongyang style
Looking forward to sleeping in? Sorry. The air-raid sirens, which sound off daily at 7 a.m., aren't quite so accommodating of your soju hangover. Time to rise up with the workers of Pyongyang! Take advantage of the early start with a stroll along the Taedong River to the Mansudae Grand Monument -- a must-see, larger-than-life bronze statue of the country's founder, which now stands alongside a recently unveiled statue of his son, Kim Jong Il. Don't forget to pick up some flowers to place at the Great Leader's feet.
4. A Taste of Vienna
Grab a cup of coffee at Pyongyang's exclusive Helmut Sachers Kaffee, an Austrian-Korean joint venture that pours a mean espresso. Just inside the Museum of Korean History, an imposing Stalinist building, you'll find the small and somewhat lifeless café. The linzer torte and cherry-cheese cake are just the thing to fill your belly in this land of recurring famine.