Traveling in North Korea – Part 1 (Politics, Money and Pyongyang)

by Johnny Ward

Following up my FAQs about backpacking in North Korea I thought I’d give a run down of my time there, my thoughts and my recommendations. It was truly an awesome travel experience and it gave me pure backpacking points to boot! Here’s Part 1 of my run down from traveling in North Korea anyway:

 

My thoughts on North Korea from traveling around the country:

During my time in North Korea, I’ve never seen so much propaganda in my life, every street corner is adorned with huge banners and emblems promoting the socialist cause. It all looks very impressive and it must be difficult for any North Korean to think outside the box when they’re constantly being reminded about the benefits of socialism and the pitfalls of American imperialism (read: capitalism).

North Korean Propaganda

Military Images and Socialist slogans are everywhere you look

Everywhere you go there are large images of Kim Il Song or Kim Jong Il similar to Thailand where the King’s image is everywhere you look. Their political ideologies follow the ‘Juche’ prinicipal where people are ‘taught’ to be self reliant and avoid consumerism. Kim Jong Il then implemented his ‘Military First’ system where the majority of their GDP is funneled into their military forces and their infamous nuclear advancement. It’s an entirely functional communist state.

Propaganda in North Korea

Every street corner has bill boards promoting their cause

 

Their political desires:

In reference to the Government’s desires, they want reunification of the Korean peninsula (i.e to rejoin North and South Korea). They want to spread the socialist message and remove any influence on their way of life that the Americans currently have.

What do North Korea want?

The North Koreans want one country making up the Korean Peninsula with a socialist government

Money in North Korea, salaries etc:

Their currency is in Won, just like South Korea although the exchange rate is vastly different. However, foreigners don’t really get access to their Won, we’re required to spend Euros first and foremost, failing that Chinese RMB or USD are the next currencies of choice.

Every local in North Korea has a job, they have an unemployment rate of zero. They all get paid almost identical salaries and receive free monthly, weekly or daily rations depending how valuable they are to the country. Their apartments are free and they receive them once they get married, as they have more kids they move into bigger apartments. Families are encourage to have as many kids as possible.

Pyongyang Accommodation

The Government-supplied housing is everywhere

Pyongyang, the Capital:

The main city in North Korea is undoubtedly the heartbeat of their country, both culturally and financially. Walking and driving around the city it’s fair to say people aren’t starving on the streets they way our media may lead us to believe. People seem pretty happy, they’re walking around with their friends/partners/families, joking about, smiling, frequenting the odd bar here and there etc.

people in North Korea

What is apparent though is the lack of ANY advertising. Consumerism simply doesn’t exist. The roads are 4 lanes wide, they have a subway system (2 lines), a tram network, huge impressive albeit outdated building throughout the city. You’d be very surprised to how ‘developed’ the capital actually appears. However, there are no shopping malls, no billboards. People may be walking around but generally speaking there’s no colour in their attire, no branded clothing aside from maybe the odd adidas hat clearly obtained through some charitable donation from overseas.  The buildings are huge but lack personality and in fact the city, aside from the political monuments, is very grim. The roads may be 4 lanes wide but there’s a distinct lack of cars, most of the time you may be one of a handful of cars in the city centre.

transport in north korea

Empty roads are a common sight across the country

 

I think that’s enough to digest for today, I’ll fill in the rest of my learnings tomorrow! I know North Korea may not be anyones idea of a last minute holiday but if you can take the plunge it’ll be the trip of a lifetime. If you guys have any questions, just drop me a line below and I’ll get right back to ya. Happy travels!

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22 thoughts on “Traveling in North Korea – Part 1 (Politics, Money and Pyongyang)

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  9. Katie Benedetto

    Wow, really interesting! I’ve been looking for a place to get an ‘authentic’ taste of other parts of the world – somewhere not influenced by the media – this is that. North Korea sounds much nicer than my impression in this post! Looking forward to reading more – thanks Johnny. :)

    Reply
    1. Felix

      “authentic”???? What are you talking about? A country you HAVE to be on a tour to visit, each and every one of your movements are restricted, and you are not even allowed to talk to the local population?

      Wow.

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      1. Johnny Post author

        north korea isn’t influence by western media, that’s for sure! but it’s enitrely influenced by its own media :S North Korea is a great experience, and once which id recommend but it’s tough to get a real gauge on the country with all the restrictions in place!

        Reply
    1. Johnny Post author

      to be honest will, i dont foresee any significant changes, primarily because Kim Jong Un is leader by name only at this point, with the old cronies still apparently calling the shots. Time will tell if that changes when he gets up to speed :S

      Reply
  10. Amanda Slavinsky

    I am really liking the North Korea posts. I’m a huge North Koreaphile and am hopefully heading there later this year.

    I would like to say though that the unemployment rate is merely a statistic that the government tells people and is far from the truth. Ideally, like in all communist societies, everyone would have a job but that is far from the case in North Korea, especially outside Pyongyang.

    Reply
    1. Johnny Post author

      hey amanda, thanks for your comment. I hope you make it there later, let me know! I’m sure you’re right about the unemployment statistics, i was just toeing the party line :P

      Reply

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