Saturday, September 20, 2008

By train across North Korea (1/2)

Download the kmz-file for GoogleEarth to follow our route inside North Korea and see, where the photos were taken. Most of my photos from inside North Korea are now on GoogleEarth.



I woke up at about 5 in the morning. It was still dark, but nevertheless it was interesting to have a look out of the window. I noticed people walking around in the darkness, maybe to reach their place of work.

A map of our trip from Tumangan to Pyongyang:

Slowly it was getting light. The landscape was hilly and covered by maize-fields.

The first photo of the day – a station in North Korea:


My first video inside North Korea:

We approached a town, but due to the delay I couldn't identify it with the help of the timetable...
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Arrival at the station:

I asked the conductors, they told me that this was Kilchu. According to the Russian timetable the train was due to arrive here at 3:58, now it was 6:30.

On the platform there was another train. The conductors said, that it was the Pyongyang – Tumangan train. On the platform there was a booth, where apples and mineral water were sold – the first signs of market economy in North Korea... Also at other stations food was sold at such booths.

Typical seating car:

Also this train had two sleeping cars:

At the rear of the train to Tumangan a helper-locomotive was attached here. Apparently the line is quite steep north of Kilchu.

We left Kilchu at 6:45:

Semaphore: <!--[if gte mso 9]>

The boundaries of the track ballast are usually marked with accurately laid white stones. Every 100 meters a milestone shows the distance to/from Pyongyang. According to them Kilchu is 570 km from Pyongyang. That means that during the night we have done 285 km since Tumangan within 10,5 hours – average speed 27 km/h.

River crossing near Kilchu:

Railway bridges in North Korea usually have no foot-path and no handrails, next to the rails there is just nothing…

Traditional Korean houses near Kilchu:

The whole train:

Somewhere here I made a strange observation: One of the engine drivers opened the door and climbed nearly to the roof of the locomotive. I don't know what he did, he soon returned to the cabin. But that all happened while the train was moving and eletricity (3 kV DC) was in the catenary and the pantographs...

On the roads next to the railway there hardly no cars (only a few lorries, carrying freight and people), but many people walking around. And we also saw many children, obviously going to their school.

7:46 - passing Hak-Sung station:  <!--[if gte mso 9]>

7:57 – arrival at Kimchaek:

When the train arrived or departed at a station there were usually masses of railway employees standing on the platform and blowing whistles. Many passengers were soldiers and I assume that due to the "military first"-policy (called "Songun"-policy and introduced by Kim Jong Il after the death of Kim Il Sung, see ordinary passengers were only allowed to get on, if there were free places after the soldiers boarded...

More houses:

Maize and rice fields:

8:24 – passing Manchun station:

The Eastern sea (Japanese sea):
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Nice beach:


8:34 – passing Il-Shin station:


Maize fields:

Some propaganda (I assume it tells something like “Great progress in the 21st century due to the wise leadership of Kim Jong Il”…)

Near Tanchon a line to an industrial are (refinery, magnesium plant) branches off (source: Googleearth and


At Tanchon station (arr. ~9:00, dep. 9:13) we see this former RZD plazkartniy-car in another domestic train (to Hyesan, if I remember correctly). Very interesting!

Station Tanchon:

2nd hand Chinese diesel locomotive:


Double-section electric locomotive:

South of Tanchon the line to Suram-ni via Sangnong-ni branches off:



Now there is also a travel agency, which can even organize Europe - Pyongyang train trips (but not the route we took). Also I recently found out that theoretically there is a possibility to travel to Rajin via Tumangan legally (but not to Pyongyang).
Click here for more information.


Eurasia 2005: ~35.000 km by train from Europe via Ukraine, Russia and Mongolia to China and back to Europe via Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan:

Total solar eclipse 2008: Trip to the total solar eclipse in the Altay mountains (1st august 2008), including a 6-day trekking trip:


Jeff said...

Very interesting account. You give us a unique view into a very isolated country. Wondering what the slogans that you saw mean?
The two slogans over the train stations:
위대한 선도자 김정일 동지 만세!
Long live the Great Leader Comrade Kim Jong Il!
영광스러운 조선로동당 만세!
Long live the glorious Korean Workers' Party!

The hillside slogan:
21세기의 태양 김정일 장군 만세!
Long live general Kim Jong Il, Sun of the 21st century!

Helmut said...

Hi Javis,

thanks a lot for the translations, very interesting!


Niels said...

Absolutely great travelogue. I found it while using Google Earth to have a closer look at the three-country border at Tumen river.
Thanks for sharing your impressions from North Korea.
Best regards, Niels

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

what a great travelogue.
i'm middle school student in korea
(of course ROK...)
I've never been to there...
DPRK is also secret country for south (may be more than western people..LOL)
and...there are some mistake in your travelogue...
as you can see in the top of the map....the sea which is surrounding the Korean Penninsular is the Sea of Korea (not the japanese sea)
I really appreciate that if you fix that word

i'm always Thank you for your impressive story

oh..and please
don't tease me about
my bad english expressions and grammars
(i'm just middle student now!!)

Jeff said...

Regarding the body of water between the Korean peninsula and Japan, it's not that simple. In fact, calling it the Sea of Korea is a rather extreme position. You can read a summary of the naming issue, along with links to a great deal of references on wikipedia:

Anonymous said...

thank you for sharing your experience!

Anonymous said...

Just amazing story. Can't stop to read. This story is a one of a kind. just amazing!

Thank you for sharing it!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting travel report. It's very peculiar that while all the hardware and rolling stock are extremely weary there seems to be no industrial rubbish, scrap metal or derelict engines or machinery. It seems to me this is due to extreme deficit of industrial machinery and steel.

johnSpanjers said...

Excellent job. Im amazed at the lack of people. You are very fortunate to experience this trip.Thanks for the Travelogue.

Dave Shoup said...

Thanks for the excellent adventure! Found from your photos near Khasan in Google Earth. I would love to see that corner of the world, thank you for sharing your courageous trip.