Volleyball Cheerleaders at Mt. Chilbo Home Stay – new routes to this area of the DPRK have been authorized!
We have just heard from our partners in the DPRK, and are very happy to announce a few new very exciting new routes into and out of the DPRK starting from next month.
Entering the country
It is now possible to enter the country from Hamyong, Rason, or visit Chongjin, and Chilbo, then take a charter flight to Pyongyang
Exciting the country
It is now possible to have a standard DPRK Tour (Pyongyang etc), charter flight to Mt Chilbo, and exit via Hamhyong, or most excitingly through the Rason SEZ.
This great news as it will mean we no longer have to exit via China, and most importantly no longer require triple, or even quadruple Chinese visas, with a double entry visa being sufficient.
We are still waiting for exact prices of the charter flight, which after we receive will start planning itineraries accordingly. This is something we have been pushing for for quite some time, and are extremely excited about.
We have had great news from our partners in the DPRK and China that as of now Sinuiju will now be open to day tourists from western countries.
Visitors require a valid passport of at least 6 month, and need to apply for a travel permit which will take 4 days to process.
Currently citizens of the USA, Japan, and Republic of Korea cannot join the tours.
The tours are restricted to days at present, but will be extended to overnight when CITS finish the new hotel in August.
YPT plans to run group trips every Sunday, as well as offering the ability to do independent trips throughout the week. We are also working on having Sinuiju as standalone extension for those people returning from a “mainland” DPRK tour, amongst other things.
We will be running a tester trip on May 26th, as well as meeting our partners for further negotiations. We aim to have more up to date news as soon as possible.
A great film about my favorite ladies, A Traffic Controller on Crossroads is newly out with English subtitles on Youtube. In The DPRK the film is described as a romantic comedy, and while through a western perspective I found it neither, the film still provides a unique look into North Korean culture via their domestic film industry.
With pleasant weather, flowers and trees in bloom, and North Korean citizens making their first round of pilgrimages to important revolutionary sites, late Spring is an amazing time to visit the DPRK. Below are just a few images of the thousands of Young Pioneers we encountered while visiting the Mangyongdae birth house of Kim Il-sung on my last DPRK trip in late May of 2013.
The Moranbong Band – Kim Jong-un’s hand picked all female band is currently all the rage in the DPRK. Check out the song Donsume starting 30:57 for the sexiest destruction of the USA imaginable.
Hanging out with the Pyongyang lamb BBQ girls.
Im off to Pyongyang tomorrow to lead a Young Pioneer Tours group on the first ever North Korean fishing trip. This will be my last DPRK trip of the season – wish us good weather, good photography, and hungry fish!
I’m back to the ship June 8th, hopefully then I can settle down and get caught up on all the photos and blogging. My next vacation will be in the fall. I already have some ideas for Oct. DPRK trips, if interested plus send me an email.
Painting of the North Korea’s recent successful missile launch at a Chongjin Kindergarten.
Propaganda? Or a celerbrarion of a milestone in North Korea’s technological advancement?
Extremely rare North Korean stamps in my passport. Americans, as well as most tourists, get their stamps on an external visa which they don’t get to keep. This is for the land crossing at Namyang\Tumen border and may be a first ever event.
In my Kim Jong-il suit at the Taedonggang Craft Brewery Bar.
Girls on roller skates in Chongjin City, North Korea. Get a sneak peak of my most recent trip via my latest uploads to Instagram.
I’m safely back in China after an amazing week in the rarely visited Northeast region of the DPRK. Of all my trips to North Korea this has been my favorite. Our locally based guides of the Chilbo San Tourism Company were full of enthusiasm and provided us access to sites and experiences which are inaccessible if coming up to the region with the Pyongyang based KITC company.
We were the first western tour group to cross the Tumen/Namyang border on a route to Chongjin only traveled by NGOs and Chinese tourists in the past. Our ride to Chongjin took us on secondary mountain roads never traveled by any westerners before when we found our route blocked by an overturned truck and were forced to make a 7 hour detour – this was not a typical DPRK tour.
During the course of the trip we hiked a mountain peak in a snowstorm, taught kids American football in a small random village (we were forced to stop due to a washed out road), played with locals in volleyball matches, visited a middle school never visited by any tourist before and taught English in the foreign language class, and had a ride on a fishing boat in the Eastern Sea of Korea – I even won a North Korean traditional wrestling tournament at the Mt. Chilbo Home Stay.
I’m going to be resting up for a few days in Yanji and Beijing before I turn around and head back into DPRK to lead a tour to the Rason Special Economic Zone.
Cell phones in North Korea remain popular as ever; our waitress at the Kaesong Folk Hotel bar receives a wireless call.
Land lines still exist, are used, and give the moment captured a classic retro feel.
With her calls finished, and in between serving us traditional blueberry liqueur, our waitress poses for a classic portrait shot.
On my recent trip to North Korea I arranged a private Taekwondo demonstration at the Pyongyang Taekwondo Palace. It was an amazing and extremely rare experience but the best part of the show was when we convinced the North Koreans to match their best against DPRK analyst and US Senatorial consultant Michael Bassett. Unfortunately (but expectantly) our American representative suffered a swift and devastating defeat!
I assume the North Koreans will never let a tourist match up with their Taekwondo experts again – a first and last ever brought to you by American in North Korea. More pics from the Taekwondo demonstration to come.
That was fast, after one month of service the new Koryolink 3G network is reportedly no longer available to foreign tourists.
I want to thank everybody who enthusiastically contributed to my North Korean 3G blogging project. I successfully reached my goal, but with the new report just out from North Korea I have decided to refund everyone who donated.
Thank you for your support – maybe next time!
Exciting news from Young Pioneer Tours:
The DPRK has announced that they will be restarting cruises from Rajin Port, to the Mt Kumgang resort on 3 night, 4 day cruises starting from April. Singaporean cruise ship called the Royale Star has a capacity for around 800 paying passengers, offering monthly trips from April until October.
We have been given the confirmed dates for this cruise, and most excitingly that we will be able to sell foreign places (non-Chinese) on these trips. We are still waiting to have prices confirmed on this, but are hoping to have this done within 48 hours.
As a Master Mariner I have vowed never to take a cruise. Seven months a year on the ocean for my professional job is usually enough for me, but for a North Korea Rason cruise I will make an exception!
With this breaking news I’m already in touch with the office and developing a tour for May 30-June 3 (I guess Mongolia will have to wait until next year).
Get in touch with me if interested, plenty of time to customize the trip for a few days exploring the Rason region before sailing the North Korean waters with me, your very own maritime expert.
North Korea watchers will remember that this isn’t the first attempt North Korea made at launching a cruise route. Below are pictures of the Mangyongbong cruise ship. Back in 2011 YPT was the only Western tour company to take the cruise from Rason to Kumgang. Unfortunately it stopped operating after Western Journalists gave it too much stick.
Our lovely guide Shan with North Korean guides in front of the M/V Mangyongbong cruise ship.
M/V Mangyongbong gangway.
DPRK flag on the M/V Mangyongbong’s stack.
Checkout the podcast we recorded from inside North Korea during the 2012 celebratory week of Kim Il-sung’s 100th birthday anniversary.
North Koreans celebrate Kim Il-sung’s 100th birthday anniversary in Pyongyang’s Kim Il-sung Square - photo by Joseph A Ferris III
Top North Korean scientists split the atom – photo by Joseph A Ferris III
A painting of North Korean fisherman, Pyongyang Mansudae Art Studio, North Korea.
The managing director and owner of Young Pioneer Tours and myself are teaming up to guide the first ever North Korean fishing trip!
The details are still being worked out but the highlights will include:
Fishing on the banks of the Taedong River
Fishing on a boat in the Taedong river
Fishing in the Sijung Lagoon
BBQ Seafood lunch on Wonsan beach
Fishing in East Sea from Jangdok Island
BBQ clams on the Wonsan pier
Visit Pyongyang’s New Dolphinarium
Afternoon of Golf
In addition to knocking back a few beers and fishing with North Korean old timers, we will be visiting the classic Pyongyang, Kaesong, and Wonsan sites, including a visit to the the Mausoleum for a viewing of Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung.
Be part of something never done before, but we need interest to make it happen!
We are looking to make this a two part trip:
Option A: fishing trip to the Rason Special Economic Zone, May 8th – 11th -more info on this trip to come!
Leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info!
Fishing boat, Wonsan, North Korea.
Boys fishing off the docks, Wonsan, North Korea.
Boys fishing off the docks , Wonsan, North Korea.
I calculate having traveled to 95 countries (I used higher standards on the count than the Century Club accepts its members by).
I expect to visit my 100th country at some point this year; I have no idea what country it will be, but whoever is the first to make the correct guess by leaving a comment on this post will win a North Korean stamp book and other prizes from the DPRK.
Make a guess and win a book of stamps like the one above!
Exclusive news and ground breaking experiences brought to you by the company I now guide for, Young Pioneer Tours:
YPT’s Richie Fenner just returned from our first trip of the year to the DPRK, with our group being the first foreign tourists to visit the Mausoleum since it’s reopening featuring General Kim Jong Il! We can also now announce that even more interestingly, foreigners can now bring cellphones, including smart phones into the country!
You can also read more on these developments over at Young Pioneer Tour’s blog.
Cell phones in North Korea, not just for traffic girls anymore!
I just discovered North Korea’s official Flickr account; they have some really interesting and unique photos posted there:
All above photos are from North Korea’s official Flickr account.
Woman pushing a bike in Kaesong, a picture I took in 2011 during the brief time when it was legal for women to ride bikes.
Women on Bicycles Banned Again
By Kim Kwang Jin of Daily NK
A source from Hoiryeong in North Hamkyung Province told Daily NK today, “The use of bicycles by women was officially allowed last year, but was prohibited again on the 10th. There have been local People’s Safety officers patrolling since the day after that.”
The source continued, “Before the ban was lifted last year, if a woman was caught riding a bicycle she was fined just a bit of money, no more than 5,000 won. But now they are confiscating the bicycle instead, and this has been causing a bit of upset.”
As the source also noted, if the ban is widespread and lasts any length of time, it will have a deleterious effect on the functioning of North Korea’s markets. Bicycles have been a critical factor in helping to spread commerce as a means of survival over the last ten to fifteen years, with women at the forefront of the trend.
“Bicycles are essential in North Korea,” the source explained. “They have no cars, motorcycles or other means of transportation. Bicycles are very useful; women can not only go to and from the markets on them, they can also give their children lifts and carry as much as 50 or 60kg.”
“Women used to ride early in the morning to avoid getting caught,” the source recalled. “During the squid fishing season, women from fishing towns even use bicycles to carry the catch to inland regions.”
It is said that Kim Jong Il initially banned the use of bicycles in the 1990s after the daughter of a high-ranking official was killed in a traffic incident in Pyongyang. The North Korean state media subsequently justified it by saying that the image of a woman riding a bicycle runs contrary to socialist morals.
In the spring of 2012 I was able to visit the Nampo Tae’an Glass Factory, one of several Nampo area heavy industry sites briefly open to tourists at the time – currently only the Nampo Kangso Mineral Water Factory is advertised as available for visits, a site which is included on my Spring 2013 tours.
More modern than I expected (the plant was built in partnership with the Chinese and opened by Hu Jintao in 2005), inside we were able to get a close up view of working furnaces and sheet glass cutting machinery, as well as a look into their computerized production monitoring control room.
I expected to see communism in action, mass mobilization of the workers and all sorts of other cliches, and while I witnessed that sort of thing out in the fields and on countryside road construction projects, I was surprised to find the Nampo Tae’an Glass Factory eerily quiet. Massive propaganda paintings on the walls looked down over just a handful of quality control workers, but the plant was producing glass, and I left the site suitably impressed by the operation.
Close up view into the glass furnace.
They let us climb up on the machinery – so dangerous!
Freshly cut sheet glass.
Propaganda painting on the production room wall.
Lady in the quality control booth.
Nampo Tae’an Glass Factory local guide.
Students hit the books at the Pyongyang Grand Peoples Study House.
I’m out on the Pacific Ocean, 4 days Southeast of Hawaii, and just one month into a four month rotation on a scientific research ship conducting expeditions from San Diego to Japan.
Being on the ocean gives a person the gift of a lot of free time away from the normal distractions of life. With that time I have started to study the Korean language; for these cruises I brought with me the Pimsleur audio Korean course (great for the days when I’m walking the deck for a little exercise), as well as several textbooks and workbooks, and a ton a Korean language learning podcasts. Its going as well as one could expect, some things are starting to stick, all the honorific tenses are confusing, but the hangul characters are not too bad – kinda fun actually.
Of course nothing beats time working with a real teacher in a native environment, and that’s just what Young Pioneer Tours is offering this summer to those who join up with their first ever Rason Korean Language Tour.
Far off the beaten track (up until 2009 no western foreign tourist had ever visited), a trip to the Rason Special Economic Zone allows for special opportunities; Rason is the only place in the DPRK where foreigners are legally allowed to use North Korean currency and to mix freely with locals while shopping in the public markets – this is your opportunity to pick up all your own school supplies and practice your daily lessons as you buy fresh seafood for the nightly BBQ. Rason is also the only place where visitors (expect for Americans and Japanese) can get a North Korean visa stamped into their passport.
This tour has time scheduled for local sightseeing but the focus of this trip will be classroom time for the study of basic Korean with a North Korean instructor. You will also visit the local foreign language institute for conversational exchanges with older students, and have the chance to develop a lesson plan and teach an English class to elementary children!
Already proficient at the basic level? Alternative intermediate or advanced class time can be arranged.
Young Pioneer Tours will be running this tour in Aug 2013, unfortunately I’m going to be at my professional job at that time, but I’m certainly interested in doing this trip myself. I will be making my first trip up to Rason this spring; by my following vacation in the fall of 2013 I will be qualified to run this program on a custom basis if anyone is interested.
I peaked into a North Korean hotel kitchen and found this sign.
For the scheduled Aug language tour, as well as any of Young Pioneer Tours scheduled tours, a referral from me can get you 5% off!
The North Korean Economy Watch recently did some detective work to track down the missing USS Pueblo.
USS Pueblo on the Taedong River April 2012 – photo by Joseph A Ferris III
As a Master Mariner Unlimited who has been on the Pueblo twice, my opinion is that this ship will never sail again under its own power. They may have knocked a little rust off the hull and given her a new paint job, but I’m with all my contacts in the North Korean tourism industry and believe she has been moved to the Homeland Liberation Museum.
The Homeland Liberation Museum is currently closed to tourists too. I’m bringing a big policy expert and war historian buff in on my May tour, his dream is to see the USS Pueblo – hopefully some “gifts” will get us in for a photo op even if the Pueblo and Homeland Liberation Museum are still closed.
The Pueblo and the Homeland Liberation Museum are due to be open for tours again in July.