Posts tagged “Asia

IMPORTANT: Philippines Relief Effort

Dear friends, family and fellow travelers – Young Pioneer Tours is sending Chris White & Captain Joseph Ferris to the Philippines to help our friends in the disaster relief effort. They will be on the ground helping rebuild destroyed homes and distribute well needed supplies. We are asking that anyone that is capable please donate to our efforts. If you are interested in helping with this monumental task or join our crew please contact Chris White at chris@youngpioneertours.com. We thank you for all your support! We will keep you posted on our efforts as they unfold.

Donations can be made to Paypal account: # R4T36NB338KZW email: chris@youngpioneertours.com

Thanks from the YPT family.

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Update: Within 5 hours of posting the Young Pioneer Tours Philippines Relief Mission, we have had 5 YPT pioneers volunteer to join our team and several donors commit money to our efforts. Thank you to everyone that has shared our link or contacted us. We need to keep it going. We are looking for more donations to help us buy supplies in China before we head over. If you can help let us know. email chris@youngpioneertours.com for more information and ways to donate. Thanks guys you are the best!!!!


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!


Where In The World?

Where in the world is this? DPRK of course, but I find it striking that the below pics from the Rason seaside park could be of healthy and happy children at play in any random park in the first world – more visual testimony of how quickly North Korea is modernizing for the better.

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Photos by Joseph A Ferris III


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


Pyongyang Smile

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Girls at Mansudae Fountain Park, Pyongyang – photo by Joseph A Ferris III


Fall 2013 Pyongyang Traffic Girl

Latest round of Pyongyang traffic girl pics from my October trip:

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Gift Photos To The Girls Of The Rason Foreign Language Institute

I spent some time last spring practicing conversational English with the girls of the Rason Foreign Language Institute. On my return I gifted them photos from the first visit:

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The girls checking out the photos.

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The girls checking out the photos.

Rason Foreign Language School North Korea

Gift photo from my first visit.

Rason Foreign Language School North Korea

Gift photo from my first visit.

The children we interact with at the Rason Foreign Language Institute are aged 13-15, and are chosen to converse with us because they rank the top of their class. Shy at first, the girls quickly warm up by asking questions about family life in the United States, asking about our favorite colors, sports, hobbies, and animals. I keep it simple and ask them similar questions, learning that they enjoy swimming, reading, piano, and watching cartoons. Most of the girls want to be teachers when the grow up; they all hope to someday live in Pyongyang.


Back From Rason Special Economic Zone, North Korea

I just returned from the Rason SEZ of North Korea on a private business trip, and although it was mainly meetings with officials, I still had time to visit some sites and get some great pics!

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Girl swinging at the Rason sea park – photo by Joseph A Ferris III


Pyongyang Zoo

Located at the base of the Revolutionary Martyrs’ Cemetery, next to the Botanical Gardens, and serviced by the Rakwon Metro stop, the Pyongyang Zoo makes for a lovely visit. The Zoo is open daily, but weekends are an especially good time to visit as the zoo will be busy with locals on their day off, providing tourists with lots of relaxed opportunities to interact.

The zoo is nice by Asian standards. It is well stocked with most animals you would expect, and some surprises, such as sections for domestic cats and domestic dogs. Commonly found on most pens are signs describing how the animal on display was donated by Kim Jong Il. Opportunities to trot around the grounds on ponies and camels are available for those daring enough. The Pyongyang Zoo is not included on most itineraries, but a visit can be easily arranged provided available time in your itinerary.

Pyongyang Zoo Dog Pen

A lonly St. Bernard.

Pyongyang Zoo Dog Pen

Dalmatians donated by Kim Jong Il.

Pyongyang Zoo Dog Pen

Dalmatians donated by Kim Jong Il.

Pyongyang Zoo

Young Pioneers at bird cages.

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Pony cart rides.

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Pyongyang Zoo duck pond.

Pyongyang Vendor

Ice cream vendor.

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Pony rides.

North Korean Propaganda

Zoo construction site propaganda art.

Photos by Joseph A Ferris III


Rungra Island Funfair

Most warmer month DPRK tour itineraries include a visit Pyongyang’s Kaeson Fun Fair – it has the biggest roller coasters and is centrally located next to the Arch of Triumph.  But other options for those looking for their adrenalin fix exist; next to May Day Stadium on Rungra Island  is the newly constructed Rungra Island Funfair and Pleasure Park.  The sprawling 100 hector complex actually comprises two separate amusement parks and a dolphinarium – unfortunately we missed the dolphin show on my visit.  The Kaeson Fun Fair may have the blockbuster rides, but the amusements at the Rungra Island Funfair are more surreal; check out the crazy mouse roller coaster and the Mexican sombrero ride in the pictures below:

Rungra Island Funfair Pyongyang

Rungra Island Funfair Pyongyang

Rungra Island Funfair Pyongyang

Rungra Island Funfair Pyongyang

Rungra Island Funfair Pyongyang

Rungra Island Funfair Pyongyang

Rungra Island Funfair Pyongyang

Rungra Island Funfair Pyongyang

Rungra Island Funfair Pyongyang

Rungra Island Funfair Pyongyang

Photos by Joseph A Ferris III


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


A State of Mind – North Korean Film Review

The documentary A State of Mind broke ground in 2003 as the first western production to be allowed unrestricted access into Pyongyang, filming in the homes of friends Pak Hyon Sun (age 13) and Kim Song Yun (age 11), and showing insights into their daily life as they trained for gymnastics performances in a run of mass games.

Their determined preparation leading to the film’s “socialist realist extravaganza” mass games finale is fascinating, but I more enjoyed the peeks into the girl’s daily lives: attempts to ditch homework, delight as one girl inherits a room when an older sister joins the army, and a father complaining about his house full of chatty woman.

The filmmakers successfully present a non judgmental viewpoint, but there is no mistaking the reality of a people’s collectivist mindset. Sacrifice of individuality to the needs of the state is the film’s major theme – which is precisely what the mass game and other mass events aim to be the ultimate representation of.

Filmed a decade ago, this is not the DPRK I am firsthand familiar with, but I still love this documentary and consider it required viewing for anyone with an interest in the country. I personally know the director, and although I haven’t met the girls from the film, I have seen behind the scenes photos of them from the production, making this extra special film for me.

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You can find A State of Mind on Amazon.com.


Feedback Time!

What has this blog taught you about North Korea?

Insights?  Shattered misconceptions?  Please leave a comment – thanks!

Pyongyang Children

Children at the Pyongyang Zoo – photo by Joseph A Ferris III

 

 


Is it Time to Defy Washington’s Logic on North Korea?

Wonsan, North Korea

Propaganda in Wonsan, North Korea – photo by Joseph A Ferris III

Great analysis on the failed US “Strategic Patience” policy in regards to the North Korea problem by my friend, and  decorated Army Veteran, Michael Bassett.


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!


North Korean Middle School Badges

North Koreans are initiated into the wearing of badges and insignia at a young age. In the Rason SEZ I found kindergarten children wearing red star badges as a reward for exemplary performance.  Throughout the country regimented middle school children compete for rank; those who win responsibilities, receive and wear arm badges.

Young Pioneers at the Mangyongdae Native House North Korea

The highest ranking student in a class receives an arm badge displaying three bars and three stars, as the boy above is wearing.

These types of badges are not available for tourists at souvenir shops, but I did find them.  I purchased several using local North Korean currency at the public market in the Rason Special Economic Zone.

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Of the two middle school badges I purchased, the one on the right, two bars and one star, ranks higher than the the one on the left, three stars and one bar.  I wore the higher ranking badge on my arm in the DPRK and the locals were absolutely delighted.  Women giggled, men posed for pictures with me, and I was repeatedly asked why I only held a mid level rank.

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Notice the lower ranking badge in the above picture; after leaving my camera battery charger at the Nampo Hot Spring Hotel and having to return for it, Miss Yu, the North Korean guide, demoted me!


Red Star for Exceptional Kindergarten Performance

Children from a kindergarten in Rason, North Korea  proudly wear red star awards for exceptional daily performance.

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Rason Kindergarten North Korea

Rason Kindergarten North Korea

Rason Kindergarten North Korea

Rason Kindergarten North Korea

Rason Kindergarten North Korea

Rason Kindergarten North Korea

Photos by Joseph A Ferris III


North Korean Graffiti

Graffiti that I found under a bridge at Inner Mt. Chilbo, North Korea.

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The FBI in North Korea

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Shhhhh, dont tell, but the FBI has infiltrated North Korea!

Actually it’s just a Chinese knockoff hat worn by a North Korean at the Mt. Chilbo Home Stay Village. The man had no idea what the hat signified and seemed bewildered by all the attention and requests for photos – and just to be clear, he was wearing the hat, we didn’t put it on him.


More North Korean Children’s School Propaganda Art

Rason Foreign Language School North Korea

Framed print at the Rason Foreign Language School showing school children stabbing an American GI, Japanese imperialist, and a South Korean running dog.

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Jet, apple, ship, star, tank, and pear on a poster at the Sonbong Kindergarten.

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Military personnel, unified Korea, and a missile launch on a painted exterior wall at the Sonbong Kindergarten.

Photos by Joseph A Ferris III


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


Super Cute Kindergarten Performance

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Chongjin City kindergarten performance – photo by Joseph A Ferris III


Pyongyang Military Circus Trapeze

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A trapeze artist prepares for the Pyongyang Military Circus finale – the inspiration for the film Comrade Kim Goes Flying?

Comrade Kim Yong Mi is a North Korean coal miner. Her dream of becoming a trapeze artist is crushed by the arrogant trapeze star Pak Jang Phil who believes miners belong underground and not in the air.

My friends at the Koryo Group continue showing the film around the world at select film festivals.  Don’t miss it at the Sydney Film Festival, June 5th – 16th, and the Edinburgh International Film Festival, June 19th – 30th.

With all the action just a blur I put my camera down to concentrate on enjoying the show; readers will just have to be content with more pics of the finale setup:

Pyongyang Military Circus, North Korea

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