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.
Chris White, Capt. Joseph Ferris & Team
Paypal: firstname.lastname@example.org – # R4T36NB338KZW
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 email@example.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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks from the YPT family.
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 email@example.com for more information and ways to donate. Thanks guys you are the best!!!!
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:
June Airport Tour – soon to be announced!
North/South Ultimate DMZ Tour: July 10th – July 19th
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org 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!
Room rates at the Emperor Hotel and Casino in Rason SEZ, North Korea. 780 RMB = 128 USD for the cheapest room, 1680 RMB = 276 USD for their top suite.
Pipi Island and the Emperor Hotel and Casino – a custom gambling trip could easily be arranged if anyone is interested!
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!
Group A Dates: December 31 – January 2 2013
Group A Price: 395 Euros
December 30 – January 5 2013
Price: 895 Euros
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!
Girl swinging at the Rason sea park – photo by Joseph A Ferris III
I have never been a fan of graphic novels, but recently I read and enjoyed Guy Delisle’s Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea.
Guy Delisle worked in Pyongyang as a project manager for a French animation company in the early 2000’s. The outsourced animation projects he oversaw seemed to run themselves, and finding himself without much to do, Guy busied himself by sketching scenes of Pyongyang and documenting instances of culture shock he encountered.
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea is witty, and fair (I believe) to what the experience must have been like as an expat there in the early 2000’s. His portrayal of Pyongyang’s unique buildings and architecture is spot on, and I found myself reminiscing over the many little details of Pyongyang he sketched: 50’s era Hungarian buses with star embalms, each star indicating 5,000 accident free driving miles, ladies of Pyongyang wearing socks hiked up over their nylons, and fly swatting waitresses. Even the lonely (and endangered – so I’m told) turtle in the giant fish tank at the Yanggakdo Hotel bar is a recurring character.
For North Korea watchers not fortunate to have visited the country, perhaps the most useful sketches from Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea are of Guy’s visit to the International Friendship Exhibition, a site where interior photography is prohibited.
It’s a shame Guy never visited the Kumsusan Memorial Palace and Mausoleum; his sketches would have been quite valuable as interior photography is also prohibited there.
For fans of graphic novels, and for those waiting to properly fill out their North Korean book collection, I certainly suggest picking up Guy Delisle’s Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea.
Guard with silver plated AK-47 protects the entrance to the International Friendship Exhibition.
Holding all the gifts ever received by leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, the two massive mountain bunker palaces comprising the Myohyang-san International Friendship Exhibition are deservedly one of North Korea’s top sites.
Some of the gifts are notorious: bullet-proof cars from Stalin, a Kim Il Sung life size wax statue (that you are expected to bow to) from the Chinese, a basketball signed by Michael Jordan from former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Other gifts are more mundane: medals and plaques from communist friendship societies, nicknacks from diplomats, and TVs, golf bags, and living room sets from various Asian businessmen.
Humble or grand, the gifts on display serve as physical examples of world’s love and admiration for the deceased North Korean leaders – gifts to Mother Kim Jong Suk and Marshall Kim Jong Un are also housed there.
The International Friendship Exhibition holds an astonishing estimated 275,000 gifts – an exact count is digitally displayed in the first hall. Visitors are required to wear cloth booties to prevent dirt from being tracked into the sacred halls as they view the gifts. There is so much to see that groups get to choose continents – I recommend seeing the gifts from Africa and Asia.
Touring the numerous halls of the International Friendship Exhibition is tiring, fortunately there is a a resting pavilion and cafe overlooking a scenic valley for visitors to enjoy at the end of their tour.
KITC guide Miss Han and a local guide having a rest at the viewing pavilion.
Most North Koreans will make at least one pilgrimage during their lifetimes to view the treasures on display at the International Friendship Exhibition. Sacred Mount Paektu, Kumsusan Palace of the Sun (mausoleum of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il ),and the capital city of Pyongyang are the other great domestic North Korean pilgrimage sites.
Photography inside the International Friendship Exhibition is strictly forbidden (readers will have to use their imagination), but I was lucky enough to find a rare stamp of my favorite gift, the stuffed crocodile bar set given by the Nicaraguan Sandinista communists, which should give you an insight into the treasures the International Friendship Exhibition safeguards.
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!
Construction at the Wonsan area ski slope – photos by Young Pioneer Tours
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:
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:
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.
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:
Woman in revolutionary outfit on a cell phone at Mansu Hill, Pyongyang – Photo by Joseph A Ferris III
Propaganda in Wonsan, North Korea – photo by Joseph A Ferris III
No visit to Rason, North Korea would be complete (at least for those interested in business or entertainment) without a stop at the Hong Kong investor owned Emperor Hotel and Casino. The second casino in North Korea (the original being a small dodgy room in the Yanggakdo International Hotel basement), the Emperor Hotel and Casino is located on a lonely stretch of coast with farmers and oxen tilling fields right up to the empty parking lots.
The lobby is spotless, the restaurant promising (but empty), and the signs politely remind Chinese gamblers not to spit. Visitors can only gamble if they exchange a minimum of 500 dollars into chips – we didn’t, so we couldn’t visit the gaming floor. Neither did we visit the dodgy Chinese massage parlor, but as per our guide’s proud recommendation, we did use the county’s only 5 star bathroom.
The casino has a fleet of Humvee vehicles reportedly confiscated from Chinese mafia gamblers who lost millions of dollars and refused to pay their debt. They left the Humvees instead, which are now used to shuttle patrons down from the Chinese border – they must have been on a run, we searched for the Humvees but the casino motor pool was empty.
And if this wasn’t all surreal enough, there is even an associated pawn shop for unlucky gamblers located on the road leading to the casino!
More pics of the Emperor Hotel and Casino:
Dodgy Chinese massage!
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.
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 email@example.com to get your early booking discount!
Last spring I had a chance to visit the 16th Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair held at the Three Revolutionary Ideas Exhibition. Entrance was 5 Euros and not everybody in my tour group wanted to visit. Those who didn’t enter got to mingle with locals and eat barbeque pork at an outside food court, but those of us who did visit were treated to an amazing look at North Korean technology and the country’s emerging marketplace.
Luxury Tissot watch booth. Other luxury Swiss items can be found at a shop at the Yanggakdo Hotel.
North Korean Samjiyon Tablet – are their tablets and new smart phones really made in North Korea?
This photo is credited as being the first to confirm the existence of the larger size Samjiyon Tablet.
Flat screen TVs showing the Moranbong Band.
Panasonic in Pyongyang.
Washers, dryers, and refrigerators.
Young woman in revolutionary outfit using North Korean currency at the trade fair.
Want to learn more about business opportunities in the DPRK ? Gareth Johnson, Young Pioneer Tours founder, and I will be heading up to the Rason Special Economic Zone for 3 days of business meetings on Sept 24th. This is not a tourist trip, but for those with serious business interests there is still time to join up. Please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org – full itinerary and price to be published shortly.
The Rason shoe factory is one of the various light industry sites open to tourists in the North Korean Special Economic Zone. Unlike the bustling Rason textile factory, the shoe factory was only running at half capacity on my visit. Factory officials embarrassingly explained that output was down due to sanctions – although that seemed a dubious excuse after having witnessed the busy textile factory production floors. But then again, I’m not an expert on sanctions, and keeping North Korean high heels off the international market might truly be part of American strategy to force regime change.
Young girl with a Hello Kitty sweatshirt in Rason, North Korea – photo by Joseph A Ferris III
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.
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!
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!
Getting your caffeine fix in North Korea can be quite a challenge. A tasteless cup of instant coffee is usually provided with hotel breakfasts, and a cup of instant can be mixed up for a Euro at the various rest stops and lunch/dinner restaurants. But coffee lovers don’t despair; a proper latte or cappuccino can be had at the Viennese Coffee Shop located off Pyongyang’s Kim Il-sung square. The coffee shop is open for tourists and doesn’t require a prearranged permit, just ask your guides if there is time to stop by.
While located in Pyongyang, a latte at the Viennese Coffee Shop will cost as much as one goes for in the Austrian capital!
Not only does this lovely North Korea barista whip up a great cappuccino, she is also a champion foosball (table football) player. Ask her to play a couple games; an hour of foosball at the table in the back room goes for a Euro.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com for more info.
Pics from my May 2013 trip to Rason SEZ:
With kindergarten students after a performance.
A hike to revolutionary sites on Musk Dear Mountain.
A close look at North Korean ships at the Rason port.
Seafood I bought with local currency at the Rason public market.
With North Korean guide Mr. Moon at the monument to Ri Song Sin – builder of the Turtle Boat.