Astonishing Photos From North Korea

Korea was divided into North and South Korea after World War II. The south became a democracy and the north became communist. With a very powerful dictatorship in place, North Korea has become a tragic mystery to most. Although illegal and dangerous, some people have been able to take pictures inside the country. Check out this list to uncover some of the mysteries of this highly censored country.

Equal Gender Rights

Although many outsiders believe that rights are limited in North Korea, surprisingly gender rights are very equal amongst the sexes. North Korea has laws on equality, that provide equal women’s rights at work, rights on sharing and inheriting property and a right to free marriage and divorce. North Korea has also outlawed polygamy. As of 2015, women are also required to enlist in the military, same as their male counterparts. There are also many women in high ranking positions (although many are related to the country’s leaders).

Deserted Entry Point

A photographer snapped this photo on his way into North Korea. It is Dandong station, one of the only ways to enter the country for foreign tourists. It is currently not possible to travel to North Korea on your own. You must go with a pre-booked tour, that has at least 2 North Korean tour guides. In 2016, “The Telegraph” reported North Korea has only seen 100,000 tourist per year.

Many Banned Items

A photographer was able to snap a photo of a customs declaration form revealing the items banned from being brought into the country. You may not bring in items that are normally banned like weapons or drugs. However, you are also not allowed to bring in pornography or written materials about North Korea printed in other countries. Laptops are also searched for any “controversial” content. However, there is limited internet service in North Korea.


Basic Housing

This is one of many housing complexes in the country. The basic concrete outside leads only one to believe how simple the inside must be as well. It is actually illegal for North Koreans, to buy, sell and rent out houses. In some cases it is acceptable to “swap” housing, if it is in one’s jurisdiction. However, it becomes illegal if either party has a financial gain. The only exception are houses that were private property prior to 1958 and which are still lived in by persons who owned those houses in 1958 – or their descendants. This is very rare, making most of the living quarters owned by the state.


Difference Between North Korea and China

This picture may cause disbelief in the difference of infrastructure. This is a picture of North Korea (left) and China (right). You can see towering skyscrapers in China and only small building in North Korea. North Korea and China share a 1,416-kilometer long border. In the 1950s and 60s, many people crossed over the border to North Korea to escape the famine in China. However, today, the tables have turned and many try to leave North Korea due to harsh conditions.

Photos Of Soldiers Relaxing Is Forbidden

This a rare photo of a soldier relaxing in public. The photographer was told to delete it right after it was taken, as it is illegal to take pictures of soldiers “off their guard.” He also believes it is the main reason why he was banned from the country. The legality of photos of soldiers is due to keep a high positive image of the KPA. The actual conditions by which the soldiers are treated in unknown.


North Korea Has The Largest Stadium In The World

The Rungrado 1st of May Stadium is a multi-purpose stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea. It has a capacity of 114,000 and occupies 51 acres. It is, therefore, the largest stadium by capacity in the world. The stadium is used for a few athletic events, however, its main purpose is for the Arirang Festival, also known as the Mass Games. The Arirang Festival is a large gymnastics and arts festival. Below is a picture of the festival.

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Staged Scenes

This picture was taken a Pyongyang’s main train station. As you can see there are other “passengers” interacting and looking very cheerful on the platform. However, the photographer of this photo believes that it may have been staged as there were no other trains leaving the station. Pyongyang is the capital and the largest city in North Korea, and Pyongyang station is the main station in the country, connecting most of the country.


Poverty Amongst Many

Here you see a man bathing in a river, a sight, the photographer said, is very common in rural area of North Korea. The exact statistics of people living in poverty is hard to calculate due to extreme censorship and extensive media manipulation. However, poverty is believed to be substantial, within the country. The government tries to block pictures like this from leaving the country, so they can keep up an international image of wealth and growth.


Mandatory Military Service

Many men and women are required to serve for 10 years in the Korean People’s Army (KPA). In 2011, the New York Times reported the KPS had 1.1 million troops on active duty within the country. Serving in the military in North Korea is a privilege and is reserved for those loyal to the government. The military actions are also based around Kim Jong-Il’s “Songun” policy, which focuses resources on the KPA and using it to police the country.


Kim Il Sung Badges

North Koreans never forget their Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il badges when accessorizing their outfits. The first Kim Il Sung badge was produced in 1970 and the first Kim Jong Il badge was produced in 1992. Although it is actually a requirement to wear the badge, some younger North Koreans try to use the badges as fashion statements. The badge must never be worn on a coat or outer garment, and a citizen may be punished if found not wearing one.

Leaders Are Always Watching

This is a photo of tourist, Ryan Nee. He reported that the portraits of the leaders were hung in almost every room and on many buildings. It is actually a regulation that portraits are hung on a wall that has no other decorations. The portraits must be hung high, so no one else is able to be higher than the leaders. The pictures must also be cleaned often, and are inspected. If the portraits are not clean, the resident will receive a fine.

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Hidden 5th Floor

Did you notice the 5th floor button was missing from the picture below? You may think it is due to superstition like many hotels remove the 13th floor button in the United States. However, this is not the case. This was taken in the Pyongyang’s Yanggakdo International Hotel. The photographer of this picture went to the mysterious 5th floor. He says the floor contained desks with screen and monitoring equipment and large propaganda photos.


Locals Need Permits To Travel

Here we see a child and man traveling by public transportation. Before 2002, North Koreans needed a permit to travel everywhere, whether going abroad (which was very rarely allowed) or just taking a trip to the next town over. However, nowadays North Koreans must seek a permit to travel if the trip lasts longer than a week or two. The country now also allows permits for border crossing. Although, bribery is still used to avoid security checks and speed up the permit’s processing time.

Most Roads Are Not Paved

Here we see women performing manual maintenance of the eight-lane superhighway between the DMZ (demilitarized zone between North and South Korea) and Pyongyang.  This highway is one the few that ended up getting paved. However, the United States’s CIA reported, in 2006, that less than 3% of North Korean roads were paved. The whole country has fewer paved roads than the city of Detroit! However, as most of the country’s people don’t own cars, public transportation or walking is more widely used.



Watchtowers are placed along the borders to stop people from leaving, as well as watch those entering. Although North Korea is a signee of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states “Everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own,” this is most certainly not the case. Leaving unauthorized is considered treason by the North Korean government. If caught leaving or helping other crossed the border a person is sent to a prison-labor camp.


Broadcasting Propaganda

Here you see a waitress working in a restaurant with propaganda being broadcasted on the TV. Unfortunately, most of the media in North Korea, promotes the practices and ideologies of the Dictatorship. All radios and TV sets are pre-tuned to North Korean stations and they must be registered with the police. It is illegal to tune into other countries channels. North Korean newscasts are known for exuberant broadcasts giving high praise to their leaders and condemning the acts of other countries.


Power Outages

This is a photo of a power outage in an art gallery in Pyongyang. Outages often happen, however, the government does not want the world to know. The photographer of this picture reported that outages are, many times, blamed on the American Embargo. A North Korean, spokesperson is also quoted with stating it is not a problem that North Korea sometimes goes dark at night, and other countries can expect to deal with the same problem soon.


Child Labor

This picture depicts children doing physical labor in the fields. Article 31 of North Korea’s constitution clearly prohibits child labor, however, many defectors of the country have told the organization “Human Rights Watch,” this is not the case. A former teacher who fled the country in 2011 told the organization “I saw one teacher who would teach in the morning only and bring the students who were 11 or 12 years old to do outside work…in the afternoon. The kinds of work students did were planting, repairing roads, participating in the construction of a swimming pool…students would have lectures until 1 p.m. and then they suffered from [these] kinds of heavy labor….”

Respect To Idols

These photographs below are considered very disrespectful. A person is not to do silly things in front of the Kim’s portraits. It is also considered very disrespectful, and illegal, to take a picture of the backside of the statue of a leader. North Koreans learn to fear the images the see everyday, and the leaders are seen as equivalents to Gods. Each photo and statue is treated like a sacred relic.


North Korea Has Its Own Calendar

This is a photo on the entrance to the Pyonyang Metro. The signs above the entrance way translate to: “The Hwanggumbol Station our great leader Kim Jong-Un has made for us through field guidance.” The sign also lists the date as “Juche 67” and “Juche 71.” North Koreans use the “Juche” calendar, which begins with the date of Kim Il-Sung’s birthday (Juche 1). The Juche calendar was adopted on July 8, 1997, on the third anniversary of the death of Kim Il-Sung.

The Gray Market

The North Korean government has cracked down on the Black Market. However, they turn a blind eye to “The Gray Market.” The term “gray market” is due to the fact that private trade is illegal, but tolerated by officials. The markets are known as “jangmadang” in Korean. A person is able to buy various goods from these small stands throughout the country including food, clothing, cigarettes and medicine. Many people rely on theses type of markets to survive.

Education Reinforces State Ideology

The North Korean education system revolves a lot around the learning of state ideology. From a young age, a child is taught that he or she owes everything to their great leaders: Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il and  Kim Jong-un. The leaders’ names are always written in bold and are only to be spoken about with respect. The children also learn about the country’s enemies: mainly Americans and the Japanese.


Tours Are Very Restrictive

You are allowed to travel to North Korea, and the government actually welcomes tourists. However, your kept under a strict watchful eye by your guides. Each tour group is given an itinerary which is strictly followed. A tourist is not allowed to leave their hotel at night unless given permission by his or her guide. A tourist is also not be allowed to travel on the public transport system at all. If you are caught breaking the rules, both you and your guide can be punished.  In this picture, you see a hostess standing guard of the train, to make sure all who enter are permitted.

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Locals Required To Have Certain Haircuts

Men are required to cut their hair so it isn’t longer than 2 centimeter. The hairstyles are modeled after Kim Jong Un, who has described his hairstyle as ‘ambitious.’ Women are advised to copy Kim Jong Un’s wife’s bob hairstyle. Only actors are an exception to the rule. Any hairstyle that deviates from the rules is considered a ‘capitalist style.’ Below is an example of a chart of acceptable haircuts for men.


Tourists Are Forbidden In Many Local Shops

Below is a picture taken by Photographer Michael Huniewicz, at a local grocery store. Huniewicz has reported that he had about 15 seconds to take this photo before he was told to leave by his guide. This may be due to several reasons. However, it is most likely because the store was not on the government issued itinerary and therefore, the government does not want it to be seen by the international public.


Peace (Or Propaganda) Village

Kijong-dong Village, also known as Peace Village, is located next to the South Korean border. It is one of only 2 villages located in the DMZ. Although it is called the Peace Village, many believe it is used as propaganda. It is surrounded by lush farmland and multi-story buildings. The North Koreans originally hoped it would entice soldiers and others to just walk across the border. However, today loudspeakers face towards the South and blast North Korean propaganda.


Three Generations Of Punishment

North Korea takes “guilt by association,” to the extreme. The regime follows a three generations of punishment rule. This means if someone is convicted of committing a crime, his or her family can be punished for three generations. Family members can be sent to internment or work camps without committing any crimes themselves. In the camps, captives are forced to work in horrible conditions and may suffer from torture, starvation or death without trial.

Prisoner Work Camps

The North Korean government denies all allegations that it violates human rights within its prison camps. However, former prisoners testify that is not the truth. The camps hold people accused of political offenses or denounced as politically unreliable by the state. Prisoners are worked like slaves and receive extreme abuse. Over the past few years, Kim Jong-Un has begun expanding these camps. Below is a satellite image of one of the camps. In the image you can see gallows, electric fences and huge crematoriums.


All Citizens Are Part Of The Same Governmental Party

North Korea, also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is a communist state and dictatorship. The head of state Kim Jong-un hails from the Kim Dynasty, which began ruling the country three generations ago in 1948. Unlike many democracies with multiple governmental parties, every resident of North Korea is a member of the communist Korean Workers’ Party. Below you can see a statuesque government building in the capital of Pyongyang. The supreme leaders portraits are displayed proudly on the front.


Sino–Korean Friendship Bridge

The Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge goes across the Yalu river and connects Dandong, China and Sinuiju, North Korea. Pedestrians are not allowed on the bridge, as it is only open to motor vehicle traffic. The bridge was constructed by the Imperial Japanese Army from 1937-1943, during their occupation of Korea and northeast China. This is one the last brightly colored things you will see before entering the country from this point. North Korea is on the left side of the picture at the end of the bridge.


North Korea Has Its Own Time Zone

Since August 15, 2015 (the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese rule), North Korea has had its own time zone. The newly created time zone is called “Pyonyang Time.” Therefore, North Korean clocks are currently 8:30 hours ahead of UTC (Coordinated Universal Time). The time change is as it was before Japanese Imperialism. South Korea although it celebrates the same history, did not make the time switch. Below is a picture of the ringing of the town bells to celebrate the welcoming of the time switch.


North Koreans Are Shorter Than South Koreans

The North Korean people are on average three inches shorter than their counterparts in the South. Professor Daniel Schwekendiek from a University in Seoul, has studied the heights of North Korean refugees by measuring them when they crossed the border into South Korea. He concluded North Korean men are between 3 – 8cm (1.2 – 3.1in) shorter. This also translate to children. North Koreans are 4cm (1.6in) shorter among pre-school boys and 3cm (1.2in) shorter among pre-school girls. This can be attributed to both genetics and malnutrition.


North Korea Supported Trump

This will come as no surprise to most people, but the North Korean government strongly support Donald Trump for U.S. President. The country’s main media outlet, DPRK Today, published an editorial that called Trump  a “wise politician” and said he could be good for North Korea. On the flipside, they referred to Hillary Clinton as “dull.” Trump told the international news agency, Reuters, that he would be willing to speak to North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un.


Status Is Decided At Birth

In the picture below, we see a woman walking about the streets of Pyongyang with her baby. Parents are required to register their new babies at the town hall, with police and the secret police. The child is then assigned one of 5 social statuses: special, nucleus, basic, complex, or hostile. This is called the child’s “songbun.” The “Songbun,” is stamped on the child’s file and either enables or limits where a child can live, where they can study, where they can work, and more.


North Korea’s GDP Is Small

North Korea’s Gross Domestic Product (as of 2014) was 17.4 billion USD, which is the highest it has ever been since the country’s creation.  The United States GDP is 16.77 trillion USD. The GDP for South Korea is 1.305 trillion USD. These numbers really put into perspective how much the country may be struggling. Just as an added bonus, Bill Gates has a net worth of 84 billion USD. Below is a picture of a North Korean defector, holding the current currency of the country, won.


Strong Military

The North Korean military is the largest employer in the country. It has more than 1.2 million active soldiers, and 7.7 million in reserve. North Korea has gained a large pile or artillery and has the capability to create nuclear weapons. The army has 3,500 battle tanks and over 70 submarines, which is more than its neighbor, South Korea. However, even though the military is the country’s largest employer, many soldiers are malnourished and underpaid.


Propaganda Posters

Propaganda posters are put up all over the country. The posters first came to be, during the Korean War, in the 1950s. Today, self-reliance and pride are common subjects, and almost never feature subjects making eye contact. As many would suspect, there are posters about defeating their enemies. However, there are also lighter and more encouraging posters. For example, some remind you to turn off the lights at night or save water.

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It’s Expensive To Defect

Since Kim Jong-Un has taken power, the price to defect from North Korea has gone up to $8,000. Considering the gross domestic product per capita was estimated to be $1,800 in 2014, this is far too expensive for a normal citizen to pay. The North Korean government’s Intelligence has augmented monitoring (of phone calls) on border passages. Many defectors escape from the help of a “Chinese Broker.” As it is now more dangerous to help a defector, the price to do so has gone up.


Kim Jong Il Spent A LOT Of Money On Alcohol

Kim Jong Il, the father of Kim Jong Un, really liked his Cognac. He reportedly spent £700,000 on Hennessy each year! Today, that is equivalent to $859,915. The average national income for a North Korean, as of 2013, was $1,000-$2,000. Kim Jong Il died in 2011. However, his tastes seem to be hereditary, as it was reported that Kim Jong Un spends an average $30 million (£21M) each year on importing liquors into the country.