Mountains and dams at Pyongyang bus stops


Pyongyang, North Korea — The bus stops of Pyongyang have no advertisements. Instead of exhortations to buy an energy drink or sign up to a mobile service, travellers are offered soothing images before they cram into packed vehicles.

From mountain, coastal and farming landscapes to views of dams and city squares, the depictions have no words or slogans, unlike the ubiquitous propaganda posters that take the place of commercial messages in North Korean urban centres.

Buses are by far the most common means of public transport in the capital of around three million people, where access to private cars is rare, and offer the most extensive network. Tickets cost 5 won each – less than 0.1 US cents at free-market rates, making journeys virtually free.

AFP journalists working in Pyongyang are restricted in what and who they can photograph, film and interview by North Korean rules.

The city is one where everyone almost always appears to have a purpose, whether going to or from work, or taking part in some kind of group activity.

At bus stops, though, commuters are forced to disrupt that process as they wait for a vehicle.

It is a moment that reveals their private interests – whether talking to friends and colleagues, pensively watching the world go by, or sometimes playing with a smartphone.

Shop assistant Sin Hyi-Yong uses the time to plan her day, she said, crediting the country’s founding father Kim Il-Sung – the 105th anniversary of whose birth will be marked this weekend – and his descendants and successors for building up the system.

“When you go to and from work using the bus you can feel the warm love of the great leaders every time,” she said.