Creepy North Korea: The Hidden 5th Floor


August 23rd, 2011 by Calvin Sun

It’s been a few days since I’ve been in North Korea.

There are some things on a trip that are just asking to be done. When we noticed that elevator buttons skipped the 5th floor of our North Korean hotel in Pyongyang, or that if you google “Yanggakdo Hotel” it auto-fills it to “Yanggakdo Hotel Floor 5″, we knew something was up. And we also knew nobody was allowed to go there.

So we went there.

 

What’s missing in this picture?

 

Video courtesy of Justin Bussies:

 


We convened in a group of 6 people pretending to be ninjas, and we probably took about 4 separate trips to the 5th floor over the course of 2 nights. Because all the elevators skip floor #5, we went by way of stairs via both the 4th and 6th floors.


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CDS_4360

 

One time we avoided the 4th floor way since we thought we had heard some screaming as we approached the stairs…err…yeahh….so we decided to enter from the 6th floor instead.

Either way you do it, you can count and you’ll get to whereever you’re supposed to go.

 

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Reaching the 5th floor

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Most doors are locked, but only one we supposed had any real significance as it looked like a “communications room.” We saw a pair of shoes outside.


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…the worst ninja ever uses flash photography.

 

And then there are the weird propaganda posters that adorn the walls. Because the floor is dark and empty, the posters seemed to be screaming at us to listen. Too bad none of us could read Korean.

 

CDS_4366

Translation: "Our General is the best."

CDS_4368

Translation: "We miss our Father, the General."

CDS_4369

Translation on the left side: “military first politics” Bottom two words: “leadership.” Right side: “powerful nation”

CDS_4370

Translation: "The 21st century is the age of information (communications) industry"

CDS_4374

Umm…

CDS_4376

Translation: "Let’s prepare thoroughly in order to defeat the invaders" (Red); "“The Japanese invaders slaughtered innocent, law-abiding citizens” (blue); "1,000,000 slaughtered/killed; 6,000,000 forced arrests; 2,000,000 sex slaves"

CDS_4377

This one was the creepiest. Translation: "This bomb is the product of the Americans. Every product of the Americans is our enemy. Get revenge a thousand hundred times against the Americans."

 

You can’t get in trouble because even though whomever gets caught is sent back to their rooms like a petulant child, any sort of actual action against you will result in the admission that the 5th floor exists. And nobody wants that, right? So we went back 3-4 times to check out more, hoping that a door would be unlocked and another staircase could be revealed. Although I didn’t see anything more than what’s above, here is an eyewitness account from other excursions in my group who went a few times more the next day:

First, the 5th floor is unlike any floor of the hotel, it is all concrete, like a bunker, complete with steel doors. There are no decorations of any kind; instead there are propaganda posters. At that time all the strange doors were shut tight, but we were still able to stumble upon the most intriguing of all: in a corner there was a large pile of what appeared to be miniature cameras, as if awaiting repair. Cameras, lots of them, and well enough for each room of the hotel. I don’t think I need to spell it out for you, word for word anyway. Oh, and another member of our group reported that when he went at a different time one door was open and there appeared to be official-looking men before computers or machines of some kind and listening to something with headphones. – Another Travel Blog

 

I also received a message from a group of friends attempting to do another run on the 5th floor, this time trying to find the hidden “floor within a floor.” Yes, there is now evidence of a second floor within the 5th floor, which explains for the very very low ceilings when we explored the 5th floor 2 weeks ago.

[Friend 1] asked [Friend 2] to show the door that would lead up to the second floor of the fifth floor, so that we could try to go up there eventually. So they both went up and [Friend 2] tried to open it bit it was locked. Suddenly they heard footsteps from behind the door. They made a run for the normal stairs and decided to split, one going up one going down. The guard followed [Friend 2] upstairs but couldn’t get him in the end. So it’s still a cliffhanger, but the hidden floor on the fifth floor is more or less confirmed.

 

Another account:

There was one door that opened up into a concrete wall. You could go left or right, but not ahead. Another door was simply walled off. I then went up a hidden flight of stairs behind a third door to reach another floor. On that floor, there was a room with a sign above it that read: “The Tailors.” I also peeked inside a giant “Paintings Room” filled from floor to ceiling with propaganda paintings about Kim Il-Sung and North Korea.

 

One of the theories of what the 5th floor is:

The North Koreans have this contingency plan where if war ever broke out, they would move all their art, posters, paintings, and sculptures into a safe area and lock it away until the end of the war. That way, the ideology of Kim Il-Sung would be preserved in places like the 5th floor.

 

Another analysis:

So the only poster I saw that specifically mentioned America was the last poster with the white haired person in it. That poster refers to Americans as “승냥,” which different Koreans have said describes kind of a man eating wolf or a puma-like creature. Whatever a “seung nyang” (romanized pronunciation) actually is, the word is not your typical insult or cuss word. It’s used to express a deep hatred, fear, and mistrust of whoever it is directed to.

I did a little bit of research on that particular poster, and apparently the white haired figure has been used in other locations as well, and the revenge that the poster wants is apparently for a bombing by Americans of innocent men, women and children of North Korea. I’m not sure what bombing they are talking about, or whether it is a specific attack or just atrocities by American in general, or even if what they are talking about is true or not. But clearly, the poster is informing the viewer that America is evil, not to be trusted, and that a “hundred, thousand times” revenge against Americans is not only justified, but necessary.

As to what the fifth floor might really mean, I read the updated entry and “secret hiding spot” sounds like a good guess. I’m pretty sure without even having been there that it is a “communications” floor aka where they listen to your phone conversations and walls, etc. In all honesty, I’m not surprised that there are propaganda posters on the fifth floor, because if it’s where people “employed” by the North Korean government are working, then it only makes sense that they would be given reminders of what they are working for. What I am a little bit surprised about is how easy it was to get in and see things and how obvious it was. Secrecy in North Korea seems to mean more “don’t talk about it, pretend its not there” than actually trying to hide it. The idea seems to be more that the government doesn’t care if people know, as long as they are too scared to say anything. If I was running a dictatorship based on lies and fear, I would probably build narrow hallways and offices between the outer walls and the rooms, rather than devote an entire floor to it. 


I guess this was our subconscious way at getting back at them for assigning two spies in our group during our trip (they were posing as 2 out of 4 of our guides), who were so bad their jobs that they inadvertently admitted their identities when we watched them get drunk on our last night together. It was also made obvious when they kept asking the Americans very misplaced and inappropriately pointed questions during the whole trip.

We figured we had gotten back at them when my friend and I beat both of them at a game of pool (they had challenged us first: “Let’s play pool! We Koreans vs. the world!”), but this is much much better.

 

And there you have it: North Korea being so over the top, it reaches another kind of alternate reality on the fifth floor. I can’t imagine a better way to end my trip, let alone do it with a cadre of a great group of friends. But if anybody can read Korean, please tell me what all the posters are saying?

Thanks for the memories, Pyongyang:

 

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Pyongyang at night.

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Team Awesome and friends.

 

Update:

So it’s now 3 days later and I’m still alive. Whether it’s because they’ve decided that I wouldn’t be too much of a threat or because they actually might have liked me, I’m still breathing.

Since being back, I’ve been asked by a lot of friends how the North Koreans took to me identifying myself as an American but having Chinese blood. When I think back on it, I feel like my North Korean guides considered me as one of their Chinese allies/brothers who had been “brainwashed by the imperialist Americans.” Therefore, I was given a somewhat higher advantage in establishing a sort of camaraderie with the North Koreans. Whether my life has been spared (for now) has anything to do with this despite the stunts I’ve pulled, I can only wonder.


The Reunification Arch just got served.

- At time of posting in Pyongyang, it was 78.8 °F -

Humidity: 65% | Wind Speed: 3km/hr | Cloud Cover: cloudy

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55 Responses to “Creepy North Korea: The Hidden 5th Floor”

  1. […] at Yanggakdo Hotel. The famous number 5  floor in DPRK and probably in the whole world. Some guys even made it there a few years ago! It is said that on 5 floors are the spying equipment. Hidden […]

  2. alonzo says:

    Kind of silly that the hotel chose to skip over the #5 button in the elevator. Had they simply used the #5 button on the 6th floor and kept numbering accordingly it’s likely fewer people would have reason to go exploring the hotel for the missing floor.

  3. J says:

    thanks for the pics and the account! i think the person who saw the cameras hit it right on the mark- i believe the workers may use the floor to watch or spy on the visitors @ the hotel -_-
    if you watch http://enterko.com/%EC%86%8C%ED%9B%84-%EC%9D%B4%EC%A0%9C-%EB%A7%8C%EB%82%98%EB%9F%AC-%EA%B0%91%EB%8B%88%EB%8B%A4-131222/ , around the 31 minute mark, an ajumma nk defector talks about how one of her friends worked there and comments on how at night her job is to watch the cameras…. O_o

  4. […] Ms. Che stood up with a big smile and took the mic and gave herself a short introduction and some facts about the DPRK. It was dark when we reached the Yanggakdo Hotel. We checked in and got the tour. There was a pool room, a bowling alley, a table tennis room, a swimming pool, a karaoke room, two massage rooms (one Chinese which apparently had “happy endings” and one Korean which did not), a Chinese and a Korean restaurant, a teahouse with a micro brewery, the Pyongyang Casino with an all Chinese staff who looked like the most bored people in the world, and a revolving restaurant on the top of the building. We were told tales of the mysterious Floor 5. […]

  5. […] Ms. Che stood up with a big smile and took the mic and gave herself a short introduction and some facts about the DPRK. It was dark when we reached the Yanggakdo Hotel. We checked in and got the tour. There was a pool room, a bowling alley, a table tennis room, a swimming pool, a karaoke room, two massage rooms (one Chinese which apparently had “happy endings” and one Korean which did not), a Chinese and a Korean restaurant, a teahouse with a micro brewery, the Pyongyang Casino with an all Chinese staff who looked like the most bored people in the world, and a revolving restaurant on the top of the building. We were told tales of the mysterious Floor 5. […]

  6. […] Some tourists ended up wandering into the 5th floor without getting caught and posted a blog post with pictures. […]

  7. […] need to make your own way to Dandong, China first. And while in North Korea, try and find another secret floor for us and send us the photos […]

  8. [...] Cuando escribí sobre mi Eurotrip 2012 me hablaron de un hotel en Corea del Norte con un misterioso quinto piso. Me puse a investigar y llegué a este blog y lo comencé a seguir. Este fue el post que comenzó todo: Creepy North Korea: The Hidden 5th Floor. [...]

  9. Dave Onex says:

    The 5th floor is one of the hubs in the hotel for recording/carrying on hidden surveillance on the guests in the rooms. The idea being, when they have someone ‘interesting’ coming to visit they place them in one of the surveillance rooms (hotel rooms) and then surreptitiously spy on you from there. They can then record everything and then ‘determine’ what you are really up to.

    The reason the floor is covered with extra vicious Propaganda posters is for this reason – the North Koreans who are manning these listening ‘stations’ are exposed to freedom vis-à-vis the people they are spying on. So they are hearing ‘uncensored’ conversations from the ‘outside’ world – something that is not allowed (because then they would know how bad their lives really are compared to ‘normal’ countries).

    This is very dangerous to a totalitarian state. Recognizing that these government ‘monitors’ will be exposed to freedom and new ways of thinking they try to ‘counteract’ that exposure by jamming as much propaganda into the monitors as possible to prevent them from being ‘corrupted’ by the conversations they are hearing.

    It’s a very screwy way of thinking but then, these totalitarian regimes are very strange from any ‘normal’ country.

    I doubt very much that the 5th floor is used much these days. Normally, you do your spying/surveillance on high-ranking/important visitors. Those folks would get to stay in a much better hotel. But, don’t kid yourself, North Korea will have high-end modern hotels somewhere, you just won’t get to stay in one as you’re not important enough.

    In it’s day, this hotel was probably good enough to put visiting dignitaries in. Today, it would be too embarrassing to the state to put a visiting dignitary in a hotel such as this so the 5th floor is probably not used much anymore.

    You can sure though that the ’5th floor’ will exist elsewhere, and, while they may seem strange and curious to you and I they really aren’t funny at all or safe to ‘explore’. A significant portion of North Korea consists of camps designed to exterminate entire family lineage – literally to the third generation. People are born, raised, and killed in those camps. Slow roasted over fires, shot dead, worked to death you name it. None of it fiction and you can be sure it’s much worse then we can even comprehend.

    North Korea used to kidnap folks from other countries and bring them to North Korea. Just so you understand this, North Korea would send out spies to other foreign countries and take the people by force back to North Korea. Several times the respective countries knew the people had been taken to North Korea and nothing could be done about. Down at the border between South & North Korea there have been many instances where South Korean soldiers, manning the border, were literally pulled across the line (just a couple of feet) and were never heard from again.

    So it’s real easy to ‘disappear’ in North Korea no matter who you are or what you think your government may/may not do to get you back but what you saw on the 5th floor was just a touch of the seedy underbelly that really is North Korea….

  10. Daniel says:

    I think its pretty obvious the place is a listening post to monitor all the tourists and employees there. Btw, all the guides are spies. Its a totalitarian dictatorship.

  11. chamile says:

    hello homie. are trips to north korea now easily achieved? I want to go. how much did you pay, did you see much things? i like 80s nostalgia that n korea gives.

  12. Andreas says:

    I was in this hotel a few weeks ago and thought i found some interesting stuff a few floors down a fire escape from the top floor restaurant. Now i really regret we didnt go for a expedition to the 5th floor too though since some people in the group had heard about this and possibly seen the youtube video too.
    Anyhow, does anyone whats with the spare set of elevators that i believe flashes by around 0:20 into the video clip? I saw those on our floor too but never saw them downstairs. I guess they could just be service elevators for staff or anything simple as that… but did it look like they would access the 5th floor?

  13. Carl says:

    I was also on the 5th floor with a few friends in 2011. We didn’t manage to get video though. Nice work, I’ll be following this blog.

  14. [...] All pictures from the above articles were taken from the below blog: http://monsoondiaries.com/2011/08/23/piso-cinco [...]

  15. [...] 興味深い細かい話:ホテルのエレベーターで見ると、5階が抜けているのがわかる。階段を使ってそこに行ってみたかったのだが某ウェブサイトですでにここの秘密が明かされているのを見たことがあったのでやめておいた。これ以上説明することも無いと思う。この程度のことで捕まる危険を冒す価値は無い。 [...]

  16. [...] Hier noch als kleine Ergänzung: Die geheime Stasi-Etage in einem Ausländerhotel: Creepy North Korea: The Hidden 5th Floor [...]

  17. Chris says:

    Your website is excellent chap!
    I think I feel sorry for the people of North Korea (and how could you not!). I watched a documentary on NK yesterday which was as chilling as it was interesting; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKwx2doPBRs
    People actually sneak in video’s of soap operas from South Korea and the people who watch them cannot believe their eyes! Lets not forget, these poor, hungry people are brainwashed into thinking that the whole outside world is alot poorer than them. Weather or not they believe this or choose to believe this I don’t know. But did you know that the £££/$$$ they get in aid gets SOLD at their local markets?
    There are people lying about the place DEAD because they cannot afford to eat. People actually sell their houses for food too!

    It looks a lovely place at night though.

  18. [...] All pictures from the above articles were taken from the below blog: http://monsoondiaries.com/2011/08/23/piso-cinco [...]

  19. [...] m’y rendre avec les escaliers, mais je ne l’ai pas fait car j’avais déjà vu ce site là avant avec des informations, donc pas besoin d’en rajouter, ça ne vaut peut-être pas le [...]

  20. Drea says:

    This article is not so farfetched as it seems. As a previous consultant to several government agencies I can say that there are buildings here in the US with 1/2 floors. Unless you are going there with one of the staff you would have NO idea it was there and certainly couldn’t access it.

  21. [...] saying how he usually doesn’t look into these things that mention him. I also mentioned your North Korea trip to him, and he seemed interested [in following up]. Maybe you’ll have another famous [...]

  22. Russ says:

    @ EVL:

    In Korean culture (and, I presume, the rest of Asia as well, though I don’t actually *know*) it’s not the number 5 but rather the number 4 which is considered unlucky, in the same sense as with 13 in the US and the West in general.

  23. Laura says:

    I honestly cannot fathom why, according to pictures and my experiences in several countries, almost all Americans without hesitating seem to think atrociously unflattering shorts, cheap bad haircuts, shapeless, baggy t-shirts and white chunky trainers are never considered improper attire when travelling.

  24. Calvin Sun says:

    Unlike in the USA, if you walk the stairs from Floor 12 to the floor above, it’s Floor 14. Floor 13 is skipped simply for symbolic purposes.

    In North Korea — as you’ll read from the entry — we walked up the stairs from Floor 4 to the floor above, and it was a unmarked floor #5 that was very different from all the other floors in the hotel (re: lower ceilings, propaganda posters, a hidden floor within a floor). If you keep walking the stairs past this floor #5, you’ll get to the actual Floor #6. Nothing is “skipped” for symbolic purposes. It’s very clear they didn’t intend this floor for foreigners to stay in.

  25. EVL says:

    Could it be that the number 5 in North Korea is “unlucky” just as the number 13 is in the US and most “western” countries? All elevators and buildings in the US omit numbering the 13th floor, skipping to floor 14. I noticed in the elevator pic that 13 appeared, but 5 did not. Could the sixth floor simply be the missing fifth floor, just as the 14th floor in the US is the missing thirteenth floor?

    Just another opinion…

  26. Calvin Sun says:

    It wasn’t. Most passageways were locked. We had to time when we could sneak in.

  27. Emma says:

    ah such a good read, hoping to go in 2012, but don’t have the guts to go searching on creepy floors! Post reads like something out of 1984!

  28. Chris says:

    Makes me wonder… if it’s a secret floor… why is it so easy to walk down the stairs and open the door? Just saying.

  29. [...] Calvin Sun took a trip to North Korea this past summer – one of the few Americans who have ever had the chance. He blogged about some fascinating (and seriously creepy) things he saw and experienced while there – even from inside his hotel. [...]

  30. [...] North Korea (ha! we’ve just been there too, and even had a famous off the map adventure) [...]

  31. [...] 2 of them (I would find out later) were spies for the DPRK. But more on that later (discussed in my last entry on North Korea). Outside Pyongyang [...]

  32. [...] « Creepy North Korea: The Hidden 5th Floor [...]

  33. [...] All pictures from the above articles were taken from the below blog: http://monsoondiaries.com/2011/08/23/piso-cinco [...]

  34. Sounds kind of creepy and exciting! My favorite combo.

  35. Gale Smith says:

    It was great reading of all your travels and seeing all of these photos. Did you notice any fishing communities or fishing for sport? Just curious since I am a fan of tarpon fishing.

  36. iufan/Korea says:

    한국인입니다 우연히 뉴스보다 알게되었는데 역시 북한은 상상이상의 국가네요 님의 용기에 박수를 보냅니다.

  37. Great pictures. Can I use a few in a post for our website?

  38. Great pictures. Can I use a few of them in a post for our website?

  39. Deborah says:

    You had 2 guides who were spies? How’d they admit they were spies? How did you guys end up suspecting them in the first place?

  40. ray says:

    Thanks for the pics and the explanations…
    I’ll be back again to check up on the updates.

  41. grasshopper says:

    3. I don’t see bottom two words. Just to read the words in white with red flags behind of AK-47 from top left to bottom,
    Self-regeneration, Revolutionary soldier, SungSi(Sa)..something, something-bomb or something-NorthKorea.

    “The Japanese invaders slaughtered innocent, law-abiding citizens” (blue)
    should be like this,

    “The Japanese invaders who slaughtered innocent, patriotic inhabitants(citizens)”
    무고한 애국적주민을 학살하는 일제 침략자들

  42. mario says:

    계속 연락원합니다
    사진도.

  43. MHS says:

    Hey wow. My name is the MHS and the Korean news site came in here through the hotel and toured the fifth floor after I have secrets to comment’re raising.
    As you know it, between North and South Korea since ancient times’ bad state, but I hope soon doeteumyeon unity. Travelers is really admirable! The problem is that the five-story hotel building is drawn to the one you seen something byeokmada secret place a secret operative’m seureopgodo.
    I do not know the age of 16 years young, but fought each other, fighting each other what yideukyiit d…

  44. [...] Who knew Pyongyang looked so much like Yongsan? Anyway, to read more about the “hidden fifth floor” of the Yanggakdo Hotel, see this blog post. [...]

  45. 김한석 says:

    와 놀랍군요,,,,, 저는 한국사람입니다. 이 사이트가 기가에 링크되어 보았습니다… 역시 북한은 무서운 나라같네요,,

  46. lewis says:

    Watching your back. You guys are miraculous idiot.
    They’ll be with you in order to hide their shame.
    Perhaps, after day, I will read an article which indicates NK-Killer.
    I think that someone will be killed by your action.

    from Seoul, S.Korea.

  47. SW Shin says:

    Some translation is wrong… 미제 is not to be translated into “American Product”, 미제 is abbreviation of 미 제귝주의,
    it should be translated to American Imperialism.

  48. Jess says:

    The one with the nooses say
    “Let’s prepare thoroughly in order to defeat the invaders” (Red)
    “The Japanese invaders slaughtered innocent, law-abiding citizens” (blue)
    and 2,000,000 sex slaves at the end.

  49. Stephanie Quan says:

    holy crap. holy crap. holy crap.
    what an interesting/crazy tunneling experience. this beats the boilers under mudd.

  50. Mathew says:

    Team Awesome pic doesn`t include the indo-austrian interracial couple.

  51. Jean says:

    i just got the chills and yes, as Kat has stated above- and the one with the nooses- well that’s saying
    1,000,000 slaughtered/killed
    6,000,000 forced arrests
    2,000,000 slaves (adults)

    we need a skype session whenever we’re both free….

  52. Kat says:

    Okay, I just saw the video and read the rest, the gist is to get revenge a thousand hundred times against the Americans.

  53. Kat says:

    1. Yellow background with red flower: “Our General is the best (the most)”
    2. Red writing, pine trees background: “We miss our Father, the General”
    3. Gun centered between vertical writing (this one is written using the Korean alphabet, but “spells out” Chinese characters): top two words on the left side means: “military first politics” bottom two words means “leadership,” and then the right side means “powerful nation”
    4. The picture of the computers: “the 21st century is the age of information (communications) inductry”

    The last one with the white haired person is kinda hard to read…I know part of it is talking about American products and referring to Americans as wolves? I think this might be a North Korean dialect using Chinese characters…

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