A Peek Inside North Korea's Theme Parks
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.
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.
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