Local traditions and culture in North Korea

  • The armistice signing table (Panmunjom)
    The armistice signing table (Panmunjom)
    by DSwede
  • Local Customs
    by Willettsworld
  • Local Customs
    by Willettsworld

Most Viewed Local Customs in North Korea

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    Hard-wired radios

    by DSwede Updated Feb 8, 2009

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    Any and all residences in DPRK, as well as the public spaces are all wired with broadcast speakers.

    The public can only adjust the volume of these speakers, but cannot change the channel, since they are hard-wired. Nor can they turn them off. If the wires are severed, they may have to answer to the officials.

    These speakers are used to pipe propaganda to the masses, as well as many public announcements. Air-broadcast radio is not an option for most North Koreans, and cell phones are not allowed, therefore these squawk-box horns serve to communicate to people when they are not at home watching the government TV channels.

    Speakers at Rakwon department stores

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    Police Women

    by DSwede Updated Feb 8, 2009

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    Particularly in the city center of P'yongyang you will pass Police Women in the intersections directing traffic. In the outer cities, the traffic control becomes a bit more equal between men and women. But P'yongyang has the vast majority being women.

    As with most of the country, electricity is a premium. Street lights and traffic signals are no exception. That and the fact that posting someone in each intersection is a way to keep everyone employed adds to the unique sight of Police Women in their circle.

    These traffic officers stand on the little metallic square, in the center of white painted circle, which is likewise in the center of the intersection. If there is any traffic, they must yield to their instructions or be served a violation.

    The woman's movements are rigid, sharp, exact... military. They stand, rotate about-face, snap their arms and their baton in militaristic marching fashion. It is a constant ballet for their entire working shift, regardless of the number of vehicles that pass.

    Police Woman in P'yongyang

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    Stalls/kiosks

    by Willettsworld Written Sep 10, 2008

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    Dotted around the city are small stalls that sell fruit juices and, I think, cider etc. I went up to one that was on the corner of the foreign language bookshop we visited and tried to buy something with the North Korean Won that I obtained from my hotel only to get a horrified look on the face of the lady at the kiosk. Buying something with local money is a definite no-no. On another street corner we sure several kiosks lined together that appeared to be selling fast-food of some sort.

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    The people

    by Willettsworld Written Sep 10, 2008

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    Unlike in China, where residents cycle, the vast majority of residents appear to walk and bicycles are notable by their absence. People walk around wearing old style clothes that look like they're from the 1940's and 50's and very few people where any bright colours. It's all drab blacks, greys and dark blues with white shirts, almost like a uniform. Young girls in their 20's wear unpleated skirts that are just below the knee. There's also hardly any branded sports clothing or personal items such as bags. The only time we mixed with them was when we visited the Pyongyang Metro and even then it felt like we were on the set of The Trueman Show.

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    Traditional costume

    by Willettsworld Written Sep 10, 2008

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    At a couple of attractions that we visited, we were met by a guide who wore the Korean national costume which, I think, is called the hanbok. Our tour guide wore one on the morning of our departure and also they were for sale in the souvenir shop at the Yanggakdo Hotel. Also young girls were wearing them at a school we visited. Basically, people where them whenever they entertain or put on a performance or a service to impress.

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    Kim Il Sung pin

    by Willettsworld Written Sep 10, 2008

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    Every adult in North Korea has to wear a pin with Kim Il Sung on it to show their allegiance to him, everyday of their lives. I believe they actually get given them on their 17th birthday and different styles don't actually mean anything but I can't confirm this. All I can confirm is that there is no way of buying them in North Korea. You can buy them in China but it won't be the same as buying them in the country they come from. The photo is of our video camera man who was with us for a week filming us visiting each site.

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    Pyongyang traffic ladies

    by Willettsworld Written Sep 10, 2008

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    Some junctions (intersections) in Pyongyang do have traffic lights but these didn't seem to be working when I was there. Instead, Pyongyang is full of rather attractive, young traffic ladies dressed in a blue skirt with a white uniform jacket and hat. They hold out a red and white baton that glows at night and stand in a circle in the middle of the junction. They wave the baton in the direct that the traffic wants to go in. They do almost robotic like movements with their heads to look at what traffic is approaching from each direction and then swivel themselves around to face the oncoming traffic. An Icelandic guy on my tour got quite carried away by taking pictures of them from our bus and we pointed them out to him as we passed.

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    Information with an open mind

    by DSwede Updated Jun 28, 2008

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    Obviously the traveler who finds themselves going to North Korea will tend to be a bit more adventurous, more educated and curious about life on the 'other side'.

    Your tours here will all be for an educational and cultural value, since there is not much of a night life or socializing that you will be allowed to participate in.

    It should go without saying, but I'll say it anyway, take everything that the guides say with an open mind. I have heard many stories about DPRK from war veterans, South Koreans and North Koreans. They all have their own versions of the truth, their own biases and forms of censorship.

    Remember that when you are in North Korea, they will take you to places that they want to show you and tell you information that they want you to believe in. Do not take any of it as the whole truth, but remember what you witnessed and investigate it upon your return home. Many of the bizarre and seemingly unbelievable facts are true, but many of the general stereotypes are misconceptions.

    I will not bore you with anecdotes and trivia, but recommend if you are going to travel to DPRK, read as many varying sources as you can to get. As an example, one tangible way to get a counterpoint would be to visit the DMZ area from South Korea and hear the opposition's arguments.

    The armistice signing table (Panmunjom)
    Related to:
    • Historical Travel

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    Curious look

    by rsudic Written Jan 22, 2008

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    They don't speak languages.
    They don't approach you, unless they are in charge to help you (drivers, guides, waitress, shop girls etc.).
    In Pyongyang, they even won't look at you easily.
    But still, they are curious nation. And the only independent way (probably) to communicate with them is through eye contact (or even a shy smile). Don't try more if your guides are around.

    N.Korean kids

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    Taking photos among Koreans

    by rsudic Written Jan 22, 2008

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    Usually you'll notice government's photographer taking photos of special moments of Koreans, probably because there aren't many who own it. This is great opportunity for you to take the photo without hassle and most of the time, they are very proud.

    N.Koreans

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    The Principles and Calendar of Juche

    by DSwede Updated Oct 18, 2007

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    In downtown P'yongyang, next to the river stands the Tower of Juche. At night time, the flame on the top has an artificial red/orange light to simulate a flame. This is less of a monument to pay respects to, but rather the icon of an Idea.

    Juche is the principle that the late Kim il-Sung created that in short states that North Korea can do everything unassisted, being completely self-reliant. All it takes is hard work and discipline.

    This idea enforces the concept that in any situation, its disciples can overcome any need and obtain their goals by their own had. North Korea can control its own industry, utilities, agricultural production, power generation, education, etc. without the assistance of any outside hand.

    It could be argued that this was yet another way for Kim il-Sung to separate DPRK from the rest of the world and build the dividing wall even higher.

    As another point of fact, North Koreans now subscribe to the Juche Calendar. Similar to the Christian calendar being based off of Jesus, the Juche Calendar is based off of the life Kim il-Sung. Day 1 of Juche was Kim il-Sung's birth, and to this day, events and publications are commonly dated with both Christian and Juche dates.

    Juche Tower in P'yongyang

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  • Soiree on Kim Il Sung´s Birthday

    by histamin32 Written Apr 26, 2003

    In the evening of the 15th of April, Kim Il SungĀ“s birthday, young people come together and dance on the Kim Il Sung square in the centre of Pyongyang.
    One can join in and might even end up on local TV screens...

    Related to:
    • Arts and Culture

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    The women have very nice...

    by ryuguong Written Aug 25, 2002

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    The women have very nice cultural dresses or army uniforms and some smile - they prefer if you ask to be taken for a picture: I requested from our minder would it be possible to marry a North Korean girl and he said: 'There is no law against it..', but the other fellow contiued '..but this time (compare with MUST SEE ACTIVITIES) it is not encouraged!' First impression you may get is that the time has stopped at 1989: no mobiles, many cars 1970s and 1980s (this may change since Fiat Siena plant is operational), pictures in International Friendship exhibitions of friends who have dissappeared from the scene. Pyongyang is one of the most peaceful big cities: few cars, little air pollution, few people. You may also find that North Korea is more hierarchial society as your home country. You will enjoy your discussion with your minders - our where very eager to learn, but most difficult was to explain what is internet to a fellow who never seen it.

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    The North Koreans see...

    by ColmNugent Updated Aug 25, 2002

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    The North Koreans see themselves as the direct descendants of the Koryo dynasty and it is their plan to reunite Korea under that name. The North Koreans are very racially 'pure' - in that there has been no external intermarriage for two generations. They exhibit a quiet pride about this. As a result (I suspect) they have remarkable physical charateristics not seen elsewhere - in stature they are much smaller than in the West and most of SE Asia - startlingly so.

    There is no religion, but you should treat Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il as minor deities - and show respect accordingly, lay flowers, bow when told to etc. It is a cult and whether you think it odd or not, you'd better accept it or you'll have an uncomfortable time (it's also a bit rude not to respect what your hosts respect).

    Wearing a suit is a good idea. You'll be offered a wide range of books praising the revolutionary exploits of the two Kims. In the Pyongyang library there are shelves of books produced by the two Kims on every conceivable subject known to man - clearly very prodigious authors!
    The photograph is of one of the human traffic lights in Pyongyang - note, no traffic! This lady (and her colleagues) have a very respected position in Pyongyang and they carry out their duties with the precision of an Olympic gymnast - absolutely fascinating to watch.
    In terms of souvenirs, you can get stamps and books as well as a range of lapel pins. If you are nice to your guides, they'll let you buy revolutionary hand-painted posters of the type seen all over Pyongyang. These are truly excellent but a bit militaristic for some.

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North Korea Hotels

  • Koryo Hotel

    Pyongyang, North Korea

    Satisfaction: Excellent

    Good for: Families

  • Yanggakdo Hotel

    The are only a small number of hotels in Pyongyang at which tourists are permitted to stay. One of...

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  • Youth Hotel

    Chilgol-dong, Mangyongdae District, Pyongyang, North Korea

    Satisfaction: Terrible

    Good for: Solo

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