A flight from Pyongyang to Hanoi is just 13 hours and 15 minutes. But no one wants to sit on a plane that long, least of all Kim Jong Un, Marshal and Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army. He prefers the 70-hour train ride, just like his father and grandfather before him – although for vastly different reasons.
Who doesn’t enjoy a good smoke break?
Kim’s grandfather was Kim Il-Sung, architect of the Korean War and still-ruling President of North Korea, despite being dead for more than 25 years. Kim Il-Sung first caught a taste for train travel during the Korean War, when every hardened structure he ever set foot in was probably bombed to smithereens within hours of the UN forces realizing there were still structures to bomb in North Korea.
Even after the war ended, he enjoyed the security of a private, armored train and built his palaces to be accessible only by rail. The grandfather Kim even toured all of Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe via rail. It doesn’t hurt that the North Korean railway system is the most reliable way to get around, either. How else are you going to randomly give advice to farmers when you know nothing about growing wheat?
“Look at all this magnificent grain we photoshopped in.”
His son and Kim Jong Un’s dad, Kim Jong-Il had a different reason. Kim Jong-Il was deathly afraid of flying and never traveled anywhere via air. Kim, the father, had a luxury armored train with some 22 different cars, each carrying an important detail, including equipment to allow for the train to travel on different countries’ railway gauges.
Kim’s trains ran in groups of three: the first train ran twenty minutes ahead of the others to ensure the safety of the rail line and maybe take the brunt of an assassination attempt. The second carried the Dear Leader and his closest entourage, along with everything he might need, including lobsters and Hennessey. The last train had his communications, his staff, and the things he actually needed to run the government.
Which is probably just more cases of Hennessy.
For Kim Jong Un, much of his new life has been maintaining his grip on power. In this respect, he has decided to emulate his grandfather in many ways that are recognizable to the North Korean public – from the way he dresses, to the hats he wears, to the way he visits farmers for his “on the spot guidance.” His father was never as popular as his grandfather. Kim Jong-Il came to power after the fall of the Soviet Union when subsidies to the North Koreans ended and created a famine. Life for the average North Korean suffered under Kim Jong-Il.
So it’s no surprise he makes his visits to the populace via rail, just like Kim Il-Sung did.
Kim Jong Un comes in to Hanoi like a very, very slow wrecking ball
The trains still reportedly travel in groups, with many on the train reporting no loss in luxury from when his father was alive, despite an increase in international sanctions. The train’s armor means it can only crawl from one stop to another, at a maximum speed of 37 miles per hour.
Which is why the leader took 70 hours to arrive at his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump to talk denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.