Landing into Pyongyang airport after all of the hype and nervous tension you abruptly realise where you are, the nation that is constantly flashed in the media, talked about in political debates, and known as the most secretive nation on earth. It’s quite overwhelming finally being in North Korea, but I can quite honestly say, it was one of the most exciting moments in my entire travel career. My goal for the next twelve days was to photograph as much of the people, history, architecture, and culture of North Korea as possible. This post is dedicated to the more unseen sides of North Korea, no not missile testing and dubious media jaunts, this post is for those who seek to see the real and authentic side of North Korea.
Pyongyang – North Korea’s Capital City
My first pit stop on my road trip across North Korea will be the capital of the country, Pyongyang. Leaving the airport the first thing you notice is how clean it is. Not one spec of garbage can be seen. Pyongyang international airport is about thirty minutes away from the city centre. Here you get your first glimpse into rural North Korea.
When we finally arrived into the city I was in a photographer’s paradise. Propaganda posters line the streets, the city folk resemble those dressed in the 1950’s, and vibrantly coloured buildings give way to large and powerful communist monuments!
Over the next few days my guide and I roamed the city photographing the real Pyongyang!
The unfinished Ryugyong Hotel dominated Pyongyang’s skyline. Taken from Juche Tower.
Elderly men fishing in Pyongyang’s Taedong River. Perfect way to end an afternoon in the city.
Soldiers pay their respects to the Great Leaders Statues of Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung
Pyongyang’s new districts electric architecture
Hair dresser in Pyongyang’s new district, picture on the wall states the 15 designated haircuts
Pyongyang is a retro colourful city that is a photographers dream!
Pyongyang’s urban retro landscape makes for fun photography
All women Military group who by no means were camera shy, outside of the Great Leaders Monument
Day before the military parades and announcement of the missile testing the government was setting up stands for the event in Kim il Sung Square.
Entrance to one of the world deepest metro stations, it connects Pyongyang Cities districts very well, foreigners are only allowed to use the metro with a guide
The Monument to Party Founding, downtown Pyongyang
Pyongyang’s women traffic guards are famed for their beauty, and abiding to strict traffic rules!
No other sport did I find as competitive as bowling in Pyongyang. North Koreans love to challenge you to a game
On the Science Street, I photographed a car with the license plate 727 which = Victory Day. This car is allowed only for the influential and elite!
Locals transiting to work like anywhere else in the world
Pyongyang’s busy metro system takes you back to the 50 s, super retro! loved it
Elderly man who had zero issues with getting his portrait taken, something that is not to uncommon here
Pyongyang’s public transport is extensive, everything from the Metro to busses and this electric powered tram
Kids playing computer games at the science centre in Pyongyang
Ryugyong Hotel at sunset
Metro Guard in Pyongyang’s deep underground metro system
North Korea’s Revolution Monument at the Great Leaders Statue
North Korea’s Country Side
Leaving Pyongyang behind, our North Korea road trip began. As you leave the city rolling green hills appear with glimmering rice paddies and momentous mountains looming in the distance. Every so often small villages peak through the hills showing their traditional architecture, and farming life. Much like elsewhere in Asia, farming is done for the most part by hand. Cows pull ploughs through the rice paddies, and the military rolls up their pants to help harvest rice.
Nearing the mountains the villages change their look. Wood structures replace the concrete ones, and smoke emerges from their chimneys due to the cooler temperatures they receive at higher altitudes. Photographing here is difficult as stopping is not an option. You must take photos from the bus window, but the odd bathroom break gives way to many photography opportunities in North Korea’s beautiful country side!
The rice harvest begins in full blast, everyone comes to help
Crossing the country means crossing many of North Korea’s high mountain passes that reveal the nations incredible scenery
Military trucks often pass by, even in the remote areas
Stunning waterfalls can be found high in the mountains
Beautiful scenes pass by from the bus window, its very difficult for the bus to stop without permission however
Our Military guide at the remote “Stone River”
Often you will only see bicycles and cows in North Korea’s peaceful countryside
Small traditional village near the Stone River
Spectacular scenery throughout North Koreans countryside, small communities hide in the mountain valleys
The Roads are massive and empty. Made wide enough to land a plane!
Mountain village architecture is remarkably different than in the lowlands
The Stone River, located North West of Hamhung, takes about 5 hours to drive from Hamhung
Life is very traditional in the country side compared to the cities in North Korea
As you can see taking photographs in North Korea is not forbidden. People who say they “smuggled” photos are fabricating the truth about travel here. North Koreans encourage you to take photos. Obviously, some things are off limits like army bases for instance, but this is no different than in any other country. Uri Tours brought me to North Korea and made taking photos here and even better experience! Their guides completely understood that foreigners are naturally curious about certain things while visiting North Korea. They did everything they could to get me the best shots, and let me know when it was not a good time to photograph. See more of their tours here!
Interested in seeing more Uncharted North Korea? Stay tuned as I will be displaying more unseen North Korea photos in another blog post!