A U.K.-based reporter claims he recently became the first foreigner to get a peek inside North Korea's pyramid-shaped, 105-storey Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, which is set to partially open to guests next summer, 24 years behind schedule.
Simon Parry says he eluded his minders and set off from the heavily guarded hotel where his tour group was staying, on an islet in the middle of the city’s Taedong River, early in the morning, to see the empty skyscraper for himself.
Parry, reporting for the Daily Mail newspaper, said what he saw in the lobby entrance was "quite a disappointment."
"There is no marble or teak on view to match the brilliance of its exterior, no chandeliers or flunkies in gold braid," he writes.
"I edge inside to find a cavernous space and walls of bare concrete – layer upon layer of grey concrete shell with scaffolding winding its way up through the vast space at the heart of the giant pyramid."
He says he had to quickly leave the lobby after being there only a few moments when he was spotted by a guard carrying an automatic rifle.
While Parry writes that he was the first foreigner to enter the enormous building, there is some evidence to suggest that others may have beaten him to it. Photos posted on the North Korea News website in September appear to show a group of foreign tourists visiting the hotel.
In addition, Egyptian-based company Orascom spearheaded the hotel's development in recent years, suggesting that foreign engineers may have worked on the site.
A few years ago, before glass was installed on the building's exterior, Esquire magazine called the 3,000-room hotel "hideously ugly" and the "worst designed building in the world."
Work on the complex began in 1987, presumably as a way to have bragging rights over South Korea, which hosted the Olympics in Seoul the following year. At the time, the North said it was aiming to build the world's tallest hotel. There are now two hotels in Dubai which are taller than the Ryugyong.
Esquire says construction stopped in 1992, with rumours that North Korea either ran out of money or that the building was engineered improperly and was not fit for occupants.
Work on the Ryugyong remained on hold for 16 years before suddenly resuming in 2008.
Last year, its exterior was upgraded with the addition of $175 million worth of glass.