On a tank statue at the Rason kindergarten.
I just returned to Yanji, China from yet another epic trip to North Korea. Keep an eye on my Instagram over the next few days for the latest pics from this trip. Tomorrow I have an overnight train to Beijing and return to Pyongyang to guide a 9 day fishing trip starting May 13th.
Heading into the Rason Special Economic Zone of North Korea. Visas are not required but travel permits are – above are our permissions.
Kindergarten Performance Chongjin, North Korea – Photo by Joseph A Ferris III
With so many great pics from my last trip, such as the one above, it’s unfortunate that I’m in such a rush with less then a week turn-abound between DPRK trips. I have had no time to give my photography work and this blog the attention they deserve – arranging visas, train tickets, sleep, laundry, and buying fishing equipment has taken precedence.
Tomorrow I head back up to Yanji to bring a small group of DPRK return visitors into the Rason Special Economic Zone.
Does Rason ring a bell? It’s where American tour guide Kenneth Bae was recently arrested and convicted for unspecified crimes against the government.
I have been receiving plenty of warnings from concerned people that I will become the next pawn on the international stage, but please remember that unlike Kenneth Bae, we will be engaged in legitimate tourism. Laptops and hard drives full of religious materials, and videos profiling human rights abuses will be the last thing I will carry across the border with me. So please don’t worry about me!
Exciting news from Young Pioneer Tours:
The DPRK has announced that they will be restarting cruises from Rajin Port, to the Mt Kumgang resort on 3 night, 4 day cruises starting from April. Singaporean cruise ship called the Royale Star has a capacity for around 800 paying passengers, offering monthly trips from April until October.
We have been given the confirmed dates for this cruise, and most excitingly that we will be able to sell foreign places (non-Chinese) on these trips. We are still waiting to have prices confirmed on this, but are hoping to have this done within 48 hours.
As a Master Mariner I have vowed never to take a cruise. Seven months a year on the ocean for my professional job is usually enough for me, but for a North Korea Rason cruise I will make an exception!
With this breaking news I’m already in touch with the office and developing a tour for May 30-June 3 (I guess Mongolia will have to wait until next year).
Get in touch with me if interested, plenty of time to customize the trip for a few days exploring the Rason region before sailing the North Korean waters with me, your very own maritime expert.
North Korea watchers will remember that this isn’t the first attempt North Korea made at launching a cruise route. Below are pictures of the Mangyongbong cruise ship. Back in 2011 YPT was the only Western tour company to take the cruise from Rason to Kumgang. Unfortunately it stopped operating after Western Journalists gave it too much stick.
Our lovely guide Shan with North Korean guides in front of the M/V Mangyongbong cruise ship.
M/V Mangyongbong gangway.
DPRK flag on the M/V Mangyongbong’s stack.
Students hit the books at the Pyongyang Grand Peoples Study House.
I’m out on the Pacific Ocean, 4 days Southeast of Hawaii, and just one month into a four month rotation on a scientific research ship conducting expeditions from San Diego to Japan.
Being on the ocean gives a person the gift of a lot of free time away from the normal distractions of life. With that time I have started to study the Korean language; for these cruises I brought with me the Pimsleur audio Korean course (great for the days when I’m walking the deck for a little exercise), as well as several textbooks and workbooks, and a ton a Korean language learning podcasts. Its going as well as one could expect, some things are starting to stick, all the honorific tenses are confusing, but the hangul characters are not too bad – kinda fun actually.
Of course nothing beats time working with a real teacher in a native environment, and that’s just what Young Pioneer Tours is offering this summer to those who join up with their first ever Rason Korean Language Tour.
Far off the beaten track (up until 2009 no western foreign tourist had ever visited), a trip to the Rason Special Economic Zone allows for special opportunities; Rason is the only place in the DPRK where foreigners are legally allowed to use North Korean currency and to mix freely with locals while shopping in the public markets – this is your opportunity to pick up all your own school supplies and practice your daily lessons as you buy fresh seafood for the nightly BBQ. Rason is also the only place where visitors (expect for Americans and Japanese) can get a North Korean visa stamped into their passport.
This tour has time scheduled for local sightseeing but the focus of this trip will be classroom time for the study of basic Korean with a North Korean instructor. You will also visit the local foreign language institute for conversational exchanges with older students, and have the chance to develop a lesson plan and teach an English class to elementary children!
Already proficient at the basic level? Alternative intermediate or advanced class time can be arranged.
Young Pioneer Tours will be running this tour in Aug 2013, unfortunately I’m going to be at my professional job at that time, but I’m certainly interested in doing this trip myself. I will be making my first trip up to Rason this spring; by my following vacation in the fall of 2013 I will be qualified to run this program on a custom basis if anyone is interested.
I peaked into a North Korean hotel kitchen and found this sign.
For the scheduled Aug language tour, as well as any of Young Pioneer Tours scheduled tours, a referral from me can get you 5% off!