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The note, which features the image of Shin Sa im dang, supersedes the 10,000 won as South Korea’s largest unit of currency, and represents the first denomination increase since the 10,000 won note was issued 36 years ago, in June, 1973.
In North Korea, meanwhile, there are five kinds of coins and eight kinds of notes, all issued by the Chosun Central Bank.
The 5,000 won note is the largest denomination bill, and features Kim Il Sung on the face and the Mangyongdae house where he was born on the back. It has been in circulation since 2005.
Besides that, there are also 2,000 won and 500 won bills. However, North Korean people these days prefer Dollars and Yuan to North Korean currency, because foreign currency values are stable. North Korean people say they feel uneasy about North Korean money because they can never be sure when the authorities are going to change the currency system. Currently, 5,000 won is valued at around $1:40 according to the jangmadang exchange rate.
Until the late 1990s, a special currency, so-called “foreign currency exchange coupons,” had been popular. People could buy anything, anywhere with the coupons or with dollars, but it was hard to buy goods in some places with North Korean Won.
For foreigners, there used to be two kinds of North Korean currency, the so-called Red and Blue Won. The Red Won were for visitors from fraternally allied socialist nations to use, while the Blue Won were for visitors from capitalist western nations. These two eventually disappeared in favor of hard currencies, and by the 21st Century an opportunity to receive North Korean Won of any hue was seen by tourists as quite a fortunate event.
In any case, sources say that in the jangmadang, if you have Yuan or dollars, you can buy anything. Moreover, you don’t need to exchange it into North Korean won. For example, one Yuan is apparently now worth around 570 North Korean won, which is around 120 or 130 won lower than in June of last year.
Experts predict that the value of North Korean currency can only decline further, because North Korean traders and ordinary residents now firmly prefer Dollars and Yuan.