Foreign journalists visiting North Korea to cover its Seventh Workers' Party Congress, the first congress held since 1980, were denied access to the event. They were taken in buses to the April 25th Cultural Palace, a large congressional hall in central Pyongyang where the event is being held, but were only allowed to stand and report from hundreds of metres away.

Inside North Korea
Party symbols and pictures of former North Korean leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il decorate April 25 House of CultureDamir Sagolj/Reuters

Instead, and somewhat bizarrely, the journalists, who had travelled to North Korea from all over the world to cover the congress, were given a tour of a "model" copper and aluminium wire factory. Officials at the Pyongyang 326 Electric Cable Factory boasted of record production.

Inside North Korea
A worker works on a machine at the Pyongyang 326 Electric Cable FactoryDamir Sagolj/Reuters
Inside North Korea
A man looks from behind large wheels with cablesDamir Sagolj/Reuters
Inside North Korea
Workers chat during a government-organised visit for foreign reporters to the Pyongyang 326 Electric Cable FactoryDamir Sagolj/Reuters
Inside North Korea
A worker sort documents during a media tour of the March 26 Electric Cable Factory in PyongyangEd Jones/AFP
Inside North Korea
A security camera is seen covered in floral material at the March 26 Electric Cable Factory in PyongyangEd Jones/AFP

For the journalists, the only glimpse of daily life in Pyongyang is from windows of buses, seated next to their North Korean minders keeping a tight watch. Anna Fifield, a correspondent for the Washington Post, said her colleagues in Seoul seem to be more informed about the events of the congress than she is.

"It's North Korea. I'm happy that we are here and able to stand at the front, but at the same time, yeah, it's frustrating not to get any access or any information and then, yeah, this afternoon, to be taken to a wire factory of all things, that has nothing to do with the reason we are here and to be walking around talking to the manager of the factory when we know there's another story going on in town," Fifield said.

The previous day, members of the media were taken to a model farm and had to sit through a two-hour-long gala of music, singing and acrobatics at a "children's palace". Reporters have been offered the chance to visit other locations, including founding president Kim Il-sung's birthplace and a maternity hospital.

Inside North Korea
A girl salutes to visitors before a show at the Mangyongdae Children's Palace in central PyongyangDamir Sagolj/Reuters
Inside North Korea
Girls perform on the stage of the Mangyongdae Children's PalaceDamir Sagolj/Reuters
Inside North Korea
Girls play guitars at the Mangyongdae Children's Palace in central PyongyangDamir Sagolj/Reuters
Inside North Korea
Spectators wait for the beginning of a performance at the Mangyongdae Children's PalaceDamir Sagolj/Reuters
Inside North Korea
A member of staff looks from the balcony inside the Mangyongdae Children's PalaceDamir Sagolj/Reuters
Inside North Korea
Spectators watch a performance at the Mangyongdae Children's PalaceDamir Sagolj/Reuters
Inside North Korea
Students draw at the Mangyongdae Children's Palace in PyongyangDamir Sagolj/Reuters
Inside North Korea
Spectators applaud during a performance at the Mangyongdae Children's PalaceDamir Sagolj/Reuters
Inside North Korea
Children acknowledge the audience after performing on the stage of the Mangyongdae Children's Palace in central PyongyangDamir Sagolj/Reuters

It is not yet clear whether foreign journalists will get access to the congress, expected to last between three and five days. Inside the imposing venue, North Korea's 33-year-old leader Kim Jong-un is presumed to be outlining his "Byongjin" policy of simultaneous pursuit of nuclear weapons and economic growth. He is also expected to further consolidate his power.

No one among the overseas press could know for sure, however. The lack of information about the biggest news story in town is hardly a surprise for a country that is notoriously secretive and isolated from the rest of the world. Even state television does not carry live coverage from the congress, and only the presence of a ring of roughly one hundred guards, dressed in identical business suits and holding umbrellas in the rain, gave clues that Kim might be there.

Inside North Korea
Men holding umbrellas stand outside the April 25 Palace in PyongyangEd Jones/AFP

When journalists returned to the press centre at their hotel, cloistered on an island on the Taedong River, four large flat screen TVs had been turned on for the first time. Instead of the congress, the morning's TV programmes included Korean People's Army concerts and old propaganda films.

Still, it is possible to report on some of the economic changes happening in North Korea. The Pyongyang skyline is rising, despite international sanctions imposed in retaliation for North Korea's nuclear weapons programme, and locals can be seen purchasing goods using an unofficial exchange rate. Solar panels also line the balconies of Pyongyang apartment buildings, an indication of people taking power into their own hands amid the country's ongoing energy shortages.

Inside North Korea
Solar panels are seen installed on a residential building in central PyongyangDamir Sagolj/Reuters
Inside North Korea
People look towards foreign reporters working near April 25 House of Culture, the venue of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) congressDamir Sagolj/Reuters
Inside North Korea
People walk in front of a banner announcing Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) congressDamir Sagolj/Reuters
Inside North Korea
Schoolchildren wear badges with pictures of former North Korean leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-ilDamir Sagolj/Reuters
Inside North Korea
A woman looks at foreign reporters working near April 25 House of CultureDamir Sagolj/Reuters
Inside North Korea
A woman passes decoration placed near April 25 House of CultureDamir Sagolj/Reuters
Inside North Korea
People commute on the bus near April 25 House of CultureDamir Sagolj/Reuters
Inside North Korea
A child waves from behind the window of a building near the venue of the Workers' Party of Korea congressDamir Sagolj/Reuters
Inside North Korea
A policeman controls the traffic as it rains in front of April 25 House of Culture, the venue of Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) congressDamir Sagolj/Reuters
Inside North Korea
A guide wears a badge with pictures of former North Korean leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il as she talks to foreign reporters visiting PyongyangDamir Sagolj/Reuters
Inside North Korea
People wait for a bus in central PyongyangDamir Sagolj/Reuters
Inside North Korea
A guide adjusts flowers under a mural showing former North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung at the former ammunition factory visited by foreign reportersDamir Sagolj/Reuters
Inside North Korea
A man fixes a trolleybus in central PyongyangDamir Sagolj/Reuters
Inside North Korea
Women carrying plastic flowers walk against strong wind in central PyongyangDamir Sagolj/Reuters
Inside North Korea
The 105-storey Ryugyong Hotel, the highest building under construction in North Korea, is seen behind residential buildings in PyongyangDamir Sagolj/Reuters
Inside North Korea
The sun sets behind chimneys in PyongyangDamir Sagolj/Reuters
Inside North Korea
The 170m (558ft) tall Juche Tower is reflected in the Taedong River as morning fog blankets PyongyangDamir Sagolj/Reuters
Inside North Korea
Portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il are displayed on the side of a building in PyongyangEd Jones/AFP

Journalists have been allowed to stop and interview citizens of Pyongyang with almost unrestricted freedom. Some interviewees engage in casual conversation, but in front of television cameras, each thanks Kim Jong-un for his hard work building a thriving socialist nation. "Whenever I come here, I feel the love and affection of our great Marshal Kim Jong-un," said eight-year old Sun Ji-hoon, one of the performers at the children's palace.