Our Unseen Holiday Photos from Kim Jong-il's North Korea


This story is over 5 years old.


Our Unseen Holiday Photos from Kim Jong-il's North Korea

We dug out the old photo albums on the day the Great Leader went to meet the God he doesn't believe in.

I enjoyed a mixed relationship with Kim Jong-il's North Korea. I spent a ton of time there, and in that time I had a lot of fun, but the fun evaporated whenever I was getting thrown out of Pyongyang's only nightclub, or held hostage in Rason for tweeting jokes about the Great Leader. I'll always be thankful that the North Korean guards seeking to protect the Hermit Kingdom from vile foreign bodies such as myself saw fit to release me after spending a few hours trying to convince me that my life might be over. This incident earned my passport a blacklist stamp, but luckily I was taking pictures most of the way. Hopefully Kim Jong-un can take a joke better than his dad can (hey Kim, your head is fat!), but for now, here are some pictures of North Korea that I managed to get back across the border.


This is our minder Wonik at Taedong Diplo, NK's only nightclub. He was cool, but at 3AM started screaming: "On the bus you drunk bastards! Or I'll take your passports and you'll stay in fucking North Korea forever!" We didn't see Wonik again after that.

A farmer passes us by in a showpiece collective farm in Kangwon Province.

When I asked to take a picture of this administrative centre I was told "fine", but first I had to wait 10 minutes for them to find a clerk twiddling his thumbs elsewhere to set up in front of me and look like he was doing something important.

This picture isn't from the schoolroom, but the wall of a doctor's office inside the Pyongyang Friendship Hospital. One of my travelling party decided to get drunk and try jumping onto a moving train leaving the capital – he slipped and broke his leg.

Street view in historic Kaesong city, one of the few areas not completely bombed flat during the Korean War.

Kids at kindergarten playing on a nuclear warhead merry-go-round.

This soldier's job was to point at a geographically inaccurate map of the de-militarized zone between North and South Korea and tell us repeatedly that we were on the brink of World War III.

Kids in motion.

Here we are on the last live border of the Cold War. That gravel beyond the concrete division line is South Korea, and those white people in the background look like bankers on a day trip from Seoul, wondering why I'm on the Northern side waving at them.

Metro station in Pyongyang with Ryugyong Hotel in background.

Any visitor to Kaesong, the historic capital of unified Korea, will be familiar with this view. The guides drive you to the top of the hill and go, 'This is Kaesong!' You say, 'Umm, can we go a bit closer?' and they ignore you and usher you into a cafe.

Woman passes statue in the Fountain Park, Pyongyang

The Great Leader setting soldiers off to do his bidding.

The traffic wardens in Pyongyang are selected for their beauty.

Central Square in Pyongyang, where all the crazy marches take place. Note the small pictures of Marx and Lenin on the building, a small nod to the supposed ideological heritage of Korean communism. Turns out not even Kim Il-Sung bothered to read up on it.

Pyongyang at sundown.

The Juche Tower – symbol of Kim Il-Sung's original way of philosophical thought – on the far side of the Taeddong river.

Mineral water for sale outside a general store in Pyongyang.

Retro-futurist Pyongyang.

More retro-futurist Pyongyang.

The tracks between Pyongyang and Beijing are lined with hungry Koreans hoping foreign citizens on board will take pity and chuck something nourishing out the window.

It's the Mass Games in Pyongyang, where 10,000 kids scream in your face about how great Kim Il Sung was. It's a real family affair.

A North Korean visa in your passport is a great way to get held up at customs in the United States.

No sly drugs or sex references on Korean itboxes.

Village folk get shipped en masse into Mangyondae, the mythic birth place of Kim Il-Sung. The best lie I heard there was: “These huts were dirty before Kim Il-Sung was born. But he brought light, and it cleaned all the dirt away!”

Students marching toward Kim Il-Sung's birthplace at Mangyongdae.

Residents living in the house blocks on the opposite side of that massive monument wake each morning with a close-up view of the Kim's arses.

This Soviet-era Air Koryo passenger "jet" is now out of service, but when I flew it, it was still the only 0-star safety-rated aeroplane flying commercially in the world. It was thought so unsafe it was illegal to fly it anywhere inside Europe or the US.

There are a lot of statues of this guy.

Pyongyang International Airport is a lot like the Hotel California.

Early morning nuclear test in Pyongyang. Not really, it's just the sunrise.

We took some time out from the city to visit Ulim waterfalls, which was nice because the Koreans hanging out here didn't see to have been put on display solely for us. This girl is genuinely dipping her toe in the water because she wants to.

I fancied this girl so much, but when I tried to ask her her name in broken Korean, she ran to her minder :(

About three quarters of the way up the tallest building in Pyongyang.

We hit the beach in Wonson on Liberation Day, one of the few genuine days off the Korean workers are granted by their master. It was pretty banging, though you can't see the waist-high fence that was keeping me from getting too close.

Holidaymakers heading for the beach in Wonson.

Housing for all!

The North Koreans are pretty good at keeping their squalor away from foreign visitors. We did catch a glimpse of these kids scavenging for scraps in a dirty river of god-knows what, though.

These lads had some #epicbantz.

Wonson Central square at night on Liberation Day.

Even when the rest of the city descends into darkness as the sun goes down and the lights fail to come on, a generator is always kept aside to make sure The Great Leader is flood-lit throughout the night.

Inside the Pyongyang Department Store No.1

Shop attendant plays with a cat.

Monument to the Party Founding, Pyongyang

Honestly, if this towel was in a hotel room anywhere else in the whole world, I would have nicked it in an instant. But seeing as I was in North Korea, a bedroom photoshoot had to suffice.

At the beach we hung out with some Iranian businessmen who couldn't speak English but smiled a lot and kept giving us thumbs up while pointing at these girls. One of them went for a swim later in a Victorian-style bathing suit and flotation bands.

Kids in NK. Love 'em. Such a waste.

When I got taken to a massage parlour in Rason which was lit by a single bulb, this great bit of Military Karaoke was being played on the unexpectedly large flatscreen TV in the corner.

Poster for celebrity kindergarten kids in Rason, who were due to put on a show for us that evening. It was totally depressing.

Look at the big dead asshole.

Before being allowed into this sewing factory in Rason, we had to sit in the car for about half an hour, presumably whilst they set up the scene, and prettified everything by putting little sunflowers everywhere.