Young Pioneer Tours

DPRK Hiking tour

I will be taking a break from my NGO work in the Philippines to return to the DPRK and guide the Young Pioneer Tour’s Mt. Kumgang hiking tour!

Group A Dates: June 20 – July 1 2014

Group A Price: 1545 Euros

North Korea Guide Miss Yu

Pristine east coast beaches en route to Mt. Kumgang.

Join us for our very first and adventurous hiking trip in the DPRK! This trip has been carefully laid out to not only include scaling beautiful countryside mountains with breathtaking views of North Korea but to also give you the best opportunity to explore cities that are rarely visited by foreign visitors during the year.

Even if you’re not a nature lover or a fan of getting off the beaten track, this tour combines the must see sites of Pyongyang and the DMZ!

The smaller cities in the countryside will all be accessed by bus taking the remote roads that will wind us through amazing sceneries of mountainous ranges, gorges, clear blue skies and let’s not forget the fresh air! Along our way we’ll be sure to stop off to have picnics in the most remote locations in the country.

We’ll be visiting the west coast town of Wonsan, famous for its beautiful beaches. We’ll also check out Hamhung, the second biggest city in the DPRK, and stop off by a small quite town of Pujon and onto our highlight visit of Mt. Kumgang!

So pack your hiking boots and your camera and get ready for an amazing hiking adventure in the DPRK!


Young Pioneer Disaster Response – Cebu

The YPT disaster response team has finally arrived in Cebu after ferry delays and a 24 hour sailing from Manila. Initial challenges, such as loading and unloading the ship (including a very heavy generator), securing gear, and setting security were met by our volunteers with enthusiasm.

This afternoon we commandeered the ship’s conference room and laid out our short term plan for our 24 hour stay in Cebu and our move to the Bantayan base camp on the 7th of December. We will meet up with more volunteers joining our group tomorrow in Cebu, as well as procure more construction equipment. We bought all the hard to find gear in Manila, in Cebu we will pick up shovels, hammers, and cooking gear.

Our short term goal is to repair 5 island schools damaged by Typhoon Yolanda, but once the schools are built we want to continue our focus on the island, developing long term disaster preparedness facilities and training, as well as get the local economy back on its feat by developing responsible tourism.

As always we need your donations to keep this project rolling!

http://igg.me/at/Typhoon-Yolanda-Relief

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Getting ready to move the generator.

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Ferry to Cebu.

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Grab a box! Hanging at the ferry terminal.

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Planning conference on the ferry ride to Cebu.

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Planning conference on the ferry ride to Cebu.

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Passing Bantayan Island, site of our relief efforts.

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Passing Bantayan Island, site of our relief efforts.


Transnistria

We believe Young Pioneer Tours is the only western tour company to offer trips to the unrecognized county/breakaway republic of Transnistria, highlight of our annual month long Eurasian Adventure Tour, and a destination I just led 16 tourists to.

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Building propaganda art in Tiraspol, Transnistria.

Transnistria occupies a vertical sliver of land between Moldova and the Ukraine. With its past soviet heritage still proudly on display a visit there is like stepping back in time.

Before getting to all my photos from the visit I’m going to share Gareth Johnson’s (YPT founder and three time Transnistria visitor) impressions on the self declared state.

After waking up after the hectic first night in Tiraspol it was time for actually doing some real touristy stuff, which for us this day was to consist of city tour of Tiraspol, including monuments, more monuments, and propaganda posters like you would not believe.

To give some basic back story to the country, it is not only a place that “does” not exist, it is also a place that has essentially never existed. The quasi-country happened through ethnic Russians opposing the break up of the Soviet Union, not wishing to join Moldova, and well having the balls, guns, and a big friendly neighbour to back them up. Also having a strong leader, a Mr Smirnov, clearly did not hurt with things, and since the fateful war, he is the man, or rather his family are the people that control pretty much everything. Big Smirnov is the President, little Smirnov is the owner of the one super-corporation (Sheriff) that control everything from petrol, supermarkets to even a football team, that just so happen to be the best in the country.

Therefore the city is littered with his image, his companies, his re-election posters, and from a business side “his brand” be it political, or business is all encompassing.

Bendery the second city was much the same, although with a much more independence war feel, inclusive of bullet ridden buildings.

I have heard Transnistria called many things, “Europe’s last Soviet State”, “Europe’s North Korea”, and even “The Last Outpost of the Cold War in Europe.

The fact of the matter is that it truly is none of the above, at all. Firstly it’s a very relaxed, free place, corrupt, of course, but so are some countries, even in the EU (just visit Romania, or Bulgaria), and as for the cold war stuff, whilst it is pretty tense regarding Moldova, this conflict, or wish for independence is bore solely over ethnic, linguistic, historical, and patriotic lines. To ask the question of why Kosovo deserves independence and Transnistria does not can only lead us to one answer, the same reason Iraq and Libya got military action, and Rwanda, and Syria did not. A question that quite frankly is pointless to answer, we already know.

In fact more than anything the place reminded of China, or the other “socialist states” of Asia, big wild west style ultra-capitalism, controlled by a big man from a big party, with lots of soviet/communist nostalgia, the modern heirs of the communist party doing things their way. Socialism with Transnistrian characteristics. In my mind the one thing Soviet about it was that the place reminded me of what might have actually happened had glasnost and perestroika actually worked, and the Union had been preserved, perhaps this might be what things would look like. In fact some Russian politicians even believe that Transnitria could even be the trigger and starting place of a new Soviet Union.

Whenever I have traveled it has always been fascinating to see what places really look like, to separate the myth from the fact, this place had smashed the myth to pieces, and whilst I had found it far different, and much less terrifying that people had led me to believe, I still left a massive chunk of my heart here.

Photos from Transnistria:

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Chernobyl – Young Pioneer Tours’ Eurasian Adventure

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Group picture at reactor #4, scene of the Chernobyl explosion and meltdown.

Today we toured nuclear reactors and the abandoned ghost town of Pripyat on Young Pioneer Tours’ Eurasian Adventure.

I’m quite behind on my blogging of the trip. Having assumed a team leader position on our Phillipines disaster relief effort, and co-leading this tour leaves me little spare time. After the Trans Siberian Express we spent one night in Moscow before spliting our group, myself leading 3 guys on an increadable visit to Belarus and rejoining the main group in Kiev.

Chernobyl was an amazing experience. We had a lot of luck with getting a local guide who was willing to streatch the rules and lead us into places not approved for general visits, such as one of the cooling towers and a countryside kindergarden.

I’m in a rush, have to take the group out tonight; will let the pics from today tell the story:

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Pripyat middle school.

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Abandoned cooling tower construction.

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Abandoned cooling tower construction.

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Abandoned cooling tower construction.

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Reactor #4, scene of the Chernobyl explosion and meltdown.

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Ghost town of Pripyat.

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Ghost town of Pripyat.

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Ghost town of Pripyat.

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Ghost town of Pripyat.

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Ghost town of Pripyat.

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Ghost town of Pripyat.

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Ghost town of Pripyat.

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Ghost town of Pripyat.

Photos by Joseph A Ferris III


YPT Typhoon Yolanda Relief – Indiegogo

Please support our Indiegogo fundraising for Philippines disaster relief. We are looking at increasing our project to two months on the ground.

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Young Pioneer Tours – Philippines Disaster Relief Team Update

In 24 hours this has gone from an idea to a full on relief operation. We are begin asked to step up larger than we ever imagined 24hr ago, to help rebuild lives.

Here is the update – our team will be meeting in Manila on the 3rd of Dec, where we will picking up gear and supplies. On the 5th we will head to a rental house in Cebu. We will use this house as our operations center and staging area for our forward base camp. We will deploy a self-sufficient base camp on a nearby island. (Ground Zero!!) We will be rebuild the homes for hundreds of families that have lost everything.

We have had some amazing people step up and donate already! 12 people have committed to join us on the ground in our efforts. But guys this is not enough we need funding!!! We need tools, tents, lights, medical supplies, food and water, money for shipping this gear to our work site. The larger our team gets the more we can do to help. But we need more donations!!! If we all work together we can really make a difference.

We know not everyone can stop what they are doing to join us, but you can donate to our efforts or help us spread the word to people that can donate. We are not some charity operation with red tape, this money will go straight to the relief efforts. I will have an update again in the next 24hrs.

Big thanks for the support of our friends, family, customers and the YPT team, we can’t do this without you guys.

Sincerely
Chris White, Capt. Joseph Ferris & Team
chris@youngpioneertours.com
Paypal: chris@youngpioneertours.com – # R4T36NB338KZW

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Trans Siberian Express

We are currently underway on Young Pioneer Tours’ Eurasian Adventure. Having made an epic 6 day crossing of the snow covered steppes of Mongolia and Russia on the Trans Siberian Express, I am now in Moscow after a week with no Internet or news from the outside world since Beijing.

For YPT founder, Gareth Johnson, several returning customers making the trip, and myself, the adventure started 16 days ago as we completed all the trip prep-work and obtained visas in Beijing. The YPT apartment turned into a frat house with men sleeping on every available couch and vaguely comfortable surfaces (I spent a few nights hot bunking with the intern), ordering massive amounts of pizza delivery, and getting up to general shenanigans (people who didn’t watch their backside got tasered!). We visited top end night clubs and proudly avoided all things cultural, but in the mornings we were busy working: making consular visits for visas, setting up trip logistics to unrecognized countries, and having lunches at a secret North Korean embassy restaurant.

I made 7 visits to the Belarusian Embassy, in the end sweet talking my way in and picking up my visa and passport on a day the consular was closed. The visa I finally received wont cover the time of my needed stay – I still need to visit the Belarus Embassy in Moscow to try to get the visa corrected.

Day 1

With everything close to being sorted, on the early morning of Oct 6th we brought 5 customers to the Beijing Main Station, boarding our 2nd class Chinese sleeper compartments on the K3 Trans Siberian Express. Being a group of 7 delinquents we promptly headed to the dining car and drank 5 bottles of Chinese Great Wall wine. I snuck off for an afternoon nap, returning later for more wine until we got kicked out of the dining car for being drunkards.

We reached the Chinese side of the Mongolian border around eight thirty at night. Largely due to having to change the rail gauge Chinese border formalities take about 3 hours to complete. Passengers are usually let off and herded into the station, but we remained on board, our passenger car taken to a hanger and lifted to change the wheel assembly units – a fascinating experience.

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Changing the rail gauge at the Mongolian border.

With the car rail gauge changed we waited for immigration. The attractive female officials of the Mongolian side, dressed up in fur hats, military outfits, and black leather boots were far more preferable to the dudes on the Chinese side. With customs finished, the bathrooms unlocked, and with the train heading north into Mongolia, I snuck into my top bunk for a sound nights sleep.

Day 2

New day and new scenery; we are now rolling northbound across Mongolia with yurt dotted hills, pastures, and mountains passing our train windows. The temperature has dropped and shallow snow drifts cover the terrain. We still have our Chinese carriage but the food car has been changed out, now a Mongolian rig with intricately carved woodwork decorations, and an elaborate menu with only one meal available – nothing like the picture, but still tasty.

We hit Ulaanbaatar in the mid afternoon far a one hour stop. Our mission was to split up and buy bread, cheese, sausage, beer, vodka, mixers, and any other available treats. Ulaanbaatar is an ugly city with a certain charm that makes me want to return for a one week summer stay; I find the girls here attractive.

Despite warnings that Russain customs is intense and that we would need to be on our best behavior, our search for vodka was so successful that by the time we reached the 5 hour Mongolian/Russia border ordeal we were all excessively drunk. somehow they let us though without any major incident and we rolled on into Siberian Russia.

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Mongolian yurts.

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Mongolian yurts.

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Mongolian yurts.

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Mongolian dinner car.

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Mongolian rail car detail.

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Ulaanbaatar monument.

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Ulaanbaatar street life.

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Ulaanbaatar’s finest.

Day 3-5

Woke up early (we are now on Moscow time) to the view of Lake Baikal out our window. With dark storm clouds on the horizon, and ferocious breaking waves on the shore, the largest fresh water lake in the world is truly impressive. Our passage along its southern shore took three hours. We seem to have settled into life on the train. The smells of 7 men sharing two cabins: cigarettes, stale beer, and spilled tins of Russian sardines has turned the cabins quite rank. I use baby wet wipes to “shower” with, I don’t think the other guys even try. The two Chinese compartment attendants don’t really do much other then watch DVDs and cook their meals in the wash room – we seem to be here fending for ourselves.

New sobriety laws have been passed in Russia and buying alcohol at the various stops is difficult but possible. We make our hushed requests for pivo (beer) and vodka at the station snack kiosks, with the attendant checking to see who is watching and advising us to hide he bottles in our jacket until back on our carriage.

The days roll by; it has gotten cold! The carriages are toasty, warmed by coal burning furnaces – we find it fun to get drunk, sneak past the attendant, and feed coal into them ourselves. It’s only early November but the Siberian air mass is already frigid, making our food and booze runs at station stops a test of endurance.

I try to pass the time by reading books, but this only raises ridicule from the other travelers who want to get drunk or simply find it amusing to mess with me. We found on our new 2nd hand iPad an app called Star Girl. A game whose demographic targets prepubescent girls, Star Girl has given us hours of entertainment as we go on dates, receive gifts from virtual boyfriends, and build our wardrobe with new outfits to increase our attraction points. The fact that we spend a lot of time in the virtual underwear shop is admittedly rather creepy – but a game that teaches young girls that having lots of boyfriend whose sole purpose are to give you gifts is even more disturbing then us enjoying the game.

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Russian Siberian countryside.

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Russian Siberian countryside.

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Passing a Russian tank.

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A station stop in Siberia.

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Truck load of coal to warm the carriages.

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Truck load of coal to warm the carriages.


Spring/Summer 2014 DPRK Trips!

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Soldiers at the Pyongyang Party Foundation Monument – photo by Joseph A Ferris III

Im excited to announce my tentative spring/summer 2014 DPRK guiding schedule:

May Day Tour: April 28th – May 8th

DPRK Fishing Tour: May 19th – May 28th

June Airport Tour – soon to be announced!

DPRK Hiking Tour: June 20th – June 30th

North/South Ultimate DMZ Tour: July 10th – July 19th

Mt. Paektu Tour: Aug 18th – Aug 30th

This is all tentative, largely based on when I get off my ship in the spring, and how long my summer vacation is. I don’t think I will have the vacation time to do both the May Day trip and Mt. Peaktu – my preference will be to work a little longer into May and guide Peaktu in August. These are all trips I have been penciled in for, I will certainly be guiding much more than this, but I wont know until spring time comes.


Russian Visa In Beijing – Eurasian Adventure

As I’m stuck here in Beijing, getting reading to lead Young Pioneer Tour’s Eurasian Adventure, I thought it might be useful to readers to describe the Russian visa process in Beijing.

Information online about the Russian visa process is rather dodgy, with many stories of frustrated travelers describing it as the worst visa experience of their lives. Our situation had three of us requiring visas, two people with Chinese residency paperwork, and myself only having a one year multiple entry tourist visa. We started yesterday in Beijing’s “Russia Town”, south of the San Li Tun district, and right next to the North Korean Embassy – we had a great lunch at a secret little DPRK restaurant used by embassy staff.

Our first idea was to search out an agent through a Russian travel agency. Starting at the Aliens Market (Russian market) we explored main avenues and side streets, discovering plenty of fur shops and freight exporters, but no travel shops. About to give up we inquired at a hotel which directed us to an unmarked travel agent who could facilitate visas.

Getting a normal Russian tourist visa in Beijing through an agent requires the following:

Chinese resident visa.
Travel insurance for citizens of Schengen member countries.
Passport photo on white background.
Filling out an application provided by the agent.

There were several options for pickup, but my friends opted for 3 working days at 1,800 RMB cost.

I don’t know the name of the agent, but her email and phone number are: 2350824570@qq.com and 13910885537. Her small office is located in front of the Tianya Mansion shopping center on Yanbao Road, just west of Temple of the Sun Park.

Although I only have a Chinese tourist visa the agent would have attempted to get me a Russian tourist visa, but she only gave the odds of success to be 50%, money back if denied. Given time restraints this wasn’t an option for me.

If you have a Chinese resident visa, plan to skip the agent, and get your Russian visa directly through the Embassy, my understanding is you would require the following:

Chinese resident visa.
Travel insurance for citizens of Schengen member countries.
Passport photo on white background.
Application – provided at the embassy.
Invitation letter and hotel voucher – provided by an internet agent.
Photocopy of passport photo page.

Because I only hold a tourist visa, today I went to the Russian Embassy and applied for a transit visa. The process was rather strait forward, requiring the following:

Application – provided by the embassy.
One passport photo – white background.
Copy of the Trans Siberian train ticket, and copy of my exit train ticket.
Proof of visa to next county – Ukraine is visa free for Americans.
Copy of passport photo page.

We arrived at the Embassy consular entrance before 9 AM and were first in line. Service was prompt, helpful, and friendly (by Russian standards), and I was finished with the process within an hour. 5 working day pickup cost approximately 800 RMB; I paid approximately 1,500 RMB for overnight service.

The Russian transit visa allows 10 days maximum in country, allowing for time on the train and stopover in Moscow.

With all luck my Russian transit visa is processed without any problems and tomorrow I can start the Belarus visa process!


New Year’s Party Tour

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I will be heading into DPRK to guide the first ever New Year’s party tour.  This is the first ever year that tourists have been allowed into the country at this time.

Bundle up, join the fun, and be with us for history in the making!

NEW YEAR ULTRA BUDGET PARTY TOUR

Group A Dates: December 31 – January 2 2013
Group A Price: 395 Euros

NEW YEAR PARTY TOUR

December 30 – January 5 2013
Price: 895 Euros


Back To Blogging!

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Boy on a Pyongyang tram – photo by Joseph A Ferris III

I just finished three strait weeks of leading tours: Rason SEZ, Pyongyang and the DMZ, and a Palawan island hopping trip – my excuse for the lack of attention to the blog. I have a relatively quiet two weeks off: hanging out at our North Korea theme bar in Yangshuo, China (more on that to come), securing a Russian visa in Beijing for the Eurasian Adventure Tour, and doing a research trip to the Chinese/DPRK border region.

I visited some great new locations on my last Pyongyang trip and I promise to get cracking on getting some new content posted ASAP!


Antarctica Cruise

We just had some spaces open up on our first ever Antactica Cruise:

December 12 – December 21 2013
Price: 3225 Euros

For the first time ever, YPT are taking groups to the Antarctic aboard the m/v Ortelius .We’ve teamed up with OceanWide Expeditions and managed to get an excellent discount (over €1000!), just for those who book with YPT. See humpback whales in their natural habitat, and be one of the privileged few who can say they’ve visited the beautiful continent of Antartica. The amazing YPT price includes all meals and snacks, so all you’ll need to take is a camera, and a sense of adventure. You’ll also get an opportunity to hear talks by noted naturalists (free of charge) to guarantee you the best experience possible.

Contact me for details on further discounts!

Revelle Near The Ice

Photo of my ship by an Antarctic iceberg on one of my many professional science expeditions to Antarctica.


Chinese National Day Tour

I’m back from leading 25 Young Pioneers on a classic 7 day North Korea trip – my second trip to North Korea in a busy two week period. Several YPT guides and I plan to be back in the DPRK for a New Year’s Eve party; we are accepting guests brave enough to face a Pyongyang winter!

I have a bunch of trips scheduled for Spring/Summer 2014, most excitingly the Koreans have asked me to develop a special 10 day hiking trip to Mt. Kumgang.

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YPT’s Chinese National Day group tour at the Pyongyang Grand Monument.


Tumen – North Hamgyong First Ever Group Tour!

In April 2013 I was the first American tourist to cross the Namyang/Tumen border into North Korea’s North Hamgyong province. Young Pioneer Tour’s head guide Troy Collings led the trip and wrote the following report – photos are mine:

Day 1

I was fortunate enough to be back in North Hamgyong leading the first Western tour group to cross the Tumen-Namyang border and see the cities of Hoeryong and Onsong, on April 24th-29th. There were 12 of us pioneering the way and we definitely had our fair share of crazy events. First we were followed everywhere in Tumen, China by guys from the PSB which is like internal security, and they kept warning us that it was dangerous for us to go outside in Tumen at night because the locals like to drink and fight a lot. They also had some trouble believing we were actually going to North Korea so they asked a lot of questions such as whether we were invited etc.

We also heard only a couple of days before that we wouldn’t be able to go from Chongjin to Rason on this trip as the Koreans had not been able to get the permission in time, so we had to make a few changes. In the end though our partners at Chilbosan Travel Company were amazing and made sure we were always entertained and had new sites to see.

In the end all was well and PSB showed up the next morning to watch us cross the border. Chinese customs took some time as they wanted all our names and nationalities, and took a lot of photos of us going through customs and walking onto the bridge. After walking the long bridge into DPRK our passports were checked by a soldier at the gate and we met our guides Mr So and Ri outside the customs building. Customs was a much easier affair than when I went in November 2012 as they had installed a scanner- so we had to simply declare all our electronics and then get our bags scanned.

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View from the Tumen – Chinese side of the border.

Finally we hit the road and were a fair way along when we came across a broken truck that had made the road impassable. So we got out and threw a football around in a yard in the miner’s village we had stopped in. After a while we started throwing it to some of the local village children. Our guides seemed to have no problem with it so it carried on for nearly an hour playing with them – it was a really memorable experience. Finally they decided we had no choice but to take a detour, so we drove back around to Namyang then towards the East Sea before swinging back around to Hoeryong. So we were lucky enough to be the first tourists of any kind to take that road, even Chinese tourists haven’t yet, and our driver constantly had to ask for directions. They also went and brought some local street food for us as we were well past lunchtime by this point.

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Troy getting a ride from fellow YPT guide Rowan Beard on a remote North Korean road – yes, Rowan is a giant.

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Waiting for truck and road repairs in a remote village.

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Trip member teaching local boys American football while waiting for truck repairs.

The downside of this of course was the time we lost- we ended up having to have dinner in Hoeryong at around 8.30 pm, and  finally arrived in Chongjin at 11pm, where we went to the Seaman’s Club for a quick bath. Some of us stayed to enjoy the club while those who were too tired went to the hotel to sleep. Rowan made friends with the manager over his iPad, while Joe, Mark, Ri and I chatted with the waitresses and showed them some pictures etc. It was an interesting start to what would prove to be an extremely interesting trip.

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Chongjin Seaman’s Club.

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Rowan and the Chongjin Seaman’s Club boss.

Day 2

We woke up at 8, though I had to get up earlier to meet Mr Koh, the manager of the Chilbosan travel company for a quick chat. After breakfast we headed out to see the statue of President Kim Il Sung in the central square , and the nearby E-Library.  It was Military Foundation day, so all the kids had the day off and a mass of them followed us around the area giving us hi-fives and waves, it was such an amazing welcome and they were so happy to see us. Joseph took some amazing pictures and we all felt like genuine rock stars.

Chongjin, North Korea

Posing with the Chongjin Kim Il Sung statue guide.

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Chongjin Kim Il Sung statue.

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Chongjin locals wait for us to move on before paying respects at the Chongjin Kim Il Sung statue.

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Chongjin E-Library.

After the E-Library we went to see the model plan for the future development of Chongjin – a scale model showing the intended renovations and new constructions to develop the city. It’s next door to the E-Library, so we got to see all the children again. It was almost impossible to squeeze through them and onto the bus, not that any one was in a rush to do so. After that we had to head down to Mt Chilbo (we returned to Chongjin later anyway). The drive to Chilbo was fairly uneventful but as always provided some amazing village views and we even saw a few local markets from the bus.

Chongjin, North Korea 5 Year Plan

Chongjin development model.

Chongjin, North Korea

Kids in Chongjin.

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Troy and Rowan with kids in Chongjin.

We stopped at the mineral painting showing the area – the largest of it’s kind in the world apparently, and received an explanation of the area. This is also the only place where you can take photos from the bus while it’s moving which is nice. We then ate lunch at the Outer Chilbo hotel – the manager of which also cooks all the food himself and is a rather famous chef in the area.  He was kind enough to take the time to meet me before we left the area.

Mt. Chilbo Map North Korea

DPRK guide Mr So showing us the Mt Chilbo mineral painting.

After lunch we took a tour of some scenic spots and walks in Inner Chilbo and the Kaesim Buddhist Temple, where we were told that Mt. Chilbo rewards those with good hearts by providing good weather, but for those with wicked hearts the weather will turn bad. We spent the night in the Outer Chilbo hotel where we had a long dinner and sang with the hotel’s waitresses, spending the night drinking and talking with them and the Korean guides.

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Rowan and the lovely waitresses of the Outer Chilbo hotel.

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Troy and the lovely waitresses of the Outer Chilbo hotel.

Day 3

In the morning after breakfast we set off for a long 8.5 kilometer hike to Gangsonmun area – unfortunately the path was still covered in deep snow in places, and near the peak it began to rain and snow. It seems at least one of us had a wicked heart, so we were punished by the mountain had to go back, of course as soon as we went back a far enough distance it became sunny again.

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Hike up a Mt. Chilbo peak.

After our hike we ate a riverside picnic lunch – spicy fish soup that the Koreans cooked up for us.   After lunch it was time to visit the home stay village, which I had been restless for all day.

Mt. Chilbo, North Korea Camp Lunch

Mr. So cooks mountain soup.

We arrived at the village, had a look around, and played volleyball with the locals – we ended up with two teams of 3 foreigners and 3 Koreans with some rotating subs. Each team even had their own cheer groups which was awesome.  After we had some snacks and drinks with the village chief, participated in traditional Korean wrestling, and had a bonfire party on the beach with the locals. That night the Americans in our group were driven back to the Outer Chilbo hotel where they had a small party and a great chat with Mr Ri. The rest of us went to our respective home stays and talked to the occupants, shared photo albums, and finally went to sleep.

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Volleyball at the Mt. Chilbo Home Stay.

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Troy prepares for traditional Korean wrestling.

Day 4

We woke up early to do some light farming work, which turned out to be very light indeed. Rowan and I planted a few seeds in a very, very small area that they asked us to plow. Some people helped sweep the yard, and one guy weeded a strawberry patch for a short while. After we had a stroll around the village area and breakfast. When the US citizens returned from the Outer Chilbo hotel we went out for a boat ride along the coastline in some old wooden fishing boats.

After the boating it was time for another hike up to Manulsang to enjoy the view and a visit to the famous Ponji spring to sample the water. We had lunch at the hotel in Outer Chilbo before departing for Kyongsong, stopping at the Yongbun revolutionary site along the coastline on the way.

After our arrival in Gyongsong we went to see the local revolutionary site where Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Suk had stayed in the past. Originally owned by a winemaker, it was the largest home in the area at the time. Following that we went to a local spa house to bathe which was great after two nights without running hot water – though in Outer Chilbo the hotel did provide us with a bucket of hot water each.  After the baths I saw some locals hitting badminton shuttle cocks back and forth so I asked if we could play with them and our guides said no problem.  We joined and played for some time, which was another unexpected, yet pleasant surprise.

Gyongsong Spa, North Korea

Gyongsong hot spa clinic.

North Korean Badminton

Locals playing badminton.

We spent that night at the Gyongsong hotel, having dinner there, and a party with the waitresses of the hotel. I was also able to get the guides to send someone out to the local shops to get us Swallow Beer (another type of beer not found in tourist shops and restaurants) and Craven A cigarettes (also not usually available for tourists), so again I was surprised at how amenable our guides were.

Northeast Extreme North Korea Trip

Gyongsong Hotel party.

Day 5

In the morning we went to the Jipsam Revolutionary Site while on the way to Chongjin, and finally returned to Chongjin, where we visited the Chonsam region kindergarten and enjoyed a children’s performance.   We had lunch at the Seaman’s club, where I was joined by Manager Koh who had brought Paeksul for us. Paeksul is one of the DPRK’s top liquors (It’s 30% alcohol and is made only from Pears), so it was a very pleasant surprise. I had to leave the others to enjoy lunch while I ate with the Koreans and discussed business for a while.  We had some very exciting discussions – the future for tourism up there looks very bright.

Kindergarten Performance Chongjin, North Korea

Chongjin kindergarten show.

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Troy with the Chongjin kindergarten teachers.

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Troy and Rowan in a kindergarten classroom.

After lunch we shopped in the seaman’s club shop and then drove by the port to have a look.  It was finally time to leave Chongjin and we drove off to Hyeryong city, where we were the first group of Western Tourists ever. Upon our arrival we paid respects to Kim Jong Suk’s (revolutionary war hero and mother of Kim Jong Il) statue and took photos of the central square area. We then walked over the hill to see the house where she was born, and  visited the Hyeryong Revolutionary Museum, before checking in at the hotel.

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Chongjing Seaman’s Club cold noodle lunch.

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Hyeryong Kim Jong Suk statue.

That night we sang and danced with the Hyeryong waitresses.  Everyone had a good time (expect for Joe who was sick), and I think the Koreans really enjoyed the chance to get to know some foreigners too, as they had only met Chinese before (and me in November of course).

Day 6

After breakfast we visited the Kim Ki Song (little brother of Kim Jong Suk) Middle School. We were the first tourists ever to visit, opening it according to my requests in November, it was very good to see them come through. We saw several classrooms of the school, but the highlight was having the opportunity to speak with the English class.  Never having spoken with foreigners before the kids were quite nervous, and with unfamiliar accents etc, it was quite a challenge, but fun and rewarding none the less.  Unfortunately the teacher’s college and maternity hospital have not yet decided to allow us or not – we will see in the future if those sites will be available.

Kim Ki-song Middle School Hyeryong, North Korea

Kim Ki Song Middle School.

Kim Ki-song Middle School Hyeryong, North Korea

Kim Ki Song Middle School.

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View of Hyeryong town.

From Hyeryong we drove to Onsong County, another first for a Western tour group.  We visited the Grand Monument at Wangjaesan, which is perhaps the most impressive monument I have ever seen in the country. After we toured the Wangjaesan revolutionary museum at the base of the hill.

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A small section of the Grand Monument at Wangjaesan.

Lastly it was time for customs; we had a customs official travel on the bus with us to check photos and help speed up formalities.  The border post still took a fair while, though the scanners really helped!  We then said farewell to our guides and crossed the bridge to return to Tumen. Chinese customs all seemed very happy to see us, and our PSB police friend was there to meet us.  Customs took a long time here too, but finally we left and headed by bus to Yanji.

It was a great trip and I see a lot of potential for continued tourism in this region.  Our partners up there seem very committed to helping us to access as much as we can.  For returners, or people who want to see a more representative area of the DPRK, I would definitely recommend it. As one of our group members said, the bus rides were almost a tour within a tour, as we could see a lot of authentic villages, markets etc up there. Of course photography off the bus is not allowed (except within Mt Chilbo region.) I’m definitely looking forward to the next one!

Troy Collings


Mt. Chibo Homestay

An overnight at the Mt. Chibo Homestay is a highlight of any trip to the remote North East of North Korea. On a pristine beach with the Chilbo mountains soaring behind, the home stay affords visitors unique interactions with locals, and ample leisure time to enjoy activities like village volleyball tournaments, traditional Korean wrestling, beach side campfires with sing-alongs, and traditional fishing boat rides.

Mt Chilbo Home Stay

Is the Mt. Chilbo Homestay a Potemkin Village? Read my interview with NK News to learn more, or better yet, visit North Korea’s remote Northeast and decide for yourself!

More pics from the Mt. Chilbo Homestay below:

Mt. Chilbo Homestay

Homestay map.

Mt. Chilbo Home Stay

Tour of the homes; typical living room.

Mt. Chilbo Volleyball Cheerleaders

Volleyball cheerleaders.

Volleyball Cheerleaders at Mt. Chilbo Home Stay

Girl at Mt. Chilbo Home Stay

Mt. Chilbo Boating North Korea

Fishing boat ride on the East Korean Sea.

Mt. Chilbo Fishing Boat

Mt. Chilbo Home Stay Camp Fire

Campfire with locals.

Mt. Chilbo, North Korea Home Stay

Mt. Chilbo Home Stay Songs and Camp Fire

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I won the traditional Korean wrestling tournament!

Photos by Joseph A Ferris III


Snow Skiing in North Korea

The North Koreans are building a ski slope, and despite setbacks over ski lift procurement, the mountain is set to open next winter.  Last week the general managers of Young Pioneer Tours were the first westerners invited to the East Coast city of Wŏnsan to inspect the ski slope construction.  In addition to taking some of the first pictures of the ski slope, they also report that the mountain will be open to western tourists.  Skiers will be giving full access to the mountain – DPRK guides will not be chasing behind them!

Young Pioneer Tours fully expects to offer several winter ski trips once the mountain opens – more details to come!

North Korean Ski Slope

North Korean Ski Slope Hotel

North Korean Ski Slope

Construction at the Wonsan area ski slope – photos by Young Pioneer Tours


Eurasian Adventure Tour

Young Pioneer Tour’s founder, Gareth Johnson, and I will be guiding this epic adventure:

Beijing – Moscow – Minsk – Kiev – Chernobyl – Transnistria – Chisinau – Bucharest – Sofia – Macedonia – Kosovo – Tirana

Trip runs November 6th – December 2nd -with options to join various segments a one week intervals.

Still time to join up!

Quite frankly one of our favorite tours, our third annual Eurasian Adventure Tour!

The tour starts in Beijing, with an overnight stay and optional visit to the Mausoleum of Chairman Mao, before embarking on the 6 day epic that is the Trans-Mongolian, or the “party train” as it also known. We already have a number of people signed up for this part, so if you are considering taking the train anyway, why not join us fun young people?

Following our arrival in Moscow we start to fully embrace Soviet nostalgia, by visiting all of Moscow’s top sites, before taking the train to the most Soviet of all republics Belarus, and it’s capital Minsk, where we will be seeing such treasures as the former residence of Lee Harvey-Oswald, as well as staying in our own little pimping apartment.

This leads us on to group 3, our big group, where we will be visiting not only Pripyat (Chernobyl), but also doing the extreme missile base tour, as well as sampling the night time delights on a bar crawl. Accommodation? Old style Soviet Hotel, complete with rude staff, peeling wallpaper, and more corruption than you can shake a sickle at.

After group 3 leave us in Kiev, group 4 continue firstly to Odessa, then onto Tiraspol, capital of the breakaway republic of Transnistria. If you do not know anything about the place, Google it. And if you want off the beaten track this is it. There is one hostel in the whole country, and we are the first group to ever inquire about going there. A true Soviet Time-warp. Following a few nights here, we visit Moldova, the only ex-Soviet republic to vote the communists back in! Before taking the overnight bus to Bucharest, which as a flight hub, and will make it easier to arrange onward flights.

Group 5 completes the full communist chic element, with us visiting the former homes of Ceausescu, Tito, and Hoxxa, via Romania, Macedonia and Albania, as well as visiting the contemporary hot spots that are Mitrovice, and Kosovo, before finishing in Albania, which has ferry, road, and air links to aid your onward journey.

YPT are all about budget, and this tour is by no means any different, many companies, charge over 1000 Euro just for the trans-Mongolian, or 250 Euro just for a day at Pripya, we have managed to budget the whole thing, Beijing – Tirana, over 26 barmy days, to just €1898, all in. With the tour being split into 5 manageable parts, each part is completely optional, with guests having full autonomy to do any part they fancy, from just 1, to all 5.

Carriage, Trans-Siberian Railway

Trans Siberian Express – photo by Garrett Ziegler

Pricing Combined Packages:

€1548 – Beijing – Bucharest November 6th – 24th
€1898 Beijing – Tirana (Albania) November 6th – December 2nd

Individual Groups

Group 1(Beijing – Moscow) = €695
Group 2 (Moscow – Minsk – Kiev)= €255 / 950
Group 3 (Kiev – Pripyat – Kiev) = €349 / 1299
Group 4 (Kiev – Odessa – Transnistria – Moldova – Romania) = €249 /1548
Group 5 (Bucharest – Sofia – Skopje – Kosovo – Tirana) = €350 / 1898


Chinese National Day Tour

Chinese National Day Tour – September 30th – October 8th

My plans have changed; instead of a Rason trip I’m now being sent in to guide the finale of the Arirang Mass Games for Young Pioneer Tour’s Chinese National Day Tour.

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Still time to arrange a visa to see the final Arirang Mass Games: €1195 – 7 days in DPRK, Train/Flight In, Train Out (Flight out +€120) Dandong option €795

Pyongyang – Kaesong – Sariwon – Nampo


Restricted Chongjin, North Korea

In the post 5 Reasons Not To Go To North Korea, the author claims (amongst many other things I strongly disagree with) that travel to the Northeast industrial city of Chongjin is impossible:

The Whole Restriction Thing

You know those tour buses that clutter up every major city in the world? The ones that pull up and regurgitate camera-snapping masses onto the streets of London, Paris, New York and Rome?

Give me one of those any day over a trip to Pyongyang.

You see, you only see what the government allow you to see. That is to say, you see the capital city and all the chintziest sights that the Kim dynasty deem suitable for foreign eyes, the sights that portray their tyrannic regime in the best light possible. Prosperous, modern, robust

Your cameras are checked. You can only take photographs where permitted. You can’t wander down a side street while the rest of your tour group is regaled with tales of double rainbows and icebergs heralding the birth of Kim Jong Il.

You won’t see Cheongjin, the industrial city on the coast that was thoroughly ransacked and ravaged during the famine, North Korea’s second largest. It’s not even on Google maps at present.

This isn’t accurate, Chongjin has been an approved tourist city for some time, the problem has been getting there. Until recently access was only possible by charter flight via Pyongyang, but in 2013 new routes in the Northeast were opened with Chongjin easily visited via either Rason or Namyang.

The Whole Not Seeing Anything New Thing

What exactly would a visitor to North Korea see that hasn’t been seen before?

Will they see the places I’ve listed above? Not unless the government relax their policies regarding where can and cannot be visited, and even under the rule of Kim Jong Un, who appears to be slightly less monstrous than his father, this appears unlikely at present.

Rather, a visitor to North Korea is only going to see what everyone else before them has seen. See the same statues, hear the same stories, walk across the giant streets with barely a car in sight – maybe even catch a military parade of some kind if they’re lucky.

There are so many new places and things to see in the DPRK it’s mind blowing.  Join Young Pioneer Tours on one of their Northeast Extreme trips, a cruise out of Rason, Dandong day trips to Sinuiju, or check out the newly opened sites in the town of Pyongsong – there is no excuse for not seeing something new on a trip to North Korea if you are adventures enough to get out of Pyongyang!

Amazing interactions with local kids in the “you won’t see Cheongjin” industrial city of the Northeast:

Chongjin, North Korea
Chongjin, North Korea

Chongjin, North Korea

Chongjin, North Korea

Chongjin, North Korea

Chongjin, North Korea

Chongjin, North Korea

Chongjin, North Korea

Chongjin, North Korea

Chongjin, North Korea

Chongjin, North Korea

Chongjin, North Korea

Photos by Joseph A Ferris III


Rason Business Interest Tour

Rason, North Korea

Development under the watchful eyes of a Kim mosaic in Rason, North Korea.

Join me for the September 22nd – September 27th Rason Business Interest Tour.

The 3 night, 4 day trip has us visiting many of the major joint-venture and foreign owned companies in the area as well as most importantly meeting people involved with the foreign affairs and investment departments in the area to explore opportunities in the region as well as the logistics of doing business here.

Whilst we will be visiting tourist attractions whilst here the trip will primarily be based around doing business, and as such we will only be accepting bookings from people looking to do business here.

This is an excellent opportunity to meet the people that matter, set up further appointments, and begin what can be a long process of doing business in the DPRK.

The trip starts and finishes in Beijing/Yanji, with us doing a Rason Business presentation at the wonderful LiuJing Hotel, Yanji on the evening prior to departure.

4 nights, 5 days • €695 (650 meet in Yanji) • (Beijing – Yanji – Rason – Yanji. (3 nights, 4 days in Rason, 1 night, 2 days in China)

This trip is capped at 6 people, three more spaces available, and time to sign up is limited.

Full itinerary can be found here.


Young Pioneer Tour’s 2014 DPRK Schedule – With Massive Discounts!

Northeast Extreme North Korea Trip

YPT is extremely pleased to announce our very eagerly anticipated 2014 DPRK mainland tour schedule. We have added a lot of very exciting new tours to our program, as well as keeping all of our very firm favorites.

2013 is officially the last year of Arirang, but seeing as the country has run some kind of “mass games” pretty much every year since 1946, we are extremely confident there will be a program for 2014, as with everything at YPT we will keep you posted.

MASSIVE DISCOUNTS – The most exciting thing about the list is that we are offering massive discounts of between 20-30% on all tours for 2014 booked in 2013, with 3 days from as little as 350 Euro, and 7 days for under 1000. Prices for our January/February tours will go up on November 1st, with everything from March onwards going up on January 1st.

Email me at joseph@youngpioneertours.com to get your early booking discount!


2014 Young Pioneer DPRK Tours

Looking forward to the release of our 2014 DPRK lineup:

By August 2nd YPT will be launching our DPRK 2014 program, which whilst having some similar bits to 2013, will have a few cool extras thrown in. We will also once again be offering massive discounts to early bookers.

Musk Deer Mountian North Korea

A guide picks azaleas on Musk Dear Mountain in Rason, North Korea – photo by Joseph A Ferris III

I have a quiet autumn for DPRK trips; a private Rason trip is currently the only thing on my schedule for North Korea.  In November I will helping Gareth Johnson, YPT founder, on the month long Eurasian Adventure Tour, and in December I plan to head down to Africa to scout out Djibouti, Eritrea, and Somaliland for a spring Young Pioneer Tours trip that I plan to guide in that region.  My hope is to work a long winter and spring on my ship and have the 2014 summer free to guide during the busy DPRK season – with luck I will score the Mt. Baekdu trip!

In between these tours you can look for me at our newly acquired North Korean theme bar in Yangshuo, China, where I will be serving beers and selling trips this October.

Discounts at the DMZ Bar when you book a YPT Tour

The bar is staffed at all times by at least one, but oftentimes a few YPT full time guides/tour organizers, with our being that it can be a great place in the sun to sit, enjoy a beer, and talk about all things tour related with an expert about the DPRK, and all of the other great places we go to with YPT. Essentially it is as much a branch office as it is a bar, with it being fully fitted with books and brochures about the country as well as our experts.

Therefore to add a little spice to the place we are offering a 5% discount on all tours booked, and where the cash deposit has been paid at the bar. Very simple, you make the effort to come to the bar, or by even luckier chance happen to be going through there anyway, and YPT give you a sexy little discount, and you never know, you might actually enjoy yourselves!

Give the DMZ Bar a like on its Facebook page!


Rason Korean Language Tour

Rason Korean Language Tour

Dates: August 13 – August 19 2013
Price: 995 Euros

Rason Foreign Language School North Korea

An afternoon of interaction and study with the lovely students of the  Rason Foreign Language School is included in the itinerary.

Join us for our first ever Korean Language Tour, being held in the Rason Special Economic Zone of the DPRK. This trip is perfect for beginner level speakers of Korean to come and learn the local DPRK dialect in a relaxed setting with both a Korean-American and DPR Korean teacher in the morning, whilst using your afternoons and evenings to practice your new language skills authentically.

This trip is aimed at those with little to no knowledge of Korean. For speakers of a higher level, alternative classes and itinerary can be arranged.

The classes will involve learning the Korean alphabet, everyday Korean, as well as essentials like restaurant and shopping vocabulary.

This tour would be of particular interest to people who have already been to the DPRK “mainland”, and wish to step really off the beaten track. Those people interested in the opening up of the DPRK economy (we can arrange business meetings for those joining the tour), and anyone with an interest in seeing this very unique part of the country.

Not to mention that Rason is the ONLY place in the DPRK where you receive a stamp in your passport (excluding US and Japanese passports), and can also change local money freely, as well visit the private markets.

We are currently offering discounts for group bookings, students, return customers and those combining the language course with other tours.

Unfortunately I’m still working on my ship in Aug. and wont be available to guide this trip (hopefully next year), but for those interested in joining up with one of YPT’s other fantastic guides there is still time to sign up and get a discount by contacting me at joseph@youngpioneertours.com


Late September Rason SEZ Trip

Join Young Pioneer Tours founder Gareth Johnson and I for a late September VIP business interests trip to the Rason Special Economic Zone of North Korea.

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Jets, missiles, and tanks at a Rason SEZ kindergarten playground.

We are still finalizing itinerary details and dates, but in addition to planned meetings with officials (perfect for those interested in the opening up of the DPRK economy), we will visit the Triangle Bank, the only place in North Korea where it is permitted for tourists to change the Korean Won at the “street” rate, and visit the Rason public market, the only place where you can legally spend your newly acquired Won – truly unique experiences!

We are only taking a limited amount of travelers on this trip, but spaces are available.  I will post the dates (probably heading there around Sept 23rd), price, and itinerary as soon as I get them confirmed by the North Koreans.  Email me at joseph@youngpioneertours.com for more info.

Pics from my May 2013 trip to Rason SEZ:

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With kindergarten students after a performance.

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A hike to revolutionary sites on Musk Dear Mountain.

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A close look at North Korean ships at the Rason port.

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Seafood I bought with local currency at the Rason public market.

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With North Korean guide Mr. Moon at the monument to Ri Song Sin – builder of the Turtle Boat.