To include this review as a warning or danger would be to exaggerate the impact on a visitor. It is more something you should be aware of and indeed I invite you to turn it to your advantage and enjoy the darkness in North Korea.
Without doubt the most famous and best recognised North Korean photographic image is not taken in North Korea at all, but rather from space and at night.
The attached 2012 image is a composite one put together by NOAA’s National Geophysical Data Center from data collected by the US Air Force Weather Agency.
It bluntly reminds us that North Korea is an impoverished country and of its isolation from the rest of the world. It need not be like this.
At a most basic level it is indicative of how little electricity North Korea has. Many readers will have heard of this shortage and how power outages are a regular feature of life throughout the country.
The shortage of electricity and likely power outages were acknowledged by our guides. While the guides can do a very good job of telling you black is white, even the most non-observant tourist, with sight, can work out for themselves if it is dark or not at night. In apologising for the fact that you may encounter power outages, especially outside Pyongyang, our guide hastened to add that blame for this lay fairly and squarely with the United States and its initiated embargoes which made it difficult for North Korea to import fuel and the equipment necessary to produce electricity. In the same manner the US is blamed for the lack of vehicles on the roads.
In relative terms Pyongyang is bathed in light – it’s the white blob on the attached image – but even in Pyongyang power outages occur on a regular basis.
During our 10 day stay in North Korea we encountered perhaps half a dozen power outages. All were of a few minutes duration and most happened as soon as we sat down to eat dinner!
We had no outages in our Pyongyang hotel – the Yanggakdo – which I understand has its own generators. Just as well if you are on the 40th floor.
More noticeable than outages is the fact that the street lighting, neon lights, lit up advertising hoardings, bright security lights, etc that we are all so familiar with elsewhere are pretty much non existent throughout the country.
Quite honestly, I enjoyed this lower level of light and it reminded me of growing up in country Northern Ireland where the only outside lights we saw at night were the stars and the flicker of town lights in the distance. While not advocating that we cut our electricity consumption by 90% plus, a visit to North Korea certainly made me think about how much electricity, and power generally, is needlessly consumed in other countries.
I advise that you bring a torch on your visit to North Korea but based on personal experience power outages were not as common as I had anticipated and it was fun cooking petrol baked clams by bus light – but more about that in a Nampo entry.
There was certainly ample opportunity to recharge camera batteries and the like though I always carry an extra battery anyway and advise that you do likewise.
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries providing general and background information on The Rambling Wombat’s trip to, and travelling in, North Korea which I recommend you read in a particular order. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Getting out of the DPRK by Train. If necessary, go to my North Korea introduction entry – And now for something completely different – to start this loop at the beginning.