What it's like inside North Korea ahead of the country's first communist-party summit in decades

North Korea is getting ready to host its first Workers’ Party congress since 1980, and a team from The Washington Post has gone inside the communist country to see how it’s preparing for the big summit.

They have documented some strange sights so far, including militaristic children’s toys inside a kindergarten classroom and Jim Beam whiskey at the airport.

Correspondent Anna Fifield described landing at North Korea’s “brand new and very sparkling” airport terminal, which recently opened and has duty free stores and a coffee shop.

One of the airport stands sells foreign liquor:

Reporters saw a man bringing a giant Sony television from the Beijing airport through customs in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.


The Washington Post team also saw a nice-looking coffee shop in the airport:

The vast majority of North Korea’s population doesn’t have access to such luxuries, but the country’s new airport is a showpiece aimed at the “Donju,” or “masters of money,” class, according to Reuters.

North Korea touted its new airport in propaganda pictures last year, and the photos from the Post look similar to what was displayed in the state media images. But few average North Koreans are likley to ever use the country’s gleaming new airport — there are only a few airlines that fly in and out of North Korea, and most of the country’s tourists are from Russia and China.

Once the team was on the ground, Fifield was given a conspicuous armband marking her as a reporter:

The first night, Fifield noted that the North Korean capital was surprisingly well-lit:

North Korea is notorious for its lack of energy. NASA satellite images have shown how different the Hermit Kingdom looks at night compared to its neighbours, South Korea and China.

Fifield also noted the unusual amount of traffic and people milling about the capital:


A mass of people were gathered downtown, likely to practice for a parade for the Workers’ Party congress:

“The whole way, even though it was so wet, there were a lot of people out everywhere,” Fifield said in a Post video.

“In the center of the city, we saw lots of people who were gathered, and presumably they were there to practice for parades and events that will take place as part of the Workers’ Party congress.”

Reuters noted that the streets of Pyongyang have been flooded with taxis in recent years as North Korea’s moneyed class builds up.

But some streets were still empty:

The Post got a look at the building where the congress will be held:

Perhaps the strangest sight the team has reported so far is a North Korean kindergarten:

Fifield also saw five-litre bottles of a popular Korean alcoholic beverage on sale for $2.60:

The Post described the Workers’ Party congress as the “highest-level meeting that can be convened in North Korea.” At previous iterations of the congress, major policies have been unveiled, although it’s unclear what exactly is on the agenda for this year’s forum.

Here’s the Post’s video from the start of their trip:

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