17 facts about North Korea you probably didn't know

Natalie - 20. June 2022
1. North Koreans can't just leave their place of residence!
Anyone who is at home in North Korea cannot simply leave their place of residence. You need permission from the responsible authorities for this. Imagine that you couldn't even drive to the neighboring town without someone allowing you to do so! And only those who are "politically clean" are allowed to stay in the capital Pyongyang or move there. If someone decides to cross the state border without permission, severe penalties await them.

Nevertheless, people keep trying to flee across the borders. They are driven to do so by hunger and the poor supply of medicines. They then try to get to China. However, this attempt was never crowned with success. Because China does not offer the North Koreans asylum but sends them back immediately, then they are sent to prison camps because they have committed a crime. That, dear people is the opposite of democracy.
2. Short draft? No, on the contrary!
Although North Korea is not a very large country, it has the largest number of soldiers with China. The Korean People's Army, or KVA for short, has over 1 million soldiers. Of course, head of state Kim-Jong Un likes to brag about it, but his army is equipped with outdated technology. Nevertheless, he does not stop bragging about his weapons technology and regularly shocks the world with illegal nuclear tests and threats against his supposed greatest enemy, the USA.

Of course, there is also compulsory military service in such a country. All young people have to start their military service at the age of 18. That's compulsory, and the girls have to stay in the army for seven years, the boys for ten years. Incredible, is not it? It's the only country in the world that has had such long conscription. In addition, it is difficult for women because they are outnumbered. North Korea is definitely a dominant male country.
3. Shopping for residents only
If you still know the conditions of the former GDR, then you can roughly imagine what the shops in North Korea look like. They are government stores that only offer what the government allows. Supply is sparse and allocated to individual citizens. However, the government at least ensures that only the locals are allowed to shop in these shops. Tourists are strictly forbidden.

For the tourists, of course, there are flagship stores. There are special supermarkets that even have goods from Japan in their range. But the residents couldn't even shop there because it's just too expensive. Goods from all over the world can be found in these shops; even cosmetics from the West are available there. So if you want to go on holiday there, you can have one of the guides take you to one of the shops.
4. Always the same hairstyles
It's inconceivable to us here: the state dictates which hairstyles you have to wear. So they all look almost the same. Men and women are not allowed to wear hairstyles other than those approved by the government. The men should orient themselves to their regent Kim-Jong Un. You know the hairstyle. Sides shaved, top hair a bit longer. But how gracious, there's a little more hairstyle choice.

Men are allowed ten different hairstyles; women have a choice of 18 hairstyles. Honestly, it's a mystery to us what you want to achieve with it. You can imagine it like this. If someone from North Korea goes to the hairdresser, there are signs with the permitted hairstyles, and they can then choose their desired hairstyle there. However, men have to go to the hairdresser every 15 days because their hair must not exceed a certain length. Incidentally, single women are only allowed to wear short hair. Only those who are married are allowed to let them grow. By the way, color in the hair is completely forbidden.
5. One prefabricated building next to the other
Actually, every country makes sure that it looks beautiful and that the world is enthusiastic about the diverse architecture of the country. And, of course, North Korea also has a model city. Namely Pyongyang. It looks good, seems well thought out, and is cleverly planned. However, you can also see many gray blocks of flats, so-called prefabricated buildings. In between, however, again, huge statues of the great figures of the country. It is built with concrete. Unadorned, typically socialist.

When you look at the pictures, you automatically think of the typical prefabricated housing estates in the former GDR. It doesn't look friendly, and you can't imagine that people who have to live there like to do so. Even the capital has a deterrent effect on tourists and the western world. Then the beautiful squares and statues are no longer of any use. Not a nice place unless you like the sadness.
6. Hard work for the people
But what about the other parts of the country? On the one hand, North Korea wants to look modern; on the other hand, the country almost looks like it is from a bygone era. Women hardly have washing machines, but have to wash their clothes in the rivers like they used to. Men have to work in the fields; there are more than enough of them. The fields are the country's main source of income, and since the weather is very extreme, their work is not easy. They have to work between the heat and the freezing cold. There are also hardly any cars since there are only about 700 roads in the whole country.

Outside the cities, however, the country has a lot of beautiful nature to offer. On the mountains, you have a wonderful view, and on the Kaema Plateau, the so-called roof of Korea, you have a fantastic view of the forests. There is a crater lake called Lake Chan, and Mount Paket, its real name, can also be admired there. Provided you even feel like traveling to North Korea.
7. Appreciation of the rulers
North Korea is known for the fact that the people have to adore their rulers. Immediately after the death of Kim II Sung and his son Kim Jong II, statues were erected all over the country, especially in the capital, of course, and every resident had to bow to them if they wanted to walk past them. They also put flowers down. And anyway, of course, portraits and posters of the former regents hang everywhere. The fact that the pictures also hang in living rooms no longer surprises us.

Was that all? Of course not. There is always more that citizens have to do in order to be perceived as good and pleasant. Every adult citizen of North Korea must wear a red brooch. There, how could it be otherwise, is the likeness of the current leader. Whoever is caught without this brooch has to be sent to a labor camp for a while as a punishment just because they forgot the brooch. Unbelievable.
8. The border between North Korea and China
North Korea is separated from China by a natural border. The river called Yalu runs between the countries. The two countries are connected by a bridge, which is, of course, heavily guarded. On the Chinese side is the city of Dandong, and on the North Korean side is the city of Sinuija. A beautiful bridge built by China serves as a border crossing. But just over there, of course, that's not possible.

North Korea doesn't have many allies in the world. Actually, China is the only one. Nevertheless, the countries are not necessarily considered friends. Goods are exchanged, but that's all. However, the residents have no way of commuting between China and North Korea. Tourists can only admire the border area. But this is only via a guided boat tour. On the one hand, you see poor North Korea; on the other hand, prosperous China.
9. The border that is most closely guarded
The area that separates North from South Korea is a so-called no man's land that stretches over a length of about 250 km. It is probably the best-guarded area in the world. It is surrounded by barbed wire fences and riddled with mines. No resident of either North Korea or South Korea is allowed to cross this border, even to enter the area!

An armistice was agreed upon between the two countries in 1953. The so-called "Joint Security Area" is responsible for surveillance. Tourists can visit the border area, but of course, only under certain conditions. They require a permit and are guided. However, there is little interest to see here that would require a tour. You see fences, the military, and their dwellings there. There are really more worthwhile sights.
Alexander Khitrov / Shutterstock.com
10. Do you think it's not kinky anymore? In North Korea, it is.
Even the smallest offenses are severely punished in North Korea. Either you have to go to jail, or you have to spend the time you get in labor camps. And unlike most countries in the world, even children and even grandchildren can still be held accountable for the transgressions of their parents and grandparents. So everyone thinks very carefully about what they are doing here.

But it's also not easy to stick to everything. One can quickly be seen as unreliable or be suspected of not following politics as instructed. It is not uncommon for entire families to be taken to one of the many camps. Once you're there, the way out, into "freedom," isn't easy. It often happens that you never leave the camp. Not the whole family. The number of detainees is currently estimated at around 200,000. One can well imagine that the conditions in the prisons and camps are not exactly nice.
Oleg Znamenskiy / Shutterstock.com
11. A silent train station in Pyongyang
The train station is located in downtown Pyongyang. This is two stories high and was built by the Japanese. During the war in Korea, it was completely destroyed. In 1953 it was rebuilt. This station is on Sosong Street.

We know huge train stations from all big cities in the world, especially if they are in the center. There is life there, a constant coming and going, and people lie in each other's arms to say goodbye, unlike in Pyongjong. It's completely quiet here. There are only two train tracks and a platform connecting them. Everyone is silent; the atmosphere is just tense. And, of course, on the station building, it says in large letters: "Long live the great leader Comrade Kim II Sung. Long live the glorious Labor Party of Korea."
12. Hardly any traffic in Pyongyang
Although nearly 3 million people live in Pyongyang, it almost seems uninhabited. The four-lane freeway is downright spooky, and it's not busy at any time of the day. Most people walk or ride their bikes. There is no other way because only a few people in North Korea are allowed to drive their own cars. You really need a permit here if you want to drive your own car.

If you are there and see an old Benz drive by, you can assume that you are seeing a "big shot." Because only ministers or higher officials drive it, if you see a VW, that's one of the members of the party who holds an important position. There are about 400 of them. You will hardly see ordinary people on the street in their cars.
13. The monuments of the ancient rulers
It's not that North Korea is very humble. Well, at least the government certainly isn't. The largest monument, called Mansudae in Pyongyang, covers an area of ​​approximately 240,000 square meters. It is meant to be a constant reminder of independence. Exactly. Independence. Korea used to be one country and was then divided. In the meantime, however, this area has, of course, developed into a pure glorification of the rulers Kim II Sung and Kim Jong II. This is where the inhabitants come to honor their rulers and to bow in front of the monument. They lay flowers and commemorate in silence.

If you come to North Korea as a tourist, you can visit the monument, it is located in front of the Museum of the Revolution, but you have to adhere to strict guidelines. The huge statues may only be photographed in their entirety, not just in part. Not even the back may be photographed. So good advice: leave it alone.
Attila JANDI / Shutterstock.com
14. Tourists are not allowed to ride in taxis
Anyone traveling to North Korea cannot simply hail a taxi there, as is the case almost everywhere in the world. Of course, taxis also drive on the country's roads, but these are mostly empty. They only drive when ordered, so you can't just have them stop on command. The people of North Korea don't take taxis anyway; they can't afford them. Tourists must stick to their guide or take the bus, which of course, is organized. Tourists are not allowed to take a taxi.

You can't even rent a car there. So don't arrive at the airport and go to the car rental counter first. The reason for this is: All other driver's licenses in the world are not recognized as driver's licenses in North Korea. You can't just fly there anyway. There are strict requirements to be allowed to go there at all.
15. There is also public transport
People don't have to walk or bike everywhere. There is also public transport. This is currently being reorganized and expanded, which is also good, because before that all buses and trains were completely overloaded. The country has organized three trams that are even electric. There are also new buses. At least the people can afford local public transport, a ticket like that costs about one cent. There's even a subway built so safe that in the event of a nuclear war, survival would be possible down there.

If North Koreans want to leave their town or village, they need permission. Once they have received this, they can even travel by bus or train; however, never without permission. We already know what else threatens. Prison or labor camp.
16. Pyongyang is slowly becoming presentable
Earlier, we reported that Pyongyang mainly "shines" with concrete buildings, but Kim Jong Un currently wants to make the city more modern. The people are starving, but he prefers to put the money into modernizing the capital. There is a newly built housing estate on Mansdue Street that has many tall glass windows and is painted in nice light colors instead of gray concrete. The hotel in town, called Ryugyong, was built like a pyramid and is an impressive 105 stories high. It even towers over the old prefabricated buildings.

The Museum of Science and Technology was completed in 2015 and had the shape of an atom. There is also an amusement park and a fish restaurant, which was built in the shape of a ship. This can be found on the Taedong River. You can even fish indoors here. So many highlights, but little food and medicine for the population.
17. Traveling alone through North Korea is not possible at all
If you are interested in traveling to North Korea, you can't do that without special permission and, of course, not without a visa. You can book certain travel packages and usually don't get beyond Pyongyang. Directly after landing, you will be picked up at the airport by a guide who will stay with you for the whole trip. The total surveillance, then, because holidays are certainly a lot of fun!

Currently, however, travel to North Korea is not recommended. There are, of course, reasons for this. Again and again, there are problems and arrests of tourists who don't have to do anything bad to get targeted by the local authorities. Just think of the poor student from the USA a few years ago who was only able to leave the country in a coma and died shortly afterward. We certainly do not have a travel recommendation.