In September 2018, I spent ten days in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. At that time, the country celebrated its 60th anniversary and made it ideal to experience one of the most enigmatic places in the world.

The trip from Beijing to Pyongyang is a twenty-four hour journey through the Chinese and the Korean countrysides. A first train brought us to Dandong, China, where we had to clear the customs. Another one brought us across the river, in Sinuiju, North Korea, where we made our first steps in the country we were aiming for.

We would soon notice portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il everywhere, but had a preview there. It is theoretically forbidden to take pictures of military, and they can theoretically check cameras when leaving the country — but nothing such happened.

As we hopped off the train, late, in the capital, the first striking feature of North Korea was its people. Leaving in a Western country where almost only the Kim dynasty and the nuclear issues are discussed, we might tend to forget people actually leave there: outside the station, sidewalks are crowded in pedestrians and cyclists. People can also commute, by bus or by metro.

The architecture is clearly brutalist, with nice touches of colors. Pyongyang is a showcase for North Korea, a city to try and show how they can develop their economy despite the numerous blockades.

Even though they are sometimes dilapidated, colors give Pyongyang a very picturesque urban vibe.

The only occasion where soldiers could be photographed was the infamous military parade. Only a small part was opened to tourists and, ironically, this was our freest moment: the guides, following us 24/7, stepped back and let us wander on an avenue full of military trucks driving armed soldiers.

On the same evening of this 9th of September, the first Mass Games in five years took place. They are the biggest performance art event in the world in the biggest stadium in the world. About 100,000 performers represent the country in front of as many spectators.

The second half of the trip brought us to the far North East of North Korea, where only eighty people went over the previous year. It was easy to feel how recent tourism was there: rules were way stricter, especially when it came to take pictures of the defunct leaders.

I was immediately asked to remove this picture, as the portrait of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il was supposed to be the main object — not just a small part of it, in the lower right corner. It was also forbidden to take pictures while the bus was driving.

Just like everywhere in the country, people are not allowed to drive their bike on sacred places. A statue of the leaders is right of this picture, making this area sacred. On top of the building, you can read “Honorable leader Kim Il-sung and Kim Jung-il are forever with us.”

Even if it was really restricted in terms of visits and contact with people, it was interesting to see the difference between the touristic part of North Korea and one of its many remote areas.

Some things are the same throughout the country, such as students wearing a costume or political slogans.

Here, on the facade of a school, the slogan threatens: “Make education a priority!”

Here, in a city in the South of Pyongyang, the text written in white on a red background says: “Our communist party, the country and the army’s highest leader Comrade Kim Jung Un. Hooray!”

The former leaders are everywhere, and these twenty-two meter tall bronze statues are probably the most famous depiction of them.

There is obviously way more to it. This is just a glance of the pictures I took and what we experienced. The articles I shared between the pictures are a more in-depth look at the trip, and I definitely recommend you to read them if you are interested in North Korea.

Full-stack developer & Engineering manager @ StuDocu, deeply involved in feature thinking and product management.

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