North Korea / Places We Go

Riding On The Metro: In North Korea

There are a lot of wild rumors about North Korea. In one of the weirdest countries of the world, this is understandable. However, the rumors about the Pyongyang Metro stand out even in the crowd of North Korean rumors. Rumors that the subway system is a facade, functioning only for the purpose of impressing visitors and only visiting two stations (stations populated entirely by actors) have been proven false. However, other rumors surrounding the Pyongyang Metro of additional tunnels, secret government-only subway lines, massive underground military installations, underground roads linking all of the stations and other such fantastic sounding creations are harder to swat away. I can’t solve any of those mysteries with this post, but I can show you what it is like to ride on the most interesting subway I have ever been on…

The outside of a metro station in Pyongyang:


The inside of the subway station… The tickets to ride the subway in Pyongyang, at approximately 3 cents per ride, are the cheapest that I know of anywhere in the world:


This device is supposed to scan your ticket, but in reality you just walk through because the machine does not work and the barrier is open anyway:


As the deepest metro system in the world, it is a long, long trip down to the trains. The subway stations in Pyongyang are designed to serve double-duty as nuclear bunkers should the need ever arise:


Puhŭng Station – with a couple of Western tourists in the foreground:


A train departing the station:


Some things are the same everywhere in the world – in this case it is the awkward dance between those trying to exit the train versus those trying to rush on to the train. However these “crowds” are nothing like those experienced in London during rush hour or especially in Caracas:


A typical scene in a station on the Pyongyang Metro… In stark contrast to a subway system such as Rome’s or San Francisco’s, the stations are entirely free of graffiti and are remarkably clean:


Yŏnggwang Station… How do you like those chandeliers?


Rodong Sinmun is the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea. It is usually six pages and is published every day of the year. As the content is “on message”, copies of the newspaper are placed in some of the stations, as you can see below, in order for the stations to serve as not only a place to wait for one’s train, but also as a place for ideological education:


A passenger skeptical of the Westerner taking his picture:


The station attendant with some waiting passengers:


Waiting for the next train on the Pyongyang Metro:


The train approaches… One common defense of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini is that he “made the trains run on time.” The Kim family could also fall back on this defense as, at least on the occasions when we rode the Pyongyang Metro, the trains were always punctual at about four minutes apart:


Kaesŏn Station:


One of the North Koreans waiting for the train:


After arriving at your destination, it is a journey of several minutes back up to street level:


A map of the Pyongyang Metro on the wall of a station:


For some reason, I couldn’t stop the lyrics from this 80s classic running through my head when riding the metro in North Korea:






6 thoughts on “Riding On The Metro: In North Korea

  1. North Korea is a country shrouded by mystery, propaganda by “some” countries makes the blanket even thicker.. Overall it sounds like an okay place…

    • Nothing mysterious about the concentration camp/gulag system in North Korea. Pretty unambiguously terrible if you ask me. The worst part is that I don’t think tourism in the country does anything but fill the pockets of the military elite that’s funding suppression of the “hostile” class.

  2. Actually doesn’t look half bad, as far as subway systems go. Definitely cleaner and better looking than most American subways that I’ve seen. Cool pics, great stuff.

  3. That is a good price. I thought the Kiev metro at 4 Grivnas (19c at current rates) was cheap and as you already know Justin, it’s pretty deep too! At least the machines that take your blue token work in the Kiev metro, they’re the old Soviet era ones, the blue tokens make good souvenirs, kinda like coins, the tokens are different for each metro stop, the one I kept has 1960 on it commemorating something back then in the Soviet days.

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