Pyongyang

P'yŏngyang (평양 Pyeongyang), with about 2,750,000 inhabitants, is the capital city of North Korea. It is on the Taedong River in the southwest of the country.

Pyongyang, capital of North Korea
A street scene in Pyongyang

Understand

Pyongyang is the capital city of North Korea, as well as its "showcase city" where people have a markedly higher standard of living than elsewhere in the country. Many of the nation's tourist attractions can be found here and will likely form part of most travel itineraries to North Korea.

Get in

see also North Korea entry requirements and formalities

Nearly all visitors arrive either by plane or train from Beijing. You will need a visa before you travel and the authorities will need a minimum of 2 weeks to process it.

By plane

  Sunan International Airport (IATA: FNJ) is 24 km north of Pyongyang. It handles a relatively small number of passengers for a capital airport, and as of 2015 has scheduled services to Beijing, Shanghai, Shenyang, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Vladivostok.

International flights use a new terminal opened in summer of 2015, featuring more seating, an expanded duty-free store, and additional amenities. The new terminal imposes a $1 parking fee when exiting the lot.

Air China operates a round trip to Beijing on Mondays and Fridays, with an additional scheduled flight on Wednesdays in the summer. These flights can be purchased on-line in advance.

Air Koryo operates flights Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Both operators leave Pyongyang at 09:00 and return to Pyongyang from Beijing at 13:00 (Oct 2013).

If you are in a position to buy tickets within the country, they are on sale in the Youth Hotel's Air China office, which is situated about 10 km north-east of the city. They provide a free 30 kg baggage allowance. Tickets may also be purchased online through travel agents who typically interact with either the Beijing or Berlin Air Koryo offices. Expect to pay USD300-320 for a one-way ticket to Beijing.

By train

There are two international train services to Pyongyang, from Beijing (via Dandong and Sinuiju) and Moscow (via Zabaikalsk, Dandong and Sinuiju). Notice that western foreigners in most cases will be denied to enter North Korea using the Moscow train service. Also, since 2013, US citizens have not been allowed on trains in the country except for those specially chartered by tour companies.

For trains arriving at   Pyongyang station (평양역), foreigners will have to exit via the side door at the far end of the station from the gates. Don't join the scrum with the Koreans, as you won't be allowed to leave via the same door. If you have transported anything via freight on the train, you'll have to go back the next day to pick it up. The (not very busy) customs office is around the back of the building, and is shut between 12:00 and 14:00. There are no charges for collecting customs-cleared goods, and the bureaucracy is fairly simple, especially compared to the chaos of the Beijing railway station.

Get around

One of the typical Tatra trams in Pyongyang, North Korea

Tourists to North Korea will need to be accompanied by an accredited guide or guides, who will arrange where you can visit and how you will get there. However, personal visitors of foreign residents in Pyongyang are free to go around by themselves, unless explicitly told not to by Korean authorities. This can happen, but is not always the case. Foreign residents cannot use buses.

By metro

The metro system has two routes. However, if on a package tour, your short trip on the metro will be organised in advance. Only visitors of foreign residents may use the entire metro. Despite being old, the trains run quite efficiently, and are phenomenally cheap at 5 won per journey irrespective of distance. The biggest drawback to this form of transport is that the metro is only on the west side of the river, while Munsu dong — where all foreign residents live — is on the east side.

By taxi

Taxis can be taken, but drivers are wary of accepting foreigners. One exception might be the Koryo Hotel, near the railway station. Expect the driver to check with the hotel that he is allowed to take you. Generally around €5 will cover a medium distance one way journey, although the rate for foreigners is USD1/km before 18:30 and USD2/km in the evening.

See

Pyongyang Film Studios
Grand People's Study House

Do

Normally, tourists in Pyongyang are restricted to guided tours. Personal visitors to foreign residents are usually free to wander around, though they may also be placed under the care of a guide.

Buy

Shopping options are limited. A few department stores exist but have very few things of interest to a visitor. Locals only shop from speciality stores selling groceries and other basic items. Arts and crafts and souvenirs can be purchased in places such as tourist sites and hotels. Some extremely sought-after North Korean souvenirs are metal lapel badges depicting the faces of one or both of the three Kims. They can be difficult for foreigners to acquire; it is often easier to buy them at home on eBay or similar auction sites. There have been reported cases of these badges being seized by customs at departure.

There are several competing prepaid cards available around town, which reduce the hassle of carrying money and change. The most ubiquitous and oldest is from the Trade Bank (무역은행), and is available at the Pyongyang Shop in the Embassy district. Its balance is recorded at the hard-currency exchange rate. More recently, Guangbok and some stores dealing in local currency have begun to offer a card from the Central Bank (중앙은행) with a balance of local won. The Ryugyong commercial bank also offers a card accepted by the Ryugyong shop.

There are several government-run markets, selling a wide range of foods, as well as consumer goods such as shoes and DIY materials. The majority of these products are imported, but some local good can be found as well. The prices for local products are extremely low by western standards, and the sellers are generally honest - although prices are negotiable. These markets are identifiable by their blue, hemispherical roofs. However, apart from Tonghil market, foreigners are generally treated with caution. Indeed, do not be surprised if you are gently, but firmly, escorted from the building. There is no harm in this, providing you comply.

Tonghil market is perhaps the most interesting, as there are many relatively wealthy Koreans shopping there for items many other North Koreans are unable to afford. You need won to shop at these markets, which can be exchanged for hard currencies on the second floor. Photography is prohibited. In Tonghil, be aware that some theft does occur, although it is minimal.

The list of stores known to be open to foreigners consists of:

Eat

Local residents generally eat at home, and as such the Pyongyang restaurant scene is lacking. You will normally eat dinner at your hotel. There are a number of small diners in the city, but they are mostly aimed at local workers and have rather spartan fare—boiled corn, kimchi, some fish or squid, white rice. The legal situation surrounding these semi-private establishments is complicated, and foreigners are not advised to eat at them.

There are, however, several restaurants well-suited for tourists.

Banquet rooms at Haedanghwa Health Complex

Drink

There are very few bars and clubs, though North Korean beer is available at hotels. Some may also offer Chinese and other foreign beers, such as Heineken. The local draught beer is excellent, and costs from €0.50 to €1.40.

There are three main places, apart from restaurants and hotels, where foreign residents go to socialise; the old Diplomatic club, near the Juche tower by the river, the Friendship, inside the Munsu dong foreigners' compound, and the Random Access Club (RAC), run by the UN, also inside the foreigners' compound.

Provided that transport (difficult) and permission (less difficult) is obtainable, all of these can be visited. The RAC Friday nights are legendary (not in an "Ibiza" way, though), although what passed for nightlife has dwindled as foreign aid organisations have left the country during 2009.

Sleep

Lobby of the Koryo Hotel

This will be arranged by your tour company.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay safe

Pyongyang is a very safe city for foreigners who follow the rules. See the main article for safety information about North Korea.

Connect

The country code for North Korea is +850.

Foreigners staying in Pyongyang can sign up with Koryolink mobile phone service. The setup fee for a SIM card and voice service will be either $80 or €80. Signing up for 3G data costs an additional €180. Fees for the mobile service are $8/month for voice and $14/month for data. The included data plan provides 50M of data. Note that the phone network available to foreigners does not interconnect with the network used by citizens.

Hotels aimed at foreigners may be able to provide Internet access, although it should be requested in advance. If you do not have Internet access and need connection the easiest option is likely to schedule a visit to your embassy.

Cope

Health care

Embassies

Most foreign embassies (with the exception of the Chinese and Russian embassies) in Pyongyang are inside the Munsu-dong area. European Union (EU) citizens of countries not yet represented in Pyongyang can seek consular assistance from other EU embassies (Such as the German or British embassies) instead. Citizens of the United States should contact the Swedish embassy for consular assistance. Canadian and Australian citizens should contact the British embassy for consular assistance.

  • Bulgaria, phone: +850 2 381 7343, fax: +850 2 381 7342, email:
  • Cambodia, Rue de L'universite Commune Mouscou, Arrondissement Daedongang F90, phone: +850-2-23817283, fax: +850-2-23817283, email:
  • China,, Kinmaul-dong, Moranbong District, phone: +850-2-3813116, fax: +850-2-3813425, email:
  • Cuba, P.O. Box 5, Munsudong District, Daedonggang, phone: +850-2-3817370, fax: +850-2-3817703, email:
  • Czech Republic, , Taedonggang Guyok 38, Taehakgori, Puksudong, Pyongyang, phone: +850-2-3817021, fax: +850-2-3817022, email: . M-F 09:00-16:00.
  • Egypt, Munsu - Dong, Dae Dongyong, Pyongyang, phone: +850-2-3817416
  • Germany, , Munsu-dong Diplomatic Compound, +850-2 3817385.
  • India, 6, Munsudong District Daedonggang, phone: +850-2-3817215 , +850-2-3817274, fax: +850-2-3817619, email:
  • Indonesia, P.O. Box 178, 5 Foreigner's Building, Munsudong, Taedonggang District, Pyong Yang, phone: +850 2 3817425, fax: +850-2-3817620, email:
  • Laos, Munhung Dong, Talelonggang District, Pyongyang, phone: +850 2 381-7363, fax: +853 2 381-7722
  • Malaysia, Munsu-dong Diplomatic Enclave, phone: +850 2 381-7125, fax: +850 2 3817845, +60-3-83193270, malpygyang@kln.gov.my email. M-F 09:00-17:00, closed Sa Su, DPRK public holidays and Malaysian public holidays.
  • Pakistan, Building No. 23, Block 66, Munsodong Daedongang District, phone: +850-2-3817479, fax: +850-2-3817622
  • Palestine, PO Box 24, Pyongyang, phone: +850-2-3817256, fax: +850-2-3817259, email:
  • Poland, , Tedonggang - Munsu-Dong, phone: +850-2-3817325, +850-2-3817328, +850-2-3817331 fax: +850-2-3817634 fax/phone: +850-2-3817637, email:
  • Romania, Munhengdong, phone: +850-2-3817336, email:
  • Russia, Chungang-gu, Singang-Dong, phone: +850-2-3813101, +850-2-3813102 fax: +850-2-3813427, email:
  • Sweden, , Munsu-dong, Daehak St, Taedonggang District, +850 2 381 74 85, email: **
  • Syria, Moun-Sou Dong Street, Pyongyang, phone: +850-2-3849323, +850-2-3817472, +850-2-3817473
  • Swiss Cooperation Office, , Daedonggang District Munhundong, Yubo St No. 3, +850 2 381 76 45, email: pyongyang@sdc.net
  • Yemen, P.O. Box 53, Pyongyang, phone: +850 2 3817353, fax: +850-2-3817632

* The British Embassy incorporates a minor Australian and Canadian diplomatic presence; this offers reasonable consular services to Australian and Canadian citizens

** The United States does not currently maintain diplomatic relations with the D.P.R.K; American citizens can receive limited consular help from the Swedish Embassy (usually emergencies only).

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