In the aftermath of WWII, many things were changing. New lines were being drawn, and one of those lines split the Korean peninsula in two. The world would be left with North Korea and South Korea. The relations between the two nations were hostile for over 70 years, but recently some light has shone through the DMZ. However, even if they do reunite, the two cultures will need some time to congeal together, as their ways of life and culture are very different. Check out these 40 images that show just how different the two countries truly are.
Fun in the Sun
In those hot days of summer, there are few things better than hitting a waterpark with your friends and family. Both North and South Koreans have access to water parks for just this reason.
As with most things, the way they head out to the pools is vastly different, though. Typically, North Korea is a little more traditional and conservative, while South Korea looks very Western in the way they suit up for the park.
There are a lot of differences between North and South Korea, even when you look at the skyline of both the country’s capitals. The top is from Pyongyang, and though there is a tall skyscraper-like building, they are nowhere near as modern as the city of Seoul.
On top of that, you can see the pollution very clearly in the North Korean capital, which is odd, as there are fewer cars!
There is only one airline in North Korea, and it is rated as one of the worst airlines in the world. On the flip side, South Korea has a multitude of carriers, plus those of other countries, as well.
Another difference is that there are very few flights into North Korea, whereas South Korea has a wide range of flight options. This is because of its place in the world economy and its efforts to improve tourism.
Both countries make their lifeguards dress in a uniform. The difference comes out in both functionality and formality. The North Korean lifeguard pictured here looks more like a flight attendant than someone who is going to jump in the water and save you.
The South Korean lifeguard is a little more properly dressed for the task at hand. Plus, he is wearing some sort of first aid kit. Both are probably skilled; one just looks more ready, that’s all.
We all know that one of the most iconic things in most Asian countries are its school uniforms. Here, you can see the difference between North and South Korea very easily. The North Korean uniform looks more traditional and is just as cute as the South Korean option.
The South Korean uniform looks more like a Westernized private school design. The other big difference is that the girl in the top image is fresh-faced, while it looks like the one below her is wearing a little makeup.
Once again, we take a look at the differences between students, but this time, we have moved up to college. College is important in both cultures, but as you can see, the dress code and style are just a bit different.
The North Koran student is a little more formal and conservative. The South Korean student seems to be dressed more in a trendy style, as well as a little more casual.
The culture and outlook on history are different, and that means that their ideas of monuments will also differ. In North Korea, it is run by a dictator who wants to commemorate his and his family’s excellence.
In South Korea, it is more about remembering than idolizing. You can see the stark difference between these two examples. The North Korean monument is a place to come and almost worship in reverence, and the South Korean war monument is something to help commemorate a tragic event.
Life in the capitals is different, but there are still a few similarities, we are sure. However, when you get into the more rural parts of the two countries, the difference becomes very evident. Take a look at these two small cities.
The top is clearly a rural city that has old buildings that look as if they need a little work. On the other side of that coin is the South Korean city, which looks like it is outside of the modern city but still a little rural.
Tourism in North Korea is limited, but South Korea is booming. Because of this, as well as the political atmosphere, the tour guides dress differently and are allowed to share different things with those they take around.
In this image, you can see that the South Korean guide is a little more informal and looks like she may use a word or two of slang. The North Korean guide, on the other hand, looks like she may ask you to drop and give her twenty.
North Korea is a communist nation, and along with that comes a need to promote and plaster propaganda all over the place, including on the front of government buildings. This gives the building a unique look and one very different from the South Korean counterpart.
In the south, the government buildings look more modern and often blend in with the rest of the buildings surrounding them, so there is a big difference!
Both countries understand the need for kids to get out into the fresh air and interact with kids their own age. The only difference is in the execution of these summer camps. North Korean summer camps are very structured and exclusive.
The child that goes to a summer camp in South Korea finds a fun-filled and ethnically diverse gathering of kids. They learn and grow but in a slightly less formal manner.
Just Need to Grab a Few Things
The grocery store is another area where the two countries differ, as well. This is not only in the layout and organization of the stores themselves, but also in how the people dress to go to the store. You can see that both are well organized, but the store in the South seems a little more structured.
Then, when you look at the difference between the attire of the two dads, you can see that the South Korean dad is a little fancier than the one in the North.
Transportation – Buses
Getting from place to place is important to any economy. However, in North Korea, taking a bus from city to city, at least in the rural parts of the country, looks dangerous and vastly different than transportation in South Korea.
In South Korea, there are larger, more modern buses. These buses have safety features and look like they may get you to your destination just a little faster.
Art takes on a new meaning when it is basically state-ran. Even fine art in North Korea is monitored and censored. Many artists have taken to including the “Great Leader” in their paintings.
In South Korea, though, the art scene is vast and ranges from fine art to modern and everything in between. With their freedom of expression, many artists show their love and reverence for their country and life, in general.
In North Korea, cars are expensive things to own, so many people choose to ride bikes. This is great for the environment and less expensive to maintain. Often, you will see large groups like this riding up and down the streets.
With all the modern trappings comes a need to get from place to place fast, and that means more cars and buses. This is a typical street in South Korea. What a difference!
Age Is Just a Number
Have you ever met someone and thought they were older than they are? This might happen if you met this college student from North Korea. In comparison to his South Korean counterpart, he definitely looks a lot older.
Whether this is because of the uniform or simply because of their different ways of life is hard to tell, but when looking at these two 20-something students, there is a clear difference. From the haircut to the clothes to the facial expression, you would never guess they were the same age.
Like tour guides on the street, the ones located in the museum of each country have a lot of differences between them. In North Korea, they are told what they can say, and they must dress in a traditional, conservative manner.
The South Korean museum guides can be a little more laid back, and though they have to cover the same things as the others, they can change up how they express it.
Each nation celebrates many different holidays, and each does so with elaborate festivals and events. One of them is just a little more regimented and conservative. The North Korean festivals are occasions for the people to dress up, and there is a marked lack of outside eyes.
In South Korea, however, their festivals are a little more liberal and certainly attract a lot of tourists. Either way, they are beautiful!
There is always construction going on, and that is true in both nations. However, the method of building and the tools available are very different. In North Korea, unless the project is a state-sponsored project, the worker may have to find inventive ways to get stuff done.
In South Korea, though, there is a boom in construction companies, and because of their economy, these corporations tend to have all the latest equipment.
The authorities of each nation share a common job, but that is about where the similarities end. For instance, take these bike cops. North Korean motorcycle cops ride on a moped and don’t have to deal with nearly as much traffic.
Like with many of the differences, it comes down to financing, and in South Korea, they are financed well enough to actually get motorcycles. This is good because they have a lot more to deal with.
Both nations utilize a well-structured subway system. The setup and layout, as well as the attendant’s uniforms, are very different, though. Once again, the North Korean offering is more conservative and utilizes the walls for more state-sponsored art.
The South Korean subway looks like many of the other subways across the globe. Plus, it is very efficient and seems to be clean, too! That is different from a lot of other subways, for sure!
The arts are one of the places where the two countries differ the most. In North Korea, most art is censored, and only approved pieces can be seen. That even includes the theater.
In South Korea, it is more liberal, and different types of theater shows are able to be seen. This includes traditional theater, like the one in the picture, as well as world-class plays and musicals from around the world.
Having open trade with the rest of the world allows South Korea to bank money that they can then spend on the infrastructure of their country. This leads to well-made bridges and good conditions on the roads.
However, in North Korea, they are limited in their trade, and with the way the government is run, that doesn’t leave much of a budget for keeping their roads and bridges in good condition.
Even when you go out to eat, there is a difference in the atmosphere of the restaurant. It can be seen and felt. In North Korea, it seems that a majority of the restaurants are often not filled to capacity and have a little more organization to them.
Whereas, in South Korea, it is more popular to dine out, probably because people can afford it. This means that the environment is a little more hectic.
Once again, transportation shows up as a major difference. This time, it is the transportation used to get Korean children to school. In North Korea, much like getting from city to city, the kids (especially in rural North Korea) are bused to school in what looks to be a dump truck.
South Korean children make their way to their daily education the same way as many others do – in a giant yellow school bus.
This is one area where there isn’t much difference, per se. However, there is just enough for us to mention it in this piece. Both circuses have performers executing fascinating and awe-inspiring feats.
The only major difference is that the North Korean circus is a little more sparse when it comes to the visual aspect. In fact, the North Korean circus seems to harken back to a simpler time.
In the heat of the summer, everyone loves a little time at the beach. This is the same whether the individual is from South or North Korea, but the way they visit those beaches varies. Once again, it has more to do with what is worn and how the space is used.
In North Korea, the people are more conservative, so it is not shocking to see a person in full pants and a polo lounging in the sand. In the south, it is more packed, and the garb is more like what we all expect at the beach…swimsuits and shorts.
Farming is vital in any country, and the jobs may be very similar, but the atmosphere and other aspects definitely are not. The North Korean farmer’s landscapes look a little old school with sticks and hay coverings. Plus, he looks like he needs a few extra layers.
The South Korean farmer looks a little more casual, and his crops are guarded by chain-link and hooked up to electricity.
When you are looking to make a big deal, many businessmen and women head out to the links. This will lead to two different experiences depending on which Korea you are living in.
In North Korea, it is very basic and not as manicured as in South Korea. The golf courses in South Korea are also bigger and offer more amenities than the ones in North Korea, but hey, at least you’re getting your exercise in!
Okay, so street art may be stretching the definition of what can be found on some of the walls in North Korean metro stations. Nonetheless, it is art that is on a wall, so technically, it’s street art.
In most of the world, street art is social commentary or expressions of one’s feelings. In North Korea, it is about making people understand the importance of their leader.
It is a given that the money would be different, right? The currency of both countries both depicts heroes and important figures in the respective country’s history. For North Korea, that means the leaders and generals – all of whom are men!
In South Korea, the variety of faces that grace the currency range from leaders to philosophers and even include a woman! That is amazing and more than some countries are willing to do!
Once again, the difference in this structure is clear. From the layout and the decorations in North Korea, they are more conservative, and the walls are covered in art depicting the greatness of their leader.
In South Korea, the look is more like the rest of the world. On top of that, the sitting structure in the waiting rooms is vastly different, as you can see in the images.
Given the strict rules and guidelines of education in North Korea, you would definitely imagine that anything having to do with school activities is going to be different. This also includes when the children head outside of school to get a little extra education.
Field trips differ in each country not only in the way the children dress, but how they make it from place to place. South Korean kids are a little less militaristic in their lines and their backpack selection.
Parade or Protest
Squares and public places in each country are used for gatherings and parades, but that is where the similarities end. In North Korea, these festivities are typically state-mandated and require a certain level of formality.
In South Korea, however, they are used not only for festivities but for the people to bring their concerns to the government and others. Take a look at this ex-military man who seems to be protesting North Korea’s nuclear testing.
Newspapers have always been the favorite thing for communist regimes to use to disseminate what they want their people to know. Thus, there is a marked difference when reading a North Korean newspaper and a South Korean newspaper for this reason, among many others.
All media has to be approved by the state in North Korea, and this means that what is put out is skewed and often very nationalistic.
Foreign Language Book Selection
Once again, any form of media, whether it is a newspaper or book, has to go through rigorous protocol in North Korea. Many foreign language books are not translated due to their divisive ideas.
That is not to say that there is not a selection of books allowed, it’s just not as large or versatile as what is permitted in South Korea. This limits the people’s ability to take in other views that might be counterproductive to the North Korean leaders.
Sure, there are some South Korean girls who go with a more traditional look, but in North Korea, they don’t have much of a choice. They have not been exposed to western styles that much. Therefore, they go with what they know.
On the other hand, South Korean ladies have a plethora of options! Of course, this means that there are going to be a lot of differences between wedding ceremonies.
Sure, you go there, and it is surrounded by snow and beautiful slopes. The hotels of the resort offer you all the amenities, too. However, the style of the layout and what those amenities are varies from North Korea to South Korea.
A lot of the ski resorts in South Korea almost mimic a Swiss chalet-like style when it comes to design. Whereas, in North Korea, the architecture seems to be a unique mixture of modern and traditional.
Downtime is key to everyone’s sanity, but the way that time is spent is very different in these two countries. On a weekend in South Korea, you may see families filling up the parks and camping overnight.
In North Korea, like many other things, leisure time is a lot more structured. You may find families filling a public square to hear inspiring words from their Supreme Leader. Whatever makes you happy!
We have already mentioned that personal ownership of cars is limited in North Korea, as cars are quite expensive. This means that the typical parking lot in the middle of the day on a weekend will look very different.
In South Korea, having a car is almost a necessity to get around, and that leads to the parking lots of malls and other establishments getting a little crowded. This makes it hard to find a spot, a problem they don’t have in North Korea, that’s for sure!
Traveling Within the Countries
Train stations in North Korea may be aesthetically pleasing — with chandeliers and marble walls — but unfortunately, the same can’t necessarily be said for travel. Why, you ask? Well, traveling within the country is even restricted for residents.
This means that the comings and goings of citizens in the country are strictly controlled. On the other hand, though, South Korea’s bullet trains speed from one end of the country to another, allowing its citizens to travel completely freely.
As you can see in the photo of North Korea, the country’s roads are usually empty, with little to no traffic. And while anyone would love to have the luxury of speeding down an empty street rather than sitting for hours in traffic, we have to admit that picture is pretty eery.
There’s a lot of hustle and bustle in South Korea, however. Being that Seoul is one of the largest cities in the world, it’s not surprising to see the streets filled with cars.
Let’s be real here, people — the rural fields of North Korea don’t exactly look enticing. We mean, the land outside of the main cities look pretty barren. Still, it helps to know that the country holds a tree planting day every March in order to bring the land back to life.
If you look at South Korea, though, you’ll notice that the country’s rural landscape is lush and in bloom — with animals all around. According to the photographer that snapped these photos, South Korea has much more green than its counterpart.
Unlike many parts of the world, the youth in North Korea don’t really have much freedom when it comes to self-expression. Still, the country does have places of leisure like the Taedonggang beer shop in Pyongyang.
South Korea, on the contrary, allows its youth and teenagers to fully express themselves. As you can see in the photo, these kids seem to have no care in the world. South Korea even hosted the Winter Olympics back in 2018 in PyeongChang.
The Benefits of Being a Resident
Here you can see the residential areas in both North Korea and South Korea. In terms of aesthetics, North Korea definitely has it down to a tee. What’s more, it turns out that citizens in the country don’t have to pay for housing, communal services, or bills.
In fact, apartments are given to them for free after they’ve given their marriage registration. On the other hand, a small apartment in South Korea can cost up to $180,000.
Don’t be mistaken, people. North Koreans do have gadgets. The country has its own factory that produces televisions, laptops, and smartphones (‘Arirang’ runs on Android). These products are manufactured in China and branded in North Korea.
Still, even with this, few people actually have enough money to buy these kinds of goods. Similar to Westernized parts of the world, citizens of South Korea have the freedom to use any and all technology without restrictions — which you can see from the photo here.
Fashion Dos and Don’ts
While there have been many false myths regarding fashion in North Korea, it turns out that women are allowed to wear pants and sport different types of haircuts.
Fairly fashionable clothes can be bought in international supermarkets or from sellers in China. Still, as you can see, women dress a bit more conservatively compared to those in South Korea. South Korea is considered to be one of the most stylishly dressed countries in the world, and we can obviously see why…
Education in North Korea is based on a year of preparatory school and 10 years of compulsory studying. Western literature and geography are among the many school subjects in order to demonstrate the Western way of life.
After this is all completed, young brainiacs and wealthier individuals enter universities, while the rest of the students start looking for a job. For South Koreans, school lasts for 12 years, and local universities are considered to be some of the most prestigious in the world — so much so that many international kids dream about getting a scholarship to go there.
Fruits & Veg
While there’s no famine in North Korea, there is a clear shortage of fruits and vegetables. This is one of the reasons as to why apples and cabbages are extremely popular. Unfortunately, the lack of protein-rich foods influences the average person’s height in comparison to South Koreans.
To fill this protein gap, people have started hunting frogs and turtles. Food carriages — which you can find in the streets of big cities — offer sausage sticks, ice cream, popcorn, and steamed meat buns. On the contrary, Seoul can offer not only rich national cuisine but also many diverse European dishes.
Business Districts and Economy
Here is what the business districts look like in both capitals. While North Korea’s economy is isolated and tightly controlled, South Korea’s economy is one of the world’s most advanced and productive — ranking 12th globally in terms of annual output.
North Korea’s economy, which is difficult to analyze, is generally unable to meet the basic needs of its people. On the other hand, South Korea’s economic growth depends heavily on exports, and the nation leads the world in shipments of semiconductors and memory chips.
These two photos compare a North Korean factory worker in Wŏnsan to her South Korean colleague in Chuncheon. Now, it’s no secret that North Korea is one of the most isolated nations in the world.
Still, what we do know is that North Korean citizens do participate in the workforce, though sometimes they do so against their will. Most North Koreans don’t have a say in their professions, and are assigned a job. On the other hand, South Korea is a thriving nation and offers plenty of job opportunities to its citizens.
Gas Station Workers
As we mentioned previously, North Koreans are often assigned their job. With that being said, citizens can also get a job as a gas station worker.
Although this kind of work may not be ideal for some, residents of South Korea can earn a pretty comfortable income as a gas station worker. In any case, at least people in this country actually have a say in what line of work they go into unlike their North Korean counterparts.
Korean Demilitarized Zone
Pictured here are military officers from North and South Korea. These two men are guarding the Korean Demilitarized Zone — a strip of land running across the Korean Peninsula.
It’s established by the provisions of the Korean Armistice Agreement to serve as a buffer zone between North Korea and South Korea. The demilitarized zone divides the Korean Peninsula roughly in half. This area isn’t open to the public. In fact, access is only granted by the North or United Nations Command.
A Tour Around the Country
Here we have a North Korean tour guide on top of the Tower of the Juche Idea, located in Pyongyang, and her South Korean counterpart on the view deck of 63 Building (officially called 63 Square).
The 63 Building is actually a skyscraper on Yeouido island overlooking the Han River in Seoul. While tour guides exist in both countries, there are many more strict regulations when it comes to taking a tour around North Korea. Then again, that doesn’t come as much of a surprise…
Here is yet another photo comparison of a North Korean driver of a tourist boat and his South Korean counterpart. The driver in North Korea is located on the Taedong River in Pyongyang while the man in South Korea is on the Han River in Seoul.
Sure — you can take a tour around North Korea but if you’re planning on doing so, just be prepared that the whole tour, however long it may be, will be strictly monitored.
College is important, and we have already looked at the difference in style when it comes to this level of education. However, there are a lot more differences when it comes to education, as well as the overall look of the college campuses.
In North Korea, as you would expect, it is very structured and a lot more formal. When comparing the two, South Korea is very much what most people in the West assume college campuses and classes look like.
The internet is another big difference for two reasons. The first is access to the sites, as well as access in general. North Korea monitors what its citizens can take in, so there are several sites we take for granted that are not available. The internet is also not available to everyone.
In South Korea, as you can imagine, there is a much more liberal outlook on what the internet offers its citizens.
Both countries understand the importance of getting out and having a little fun, and that is why each nation has its amusement parks. The rides are very similar in some ways, with South Korea having a little more modern renditions.
However, the way people dress and show their excitement seems to be very different. In South Korea, people dress like we are all used to. However, it seems some people dress a little more formally in North Korea.
Just like the buses that are available, the bus stops are very different, as well. In North Korea, you will find it functional and sparse when you stand on the sidewalk waiting for the next bus.
In South Korea, they like to make them a little more interesting and artistic. For instance, look at this one that looks like on old-school television. Cool, right? Either way works! After all, having an artistic place to wait for the bus is not necessarily a necessity, but it is nice.
Riding the Subway
Because a lot of people in North Korea ride bikes as their main form of transportation, you will find that riding the subway is a little different than in South Korea. Often, there is an order and cleanliness to the subway ride in North Korea. Plus, you will have plenty of personal space.
In South Korea, however, the subway is one of the most popular forms of transportation. That means more crowded cars and significantly less personal space.