Archive for December, 2012

Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun

Having been closed since the December 2011 death of Kim Jong-il, the Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun has recently reopened, and along with refurbishment and new displays, the bodies of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il are now available for viewing.

Outside Kumsusan Palace

North Koreans outside the Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun.

My 2011 visit to the mausoleum was the most surreal thing I have ever done. There is a deliberate awe inspiring buildup factored into the paying of respects at the body of Kim Il-sung. On entering the complex one is subjected to multiple security checks, cameras are confiscated, cloth booties are issued to be worn over the shoes, and you are forced to ride kilometers of moving walkways into the marble encased heart of the complex. From there you are marched around in groups, disorientatingly led from room to room, and forced to bow to various Kim Il-sung statues, all the while listing to an audio account of how the laws of nature were broken on the day of Kim Il-sung’s passing – upon his death the people cried with such emotion that their tears crystallized into diamonds in the pavement.

Before entering the holy of holies for the finale of bowing to the body of Kim Il-sung (all visitors will be expected to bow as a sign of respect – to go this far and not do so would cause a MARJOR incident), everyone must pass a through a bank ultra industrial sized air blowers, removing all traces of lint or dust to ensure no possibility of contamination. You will be expected to bow three times, once at Kim Il-sung’s feet, and on his right and left side. Authorities take your picture as you bow – the perfect little memento for your permanent secret record and always available for review by authorities if questions concerning your respect for the Eternal President become an issue.

If you can imagine how surreal all of this is for visiting foreign tourists, think about how overpowering the experience must be for a North Korean visiting for his first time from the provinces. A visit to Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun is the ultimate in propaganda showmanship; there is no other place or experience like it in the world.

I assume most of the procedures described above will continue with only slight changes to accommodate the paying of respects at the body of Kim Jong il (it is reported that he is placed at rest in a glass display next to his father). Viewing of newly created displays showing Kim Jong-il’s yacht, his medals and awards, and even the train car he died in will also be include in the visit.

Kumsusan Mausoleum

North Koreans outside the Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun.

Girl with Flowers in Pyongyang

A flower girl at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun.

Tourist trips don’t start up again until mid January, until then I will be eagerly awaiting the firsthand accounts of those who make the first visit to the newly opened mausoleum. Sunday morning visits to the mausoleum have already been included in the schedules for my two custom spring trips.

For insights and observations recorded from inside the DPRK, including the Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun, check out our 2011 podcast. The North Korean Economy Watch also has an interesting look at the odd history of communist leader preservation.


Breaking News: The Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun has Reopened!

I have it confirmed from two sources that the Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun/Kim Il-sung Mausoleum has reopened to tourists and will be available for all 2013 itineraries!

Group Photo with Colorful Korean women outside of the Kim Il Sung Mausoleum

Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun – photo by kinabalu


May Day Extravaganza Tour

It’s going to be a busy spring; in addition to the two custom group trips I am planning, and the private owners/investors tour to Rason, I am also now scheduled to work as one of the guides on Young Pioneer Tour’s DPRK May Day Extravaganza Tour!

This May Day Tour is going to be a blast! It coincides with Young Pioneer Tour’s five year anniversary, and they plan to make the event a massive party!

Join us for of the most spectacular holidays to take part in North Korea, the May Day Festival. Aside from all the usual sites May Day gives us one of the best opportunities to relax meet and hang out with locals during the celebrations on Moronbong Hill. Koreans take this holiday very seriously and you will more than be expected to sing dance and play around with them. Could there be a better time to go?

This tour also marks the 5 year “birthday” of YPT taking revelers into the DPRK, and as such for a VERY limited time we are offering the tour at our very retro 2008 price. We are aiming for this tour to be massive, and are hoping for all of our guides to be present for the tour.
As with all tours we are currently offering a free upgrade to flight for the journey in, with us taking the amazing train out as standard, or a small extra charge if your preference is to fly.

We are also offering a very special extension to Rason directly following the tour that can be done as a standalone trip, or both combined for a great discount. For those not in the know Rason is the Special Economic Zone of the DPRK, and the only place where you currently receive a stamp in your passport (excluding US and Japanese passports), and can legally use Korean Won, as well as visit the local markets.
April 29th – May 5th/7th

Group 1 €795 5 days in Korea + 2 on the train + 50 to fly out
Group 2 €1195 7 days in Korea + 2 on the train + 70 to fly out (Air China)

Rason Extension
May 8th – 11th
Cost €795 3 days in Korea (Rason) 1 day in Yanji (China)

People joining both tours receive a free flight from Beijing to Yanji

Pyongyang Celebrations

North Koreans on holiday – photo by Joseph A Ferris III

We are scheduling the May 1st holiday to be a day of fun and relaxation. In the morning we will join locals for dancing and folk games at the Mt Taesong Amusement park. A BBQ lunch at Moranbong Hill and continued local festivities is scheduled for the afternoon.

This tour also includes a visit to the newly opened Pyongyang Rungna Island funfair- with rides and even a dolphin show – as well as overnight visits to Nampo and Kaesong. If interested send me off an email; I can’t offer the 5% discount as this trip is already heavily discounted as an anniversary gift to our customers, but I can arrange to have you placed in my group.

The full May Day Tour itinerary is here.

I still have some spots available on my early April and mid May custom tours, those itineraries are posted on my American in North Korea Facebook Page.


American Detained in North Korea

Don’t worry, I am not the American guide arrested in North Korea, I am safe and sound and on my way to Hawaii – I have been receiving emails all morning long asking.

I have known about this incident since last week, but only today has the DPRK confirmed that Bae Jun-ho, an American citizen of Korean decent, has been charged with committing “hostile acts against the republic”. His website is down, but it is reported that Bae Jun-ho ran the small tour company, “Nation Tours”, which is widely rumored to engage in missionary/proselytizing activities, this is strictly illegal in the DPRK.

Kookmin Ilbo, a South Korean newspaper owned by an evangelical church, had said Bae had been arrested for carrying a computer hard disk which contained footage of North Korea executing defectors and dissidents.

There were other rumors out this week suggesting he was searched because members of his group took unauthorized and unflattering pictures at an orphanage.

No matter the details of this case, legit tour companies such as Koryo Tours and Young Pioneer Tours envision no changes in their schedule or with their relation with KITC (Korea International Travel company), but prospective tourists to the DPRK should be well aware of, and be willing to accept the rules and laws governing a tourist visit.

There are certain taboos and forbidden activities for tourists to engage in while visiting North Korea:

Trying to educate your North Korean guide about the western understanding of Cold War history, especially in regards to North Korea, is bad form. It’s not going to get you in trouble but it could piss off the guides enough that the tour group’s access to sites suddenly becomes restricted. I have seen this happen to other tours! The same goes for breaking the photography rules set by the guides.

More serious taboos include: undercover journalism, missionary work, trafficking in Bibles and anti-North Korean books, and human rights activism.

A tourist visit is not suggested if you are unable to abide by the above guidelines.

For those who believe they must bring a laptop (I leave mine behind), I suggest you check your hard drives. Don’t bring in any anti-North Korean documentaries or anti-North Korean ebooks – and gentleman, please don’t bring in any pornography.

To lighten up this post let me present some Dandong region Chinese/North Korean border signs:

Dandong Chinese North Korean Border
Dandong Chinese North Korean Border
Dandong Chinese North Korean Border
Dandong Chinese North Korean Border
Dandong Chinese North Korean Border
Dandong Chinese North Korean Border


Behind the Scenes

Being now focused on filling spots for my big May trip (the April tour is pretty much booked), I thought it might be valuable to show a little of the fun and behind the scenes action from my past visits. If you are familiar with my gun range and Ultimate Frisbee posts than you already know my tours are about more than just being bused around different monument and museum sites – we like to party too!

Almost all of the photos posted and linked below are what I had considered Facebook pics. Overlooked and neglected by this blog for too long, I think they fit in perfectly with this post. I hope you enjoy them and the behind the scenes insights they share.

Singing North Korea Guide
North Korean guide Ms. Han, flush with soju after our going away duck BBQ dinner, sings Arirang on the bus microphone.

More pics linked below!

(more…)


Pyongyang Arch of Triumph

Bigger is better in North Korea, and standing at 60 meters the Pyongyang Arch is the World’s largest triumphal arch – sorry Paris.

Pyongyang Arch of Triumph

As a gift from Kim Jong-il to Kim Il-sung for his 70th birthday, the arch has 25,500 blocks of white granite, each representing a day in his life up to that point – another equally impressive 70th birthday gift with the same sort of construction numerology is the Tower of the Juche Idea.

The arch was commemorated to highlight the 1925-1945 revolutionary struggles and victory over the occupying Japanese forces. Supposedly there are rooms and viewing pavilions but I have never been let inside or had a closeup look.


Mangyongdae Children’s Palace Piano Lesson

Think you have what it takes to teach the best and brightest children of the Pyongyang elite?

Below one of my tour group members gives a demonstration to piano students at the Mangyongdae Children’s Palace.

Mangyongdae Children's Palace North Korea

Mangyongdae Children's Palace North Korea

Photos by Joseph A Ferris III


Paradise Bar and Microbrewery

For my April 2013 trip I’m bringing in a group of beer aficionados; top of their request list is for a visit to the Pyongyang Paradise Bar and Microbrewery.

Paradise Microbrewery Pyongyang

The beer is cheap and tasty, if sometimes off color, and the facility is atmospheric and relaxing. Just don’t expect to hang with locals here; this may be a haunt for the North Korean elite but only expect to get a quick glimpse as they make their way to one of the brewery’s private rooms.

Paradise Microbrewery Pyongyang

Pyongyang Paradise Department Store

The bar and brewery is located on the top floor of the foreign currency Paradise Department Store. A visit here to check out the goods and stock up on some beer snacks before going up to drink is often possible. Above our North Korean guide Ms. Han walks the aisles.

Photos by Joseph A Ferris III


War Museum and the USS Pueblo Currently Closed

For those making a trip to the DPRK in the near future please be aware that the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum and the USS Pueblo are currently closed. I only know that the Pueblo is being moved to a new location – it is advertised that both sites will be reopened this July.

USS Pueblo Guide

Touring the USS Puebo.

USS Pueblo Guide

Touring the USS Puebo.

Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum

Tour of the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum.

Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum

Tour of the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum.

Photos by Joseph A Ferris III

Join up with my 2013 tours!

May 14th – May 23rd Mega Trip: Pyongyang, Nampo, Sariwan, Haeju, Kaesong, Wonsan, Kumgang, with possibility of a documentary film crew- spots available.

Late September/Early October: Mass Games tour with possibility of a documentary film crew – spots available.

I also expect to be helping out Young Pioneer Tours with their big November 2013 Eurasian Tour: Trans Siberian Express Beijing to Moscow, Minsk, Kiev, Chernobyl, Odessa, Transnistria, Moldova, and Romania.

For more info email me:
joseph@youngpioneertours.com
josephferris76@yahoo.com


Now a Partner with Young Pioneer Tours!

The New Pyongyang Kim Jong-il Statue

Young Pioneers visit the new Kim Jong-il stature and pay respects to Kim Il-sung on his 100th birthday. This was the first day foreigners were allowed to visit the new statue, it was ceremoniously unveiled to North Koreans the day before – photo by Joseph A Ferris III

I am happy to announce that I am now partnered with Young Pioneer Tours!

What does that mean for this website? Not much I hope, I want to continue to serve up interesting and original content true to my high standards of presenting an accurate representation of the North Korean experience. In the past I have been approached by Internet advertising companies with offers for the sale of advertising space or paid content, but I pledge not to sell out, anything I advertise or promote on this blog will be due to my genuine interest in the subject, or my direct involvement or investment in the project.

How then am I partnered with Young Pioneer Tours? I’m excited to announce that I’m an investor in our soon to open (Feb. 2013) North Korean themed beach bar at White Sand beach Puerto Galera, Philippines. There you may find me as a company representative, selling trips to curious visitors, blogging while on the beach, and perhaps serving up a North Korean beer or two – more on all this as things develop. We have some other big investment projects in the works, they are too sensitive and it’s too early to go into detail about them now, but readers can expect some absolutely unique DPRK content on the horizon.

In general I plan to continue running private custom DPRK trips with Young Pioneer Tours providing the logistics, but YPT also plans on having me on as one of their part time professional DPRK guides for their regularly scheduled trips. For their regularly scheduled trips I can offer 5% off via my referral – that’s not just for North Korea, we also offer excellent regularly scheduled Tibet, Myanmar, Iran, and trans Asian trips too!

Please check out the schedule below if interested in joining up with one of my 2013 trips:

March 30th – April 6th: Pyongyang, Nampo, Sariwan, Kaesong, and Mt. Myohyang.

April 22nd – April 29th: VIP private investors tour to the Rason Free Trade Zone and first time visits to newly opened sites in the far north – closed trip.

Late September/Early October: Mass Games tour with possibility of a documentary film crew – spots available.

I also expect to be helping out Young Pioneer Tours with their big November 2013 Eurasian Tour: Trans Siberian Express Beijing to Moscow, Minsk, Kiev, Chernobyl, Odessa, Transnistria, Moldova, and Romania.

For more info email me:
joseph@youngpioneertours.com
josephferris76@yahoo.com