North Korean guides and authorities frown on tourists taking pictures of the wood powered trucks. Of the many I have seen I only have three pics in my archives. The photo above was taken from the open windows of the tea house on the way to Kaesong.
Wood gas powered truck rumbling through Hamhung’s main square.
Passing a wood gas powered truck on the journey from Pyongyang to Wonsan.
Update: S. Kleine-Ahlbrandt just posted a picture of a North Korean wood gasification truck on her Twitter with the following caption:
“Answer to fuel shortage: “steampunk” wood-burning trucks. They pollute like crazy.”
I have never herd of steampunk; Wikipedia has the following on it:
Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century. Therefore, steampunk works are often set in an alternative history of the 19th century’s British Victorian era or American “Wild West”, in a post-apocalyptic future during which steam power has regained mainstream use, or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power. Steampunk perhaps most recognizably features anachronistic technologies or retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them, and is likewise rooted in the era’s perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art. Such technology may include fictional machines like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or the modern authors Philip Pullman, Scott Westerfeld, Stephen Hunt and China Miéville. Other examples of steampunk contain alternate history-style presentations of such technology as lighter-than-air airships, analog computers, or such digital mechanical computers as Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine.
Steampunk may also, though not necessarily, incorporate additional elements from the genres of fantasy, horror, historical fiction, alternate history, or other branches of speculative fiction, making it often a hybrid genre. The term steampunk’s first known appearance was in 1987, though it now retroactively refers to many works of fiction created even as far back as the 1950s or 1960s.
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.
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:
Traffic girl on the corner next to the Pyongyang foreign language bookshop – photo by Joseph A Ferris III
Girls share a seat on the Pyongyang Metro – photo by Joseph A Ferris III
I was reading last night that when western tourists are allowed into the subway system, there are North Korean citizens who have the job of dressing nice and riding the subway. That is all they do. Get off the train, head up the stairs, and immediately come back down to board the train. It makes the station seem busier and keeps up appearances.
I can’t believe this urban myth is still making the rounds! The Pyongyang metro is real and used by normal citizens to efficiently move around the city. Riding the metro as a foreigner is not the only way to interact with locals on a tour, but it is one of my favorite ways to do so.
Soju at the Mini Pyongyang Folk Park.
Jordan Harbinger, Captain Joe (Sailor Joe got promoted) and some AoC alumni trekked it out to North Korea in the middle of the highest point of tension between North Korea and the rest of the world. Here’s an inside look at the country from us while we were there.
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.
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.
Fishing on the Taedong River, Pyongyang, North Korea.
I just returned from guiding the first ever North Korean fishing trip tour. Our small group fished in both the East and West Korean Seas, but we had our best luck at the beautiful Sijung Lagoon. Both the driver and I landed several golden carps which the Sijung Lagoon Hotel staff served as sashimi for us.
Fishing with our driver at Sijung Lagoon.
North Koreans love to fish and our guides were wildly enthusiastic about this trip. Young Pioneer Tours is already looking at offering it again this fall – this is one not too miss!
Propaganda art at the Rason SEZ shoe factory – unfortunately not for sale.
I have been reading through your website after a friend put the idea of a NK trip into my head. The idea of seeing NK before too much changes (example of Suddam’s Palace before his fall compared to after) just wont get out of my head. While there is surprisingly a lot of information about the tours on offer, various questions still elude me. Would you be able to do a detailed article on how to get the most out of a NK holiday? Maybe some of my questions are more suited to a private tour with friends which is why they don’t pop up as most tours seem to be group booking with random people. After going so many times, I couldn’t think of a better person to ask.
- How much should you tip a guide? Some websites are saying up to 10 euro per guide per day from each group member… that would make them extremely wealthy compared to he average NK citizen after only 1 tour? Do the guides keep the money or is it given to the government and they are paid a wage?
Our policy is to tip 7 Euro per day per participant of the tour (or equivalent in hard currency). The cash will be pooled together and split something like 40% – 40% – 20% between the two guides and driver. The money goes to the tourism workers, guides, and driver, and is not handed over to the government.
Yes, access to hard currency does make the guides wealthy in the DPRK, but remember that money will be spread out and shared between the guide’s extended family and their networks of support. The wage paid by the government for the guiding job is negligible.
- How much cash do you need, some people say 200-300 euro others up to thousands. Besides tips and extra food/alcohol and small but expensive souvenirs, what else can I buy? And realistically how much per day should I plan to have to spend including tipping?
For a seven day trip based in Pyongyang 400 dollars should be adequate. Of course there are no banks or ATM machines so I always play it safe and bring more than I need. If you really love propaganda art perhaps consider bringing more, hand painted posters cost around 60 Euros, hand embroidered masterpieces start around 200 Euros. Also consider your price for the Arirang Mass Games ticket if you go in late summer/fall, and don’t forget your tip!
- Everything is in Euros and they say ‘have lots of small denominations.’ How small? what is the average price of items I would be spending money on? Do I need 50 Euro in small coins or are we talking 1 euro plus to buy anything?
Actually USD, Euro, and RMB are all acceptable. Small bills are helpful – don’t come with a single 500 euro bill, nobody will break it. Bills below the 50 denomination will be the most useful. When spending hard currency be prepared to receive mixed change, perhaps it could come in a mix of Euro coins and small RMB bills.
Things you might spend small bills on: an extra coffee in the morning or after lunch, a game of pool or bowling, a beer or two at night, sending postcards, bottled water…..
- In one of your articles is says that you gave the guide several euros to buy more beer. How accepted is this practice? Would they be able to get you other things not normally provided? Traditional meals from local restaurants? Memorabilia that isn’t sold in a government run tourist stand?
Using hard currency and having our guide get beers at local cost was a special circumstance, I wouldn’t normally expect it. You might be able to have them get you ice cream or other local treats, just ask and see, but unfortunately all sit down meals will be at authorized tourism restaurants. It is possible to order extra food off the menu but the cost will be out of your pocket and in hard currency.
- How can you get the guide to allow more time for photos or other small side deviations? (if there was a nice park and you wanted to stop and take some photos but it wasn’t on the itinerary).
Easiest way to get this accomplished is to act as a responsible visitor and respect their photography rules and customs. When you gain their trust it’s much more likely your guides will accommodate a request to stop and check out a passing site.
- Taking home a piece of art would be high on my list of things to do. Where would this be available? Is there local art of personal expression or is it controlled art by the government? Again is this something the guide would need to source?
Not on many tour itineraries I would try to get your guide to fit in a trip to the embroidery institute. It is possible to commission work there, or you can browse through their showroom. Also mention to your western guide your interest in art so they can work early on to ensure stops at showrooms and galleries are including in the itinerary.
- Are there stores that would have antique items for sale, old books or small items that would make a unique gift, rather than a commemorative pin or stamps? Again is this something the guide would need to source?
I have not seen anything like this, and while possible, acquiring antiques is only done by a few people with long and developed relationships and after many return visits.
- When attending the Mass Games, is there any advantage (photography wise) to purchasing a much more expensive seat? Is there 220 euro better photos in VIP section compared to 80 euro standard seat if you have a good camera and quality lens?
I have only been to Arirang Mass Games once and consider my 150 Euro 1st class seat to be completely adequate. We had a table which was perfect for a small pocket tripod (they don’t like large pro tripods). You have a great view wherever you sit. If you go for the 80 Euro third class section consider bringing a monopod.
- You mentioned at night there is only bars and theme parks to go to. Can you bar hop from hotel to hotel until closing time? Possibly to meet up with other tour groups?
If you want to go out at night take a close look at the itineraries offered by tour companies. My company (Young Pioneer Tours) routinely offers nightly visits to the various drinking venues, but bar hopping really isn’t an option. The majority of tour groups will be based at the Yanggakdo Hotel, with the best place to mingle with other groups being the hotel’s microbrewery bar.
- Are the women working in the hotels, as guides or ones you can interact with all married? If not what is the etiquette for social interaction? Are they banned from physical interaction with westerners after hours? (obviously not talking about prostitution as that is illegal, free will interaction) I wouldn’t want to offend anyone the same way you wouldn’t ask a woman in Muslim country as it is not socially/religiously acceptable.
No, they are not all married, some are single, and some are dating. Interacting with people in the tourism industry is fine, you can invite the girl that works at the Viennese coffee shop to play foosball, or have a dance with a BBQ waitress, but these interactions will be part of their workday and any meeting up with an off duty girl is impossible – as is any type of intimate interaction.
Your female tour guide will probably have a beer with the group after hours at one of the hotel bars, but please be aware of the situation, often the DPRK guides can be seen meeting up with long time friends and enjoying some quiet time after a long day – drunken tour members crashing their private time is not particularly welcome but a common scene.
- There is a lot of talk about local beer (I am not a beer drinker), do they have local spirits? (excluding rice based alcohol) Whiskey?
I’m a beer and wine guy myself; I have seen some imported whiskeys available, but I suggest you bring in your own bottle from Chinese duty free. There is absolutely no problem with BYO in DPRK. Local spirits besides soju include blueberry and apricot wines, and various snake liqueurs.
- Do you have any recommendation for non itinerary items you can suggest to the guides on a standard 7 day tour? Seeing a sporting, art or cultural event. Do you need to tip to get these added on for the day or only pay entry to the event (if required).
You just need to enquire what is happening in Pyongyang during you stay, it is possible for the guides to arrange a visit to the circus, dolphin show, revolutionary opera, sports events, pizza restaurant, shooting range, or maybe even the Moranbong Band concert. These activities are not held on a daily basis, cost extra, and your entire group will need to agree on making the activity. I would suggest approaching your western guide to help setup any extra activities.
Sorry I know the list is long, but I tried to make it concise. I feel the above would really help anyone seriously considering going to NK and help in the planning process. Your site and views on NK was inspiring, to be able to show the unbiased beauty of a country with so much negative press is a rare talent, keep up the good work.
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.
On a tank statue at the Rason kindergarten.
I just returned to Yanji, China from yet another epic trip to North Korea. Keep an eye on my Instagram over the next few days for the latest pics from this trip. Tomorrow I have an overnight train to Beijing and return to Pyongyang to guide a 9 day fishing trip starting May 13th.
Heading into the Rason Special Economic Zone of North Korea. Visas are not required but travel permits are – above are our permissions.
Kindergarten Performance Chongjin, North Korea – Photo by Joseph A Ferris III
With so many great pics from my last trip, such as the one above, it’s unfortunate that I’m in such a rush with less then a week turn-abound between DPRK trips. I have had no time to give my photography work and this blog the attention they deserve – arranging visas, train tickets, sleep, laundry, and buying fishing equipment has taken precedence.
Tomorrow I head back up to Yanji to bring a small group of DPRK return visitors into the Rason Special Economic Zone.
Does Rason ring a bell? It’s where American tour guide Kenneth Bae was recently arrested and convicted for unspecified crimes against the government.
I have been receiving plenty of warnings from concerned people that I will become the next pawn on the international stage, but please remember that unlike Kenneth Bae, we will be engaged in legitimate tourism. Laptops and hard drives full of religious materials, and videos profiling human rights abuses will be the last thing I will carry across the border with me. So please don’t worry about me!
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.
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.
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.
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
Clam BBQ cooked by a sprinkling of lighted gasoline in Nampo, North Korea – eat your heart out Anthony Bourdain!
The petrol clam BBQ is an activity I have always wanted to do but have had difficulty arranging until now. During certain times of the year the water is too polluted to safely eat the clams. The activity is also dependent on arriving early enough in Nampo to arrange a fresh batch of clams to be bought from the local fisherman.
Only the West Coast clams of Nampo can be eaten his way. These clams don’t open up when cooked, allowing minimal gasoline to seep into the tasty bits. To make sure everything is safe to consume our North Korean guides insist on a large supply of soju and rice liquor to wash everything down with.
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.