A map of Kim Jong-un’s slow train trip to Vietnam

North Korea's Great Leader would rather not fly for his second summit with Trump – but the trip is also a political message to China.

  • Kim Jong-un is already traveling for his summit with Trump on Wednesday.
  • Rather than flying, he's taking a 60-hour train trip through China.
  • The trip is a closely guarded secret, but this map shows the most likely itinerary.

This Wednesday and Thursday, Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump will have their second summit, this time in Vietnam.

But while the U.S. president is still in DC, North Korea's Great Leader is already en route. That's because Kim is covering the distance between Pyongyang and Hanoi by slow train rather than fast plane.

The train trip is not just a vote of no confidence in the airworthiness of North Korea's winged fleet (1), it's also a political signal to China – the biggest (and only) ally the Hermit Kingdom has left in the world. And an example of the delightful weirdness the world will have to do without once the world's only remaining Stalinist dictatorship inevitably crumbles.

On Saturday, Kim boarded his special train in the North Korean capital Pyongyang. It's a 21-carriage, bullet-proof, army-green train that because of its armor plating reportedly can travel no faster than 35 mph (56 km/h).

For China, the trip is a way of showing Kim what a communist regime that engages with capitalism can achieve: Bustling cities, a productive countryside, and a populace (largely) content to concentrate on the business of becoming rich (or at least less poor).

For North Korea, it's a clear admission of the indispensable role China plays in the survival of its hard-line regime. The hope may very well be that this show of allegiance will mollify Beijing enough to plead at the UN for some relief of the sanctions against Pyongyang – and to provide some food aid to prop up Kim's regime.

Kim's luxury train comes equipped with satellite telephone, conference rooms, dining cars and sleeping quarters. As shown on North Korean state media, some carriages have pink leather chairs and wide-screen TVs. Not shown: The carriage that, according to South Korean media, holds Kim's personal Mercedes-Benz.

North Korea's leaders love trains. The two previous members of the Kim dynasty had their own love affair with state trains. The first one, Kim Il Sung, regularly traveled abroad on his personal train – as far as Eastern Europe, back in 1984. His son (and the current Kim's father) Kim Jong-il, who ruled from the older Kim's death in 1994 to his own in 2011, even died on his own train. The carriage in which Kim Jong-il expired is on display at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, where he lies in state.

The exact itinerary and timetable of (this) Kim's slow train through China is a closely-guarded secret – but bits of his passage through the country have been recorded and posted on social media (here, as the train drives through Zhengzhou, Henan province; and here, in Yongzhou, Hunan province). Some show streets crossing the train's path completely empty, apparently closed off for traffic.


Satellite phones, pink leather chairs and Kim's own private Mercedes-Benz: if you're a Great Leader, you don't travel light - not even by train.Image: Dhaka Tribune

This map shows Kim's most likely itinerary, from the Sino-Korean border at Dandong via Beijing to Zhengzhou and Wuchang, crossing Nanning before arriving at the Vietnamese border at Dong Dang.

Undoubtedly playing havoc with China's decidedly high-speed train schedule, Kim's slow-speed trip is supposed to take about 60 hours (or two and a half days), which means he should arrive at the Sino-Vietnamese border some time on Monday or Tuesday.

Vietnam, wary of Chinese invasion, has a different train gauge than China, so Kim's luxury vehicle can't make it any further without a complex and time-consuming change of wheels. When the Great Leader arrives at the Vietnamese border, he is expected to switch to cars for the last 105 miles (170 km) of the trip to Hanoi.


Map taken here from the Dhaka Tribune, one of the leading English-language newspapers in Bangladesh.

Strange Maps #963

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