Identifying the Ibiza of N. Korea: Where Kim Jong Un met Rodman

Satellite imagery reveals Rodman went to Wonsan
October 21st, 2013

Back in September former NBA basketball star Dennis Rodman made a second trip to North Korea to visit his friend, the Dear Respected Kim Jong Un. Although a handful of pictures of the meeting surfaced online and much was said about the trip by international media, few actual details emerged and much remains unknown about what was discussed, and where.

Using publicly available satellite imagery, however, it has been possible to definitively work out where Kim and Rodman conducted their second rendezvous in North Korea. And a close look of photos released in the past week give the first look at Kim Jong Un’s 200ft floating pool boat.

Neither state media outlets KCNA nor KCTV produced any images of Rodman’s meeting with Kim Jong Un. It was the newspaper of the Worker’s Party of Korea, Rodong Sinmun, to be the only North Korean outlet to publish any images of the meeting. Presumably this scoop can be attributed to the fact that the KCNA and KCTV photographers and reporters are not senior enough to report from one of Kim Jong Un’s personal residences.


Dennis Rodman meets Kim Jong Un at a unidentified helipad | Picture: Rodong Sinmun

While the imagery released by Rodong Sinmun was far from revealing, some of the photos did however give clues as to where exactly Rodman met with Kim. In the above photo montage these clues include a circular helipad, manicured lawn, a berm, nearby mountains, and power cables on top of a nearby hill.

Just three Kim family compounds have circular helipads similar to this one: Sinuiju, Majon, and Wonsan. Only one of these helipads is surrounded by mountains, a berm, and feature electric power lines: Wonsan.


Wonsan helipad | Picture: Google Earth

A close look at satellite imagery of the Wonsan helipad shows similarities to the pictures released by the Rodong Sinmun, but is not conclusive enough to make a definitive assertion. It is possible, for example, that there could be new helipads that are not covered in the existing stock of satellite imagery.

This week, however, the UK’s The Sun published a revealing new photo released by Rodman:


Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong Un on floating pool boat, Wonsan | Picture:Rodman, edited by The Sun / NK News

This photo proves conclusively that Rodman and his entourage were staying at Kim’s family compound in Wonsan for at least part of the visit.

In the glass reflection in the above photo is the first public image of Kim Jong Un’s 200 ft floating pool boat: this boat has only been photographed just once in full, on satellite imagery back in October 2010.


Location Kim Jong Un and Dennis Rodman share drinks | Picture: Google Earth

From The Sun’s photo it is evident that since October 2010 the boat has been fitted with a new roof structure over the pool.

This boat is normally stored in a boat house on the south end of the compound with the recently discovered $7 million Princess Yacht that Kim Jong Un possesses.


Swimming pool boat storage facility, Wonsan | Picture: Google Earth

These vessels are not the only yacht and pool boats to which Kim has access at the Wonsan compound.

The Central Party Liaison Department also manages a compound in Wonsan City where the yachts and pool boat used by Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are stored.

Until recently it remained unclear if Kim Jong Un, or anyone else, was currently using these facilities.


Pool boat with water slides, October 2010 | Picture: Google Earth

In a recent article, however, Rodman reported the following:

“He spent most of his seven-day stay drinking, partying and smoking cigars on Kim’s private island. Rodman described Kim’s 200ft yacht as a “cross between a ferry and a Disney boat”. He told The Sun: “It’s like going to Hawaii or Ibiza, but he’s the only one that lives there.

It unclear from available information if Kim and Rodman traveled in the 95ft Princess Yacht or one of the older 150 ft yachts stored in Wonsan. It is also unclear if they actually visited an island or if Rodman incorrectly assumed they were on an island.

If they did visit an island retreat, it was likely one of the facilities 32 miles south of the Wonsan compound:


Elite residence islands | Picture: Google Earth


Leadership islands | Picture: Google Earth

Little is known publicly about these facilities, and without further images, or testimony, it will be impossible to determine more of the itinerary.

Dennis Rodman first visited the DPRK as part of the VICE television series which aired on HBO.

On this second trip, Mr. Rodman proposed further U.S.-DPRK basketball exchange projects and took advantage of the free publicity to promote some of his other business projects.

Main picture: D. Rodman

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About the Author

Curtis Melvin

Curtis Melvin a researcher at the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins SAIS and contributor to NK News Pro. He is also editor of North Korean Economy Watch,  one of the longest running DPRK blogs, as well as creator and manager of a database of the most extensive Google Earth imagery work on North Korea.