North Korea Mapping Guide

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The North Korea Mapping Guide provides advice for mapping specific objects in North Korea.

North Korea Mapping Guide

Mapping North Korea is made difficult by the fact that access to the terrain is not possible (or very difficult), and that there is no local contributor (no access to the internet). Outdoor mapping is therefore not possible[1].

So we have to use armchair mapping. We are therefore dependent on satellite images and their quality for mapping the country.

The Bing images have a good resolution for North Korea but the images are dull and without much colour. On the other hand, Maxar images are less accurate but more colourful and therefore, in my opinion, more pleasant to use (Premium images are more accurate than Standard ones, so Maxar Premium images are preferable).

On the other hand, there is very often a mismatch between the imagery and the existing paths and points. This is due to the fact that there are no geodetic datum available in North Korea that allow alignment between the satellite images and these landmarks. It is preferable to continue mapping by aligning the image with features already plotted to be as close as possible. In short, there is no point in shifting all the points already created on an imagery since every other imagery would cascade an offset. TLDR; contribute without worrying too much about the offset, and don't let map offset stories stop you.


For cases of good road mapping in North Korea, see the city of Pyongyang.

Roads in North Korea are more difficult to map than in other countries, mainly because we do not have an accurate map of the roads and their classification.

If you are not sure what tag to use to describe the road it doesn't matter, the most important thing is the route. If someone thinks you have used the wrong tag on a road, they will change it later (and it will be much quicker for them to change the tag than to re-trace the whole road).

For roads in North Korea, the ones mainly used are the following:

  • Rendering-highway trunk carto.png Osm element way.svg highway trunk, to be describe with the tag highway=trunk
  • Rendering-highway primary carto.png Osm element way.svg highway primary, to be describe with the tag highway=primary
  • Rendering-highway secondary carto.png Osm element way.svg highway secondary, to be describe with the tag highway=secondary
  • Rendering-highway tertiary carto.png Osm element way.svg highway tertiary, to be describe with the tag highway=tertiary
  • Rendering-highway residential.png Osm element way.svg highway residential, for roads within residential areas, to be describe with the tag highway=residential
  • Rendering-highway service.png Osm element way.svg highway service, for roads leading, for example, to a particular house in a residential area, to be describe with the tag highway=service.
  • Rendering-highway unclassified.png Osm element way.svg highway unclassified, to be describe with the tag highway=unclassified
  • Rendering-highway track.png Osm element way.svg highway track, for country roads through fields and forests, to be describe with the tag highway=track.

Buildings in city centre

Detailed article on the theme on the blog « My North Korea »

Cities and towns in North Korea very often concentrate the following elements in their city centre: a city hall, a "tower of immortality" and a building for cultural activities. These elements recur as a pattern in almost all cities in North Korea. The "tower of immortality" ("Tower of Eternal Life") resembles an obelisk. This tower is sometimes accompanied by a mural, while statues are rarer and are mainly found in Pyongyang or in the centre of medium and large cities.

Furthermore, in satellite view, the towers of immortality, murals and statues leave a longer or shorter shadow on the ground.

Small towns and villages may have only one building for all 'cultural' activities (which acts as an ideological study room and/or theatre), whereas large towns may have different buildings for theatres and study rooms.

The buildings in the city centre are to be described as follows:

Points of interest

Detailed article on the theme on the blog « My North Korea » / focus lieux historiques / focus on giant slogans

North Korea is dotted with many monuments to the glory of the regime and its leaders, such as the immortality tower, murals, statues etc.

Photo view from the ground of a tower of immortality mural as well as an agricultural area and access road, Tongbong Cooperative Farm.

Each of these elements is mapped with one point.

  1. Draw Osm element way.svg a line and Osm element node.svg a point for each letter. The line represents the attachment system to the earth. Both the line and the dot are described with the two tags artwork_type=sculpture and tourism=artwork.
  2. Draw Osm element node.svg a point having each letter as a relation (which is tagged with the following four tags tourism=attraction and man_made=sign and landmark=sign.
  3. Create Osm element relation.svg the type=site relationship between all the elements drawn in steps 1 and 2. In the "role" field enter the word "label".

Example: description of the sign "HOLLYWOOD" in the United States.

  • giant propaganda slogans written directly on the ground, use man_made=geoglyph and if you are able to transcribe Hangeul inscription=* to transcribe the symbols.


The most recurrent areas in North Korea are:

In urban areas or near cities, the following areas are regularly found:

OOjs UI icon search-ltr.svg Detailed article about a quarry on the "My North Korea" blog


Detailed article on the theme on the blog « My North Korea »

At the end of the korean traditional funeral rite, a mound of earth and grass is erected over the graves (cemetry or mound or burial mound), which allows them to be recognized from satellite images.

There are schematically two types of cemeteries, described with the same tag landuse=cemetery:

  • Landuse-cemetery.png Osm element area.svg orderly cemeteries, made up of clearly demarcated mounds.
  • Landuse-cemetery.png Osm element area.svg the disorderly cemeteries created during the period of "the arduous march " (famine of the years 1994 to 1998), more disorderly and without clear delimitation over large areas sometimes hilly, which resemble bomb impacts with satellite images[3]



Electrical networks are generally made up of these different elements:

Many poles, pylons and power lines are quite difficult to locate. You have to use the long, thin shadows they leave on the ground to find them. The spacing between each pylon or post of a network is regular, this allows you to "guess" where a post or a pylon should be located and to search in this area. Substations are often surrounded by poles or pylons, and are made up of small dark elements close together with short shadows.


Detailed article on a hydroelectric project on the blog « My North Korea » / Dam construction / Hydroelectric project

There are different types of dams:

  • Dam node.svg Osm element way.svg Dam, to be described with the tag waterway=dam; it is the most frequent structure to block a watercourse, and to form a retention lake.
  • Weir node.svg Osm element way.svg Threshold or small dam, to be described with the tag waterway=weir; it is a smaller obstacle than waterway=dam that allows water to flow over it.

There are different types of watercourses:

If there is any doubt as to whether it is a stream: one tip is to look at how the potential stream behaves until it crosses a road, another tip is to see if it is connected to a larger water system.

The retention lake created by a dam is to be described with the two tags natural=water and water=reservoir.

  • Osm element area.svg Pumping station, to be described with the tag man_made=pumping_station; it is a building used for drainage or irrigation. It is in the immediate vicinity of a watercourse and often close to an agricultural area, linked by canals.

Military infrastructure

For a more exhaustive list of mappable elements in a military zone see Key:military.

Tips and tricks

Notes and references

  1. It is possible to have been in the field during a language or tourist trip but the area is rather limited to Pyongyang in principle
  2. Jacob Bogle defined it as follows « Every town has at least one "Juche Study Hall", they go by a number of different names including, palace of culture (문화궁전) and Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism study hall (김일성-김정일주의연구실). These basically play the equivalent role of churches in Europe and the Americas in centuries past. Centrally located, this is where people are required to go multiple times a month (at least) to be indoctrinated in the latest Party orders, to learn about the exploits of the leadership, and to hold "self-criticism" sessions ». They are community places, for public gatherings and events etc. This existed in China, the USSR and in socialist countries more generally
  3. During the famine of the 1990s, there were too many deaths at the same time, forcing North Koreans to find new places to bury their dead. The hills surrounding towns and villages served this function (grave mound); More details on the relationship of Koreans to their dead on this article: NK News - A very North Korean way to die


Related Articles

External resources