Posts tagged “Pyongyang

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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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!


Minnie Mouse In North Korea

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Minnie Mouse at the Mangyongdae Children’s Palace.


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.


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


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


Pyongyang Cell Phone Revolution

Pyongyang Cell Phone Revolution

Woman in revolutionary outfit on a cell phone at Mansu Hill, Pyongyang – Photo by Joseph A Ferris III


Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair

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.

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Luxury  Tissot watch booth.  Other luxury Swiss items can be found at a shop at the Yanggakdo Hotel.

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North Korean Samjiyon Tablet – are their tablets and new smart phones really made in North Korea?

North Korean Tablet

This photo is credited as being the first to confirm the existence of the larger size Samjiyon Tablet.

Pyongyang Spring Business Expo

Flat screen TVs showing the Moranbong Band.

Pyongyang Spring Business Expo

Panasonic in Pyongyang.

Pyongyang Spring Business Expo

Washers, dryers, and refrigerators.

Pyongyang Spring Business Expo

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:  joseph@youngpioneertours.com  – full itinerary and price to be published shortly.


Pyongyang Traffic Girl Autograph

Friend and fellow Young Pioneer Tours guide, Chris White, had an epic encounter with a Pyongyang Traffic Girl last week in the DPRK:

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Pics from Young Pioneer Tour’s Facebook page  – give the page a like and suggest to your friends for your chance to win our yearly free DPRK trip giveaway contest!


Pyongyang Viennese Coffee Shop

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.

Pyongyang Viennese Coffee Shop

While located in Pyongyang, a latte at the Viennese Coffee Shop will cost as much as one goes for in the Austrian capital!

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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.


Kim Jong-il’s New Jacket

The Kim Jong-il statue on Pyongyang’s Mansudae Hill got a new jacket this year: a massive bronze winter parka.

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The Mansudae Hill Kim Jong-il statue was originally unveiled to the North Korean people on the April 15th, 2012, the 100th birthday anniversary of eternal President Kim Il-sung.  I was among the first group of tourists to visit the statue when the monument was officially reopened to foreigners the following day.  The original 2012 Kim Jong-il statue attire included a bronze medium length formal style jacket.  Apparently authorities didn’t find the formal jacket representative to late leader’s career, so master artists of the Mansudae Art Studio were tasked to cast a giant copy of the late leader’s iconic  winter parka – see Kim Jong-il looking at things.

Time examined Kim Jong-il’s parka and reported the following comments from the North Korean Rodong Sinmun:

“People around the world are attracted to and following not only the jacket our Great Leader is wearing,” Rodong Sinmun wrote in 2010, “but also his attitude, facial expressions, hand gestures, and even his handwriting.” All over the world, the parka was “the most valuable and noble item to have.”

The New Pyongyang Kim Jong-il Statue

Original Kim Jong-il statue with the 2012 formal bronze jacket.

Photos by Joseph A Ferris III


Little North Korean Soldiers

North Koreans love to dress their children in mock military uniforms – below are pictures of boys in uniform proudly posing for my camera at the Pyongyang Rungna Dolphinarium fun fair.

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American G.I. Clown At The Pyongyang Military Circus

The Korean War era American G.I. clown is alive and well at the Pyongyang Military Circus.  Performed while the nets for the trapeze grand finale are being rigged, the skit always portrays the G.I. as the butt of jokes and as a helpless buffoon.  The skit changes with time, one past visitor reported seeing a performance where the G.I. repeatedly had his plate of dinner hidden on him by a cunning South Korean military cook.  The skit I watched had the G.I. beat up by a South Korean street bum with 4 legs.  Why 4 legs?  I assume the audience is meant to see the action via the perspective of the drunken American soldier, which of course is blurred, confused, and absolutely absurd.

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American Soldier Clown at Pyongyang Military Circus

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American Soldier Clown at Pyongyang Military Circus

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American Soldier Clown at Pyongyang Military Circus

And no, this is not a real American G.I., but a North Korean soldier with a fake nose and a heavy makeup job.


North Korean Craft Beer

On my March 30th- April 6th, 2013 trip I brought in Josh Thomas, a craft beer expert living and working as an expat in Hong Kong. This spring trip was customized for Josh’s Easter Holiday with a special itinerary designed around his passion, craft beer. After the trip I asked Josh to comment on his experiences with the North Korean brews he sampled, and the various venues we visited:

Yanggakdo Hotel Microbrewery

Josh Thomas and Ms Yu enjoy draft beers at the bar of the Yanggakdo Hotel Microbrewery.

You approached me to arrange a trip to DPRK with a focus on beer and nightlife. As a craft beer expert did the DPRK live up to your expectations?

It absolutely did! It actually far surpassed it. Like many things about North Korea, there wasn’t much information available about what the drinking culture was like there, but what I did know was that Koreans, North and South, love to socialize over alcohol and the rumor was that North Korean beer far surpassed the quality of South Korean beer. With the exception of a small number of American-style craft breweries in Seoul, this was 100% true! North Koreans do much more with much less and really seem to embrace the idea of experimenting with their brews. I fully believe that beer, being the one beverage found around the entire world, is a great unifier among all cultures. For me, as a home brewer and overall global beer nerd, I knew it would be one cultural aspect that I would share with the North Koreans. And it was true! Nothing was more special on this trip than the smiles shared over a beer, comparing and critiquing the beers, and talking about the differences between American beers and North Korean beers. There is no propaganda over beer, just real conversation, smiles, and drunken stumbles back to our respective rooms. And yes, North Koreans get hung over too.

We visited a lot of venues and drank a lot of beer on the trip, where were your favorites and why?

The best beers we sampled were found at the Paradise Microbrewery. Quite an interesting find in North Korea, it seems to operate as a highly independent brewing company, outside the confines of the state brewing Taedonggang Brewery. Unfortunately the brewer was not around when we visited, and the bartenders knew very little about beer and wouldn’t let us visit the back where the beer is made, but whoever made the beer seemed highly knowledgeable about beer. In my opinion the Paradise Pale Ale was the best beer of the trip!

Paradise Microbrewery Pyongyang

Beers on tap at the Paradise Microbrewery bar.

Without a doubt the best venue was Yanggakdo Hotel. Not necessarily because they were my favorite beer we sampled, but because I was able to meet the brewer and even visit the microbrewery where they made the beers. It was a bit sad to see eight 25 gallon fomenters when there was no chance of them using more than one at a time due to the famine, but the smile on the young lady brewmasters face when I told her that I thought she had the best job in North Korea was the most heartwarming moment of the trip for me.

Yanggakdo Hotel Microbrewery

Josh Thomas and Jordan Harbinger visit the Yanggakdo Hotel Microbrewery.

Tell me about the craft beer served and the venues at the Yanggakdo Hotel, the Paradise Micro Brewery, and Taedonggang Brewery Bar.

Beer in Asia, recently imported American-style craft breweries aside, is largely based on American-German style pale lagers. These beers, like Tsing Tao in China, OB in South Korea, and Asahi in Japan are roughly similar to the American-German pale lagers like Budweiser, Coors, and Miller. Fine for a hot day when you need a cold beverage, but not something I’d choose first – I said I’m a beer nerd, not a beer snob, I will drink a Tsing Tao on occasion, as I live in Hong Kong! I’d much rather enjoy a Harpoon IPA or Mikkeller Hop Bomb Challenge given the choice!

Interestingly enough, economic sanctions in DPRK have lead to an entirely different tradition of brewing, not found elsewhere in Asia. Electrical shortages, causing unexpected and spontaneous power outages, mean that the refrigeration required for lagers is simply impossible. Budweiser-style, largely tasteless, lagers such as is popular in South Korea (OB and Hite) simply cannot be brewed. As a result, North Korean beer is ironically a “steam beer”, the only type of beer invented in the United States. A “steam beer” (better known in the United States from the brand Anchor Steam) is simply a lager brewed at Ale temperatures giving increased flavor, a pronounced bitterness, and a greater body. Crazier still was their affinity for stouts and porters in the DPRK, serving us elegant Coffee Porters and Chocolate Stouts. Their own discovery and version of a Pale Ale was astounding considering the lack of formal brewing training available to the budding brewmasters. Speaking with one of these brewmasters at the Yanggakdo Hotel, I encouraged her to try brewing an American-style India Pale Ale, if she was able to get the hops imported. If I learned anything from the North Koreans, however, is that they make do with what they have. I’d love to try her result!

Taedonggang Craft Brewery Bar Pyongyang, North Korea

Taedonggang Craft Brewery Bar Pyongyang, North Korea.

Taedonggang Craft Brewery Bar Pyongyang, North Korea

Taedonggang Craft Brewery Bar Pyongyang, North Korea.

Taedonggang Craft Brewery Bar Pyongyang, North Korea

Taedonggang Craft Brewery Bar Pyongyang, North Korea.

Taedonggang Craft Brewery Bar Pyongyang, North Korea

Taedonggang Craft Brewery Bar Pyongyang, North Korea.

Tell me about your experiences in the more local venues?

Well I’m a bit of a cynic. Some of the local experiences I truly believe were local. Some of the experiences I think might have had some actors planted to stand between the tourists and the real locals. The diplomatic club and the clam bake in particular were great local experiences. It was amazing to see some Koreans finally ‘let their hair down’ so to speak, and stop being mascots for their country, and start being real people. Over the Nampo Hot Spring Hotel clam bake I got to know our bus driver, Mr Lee. It was over this meal, while he poured petrol over live clams, blowing out his bottle when it caught fire, and downing huge amounts of “Pyongyang Vodka”, a 40% alcohol form of Soju, that I really became friends with this quiet and unspoken man. He was unbelievably friendly and never stopped smiling and really seemed to love hanging out with us whenever he could. He, more than anyone else, became my true friend while in the country. What surprised me the most was that he quietly told me that he used to be a soldier in the North Korean People’s Army. Its hard to wrap your mind around, as an American, this short, quiet, and friendly man was once a soldier in the army we seem to most fear in the west.

What was your favorite experience of the trip that was not related to drinking?

Undoubtedly the petrol clambake. Part of traveling around the world for me is trying local foods. North Korea, in the midst of a famine, doesn’t necessarily have “local” foods that they would be comfortable offering to foreigners without being embarrassed. Much of our food was simply iconic Korean foods such as kimchee, banchans, and prawn pancakes. The petrol clambake, however, was fully North Korean. Like much I saw in North Korea, they used unconventional means to solve problems by themselves. No charcoal or wood to bake clams? No problem. Just douse them in gasoline! Most people would think they clams would come out tasting of fuel, but I’m happy to announce that they were actually delicious. Fresh, clean, and tasting of nothing but clam!

North Korean Petrol Gas Clam BBQ

Nampo Hot Spring Hotel petrol clam bake.

Would you go back? Suggest others to travel there?

I certainly would! Actually, I think the second trip would only be more fun than the first. Like anyone on their first trip to North Korea I was quite a bit scared going in. However, the nerves quickly dissipate when you meet your amazing guides and realize that you’re going to be just fine, but I can only imagine that a more relaxed mood going in will only enhance my second trip. I would highly advise anyone who can should organize their own trip and choose their own itinerary. To get the most out of a trip to North Korea, find an interest of your own that you can mirror in the North Koreans. They’re not the Taliban and they enjoy having a good time with any number of western things. If you’re a surfer, organize a surfing trip in North Korea. If you’re a chef, organize a local food tour. If you’re a cinema fanatic, get yourself into the Pyongyang International Film Festival! The options are literally endless and by organizing a tour that matches your own interests, you will get a greater insight into the culture and country.

American on the DMZ North Korea

Josh Thomas and a commander on the North Korea DMZ.


Pyongyang Folk Park

Ryugyong Hotel Model at Mini Pyongyang Folk Park

Can’t get enough of the surreal Ryugyong Hotel (AKA the “Hotel of Doom“)?

At the newly opened Pyongyang Folk Park you can get up close and personal with a scale model Ryugyong Hotel as well as Pyongyang’s other famous landmarks and monuments.

The Korean Central News Agency of DPRK describes the park:

The Pyongyang Folk Park vividly showing the long history and time-honored culture of the Korean people was built in the area of Mt. Taesong.

The park consists of the district for comprehensive history education, district for the display of historic relics, modern district, folk village district, folk playing district, park district of Mt. Paektu and Mt. Kumgang and the management and operation district. It is an open-air history museum where visitors can see and experience at first hand the good qualities of the Korean nation and the genuine socialist national culture developing day by day.

The construction of the park greatly helps the Korean people, including and school youth and children, inherit and glorify the excellent tradition and brilliant culture of the nation.

A visit to the Pyongyang Folk Park costs a steep 14 Euros – at that price it might not be of interest to all tourists (remember there are no ATMs to replenish your cash supply), but I thoroughly enjoyed the site.  In addition to the  surreal collection of scale models of Pyongyang’s monuments, the park boasts a Korean geisha house where visitors can enjoy a traditional music performance and are served soju by young ladies in period costumes.  We also stumbled upon a film set and posed for pictures with actors in an anti Japanese revolutionary movie in the traditional village section of the park.  The site is also a popular place for wedding photos, which of course we were invited to pose in.

Mini Pyongyang Folk Park

Model of Pyongyang’s Arche of Triumph and Mount Kumgang.

Mini Pyongyang Folk Park

Model of the Party Foundation Monument.

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Soldier workers prep Mansudae Grand Monument.

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Model of Juche Tower.

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Models of Juche Tower and Arch of Triumph.

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Models of Juche Tower and Arch of Triumph.

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Model of Juche Tower.

Mini Pyongyang Folk Park

Music at the Korean geisha house.

Mini Pyongyang Folk Park

Music at the Korean geisha house.

Soju at Mini Pyongyang Folk Park

Soju at the Korean geisha house.

Soju at Mini Pyongyang Folk Park

Soju at the Korean geisha house.

Soju at Mini Pyongyang Folk Park

Korean geisha house.

North Korean Film Set

With North Korean actors on an Anti Japanese revolutionary film set at the Pyongyang Folk Park.

North Korean Film Set

North Korean actors on an Anti Japanese revolutionary film set at the Pyongyang Folk Park.

North Korean Film Set

North Korean actors on an Anti Japanese revolutionary film set at the Pyongyang Folk Park.

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North Korean wedding party.

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North Korean wedding party.

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My tour group poses with a North Korean wedding party.

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Bride and groom at the Pyongyang Folk Park.


Pyongyang Traffic Girl

Pyongyang Traffic Girl

I’m going to let you in on a little secret – I really like the traffic girls of Pyongyang.

When we asked our North Korean guides if the traffic girls are aware of their world wide fame we were told they do but don’t really like the notoriety.  Some of the girls fear the fame will go to their heads and distract them from their job of keeping the streets of Pyongyang safe.

Photo by Joseph A Ferris III


Water Skiing in Pyongyang

Water Skiing in Pyongyang, North Korea

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


North Korean Taekwondo Expert Defeats American Imperialist

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!

Pyongyang Taekwondo Palace

Pyongyang Taekwondo Palace

Pyongyang Taekwondo Palace

Pyongyang Taekwondo Palace

Pyongyang Taekwondo Palace

Pyongyang Taekwondo Palace

Pyongyang Taekwondo Palace

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.


Rollerblading Their Way to War

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.

Rollerblading in Pyongyang, North Korea

Girls rollerblading on the banks of the Taedong River.

North Korean Boys in Pyongyang

Boys rollerblading near the Arch of Triumph.

Photos from my March 30th – April 6th 2013 trip to North Korea.


3G Access to Foreign Tourists No Longer Available

That was fast, after one month of service the new Koryolink 3G network is reportedly no longer available to foreign tourists.

Pyongyang 100th Year Kim Il Sung Birthday Celebrations

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!


Is it Ethical to Travel to North Korea?

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.


Return to the Kaeson Youth Park Fun Fair

In the Spring of 2012 I made a return trip to Pyongyang’s Kaeson Youth Park fun fair ; chilly nighttime weather meant less crowds and interactions with locals than on my first visit, but the experience was enjoyable  nonetheless.

I really only have new 2012 photos to add – I’m going to let my cometary from my 2011 visit tell the story.

Local North Koreans would wait hundreds in line for theses new modern rides. As visitors we paid in hard currency at a rate 35 x what the locals paid, at that price we got the privilege of jumping line and holding up the locals as we enjoyed as many repeat rides on the amusements as we wanted. We were told by our minders that the rides had all come from Italy – they were new and modern, and included old favorites such as bumper cars and the pirate ship swing ride, and new favorites like a lay down style roller coaster and the “Vominator”.

Kaeson Fun Fair Pyongyang, North Korea

North Korean locals enjoy imported fun fair rides.

Kaeson Fun Fair Pyongyang, North Korea

North Korean locals enjoy imported fun fair rides.

Pyongyang Kaeson Fun Fair

A nice view of the lay down roller coaster.

Kaeson Fun Fair Pyongyang, North Korea

A quiet chilly spring night at the fun fair.

Kaeson Fun Fair Pyongyang, North Korea

Bumper cars!

Kaeson Fun Fair Pyongyang, North Korea

Bumper cars!

Kaeson Fun Fair Pyongyang, North Korea

Old racing video game.

Kaeson Fun Fair Pyongyang, North Korea

Coin op skeet shoot game.

Kaeson Fun Fair Pyongyang, North Korea

North Korean boy and his mom in charge of an old video game.

Kaeson Fun Fair Pyongyang, North Korea

North Korean boy in charge of an old video game.

Kaeson Fun Fair Pyongyang, North Korea

Old racing video game.

Kaeson Fun Fair Pyongyang, North Korea

Old racing video game.

North Korean Fun Fair Food Stand

The burrito stand attendant.

In the end our Kaeson Youth Park Fun Fair escort served our group up a bill of over one hundred Euros. As I had seen elsewhere in North Korea, when hard currency is involved a fist full of dollars will get the job done, and our escort gladly accepted what we had with a smile. We never got to visit any of the old and decrepit fun fairs during our visit to North Korea. Some of the old fairs, such as the Mangyongdae, have games that feature the classic old US anti imperialist propaganda. Times are a changing and the most bizarre thing I saw at the new Kaeson Youth Park Fun Fair were booths serving up Mexican burritos.

The Kaeson fun fair was responsible for the creation of this blog – more accurately the use of my fun fair pictures under the creative commons license  in a sensationalized and entirely misinformed viral photo essay got me so upset that I decided to blog as accurate a portrayal of the North Korean tourist experience as honestly as I could.  I am truly amazed at how far this journey has taken me!