Last week I led the first ever group of tourists for a city bicycle tour of Pyongyang. This was a major milestone achieved; a new way to explore the city, as previously tourists have been restricted to hopping off and on buses. Now we can spend more time outdoors, stay active, and experience how a North Korean makes their way around Pyongyang – giving us foreigners a better understanding of their daily life. Here’s why we loved cycling in Pyongyang.
1.) Korean bicycle culture – it’s a big deal!
Some say it’s because of sanctions, others say because of lack of money, however, these two factors are used to make the bicycle culture not only popular in the DPRK, but the only viable option. A vast majority of Koreans cycle. It’s rare to meet a Korean who doesn’t know how to ride a bike. They’ll use their bikes for all means of transport whether it’s going to work, picking up your girlfriend or carrying home the groceries.
2.) Puncture and bike repair shops – they’re hard to notice but they’re there!
During our two-day cycling tour we did encounter a puncture or two along the way which was not at all convenient. What was convenient was the number of men sitting along the banks of the river, around shop corners or under bridges geared up with a bucket of water, a tool kit and patches. These guys were super quick and super cheap! Fixing a bicycle tour was only 40 US cents!
3.) Pyongyang, “the flat land”
The direct translation of Pyongyang into English is ‘flat land’, the two favourite words cyclists like to hear. Pyongyang is a vastly sprawled city with large roads, newly installed bicycle lanes and gorgeous scenery. We were able to explore five districts within Pyongyang and each has it’s own characteristic which stands it out from the others. My favourite district was on the east side of Pyongyang, where residents waiting at bus stops and by the side of the tram tracks, high fived us as we waved and said hello.
4.) DPRK made bikes aren’t bad
The DPRK government recently introduced a law that does not allow foreign bicycles to be sold or ridden in the country. So the only way to cycle in the country is to use their very own bikes. Before our cycle tour began we went to a local store to pick up our very own bicycles. We literally rode them out of the store. These beauties were cheap, fairly reliable and comfortable to ride around the city.
5.) The (comparative) freedom
With the wind in your hair, the locals staring at our group, and even the children pointing in surprise, I never felt so close to the local life of Pyongyang than joining them on their own streets. I’ve been working as a tour guide in the DPRK for three years and seeing the hustle and bustle from the bus was one thing to experience, but to be apart of the hustle and the bustle on the footpath with the pedestrians was another. An experience we’re certainly looking at doing again.