The world knows very little about what happens inside North Korea – but the citizens of the isolationist country know even less about the outside world.
The leaders of the country rule with fear, secrecy and complete authority. The country is powered by propaganda and a pseudo-religion built around the powerful Kim family.
It is hard to get access to North Korea but we have travelled inside the country, under the watchful eyes of local authorities, to capture a glimpse of life for the local people. What we found was a primitive society without the technical and electronic luxuries most countries take for granted. Life feels safe and ordered – but only because to step out of line could mean death.
The Mass Games (pictured above), held in Pyongyang in the biggest stadium on earth, is a performance that involves more than 100,000 people. As well as the acrobats, dancers and musicians, there are 20,000 schoolchildren who hold up cards to form the incredible backdrops
Local people are brought in by the busload each day to visit the mausoleum of Kim Il Sung (the Eternal President). These ladies are dressed in traditional outfits are are getting ready to go in and see the leader’s embalmed body.
This is the Revolutionary Martyrs’ Cemetery, the graveyard of the greatest heroes who fought against the Japanese. School groups are lined up ready to climb the steps and pay their respects with gifts of flowers.
This is Pyongyang, the capital. The river runs through the centre of the city and the buildings stretch out from it. The large construction you can see on the left is the hotel for the foreigners – conveniently built on an island so the bridges can be guarded at night.
There is a preoccupation with war in North Korea – probably not surprising seeing as the country has technically been at war for more than sixty years (the armistice between North and South Korea in 1953 didn’t officially end the conflict – it just agreed on a ceasefire). This is inside the curiously-named ‘Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum’.
Only about ten per cent of the North Korean population is allowed to live in Pyongyang. They are generally people who have a high status within the ruling elites. The rest of the population lives in rural areas and here are some people getting ready to go to work one morning in a small town.
Here you can see a large gate near the demilitarised zone (DMZ). Have a look at the people beneath it to get a sense of how large it is. It’s not just for decoration, though. The whole thing is designed to collapse down onto the road to block it if land forces ever try to come up from South Korea.
In the rural areas, there is a lot of greenery. Rice paddies dominate most of the landscape and the people you can see are living very simple lives without much electronic or mechanical help.
Some people will work in factories to produce goods for the population. Simple goods, though. North Korean authorities approved this visit to a water-bottling factory where bottles are reused over and over again to provide clean drinking water.
There are also quite a few large and public festivals in North Korea, all which seem to have the aim of glorifying the country and its leaders. These people are walking to a square to perform in a mass dance and you’ll notice the monotony in their outfits and how they are walking in the same orderly way that school children might walk to assembly.
Michael Turtle is a journalist and travel blogger who writes about his experiences around the world at Time Travel Turtle.