By Joyce Wong and Thomas Chan
Transportation in North Korea is both retro and modern.
Most flights into North Korea are on state-owned carrier Air Koryo, with Air China also flying into Pyongyang a few times a week.
Air Koryo scored one star out of five on Skytrax, an airline ranking website that looks at a number of criteria including cabin staff service, cabin seating, and onboard catering. The planes are Russian-made Tupolev Tu-204-300.
During the journey from Beijing to Pyongyang on Air Koryo, there was no announcement about take off and landing. Neatly dressed flight attendants passed out hamburgers with meat the texture of mashed potatoes. Drinks available were North Korean beer, apple juice or water.
In Pyongyang, many locals ride bicycles. Women were banned from riding bikes until 2012, when the current leader Kim Jong-un lifted it. Reports say the ban was reinstated last year, but we saw a few women on bicycles. A bikes costs bout 2,000 won, or about US$ 21 at the official rate, one tour guide said.
Buses and trams in the capital were packed and a mix of styles and years, some double-deckers and others that looks straight out of the 1950s.
There were also a surprising number of cars on the roads. A tour guides said a private car could only be awarded by the government to those who had “made am important contribution” to their mother country. In other words, only the privileged can drive.
DHL, the German express mail service, delivers to North Korea and one of their cars was spotted.
But outside the city, the roads were empty.
Last year 80 Chinese-made taxis, the distinctive Beijing yellow and green, were added to the state fleet.
As tourists, we only were allowed to travel by coach. But a metro ride was included on our itinerary. We got on at Reconstruction Station and rode one stop to Glory Station.
The Pyongyang Metro, which doubles as an air-raid shelter, was built in the 1970s and is the deepest in the world, the tour guide said, though other cities such as St. Petersburg and Kiev also claim the title.
The two metro stations we visited were 100 meters underground and decorated with ornate chandeliers, huge mosaic pictures and copper engravings, reminiscent of the grand Moscow metro. Music plays overhead. Newspapers are displayed for reading on public stands in the station.
Locals pay 5 won for a ride to any of the 16 stations on the two lines. It has been reported that hundreds of thousands ride the subway everyday, though some people believe it is orchestrated for tourists.
Our tour group was told to get only on car one. In the car, a number of us were approached by passengers. One told us he was a historian and author and took the metro to work. Then he praised the current leader Kim jong-un.
Watch a video on Pyongyang’s transportation by Joey Hung and Yanis Chan here:
Watch a video of the one station metro ride by Joanna Wong here: