North Korea is widely considered the worst place to live in the world. In reality, it is not that worse, living there is just… different than the rest of world, life can be good as long you do what the government wants and obey stupid laws. Government controls everything and you have NO freedom in choosing where to live and work. While the industry is lagging several decades behind rest of world, the population is one of the most educated in the world, reaching a level of order and discipline that should be example for any citizen in the outer world.
Economy and lifestyle
You cannot purchase apartments or houses. The government own all real estate, and give everyone rights to occupy a home, free of cost. There are no homeless people or beggary.
Good work performance also give you a better home and many free gifts, and the monetary salary (if it does really exist) is not so important. Cost of living is almost ZERO.
North Korea does not have poor and rich class, but rather privileged people living in Pyongyang and ordinary people living elsewhere. Pyongyang is the home for 2.5 or 3.2 million people, out of 24 million population of North Korea. Pyongyang residents are privileged people healthiest citizens who perform well at work, to give a good image to foreign visitors, they enjoy a modern life, having cars, computers and mobile phones, good education, health services, plenty of food, leisure activities, etc.
Handicapped, disabled, poorly-working people and retired people are housed in countryside, where living conditions has not changed for decades, cars are a rare sight, refueling stations are non-existent, mobile phone coverage does not exists, land phones are rare, food is insufficient and many people die of hunger.
How much North Koreans earn is unknown, we assume less than 100 USD per month, we also do not know where they can spend the money, since the government give you lots of free stuff, including housing, intranet connection to Kwangmyong, public transport, healthcare, etc, all these are free. I also believe that cars, TV sets and computers cannot be bought with money and are given for free to privileged people only. Thus, good-working people can enjoy higher standard of living compared with people from other countries with similar salary.
At first impression, North Korea looks a developed country, with high literacy rate, beautiful architecture and well-planned cities, but in 1990s after collapse of Soviet Union, the economy felt down making North Korea one of the poorest countries in the world, and the single well educated country suffering by famine. They currently survive only because of foreign food aid. The economy started rising again in 2000s, but unequally between Pyongyang and the rest of country.
Black markets are emerging, people trade goods privately. Even apartments can be transacted illegally by bribing officials to change your home address.
The life of ordinary citizens remains a mystery for us, where they live, what they eat, education and medical system, what forms of income they have and where can spend the money.
Architecture and housing
Pyongyang is well planned city with wide boulevards, some leading to nowhere (example: Tongil Street, shown in above photo), massive apartment buildings with large open spaces and even more massive monuments, good public transport and low pollution. Built to show to the world that they are not a poor nation, but in my opinion are money-wasting unnecessary projects which caused population to be poor.
There is no street lighting, except for major boulevards and monuments. See how black is North Korea viewed from satellite at night!
North Korean apartments blocks are massive like the South Korean ones, 40-storey skyscrapers already existed in oldest Google Earth satellite photo from 2000, they are likely to be built during the 1980s golden era, they may have been the tallest public housing in the world until completion of 50 floors Pinnacle @ Duxton in Singapore in 2009 (further research required).
Unlike South Korea and Russia cities dominated by rows of identical buildings, Pyongyang feature vibrant skyline, old 4-5 storey walk-up and 8-10-storey blocks with lifts are mixed up with newer, 20-40 storey high-rise apartment buildings. High-rise living is not so desirable, due to electricity shortages you may not be able to use lifts when you need to go somewhere. Tower blocks are also mixed up with traditional houses, for example in Pipa-dong.
This forum post says that average apartment size in North Korea is 150 square meters, but is unsourced and I do not believe. Measuring the blocks using Google Earth I can say that apartments are oversized but not as big, maybe around 100 sqm. Probably the 150 sqm figure refers to high-end apartment complex built for political elite. The apartments are quite spartan inside, compared with South Korean ones full of electronics. I would like to know what heating system they have!
Ryugyong Hotel was planned to be tallest hotel in the world, having 330 meters and 105 floors, construction began in 1987 and was scheduled to be opened for the 13th World Festival of Youth and Students in June 1989, but it failed to meet schedule and abandoned in 1992. Construction resumed in 2008 and was scheduled to be opened in 2013, but as 2017 it is still unfinished.
Rungrado May Day Stadium is the largest stadium in the world, opened in 1989, having 150.000 seats.
Mansudae Apartment built at Changjon Street is the most famous residential development. Several old buildings were demolished in 2011 and 15 glass-facade buildings in various heights up to 44 floors were built in just 9 months, according successive Google Earth historical satellite imagery. Opened in April 2012 at celebration 100 years from birth of Kim Il Sung. Every night buildings are lit up by blinking lights making me questioning if people are actually living there. Video of proposed development.
Kim Cheak Apartment, even taller, 46 floors, was built in 2014. Source: Emporis, no photos available yet.
A 23-storey block collapsed in May 2014. (map location). A bit unusual for North Korea to report such accidents, but this was too big to be hidden. Supposedly it was still under construction but already housed 92 families, but number of victims was not disclosed, but the photos show that windows were not moved for years, and the debris was cleared in just 4 days, suggesting that the block was not inhabited, and the demolition was controlled. Quite confusing?
If you are looking for North Korean apartment floor plans, you can check the Google Maps and try to discover under construction blocks (example location 38.96550 125.73750). No other forms of floorplans are available on internet… sadly.
See this video, inside of North Korean apartment, another video. also Kisu Faculty Housing. We do not know if the typical apartments are like that or that apartment was made more modern solo for propaganda.
Above photos were found on Panoramio using Google Earth and selected the best of them. Credits to their authors.
For more photos download Google Earth and browse yourself. See also beautiful buildings on Skyscrapercity.
Inside a North Korean home, renovated in lavish style to show to tourists. Normal homes are spartan.
Transportation in North Korea
North Korea self praise for having over 6000 km of railways, 80% of it being electrified, compared with only 3250 km in South Korea (according Wikipedia), but the north infrastructure is in danger state that slow down the trains while southern trains are running at 350 kmph in full safety.
Roads in North Korea are estimated to be about 30000 km of which only 5% paved.
North Korea does have own automobile manufacturers, Sungri and Pyeonghwa, producing several hundred cars per year. Watch a North Korean car commercial (actually is a Fiat Albea/Siena made under license).
It is unknown if the cars are sold for money or given for free to privileged citizens. Some sources say that any citizen is allowed to own cars (but why the roads are almost empty?), other sources say that all cars are owned by political elite and eligible businesses.
According Wikipedia, North Koreans have one car per 100 people, while the South Koreans have one car per 2.3 people. Pollution is low and people healthy as they walk and cycle. However, if you use Google Earth to look through historical satellite imagery, you will see that number of cars increased significantly in recent years. Videos filmed by tourists shows a lot of cars in Pyongyang, but outside city, cars are still a rare sight.
In the past, roads were dominated by trucks (goods vehicles), Romanian Dacia (most common taxicab), Soviet Lada, some unknown Chinese cars, but in the recent years many luxury European cars appeared on roads, as seen in the following video (why they import cars instead of raising local production?).
Media in North Korea
Only government is allowed to operate radio and television. To prevent people access to information about outside world, all radio and television sets should be registered at state department, where are sealed to receive only government stations, any manipulation to receive foreign broadcast leads to jail.
Connection to the Internet (abbreviation from International Network) is available only for high ranked officials and some hotels. Normal people use Kwangmyong instead, North Korea’s own internet-like network, accessible for free via dial-up, usually in schools and factories and rarely in private homes. Filtered content from the Internet are placed on Kwangmyong, primarily from science fields. However, some people smuggled satellite internet terminals, which are confiscated and often resold to population by corrupt officers. According StatCounter, the websites are getting significant internet traffic from North Korea starting from 2010. Probably they just granted internet access privilege to more people.
IT industry is developing and make North Korea an IT outsourcing destination, thanks to skilled and cheap workforce. Probably they saw how successful is outsourcing to India so decided to join, despite of conservative communication. How outsourcing does work without allowing people to access the internet remains a mystery.
Mobile phones were introduced in 2002, banned in 2004, reintroduced in 2008, and cannot dial out of country (read more on Wikipedia). Foreigners are not allowed to use mobile phone in North Korea, so they need to leave them at airports.
Moranbong Band is the first music band from North Korea reaching international popularity. Is rumored that the girls forming the band are selected by, and the lyrics of their songs are written by Kim Jong-un.
Korean Central News Agency does have a website kcna.kp and provide to World positive news from North Korea including fake praises to the leader by foreign people. Tourists are the only other source of info of about what happens in North Korea.
Tourism in North Korea
Any person is allowed to visit North Korea as tourist, but few people are willing to do, however most of them returned with great memories. Probably I will visit myself to visit when I will be richer. Most tourists are housed in Yanggakdo Hotel located on an island in middle of Taedong River, or Koryo Hotel located in city centre near railway station, far away from poor areas.
During night you are locked in hotel, during day you are permanently attended by local guiders watching where you go and what photos do you take. You are not allowed to roam freely through city, or interact with local people (but these guiders aren’t locals? Yes they are but are not allowed to tell you about their personal life).
Photography is theoretically allowed only in designated places, but to go in these places you may travel through not-so-good areas of city, you are advised to not take photo of anything that depicts poverty or bad acting people, even if poverty exists all over the world, at end of day guiders check your cameras and delete offensive pictures, however they are slightly corrupt and many photos and videos showing the unwanted side of North Korea popped the internet. Example: Eric Lafforgue photos on dailymail.co.uk.
Video with recommendations for tourists.
A lot of offences lead to prison, where you will be a slave forced to work and eventually die by starvation, hard work or torture. North Korea have the biggest ratio of imprisoned citizens in the world, by the far more than United States which is officially the country with most prisoners, because the government deny the existence of prisons so nobody knows exactly how many were imprisoned and how many died in prisons. Read more on Wikipedia: Prisons in North Korea.
Propaganda lies & war against United States
For those who do not know: Korean peninsula was divided in 1945 between communist and capitalists governments, American troops withdrew from south in 1949, none of countries liked the division and both dream a reunification of Korea but under their own regime. In 1950 North Korea invaded South Korea, starting the Korean war. The Korean Armistice Agreement was signed three years later, creating a four-kilometer wide buffer zone where nobody would enter, known as the Demilitarized Zone.
North Koreans call their country Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, DPRK, the only Korea, while the south is not a country but a land devastated by United States, and they can conquer the south lands by destroying United States.
DPRK is in a state of war, citiens talk about war all time, schools teach children to be hostile with United States, in libraries you can find books titled “Americans of the South that started Korean war”. In Pyongyang, most billboards do not advertise products but anti-US propaganda, paintings with Koreans beating US soldiers, ripping American flag, etc.
Government spend a lot of money on military programmes to prepare against an imminent attack from United States, developing nuclear bombs and testing rockets, which other countries see as a threat. In my opinion they just want to scary other countries from invading North Korea.
The fucking United States together with United Nations impose economic sanctions on North Korea hoping that they will end their nuclear program, but this makes it to threat even more. United States do not want to bomb North Korea, because China will join North Korea if United States strike first, but will remain neutral if North Korea strike first.
What is possible, will be an anti-government uprising like in Romania 1989 revolution, but unlikely to happen, because North Korean government is improving living conditions since 2000s and people are brainwashed and do not know about living conditions in other countries so they love their leader, compared with Romanian living conditions that were worsened by Nicolae Ceausescu in 1980s compared with previous decade, and people were hating the leader but not showing this until enough number of people joined against the leader.
Even if Kim regime fall, Korea reunification is not possible without a big plunge of economy of the south, which South Koreans will not accept. The economy difference is much bigger than in case of East and West Germany reunification. North Korea will need a period of transition and massive investment, to be ready for reunification.
Mysteries that need to be clarified
The population is brainwashed and do not know that there is a better life outside their country, that on the earth exist more advanced countries, that humans reached the moon, etc. People thinks that their Kwangmyong is the only (or at least the first) computer network in the world, or that their Kwangmyŏngsŏng program makes Korea the only (or the first) country in the world that reached the space.
KCNA TV occasionally broadcast news from other countries, selected for propaganda to give impression that capitalist system turned the world into poverty and violence while the DPRK, the only remaining socialist state, is the “people paradise on the earth”. Example: this video saying that ordinary americans live in tents, eat birds and snow, and they (North Koreans) are helping them with good food. But homes shown in first part of video do not have the sash windows common in United States, second half of video is filmed in Romania main train station (Gara de Nord) known for homeless and begging people (who believe in this shit “there are no birds because all were eaten yesterday” but what they eat tomorrow? also what they drink during summer when there is no snow?).
North Korean defectors escape from North Korea on foot via mountainous terrain at border with China, some of them reaching South Korea, but they hardly adapt to the modern world where everything cost money, some of them willing to return to the “better life” in North Korea (example video), but if they would to so, they would be sentenced to death, so many choose to suicide.
However, too much info came from south, so during 1990s the government had to admit that South Korea enjoy higher standards of living. For example South Koreans launching video cassettes via hot air balloons over the DMZ, containing foreign news about 2011-2012 Arab world uprising or anti-regime news. Most North Koreans do not know the truth about outer world, they do not realize how bad is their government, to start a uprising.
Kim Jong-il hate America but his funeral used an american-made Lincoln Continental limousine! They also use PCs with Microsoft Windows and Mac computers made in USA.
Look carefully at Kim Jong-il funeral, there are rumors that people who do not cry enough were jailed, but you can see that while the camera is aimed to people who mourn, in background just few are mourning. Apparently this has been directed for purpose of showing to local and foreign media that people loved their leader. And yes, many people do really LOVE their government, see video diary made by a north korean girl, criticizing capitalist system where the money rule everything.
I am curious how does look a DPRK geographic atlas. What they know about our world? I guess that they know that humans live all around the earth, and natural features, as these info exists before communism installment, but they may be lied about technology level of rest of world. Do they know how many countries are in the world, or what is the world population, or which are largest cities? Probably they know about USSR as they was main economic partner, but how the Korean government explained to their citizens the break-up of USSR and the fall of communism?
The claim that North Korea is totally isolated country is FALSE. The government do everything to prevent people to access foreign info, but in the same time they allow everyone to enter, tourists are main source of foreign info. Any foreign publication regarding North Korea is confiscated at customs, tourists are strictly guided and not allowed to talk with locals, but the guiders themselves are locals, tourists can tell them foreign news and they can spread the news?
In Kaesong Industrial Region, South Korean companies employ North Korean workers. The south staff can talk with north workers, giving info about life in South Korea, especially as the language is not a barrier.
North Korea participated in Olympics, probably the sport teams are one of the few people allowed by government to leave country, and are not allowed to tell to their families what they see overseas.
The government, when speaking to foreign media, deny the existence of prison camps, but the citizens do know their existence? These camps employ a lot of people to take care of inmates, their family relatives do know where they are working?
I am confused how does the (lack of) freedom of speak is working there. Probably they are taught from young to not talk each other about problems and not even tell about job to their relatives, and always listen to government media?
Sources & further read
– Personal analysis of photos and satellite imagery in Google Earth
– The F.A.Q. / Rules of various travel agencies (beware, they hide bad things to attract tourists)
– Various travel blogs, photos and videos of tourists, for example Sue Wombat and Cezar Dumitru, romanian tourist in North Korea comparing with communist Romania (romanian language)
– A website featuring several North Korean defector writers: https://www.nknews.org/
Nice photos: http://www.retrodprk.com/ – 1980s and 1990s photos
Also: Tourist who took camera inside North Korea expecting to find ‘really, really sad people’ is shocked to discover a happy country
I am from Romania, and interested in North Korea due to similarities with the former communist government of my country. I wrote this page from my personal research in 2012, as an article of 500 words, expanded over time with additional rows, photos and links, as soon I found new interesting things, reaching 3000+ words in 2015.
Since 2015 this North Korea page became most visited page among all pages about Housing around the World, getting traffic especially from American school-age kids, a bunch of idiots, who do not read my website carefully and thinks that I am North Korean. North Koreans do not have internet access. ALL articles about North Korea available on internet are written by foreigners. Some of these kids send me messages asking stupid questions that cannot be answered (example), sometimes inviting friends to message me in same time, disturbing me from doing my daily work.
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