Infiltrating North Korea Part 16: A Sunday Drive through Pyongyang

Infiltrating North Korea is a 19-part series exploring the world’s most reclusive nation and its bizarre, anachronistic way of life. To start reading at the beginning of the series, be sure to click here.

Travel within North Korea is tightly regulated; tourists pile into minivans and are carted from landmark to landmark without any opportunity to wander about on their own. This was the most frustrating aspect of my time in North Korea. I simply wanted to stop the minivan so I could get out and walk the streets, mingle with the pedestrians, poke my head into local shops, and wander off the beaten path to see for myself what our guides were keeping hidden from us.

Instead, I spent most of my time like a dog on a car ride, sticking my head out the window, tongue flapping in the wind as Pyongyang rushed by.

Such a method of travel, however, can still reveal quite a bit about North Korea’s mysterious capital; I could catch glimpses through the windows of poorly stocked stores, witness locals scrounging for seeds in the grass of city parks, and spy dilapidated buildings in the distance slowly falling apart. My state sponsored guided tour was intended to portray the city in a perfect light but unless they tinted the windows of our minivan, the real Pyongyang was going to shine through on occasions.

The video above is a six-minute, narrated car ride through the center of Pyongyang. I began filming shortly after entering the city limits–photography is forbidden outside of Pyongyang–and continued sticking my camera out the window until we arrived at the Grand People’s Study House in the center of town. Along the way, we pass a number of landmarks mentioned earlier in these posts, thus providing the opportunity to see how these places are stitched into a larger Pyongyang.

The video should also provide a sense of Pyongyang and its scattered pedestrians, dearth of automobiles, bland storefronts, monumental architecture, ubiquitous propaganda, and immaculately dressed citizenry. Until the time comes when foreigners are allowed to wander the city on their own, 40 mile-per-hour glances such as this one will continue to be the only window we have into this reclusive society.

Yesterday: More Song, Dance, and a little conundrum about chocolate
Tomorrow: Video Tour of Pyongyang Highlights