The Pyongyang Metro is one of the must visits when one travels to Pyongyang. Bizarre as it sounds, tour groups to other countries usually avoid the metro or subway system as means of transport, but not for North Korea. The Pyongyang Metro is a place of interest on it’s own. It is not only old fashion but unique at the same time. To me, it was a one-of-a-kind tourist destination. However, tourists aren’t allowed to travel freely on the Metro without their guides. Don’t get me wrong, the metro functions as a normal public transport for the locals, just not for tourists. It is an interesting place to take a look. Not only do you get to ride along with the locals who commute daily, the architecture and interior designs are fabulous. It is indeed a one of a kind experience. The Pyongyang Metro is most famously known for it’s depth. Boasting to be the world’s deepest underground metro system, the metro is at least 110m deep and it is also designed to be used as a bomb shelter with blast doors placed in the hallways. The Pyongyang Metro has only two lines namely the Hyŏksin Line and Chollima Line.
Since the completed metro is located on the western side of the Taedong river, many of the citizens who live along these areas commute mostly using the metro. The Pyongyang Metro is one of the cheapest in the world to ride, at only five won (about 0.01 USD) per ticket. The entire metro network is completely underground. The design of the network was based on metro networks in other communist countries, in particular the Moscow Metro and Beijing’s Line 2 stations
When we arrived at the station, we could see that the ticket machines that had no doors and there were 2 guards who were looking at us as we passed through. However, the station entrance looked dull. There was only one clock hanging on the wall, some Korean letters in red and the ceiling was decorated with coloured glass flowers. There were no advertisements whatsoever. I did not see any ticket machines or booths, I wondered where they got their tickets. After passing through the guards and machine came the super deep and long escalator. Once you get on the escalator, you can hear propaganda music being played in the background. The escalator was slow and deep. It felt like we were in a creepy circus and traveling back into time at the same time.
As we were moving downwards slowly into the deep undergroung, the Koreans on the opposite side that was going up stared back at us with this expressionless and colourless look. It made me wonder what was going in their minds? Well, to be fair they were staring at the caucasians from our group. Not so much staring at me and my wife. It was indeed an awkward but unique experience. At the end of the escalator, we had to walk pass a long pathway that led to the train platform. Again, there were no advertisements at all. It was just white walls, some rather dimmed lights and marbles for the interior.
Upon reaching the platform, everything changed. This magnificent and gorgeous platform emerged right in front of my eyes. I was awestrucken by the artistry and beauty of the platform designs. It was like a glamourous soviet-era train station that was carefully designed and crafted to every detail. There it was right in front of me, decorated with 70s chandeliers and filled with gorgeous propaganda reliefs. The ceilings were filled with magnolia flower (their national flower) carvings and on the walls, there were these carefully structured but exquisite pieces of mosaic artworks. It felt like there was always stories behind that particular station. No doubt the most amazing thing about the Pyongyang Metro is its cleanliness. It is by far the cleanest metro stations I’ve been to. No awful pee smell, no trash and definitely no graffiti. One interesting fact about the metro was that it was so deep that the temperature of the platform maintains a constant 18 °C (64 °F) all year.
The trains were also from the 70s. It still functioned perfectly well and was in tip top condition. We then got to ride on the train. In the cabin, we could see everyone looking for their seats. Some people were staring at us while others were chuckling. As the whistle blows, people standing near the door had to manually shut it. We traveled to about 3 stations in total. It was said that tourists were allowed to travel to a limited number of stations. So, I asked my guide if it was true. He said no it wasn’t. We could opt to visit each and every station without restrictions. However, traveling to every single station would consume too much time. I wasn’t going to do that because there were photographs to be taken elsewhere. There had been cases where tourists who managed to visit all stations as claimed in Wikipedia. I will try to put this into my plan for my next visit. It would be really fun to do.
We stopped at one station where it was less grander but still beautiful. There was a golden Kim Il Sung statue at the end and mosaic artworks at the side. This station had shorter chandeliers but it was brighter. As we exited the station, our guides showed us the electronic train route. It was very old school and had buttons you could press. The train routes would light up upon pressing. I guess it was quite an innovation back in the days and it looks absolutely retro. We ended our metro journey at the Kaesŏn (“Triumph”) station. That’s where the Arch of Triumph was located.
As usual, enjoy these photos of the Pyongyang Metro.
Check out a short video of the Pyongyang Metro and experience it yourself.