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.
Heading into the Rason Special Economic Zone of North Korea. Visas are not required but travel permits are – above are our permissions.
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?
Waiting for my Manila to Beijing flight for yet another North Korea trip this week.
On April 22nd I start the Extreme North East Tour and will be the first American tourist to cross the Tumen land border.
Beijing – Tumen – Namyang – Hyeryong – Chongjin – Mt Chilbo – Rason – Yanji
In November 2012, YPT, and Troy became the first westerner to cross the Tumen border in Namyang, into the extreme North-East of the DPRK. This will be the second group of Western Tourists to enter the country via Namyang and to undertake this route!
Our trip starts off either in Beijing, or meeting us directly in Tumen to cross on foot over the bridge and into the DPRK, and Namyang, where your extreme DPRK experience starts with a bang. This can be considered the most intense border crossing in the country, with every piece of paper that you own, and all your electronics and bags being given the most thorough going over you are ever likely to receive in any border! It might sound scary, but the intensity makes it quite the experience.
We are then met by our extremely friendly guides and driven to Hyeryong, a city only just opened to western tourists, and hometown of not only the most beautiful women in the country (according to the Koreans), but also mother Kim Jong Suk, before heading on to the infamous Chongjin and the scenically beautiful Mt Chilbo, where we indulge in the only home-stay available in the country. This is an extremely unique and interesting experience, and your night spent drinking and eating with the Korean family will undoubtedly be unforgettable.
Following this we cross the internal border from the DPRK “mainland” into the Rason Special Economic Zone, currently the only place in the DPRK where foreigners can change money at the market rate, use local money and even shop in the private markets! Thus combining the least seen parts of this country, with the practically unseen.
We then finish the tour Yanji, Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, an area with the largest Korean-Chinese population in China.
As the western media whips up fear of a North Korean nuclear armageddon, people in Pyongyang are water skiing the Taedong River – photo by Joseph A Ferris III
Michael Bassett, constructivist DPRK analyst, US Senatorial consultant, and retired US Army Tank Commander/Platoon Sergeant, gets a hug with a North Korean army commander last week on the North Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone – real world diplomacy through foreign tourism in North Korea.
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.
While the American media beats the war drums, and our citizens panic under a perceived nuclear missile threat, the citizens of Pyongyang, North Korea go on with their lives.
Girls rollerblading on the banks of the Taedong River.
Boys rollerblading near the Arch of Triumph.
Photos from my March 30th – April 6th 2013 trip to North Korea.
I have a March 30th flight with Koryo Airlines to North Korea – the first of many!
A lot has happened since the last time I was in the DPRK (I went to Iran on my last vacation): nuclear and long range missile tests, new sanctions vigorously enforced by the Chinese, suspect internet hacker attacks to both North and South Korea, a visit by Dennis Rodman, cell phone access, and a brief experiment allowing 3G internet access to foreigners – the handful of foreign residents may still use the service, but access to tourists has been rescinded.
Other changes, less remarkable, but of interest to those traveling to North Korea: the US spy ship Pueblo has been moved to the Homeland Liberation War Museum (the ship and museum are currently closed until this summer), the Mausoleum has reopened with the body of Kim Jong-il on display, and new routes in the North have been opened to tourism – this April I’m set to be the first American tourist to cross the Tumen/Namyang border into the remote North of the country.
There have been big changes for me as well; I make my return to North Korea as a guide for Young Pioneer Tours. The recent raised tensions have unfortunately made our North Koren partners less than enthusiastic about my new position. KITC does not want to be seen working too closely with Americans at the moment – visas have been issued, and Americans can still tour, but when I’m in country I need to officially present myself as a lowly agent working through YPT, not for them. We hope this will change once tensions ease.
I had plans to take advantage of the new 3G access to live blog and interact through social media from inside North Korea, but as mentioned above this service has been rescinded. When I’m outside North North Korea people can still follow me via the various social media outlets I’m on:
Facebook Page – Instagram @josephferrisiii – Twitter @JosephFerrisIII
The grand lineup of my spring DPRK trips:
March 30th – April 6th: Private/custom Pyongyang, Nampo, Sariwan, Kaesong, and Mt. Myohyang.
April 22nd – April 29th: VIP private investors tour to the Rason Free Trade Zone and first time visits to newly opened sites in the far north – Tumen – Namyang – Hyeryong – Chongjin – Mt Chilbo – Rason – Yanji.
May 30-June 3 Rason cruise, Rajin Port, to the Mt Kumgang.
More Air Koryo photos posted below:
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!
A nice write up about me in Business Insider:
Joseph Ferris doesn’t want to settle down.
Ferris earned himself a US Coast Guard 3rd Mate Unlimited license from Maine Maritime Academy, and took a job on a global class research ship.
There was just one problem: the job was seven months on with five months vacation.
“While on the ship, room and board goes with the job; I found keeping an apartment and all the trappings of a settled life is a waste of money,” Ferris told Business Insider.
So he took another job, as a tour guide … in North Korea.
I leave for my first spring trip out of a possible 5 visits to North Korea on March 30th; I will be live blogging there on the new Koryolink 3G network. Remember to not only follow me here on WordPress, but also live from North Korea on Twitter @JosephFerrisIII, Facebook, and Instagram (coming soon).
Lots of insightful opinions and analysis from top DPRK watchers and North Korea travel industry experts in James Griffith’s article on the ethics of traveling to North Korea:
North Korea, one of the world’s last remaining closed societies and perennial geopolitical troll, is on many world travellers’ bucket list. Few places are as unique or just downright weird as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
The DPRK’s attraction as a tourist destination aside, is it ethical to visit a society completely under the control of a dictatorial regime?
My photos are used throughout the article – continue reading here.
The article shows that the majority of experts interviewed believe travel and interaction with North Korea serve as a positive instrument for change - glad I’m with the cool crowd on that one.
Intranet computer room at the Nampo Chollima Steelworks, North Korea – photo by Joseph A Ferris
I was looking for this pic during the week when the Google visit went viral; found it in one of my Facebook North Korean albums – I drive myself crazy sometimes!
A question from the interview:
I saw a short video online made by a guy who visited North Korea back in 2011. The video is shot like it’s hidden in his jacket or something. It seems like you were just freely taking pictures. How were you able to do that? Is it a misconception that photos and video aren’t allowed in North Korea?
There are quite a few sensationalized videos out there and I think they present an entirely wrong impression of what the tourist experience in the DPRK is all about. There are some photography rules, but when the North Korean guides see that the group is diligent about following those rules they tend to relax and let everyone have some photography freedom. It helps that I keep my groups relatively small and manageable at around 10 people. With a group that size we can really develop a positive relationship, developing an optimum situation where the guides feel secure and in control enough to let us enjoy more freedom while not feeling that we are putting them at risk.
Conversely I have witnessed a full tour bus of about 30 camera touting foreigners clearly disregarding the photography rules within the first couple hours of their trip. The North Korean guides are responsible for the rules broken by the tourists under their care, and this group’s North Korean guides were clearly upset. The remedy to these situations is easy, punish the tour group by restricting access to sites. That group was allowed to drive to sites but only got to visit the parking lots. We saw them restricted to the bus at the Hamhung fertilizer plant, a site where we were given full and unrestricted photography access.
The Q & A above allows me the opportunely to highlight a few photos from my experience with the tour group that lost its access to sites over its disregard to the photography rules.
Both tour group crossed the West Sea Barrage on the same morning. The above photo shows the entrance to the eight-kilometer-long road crossing – this is a perfectly acceptable photo.
There were amazing photography opportunists as both buses got stuck in the midst of a crowd of North Korean locals on bicycles; barrage road transportation was delayed as ships passed through the locks. We were directed not take pictures at this time, we didn’t. Those on the other bus did and lost access to other sites because of it.
Locals waiting for ships to pass through the locks – I took the above photo from the West Sea Barrage visitors center on the hill above, we were not prohibited to take photos from there.
We later met the other tour group at the Hamhung Fertilizer Plant. We were granted full access to the site. The other group never developed their relationship with their guides and were restricted to the bus and not allowed to take photos.
Below are more photos from our visit to the Hamhung Fertilizer Plant:
Top North Korean scientists split the atom – photo by Joseph A Ferris III
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!
Need someplace to get your gun range fix once President Obama takes away your firearms? Why not consider a trip to the Pyongyang gun range?
An afternoon spent at the Pyongyang gun range is my favorite activity in North Korea. Here you can target practice using pistols and sport rifles, enjoy a few beers at the bar or over a game of pool, flirt with the cute North Korean rifle attendants, and even test your skills against live targets!
For 5 € a shot you can take a crack at pheasants. You get to bring home what you kill, but it’s highly suggested you give the bird to your bus driver as a tip.
Most companies running trips to North Korea don’t include a visit to the gun range on their itineraries – it’s included on all of my custom trips, as well as most scheduled trips with Young Pioneer Tours.
My related Pyongyang gun range posts:
I’m still looking for people to join up with my May 14th – May 23rd Mega Trip: Nampo, Sariwan, Haeju, Kaesong, Wonsan, Kumgang.
The more people who sign up the better deal I can give!
A band leader wears a uniform with a graphic showing a unified Korea; subtle propaganda intended for the eyes of those foreigners who had come to see the Kim Il-sung 100th birthday celebrations.
I took this picture on the morning of April 15th, 2012 the 100th year anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s birth. On that morning all foreign tourists were bused to a park in the Pyongyang suburbs, far away from the military parades and Kim Jong-un’s public address to the North Korean people.
Marching band performances, folk game competitions, and interactions with school children were the activities the North Koreans used to keep us occupied during our sequestration away from that morning’s downtown main events. The entertainment at park may have been a disappointment for some, but the holiday week of Kim Il-sung’s 100th birthday was still an epic time to have experienced North Korea.
- 2012 Kimilsungia Flower Exhibition (americaninnorthkorea.com)
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.
Google’s Eric Schmidt arrives in North Korea. This is the “internet” he’ll find there….
What he will actually find is a North Korean nation-wide intranet
Computer room at the Nampo Chollima Steelworks.
Writer Neil Strauss is shown how the North Korean closed intranet works at the Grand People’s Study House.
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.
I have it confirmed from two sources that the Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun/Kim Il-sung Mausoleum has reopened to tourists and will be available for all 2013 itineraries!
Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun – photo by kinabalu