A 360-degree view of an evening patriotic program in Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea on May 1, 2016. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post) – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

 

A 360-degree view of an evening patriotic program in Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea on May 1, 2016. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

In May, North Korea held a rare congress of its Workers’ Party, the first in 36 years. It was a big deal, with the government allowing about 130 foreign journalists into the country. The Washington Post sent three reporters to cover the event.

Selfie with (L-R) Washington Post photographer Linda Davidson, Video journalist Jason Aldag and reporter Anna Fifield with tickets and visas bound for North Korea in Beijing International Airport in Beijing, China on May 3, 2016. – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

Selfie with, from left, Washington Post photographer Linda Davidson, video journalist Jason Aldag and reporter Anna Fifield with tickets and visas bound for North Korea in Beijing International Airport in Beijing, China on May 3, 2016. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post)

An Air Koyro flight attendant makes final preparations for takeoff in Beijing taking foreigners and media to the main airport in Pyongyang, North Korea on May 3, 2016. – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

An Air Koyro flight attendant makes final preparations for takeoff in Beijing taking foreigners and media to the main airport in Pyongyang, North Korea, on May 3, 2016. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

After the four-day congress ended, North Korea celebrated as only totalitarian regimes can. With a massive parade consisting of a cast of thousands all synchronized in perfect lock step cheering and chanting in unison. The spectacle was attended by the country’s dictator, Kim Jong Un, who just days before was unanimously named chairman of North ­Korea’s Workers’ Party. The move solidified his grip on power.

During the congress, Kim boasted of North Korea’s advances in nuclear, missile and satellite technology. All of which appeared in some form or another as parade floats during the spectacle. As the 360-degree video shot by Post photojournalist Linda Davidson shows, there was almost no let up in the display of enthusiasm for the country or Kim Jong Un.

Note: To use the 360 functionality, use your cursor over the video above to scroll around the space. If you’re viewing on a mobile device, open the link in the YouTube app.

Foreign press wait at a the People’s Palace of Culture in Pyongyang, North Korea on May 8, 2016. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post) – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

Foreign press wait at a the People’s Palace of Culture in Pyongyang, North Korea on May 8, 2016. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

Foreign media at the Pyongyang Maternity Hospital in Pyongyang, North Korea on May 7, 2016. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post) – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

Foreign media at the Pyongyang Maternity Hospital in Pyongyang, North Korea on May 7, 2016. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

Foreign media at the Pyongyang Maternity Hospital in Pyongyang, North Korea on May 7, 2016. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post) – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

Foreign media at the Pyongyang Maternity Hospital in Pyongyang, North Korea on May 7, 2016. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

Foreign media tour the Pyongyang Maternity Hospital in Pyongyang, North Korea on May 7, 2016. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post) – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

Foreign media tour the Pyongyang Maternity Hospital in Pyongyang, North Korea on May 7, 2016. (Linda Davidson /The Washington Post)

Exterior of high rise apartments built for scientists and their families on Mirae Scientists Street in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post) – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

Exterior of high-rise apartments built for scientists and their families on Mirae Scientists Street in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post)

Living room of an apartment of a scientist and his family on Mirae Scientists Street in Pyongyang, North Korea.in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post) – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

Living room of an apartment of a scientist and his family on Mirae Scientists Street in Pyongyang, North Korea.in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post)

Interior during a tour of a silk factory in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post) – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

Interior during a tour of a silk factory in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post)

The majority of reporting in North Korea takes place on guided tours to places that the regime wants to show off. A silk factory, a maternity hospital, a wire factory.

In the Pyongyang metro, journalists were given a ride on the city’s brand-new subway car. You can see in the 360-degree video that the majority of passengers on this car consisted of journalists and government minders. The new train was modern, well lit and had digital screens that displayed information for riders.

On this particular trip between two of the metro system’s most ornate stations, this was the only new subway train journalists saw. The majority of the system’s subway cars have spent the better part of their operating lives in former Eastern Bloc countries.

View of journalists, government minders and commuters in the Metro / subway station in Pyongyang, North Korea on May 6, 2016. It also doubles as a bomb shelter. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post) – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

View of journalists, government minders and commuters in the Metro / subway station in Pyongyang, North Korea on May 6, 2016. It also doubles as a bomb shelter.(Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post)

View of passengers and some foreign media aboard the Metro / Subway in Pyongyang, North Korea on May 6, 2016. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post) – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

View of passengers and some foreign media aboard the Metro / Subway in Pyongyang, North Korea on May 6, 2016. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post)

The Yanggakdo International Hotel, the largest operating hotel in Pyongyang, is on Yanggak Island in the middle of the Taedong River and it’s where the North Korean government housed the 130 foreign journalists allowed in the country to cover the rare congress. The hotel has been called “Alcatraz” by more than one visitor in reference to its location. And since visitors to North Korea aren’t allowed to wander without a government minder, it’s also difficult to sneak out.

 

 

The hotel has also been used as a detention facility for Americans arrested by the regime. Jeffrey Fowle of Ohio was detained in Pyongyang for nearly six months in 2014 after he left a Bible in the bathroom of a bar. He said he was held on the 36th floor for three weeks before being moved to a guesthouse.

Matthew Miller ripped up his tourist visa on arrival in Pyongyang in an attempt to get arrested. He was also held here for three weeks before being moved to a guesthouse where he remained for about five months.

University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier was recorded on security cameras removing a propaganda banner from a staff-only area of the hotel. Warmbier has been detained in North Korea since January. It’s not known if he’s still being held in the hotel.

When three journalists from The Washington Post recently stayed at the hotel, a reporter from the BBC, Rupert Wingfeld-Hayes, was detained at Pyongyang airport. During his reporting trip, Wingfield-Hayes produced reports that the government called “disrespectful.” He was interrogated for ten hours, then he and his team were taken to the Yanggakdo where they stayed for two days.

In the 360-degree video of the hotel, just to the right, on the edge of the river, you can see Wingfield-Hayes and his team recording this report the night before they were expelled from the country.

There is also a rumor that a secret floor exists where security personnel monitor phone calls, bugged rooms and hidden cameras.

There are accounts online that suggest that hotel guests have snuck onto a hidden floor. Although Washington Post journalists did not look for a secret floor, the panel of call buttons inside the elevators off the main lobby are missing a floor. The button for the fourth floor is followed by the button for the sixth floor. There is no button for the fifth floor.


More photos from North Korea:
GALLERY: What life looks like inside North Korea