A Peek Inside North Korea's Theme Parks

by Libby Zay 
Posted Jan 21st 2011 01:40 PMUpdated Jan 21st 2011 02:40 PM

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One theme park connoisseur is so obsessed with coasters his passion has taken him to 120 parks in 33 countries around the world--including North Korea, a country known for being constantly on the brink of war.

German-born Stefan Zwanzger, known as "The Theme Park Guy," traveled to the communist state to explore three lesser-known theme parks.

Zwanzger describes the first two as "expectedly run-down" parks that "sprawl Soviet-style over large areas." The final theme park, however, left a lasting impression on Zwanzger, who says the Kaeson Fun Fair offers something North Koreans rarely get to experience in the bleak capital of Pyongyang: nighttime lights.


North Korean Theme Park Pyongyan Fun Fair
The Theme Park Guy

North Korean Theme Park Pyongyan Fun Fair
The Theme Park Guy

North Korean Theme Park Pyongyan Fun Fair
The Theme Park Guy

North Korean Theme Park Pyongyan Fun Fair
The Theme Park Guy

North Korean Theme Park Pyongyan Fun Fair
The Theme Park Guy

North Korean Theme Park Pyongyan Fun Fair
The Theme Park Guy

North Korean Theme Park Pyongyan Fun Fair
The Theme Park Guy

At night, most of Pyongyang descends into total darkness when electricity is cut to light up monument spotlights and statues of leaders. But at Kaeson, visitors get to experience a ray of light--as well as a shining, "flying" roller coaster imported from Italy that offers an escape from a country that Zwanzger describes as "a depressing nightmare."

When asked to compare the North Korean theme parks he visited to counterparts in the U.S., Zwanzger says the two older parks "resemble Coney Island before the renovation," while the other is "nothing less than a piece of Six Flags."

But the comparison doesn't stop there. Zwanzger's most telling observation is that the park isn't very different from others found around the world--and neither are the visitors.

"The locals in the park laugh, stare, giggle, scream and even flirt. If they would dress differently you wouldn't know that you are in North Korea," he tells AOL Travel News.

Still, the Stalinist regime is evident. Even at the theme park, Zwanzger was constantly monitored by a guide--a mandatory companion for all foreigners. No matter how many times he wanted to ride a roller coaster, his guide would have to be right there with him.

On the bright side, Zwanzger says his guide--who was initially very serious--began to loosen up toward the end of his trip.

"They speak several foreign languages, have their own mobile phones and even watch American movies at school," says Zwanzger of the guides.

Will tourists begin to flock to North Korea's amusement parks now that the country has lifted travel restrictions? Probably not, but for a theme park buff like Zwanzger the trip seems like a highly amusing, once-in-a-lifetime experience.


All photos courtesy of The Theme Park Guy.
Filed Under: News

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Zaruka

A photoshoot of the Kaeson Youth Park in North Korea that I took in August is at http://www.flickr.com/photos/zaruka/sets/72157624666295747/

This replaces the older park and I would not say they rarely have fun. The bowling alley is packed with people and there are other amusements around the country. I would agree they are not as numerous as in other Asian nations for sure.

January 25 2011 at 9:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
NYNURSE

Did they close the park for the day during his visit?
I could put more people in a bus.

January 24 2011 at 1:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
loufalce

Is the roller coaster called "The Chairman"? Also, wonder if they have a life size replica of the "Pueblo".

January 24 2011 at 10:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
SteveO

LMAO

January 24 2011 at 10:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Cathy

I know that this young man isn't old enough to remember the heyday of Coney Island, after the old Luna Park burned down. From the 1930s to the mid-1960s, it was the place to be on the East Coast. Coney Island, Palisades Park, and Freedomland - a summer of fun for everyone. The Coney Island of today is a sad remnant of what it once was - all that's left is the parachute drop (unuseable today) and the Wonder Wheel and the Cyclone. Hooray for urban development!
AT least the North Koreans have a little something to enjoy. Of course the government will only let them see what they want them to see. How depressing.

January 23 2011 at 1:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Nora

the picture of (what i assume is) the italian rollercoaster looks hilarious! seriously, they look like they have slug bodies. glad the north koreans get to have a little fun... it's not their fault their leader is crazed!

January 21 2011 at 3:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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