The reality of life inside North Korea is often so heavily guarded by its ruling dictatorship that it's somewhat of a mystery to the rest of the world.

That's why The Washington Post reporter Anna Fifield — who has covered national affairs in North Korea for a decade — has this week answered questions via an online thread relating to what life is really like in the country.

It quickly attracted hundreds of comments, news.com reports.

"Life in North Korea is changing and so are people's reasons for escaping," Fifield wrote in her open invite for questions.

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"When Kim Jong Un became leader, many North Koreans thought that life would improve. But after six years in power, the 'Great Successor' has proved to be just as brutal as past leaders."

People watch a TV screen showing an image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivering a statement. Photo / AP
People watch a TV screen showing an image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivering a statement. Photo / AP

Fifield also spent six months interviewing dozens of North Koreans who had fled the state in search of freedom.

One doctor, 42, told her North Korea was "like a religion".

"From birth, you learn about the Kim family, learn that they are gods, that you must be absolutely obedient to the Kim family," the doctor said.

"The elites are treated nicely, and because of that they make sure that the system stays stable.

"But for everyone else, it's a reign of terror.

"The Kim family uses terror to keep people scared, and that makes it impossible to stage any kind of social gathering, let alone an uprising."

WHAT DO NORTH KOREANS DO IN LEISURE TIME?

It depends on what kind of North Koreans we're talking about.

The rich kids who live in "Pyonghattan" have the money and the opportunities to enjoy themselves.

Rollerblading is a big thing in North Korea these days — Kim Jong Un has built lots of rinks — and they even go to the gym and do yoga.

The "rich kid" I spoke to for this story told me that she and her friends would go to a bar to play ping-pong or pool.

But really it was an excuse to hang out with members of the opposite sex and check them out. She sized up boys based on their clothes and phones.

But for the vast majority of young people in North Korea, they're too busy with making ends meet to enjoy themselves.

I talked to a girl who had to drop out of school when she was 12 to help her mother make tofu so they could feed themselves. Her only leisure was watching TV during the breaks between making tofu/selling tofu/tending the fields.

DOES THE GOVERNMENT WATCH TOURISTS?

Yes! Whether you're a tourist or a journalist or any other foreign visitor, you are assigned a "minder" at all times.

You can't leave your hotel without the minder (the doormen alert your minder if you try.) I also assume that my room is bugged with mics and maybe cameras.

WHAT IS THE GENERAL BELIEF ABOUT NK LEADERSHIP?

There's a whole range of beliefs. Some North Koreans believe in the system and believe all the propaganda they're fed.

One North Korean man I interviewed for this story told me he was so angry when he got to China and heard North Korean women in the safe house badmouthing the Kim leadership.

It wasn't until he had been in South Korea for a few months that he realised it was all lies.

But others told me that they know it's all garbage.

The stories about Kim Jong-un being able to shoot a gun when he was three/drive a car when he was five were laughable, they said, and showed how ridiculous the stories about the regime were.

Still, it's very, very dangerous to express disbelief or criticise the regime — you and three generations of your family ending up in a concentration camp kind of dangerous — so people try to escape rather than change the system.

WHAT ARE NORTH KOREANS SURPRISED BY AFTER LEAVING?

North Koreans now generally know about the outside world. Almost everyone has watched foreign movies, especially South Korean soap operas and action movies.

So they know that the outside world is a much richer and freer place.

That's why some try to leave — they want some of that freedom to move and speak their minds. They want to do better for themselves and their children, just like the rest of us.