Where you should be looking on the new North Korea maps from Google
Yesterday Google increased its global omnipresence by updating its Maps service to include North Korea in much more detail.
The story of this mapping and the ‘citizen cartography’ that led to it can be read here, but for those of you looking to dive in and find out what’s what in perhaps the world’s most secretive state then take a look at some of the most notable finds on the new maps. (Follow the links to see in Google Maps.)
Not the setting for a Scooby Doo episode, but rather the Yanggak-do Golf Course. The course was set on Yanggak Island as part of the grounds of a foreigner friendly hotel, but the hotel is being refurbished (possibly replaced) and the golf course has been gone for at least a year according to reports from tourists. It seems there are still some kinks to work out in Google’s new cartographic offering.
North Korea is synonymous with the prison camp system that it maintains. North Korean watchers and Human Rights activists have long studied satellite imagery and are confident they have found the location of many of the camps. This knowledge is now accessible to the wider public and will likely be one of the details causing the most anger within the DPRK regime. The Yodok, BukChang, Hwasong, and the Chongjin camps all feature on the maps in varying detail and various sizes, some as big as small cities. Perhaps the most depressing sight in a map flooded with them is the infamous ‘Camp 22’ and the isolated train station with the sole purpose of servicing the camp.
Like the Gulags, an undoubtedly sore point for the regime, although unlike the gulags the North Korean leadership has never attempted to hide its possession of such facilities, but it may be more disconcerted that its location is now common knowledge. Thus far the Punggye-ri nuclear test site is unlabelled, so this may be the closest you can get to seeing the North’s nuclear program.
Mansudae isn’t exactly a freshly uncovered secret, in fact quite the opposite, the North Korean media have been keen to shine a spotlight on the area since its redevelopment. It is worth taking a look at though for precisely that reason; it is the new showpiece at the heart of the country’s capital. This is the image North Korea is keen to promote to the outside world; an area of new apartments, museums, parks, and of course statues of the Dear Leaders. If ever Pyongyang were to have a tourist hub, it may well be here.
Perhaps seemingly out of place for a nation so devoid of other wildlife (a consequence of the food shortages), the Korea Central Zoo apparently holds over 5,000 animals. The animals are just about viewable from Google Maps’ high overhead viewpoint, but determining what exactly you are looking at may be a push. If the Pyongyang Zoo isn’t to your taste then you can continue your virtual tour of Pyongyang’s entertainment by heading west and taking a look at the extensive grounds of the Mangyongdae Funfair. Both, unsurprisingly, seem largely devoid of guests.
One of the strangest sights when looking into North Korea from the Southern side of the DMZ is the pleasant looking town of KiJong. It looks pleasant because it is North Korea’s infamous propaganda village. A fake town made all the creepier by the 525ft flagpole and North Korean flag dwarfing it. It is still unlabelled on Google Maps but if you find Paju on the South Korean side and then move across the border it is hard to miss (or follow the link in the title).
The internet holds much mockery and it did not take long for the new North Korea maps to get their share. Netizens were quick to submit travel reviews on some unlikely places.
The Bukchang Gulag is apparently “by far the best out of the chain in NK. Kim Jong Un has really outdone himself. There were lots of fun activities on the water, good food and amenities, unbeatable costomer service.”
While Preston Welch comments on his presumably fictional trip “Terrible. After staying a week in the rather fantastic Buckchang Gulag, I had high expectations for the Hoeryong Gulag. I figured Gulag was some sort of chain, like Ritz Carlton only with more Asian-looking dudes… Most of the food consisted of rats, snakes and insects. There was no pool or spa to speak of. Instead, they expected all of us to work 12 hours a day in a hot manufacturing facility. This has been by far the worst leg of my trip to North Korea.”
If you tire of the Gulags, Jodie Stokes recommends a detour to the Yongbyon Nuclear facility. “Wasn’t really sure if I was going to do this tour or not, I mean it’s sooo touristy. I was amazed, however, by how surprisingly open and hospitable the North Korean nuclear techs were. Employees took turns posing with me in front of large bombs; I even got sign one of the smaller missiles. Such a memorable experience. They even gave me free samples to take home! Highly recommend.”
Anything else you’ve spotted on Google Maps? Let us know in the comments.
If this has whetted your appetite for greater insight into the DPRK then take as look at Curtis Melvin’s laboriously detailed and extremely reliable North Korean Maps.