“The metro, a monumental edifice in the era of the Workers’ Party, is providing the people with easy access to different parts of Pyongyang and is very instrumental in their ideological and cultural education.” – KCNA
Of all the things we did in North Korea, taking a short trip on the Pyongyang metro was probably the least interesting. Maybe it’s because I have to ride the incompetently-run DC metro at least twice a day, and so try to avoid subjecting myself to public transportation whenever possible. Or perhaps I just don’t find the concept of rocketing under a city via a sardine can all that fascinating. Nevertheless, a few fun facts about the Pyongyang Metro…
The Pyongyang Metro opened in September 1973 and has a mere two lines, with a total of 17 stations that have names such as “Comrade”, “Three Rejuvenations”, and “Sacrifice in Battle”. Personally, I find metro station names with no reference to their actual geographical location to be incredibly confusing, but I’m sure there is some sort of sound logic behind this decision. The stations – some of the deepest in the world – are over 100 meters underground and can be used as bomb shelters for the city’s residents when Pyongyang is under attack from U.S. Imperialists such as ourselves. At $0.03 a ride, the Pyongyang Metro is also one of the cheapest metro rides in the world, when there is actually enough electricity to run the system.
As with everything on a tour of North Korea, your trip on the Pyongyang Metro is heavily restricted. Tourists are only permitted a short ride between the Puhung (“Revitalization”) and Yonggwang (“Glory”) stations. Our bus driver dropped us off at the Puhung station and then drove to the Yonggwang station, where he waited for us to emerge from the underground. The entire thing seemed absurd.
Upon entering the metro station, our guide directed our attention to a map of the metro. She explained that you could press the button under the name of the station you wished to travel to and the route to that station would light up. I thought this interactive map was a bit unnecessary considering the system only has two lines, but perhaps we could use something similar on the DC metro so the hordes of tourists would stop asking me dumb questions.
Your SmarTrip card is not accepted here.
The first thing I noticed about the Pyongyang Metro was that it looked an awful lot like the St. Petersburg and Moscow metro systems. In fact, it seemed as if the Soviets just rustled up their excess construction material and installed the system for the North Koreans, who then placed murals of Kim Il-Sung where the Lenin ones typically hang.
The long ride down
Puhung station, with Kim Il-Sung mural in the background. Interestingly enough, these metro cars are from West Berlin, built from 1957 to 1965.
I’m not really sure what these metro employees do, but they are there. The same cannot be said for DC metro employees.
While waiting for your train, you can catch up on the “news” via the papers that have been placed in glass cases on the station’s platform. Since I don’t read or speak any Korean whatsoever, our guide started reading the news to me. “Here it says that in the United States there are 3.5 million hungry children. Is that true?” I shrugged my shoulders. “Hmm…I don’t know. I haven’t heard that.” And I thought to myself, what an ironic story to place in a newspaper there, considering over a million North Koreans died of hunger in the mid-1990s. Nevertheless, I reminded myself to Google this statistic when I get home. So I did. And it’s true.
Our train finally arrived, and our guides hustled us onto one of the cars which was, of course, free of North Koreans.
At the end of each car are portraits of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il, in case you forget who’s in charge.
After a short ride, we arrived at the Yonggwang station, which is decorated with multi-colored chandeliers.
Like the Moscow metro, the Pyongyang metro has thick, steel blast-resistant doors that can be deployed in case of attack.
The Pyongyang Metro also has small booths so that a worker can monitor the escalator.
While riding the escalator, you can listen to the revolutionary music that is piped in to make your journey that much more enjoyable. It really does soothe the soul.
Above ground. The building on the left is the Koryo Hotel.
For more information on the Pyongyang Metro, check out the online version of the official Pyongyang Metro book that you can buy after riding on the metro. The rest of my metro photos are here.