Posts tagged “travel

DPRK Hiking tour

I will be taking a break from my NGO work in the Philippines to return to the DPRK and guide the Young Pioneer Tour’s Mt. Kumgang hiking tour!

Group A Dates: June 20 – July 1 2014

Group A Price: 1545 Euros

North Korea Guide Miss Yu

Pristine east coast beaches en route to Mt. Kumgang.

Join us for our very first and adventurous hiking trip in the DPRK! This trip has been carefully laid out to not only include scaling beautiful countryside mountains with breathtaking views of North Korea but to also give you the best opportunity to explore cities that are rarely visited by foreign visitors during the year.

Even if you’re not a nature lover or a fan of getting off the beaten track, this tour combines the must see sites of Pyongyang and the DMZ!

The smaller cities in the countryside will all be accessed by bus taking the remote roads that will wind us through amazing sceneries of mountainous ranges, gorges, clear blue skies and let’s not forget the fresh air! Along our way we’ll be sure to stop off to have picnics in the most remote locations in the country.

We’ll be visiting the west coast town of Wonsan, famous for its beautiful beaches. We’ll also check out Hamhung, the second biggest city in the DPRK, and stop off by a small quite town of Pujon and onto our highlight visit of Mt. Kumgang!

So pack your hiking boots and your camera and get ready for an amazing hiking adventure in the DPRK!


Transnistria

We believe Young Pioneer Tours is the only western tour company to offer trips to the unrecognized county/breakaway republic of Transnistria, highlight of our annual month long Eurasian Adventure Tour, and a destination I just led 16 tourists to.

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Building propaganda art in Tiraspol, Transnistria.

Transnistria occupies a vertical sliver of land between Moldova and the Ukraine. With its past soviet heritage still proudly on display a visit there is like stepping back in time.

Before getting to all my photos from the visit I’m going to share Gareth Johnson’s (YPT founder and three time Transnistria visitor) impressions on the self declared state.

After waking up after the hectic first night in Tiraspol it was time for actually doing some real touristy stuff, which for us this day was to consist of city tour of Tiraspol, including monuments, more monuments, and propaganda posters like you would not believe.

To give some basic back story to the country, it is not only a place that “does” not exist, it is also a place that has essentially never existed. The quasi-country happened through ethnic Russians opposing the break up of the Soviet Union, not wishing to join Moldova, and well having the balls, guns, and a big friendly neighbour to back them up. Also having a strong leader, a Mr Smirnov, clearly did not hurt with things, and since the fateful war, he is the man, or rather his family are the people that control pretty much everything. Big Smirnov is the President, little Smirnov is the owner of the one super-corporation (Sheriff) that control everything from petrol, supermarkets to even a football team, that just so happen to be the best in the country.

Therefore the city is littered with his image, his companies, his re-election posters, and from a business side “his brand” be it political, or business is all encompassing.

Bendery the second city was much the same, although with a much more independence war feel, inclusive of bullet ridden buildings.

I have heard Transnistria called many things, “Europe’s last Soviet State”, “Europe’s North Korea”, and even “The Last Outpost of the Cold War in Europe.

The fact of the matter is that it truly is none of the above, at all. Firstly it’s a very relaxed, free place, corrupt, of course, but so are some countries, even in the EU (just visit Romania, or Bulgaria), and as for the cold war stuff, whilst it is pretty tense regarding Moldova, this conflict, or wish for independence is bore solely over ethnic, linguistic, historical, and patriotic lines. To ask the question of why Kosovo deserves independence and Transnistria does not can only lead us to one answer, the same reason Iraq and Libya got military action, and Rwanda, and Syria did not. A question that quite frankly is pointless to answer, we already know.

In fact more than anything the place reminded of China, or the other “socialist states” of Asia, big wild west style ultra-capitalism, controlled by a big man from a big party, with lots of soviet/communist nostalgia, the modern heirs of the communist party doing things their way. Socialism with Transnistrian characteristics. In my mind the one thing Soviet about it was that the place reminded me of what might have actually happened had glasnost and perestroika actually worked, and the Union had been preserved, perhaps this might be what things would look like. In fact some Russian politicians even believe that Transnitria could even be the trigger and starting place of a new Soviet Union.

Whenever I have traveled it has always been fascinating to see what places really look like, to separate the myth from the fact, this place had smashed the myth to pieces, and whilst I had found it far different, and much less terrifying that people had led me to believe, I still left a massive chunk of my heart here.

Photos from Transnistria:

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Chernobyl – Young Pioneer Tours’ Eurasian Adventure

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Group picture at reactor #4, scene of the Chernobyl explosion and meltdown.

Today we toured nuclear reactors and the abandoned ghost town of Pripyat on Young Pioneer Tours’ Eurasian Adventure.

I’m quite behind on my blogging of the trip. Having assumed a team leader position on our Phillipines disaster relief effort, and co-leading this tour leaves me little spare time. After the Trans Siberian Express we spent one night in Moscow before spliting our group, myself leading 3 guys on an increadable visit to Belarus and rejoining the main group in Kiev.

Chernobyl was an amazing experience. We had a lot of luck with getting a local guide who was willing to streatch the rules and lead us into places not approved for general visits, such as one of the cooling towers and a countryside kindergarden.

I’m in a rush, have to take the group out tonight; will let the pics from today tell the story:

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Pripyat middle school.

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Abandoned cooling tower construction.

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Abandoned cooling tower construction.

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Abandoned cooling tower construction.

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Reactor #4, scene of the Chernobyl explosion and meltdown.

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Ghost town of Pripyat.

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Ghost town of Pripyat.

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Ghost town of Pripyat.

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Ghost town of Pripyat.

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Ghost town of Pripyat.

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Ghost town of Pripyat.

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Ghost town of Pripyat.

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Ghost town of Pripyat.

Photos by Joseph A Ferris III


YPT Typhoon Yolanda Relief – Indiegogo

Please support our Indiegogo fundraising for Philippines disaster relief. We are looking at increasing our project to two months on the ground.

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Young Pioneer Tours – Philippines Disaster Relief Team Update

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.

Sincerely
Chris White, Capt. Joseph Ferris & Team
chris@youngpioneertours.com
Paypal: chris@youngpioneertours.com – # R4T36NB338KZW

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IMPORTANT: Philippines Relief Effort

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 chris@youngpioneertours.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: chris@youngpioneertours.com

Thanks from the YPT family.

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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 chris@youngpioneertours.com for more information and ways to donate. Thanks guys you are the best!!!!


Trans Siberian Express

We are currently underway on Young Pioneer Tours’ Eurasian Adventure. Having made an epic 6 day crossing of the snow covered steppes of Mongolia and Russia on the Trans Siberian Express, I am now in Moscow after a week with no Internet or news from the outside world since Beijing.

For YPT founder, Gareth Johnson, several returning customers making the trip, and myself, the adventure started 16 days ago as we completed all the trip prep-work and obtained visas in Beijing. The YPT apartment turned into a frat house with men sleeping on every available couch and vaguely comfortable surfaces (I spent a few nights hot bunking with the intern), ordering massive amounts of pizza delivery, and getting up to general shenanigans (people who didn’t watch their backside got tasered!). We visited top end night clubs and proudly avoided all things cultural, but in the mornings we were busy working: making consular visits for visas, setting up trip logistics to unrecognized countries, and having lunches at a secret North Korean embassy restaurant.

I made 7 visits to the Belarusian Embassy, in the end sweet talking my way in and picking up my visa and passport on a day the consular was closed. The visa I finally received wont cover the time of my needed stay – I still need to visit the Belarus Embassy in Moscow to try to get the visa corrected.

Day 1

With everything close to being sorted, on the early morning of Oct 6th we brought 5 customers to the Beijing Main Station, boarding our 2nd class Chinese sleeper compartments on the K3 Trans Siberian Express. Being a group of 7 delinquents we promptly headed to the dining car and drank 5 bottles of Chinese Great Wall wine. I snuck off for an afternoon nap, returning later for more wine until we got kicked out of the dining car for being drunkards.

We reached the Chinese side of the Mongolian border around eight thirty at night. Largely due to having to change the rail gauge Chinese border formalities take about 3 hours to complete. Passengers are usually let off and herded into the station, but we remained on board, our passenger car taken to a hanger and lifted to change the wheel assembly units – a fascinating experience.

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Changing the rail gauge at the Mongolian border.

With the car rail gauge changed we waited for immigration. The attractive female officials of the Mongolian side, dressed up in fur hats, military outfits, and black leather boots were far more preferable to the dudes on the Chinese side. With customs finished, the bathrooms unlocked, and with the train heading north into Mongolia, I snuck into my top bunk for a sound nights sleep.

Day 2

New day and new scenery; we are now rolling northbound across Mongolia with yurt dotted hills, pastures, and mountains passing our train windows. The temperature has dropped and shallow snow drifts cover the terrain. We still have our Chinese carriage but the food car has been changed out, now a Mongolian rig with intricately carved woodwork decorations, and an elaborate menu with only one meal available – nothing like the picture, but still tasty.

We hit Ulaanbaatar in the mid afternoon far a one hour stop. Our mission was to split up and buy bread, cheese, sausage, beer, vodka, mixers, and any other available treats. Ulaanbaatar is an ugly city with a certain charm that makes me want to return for a one week summer stay; I find the girls here attractive.

Despite warnings that Russain customs is intense and that we would need to be on our best behavior, our search for vodka was so successful that by the time we reached the 5 hour Mongolian/Russia border ordeal we were all excessively drunk. somehow they let us though without any major incident and we rolled on into Siberian Russia.

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Mongolian yurts.

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Mongolian yurts.

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Mongolian yurts.

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Mongolian dinner car.

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Mongolian rail car detail.

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Ulaanbaatar monument.

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Ulaanbaatar street life.

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Ulaanbaatar’s finest.

Day 3-5

Woke up early (we are now on Moscow time) to the view of Lake Baikal out our window. With dark storm clouds on the horizon, and ferocious breaking waves on the shore, the largest fresh water lake in the world is truly impressive. Our passage along its southern shore took three hours. We seem to have settled into life on the train. The smells of 7 men sharing two cabins: cigarettes, stale beer, and spilled tins of Russian sardines has turned the cabins quite rank. I use baby wet wipes to “shower” with, I don’t think the other guys even try. The two Chinese compartment attendants don’t really do much other then watch DVDs and cook their meals in the wash room – we seem to be here fending for ourselves.

New sobriety laws have been passed in Russia and buying alcohol at the various stops is difficult but possible. We make our hushed requests for pivo (beer) and vodka at the station snack kiosks, with the attendant checking to see who is watching and advising us to hide he bottles in our jacket until back on our carriage.

The days roll by; it has gotten cold! The carriages are toasty, warmed by coal burning furnaces – we find it fun to get drunk, sneak past the attendant, and feed coal into them ourselves. It’s only early November but the Siberian air mass is already frigid, making our food and booze runs at station stops a test of endurance.

I try to pass the time by reading books, but this only raises ridicule from the other travelers who want to get drunk or simply find it amusing to mess with me. We found on our new 2nd hand iPad an app called Star Girl. A game whose demographic targets prepubescent girls, Star Girl has given us hours of entertainment as we go on dates, receive gifts from virtual boyfriends, and build our wardrobe with new outfits to increase our attraction points. The fact that we spend a lot of time in the virtual underwear shop is admittedly rather creepy – but a game that teaches young girls that having lots of boyfriend whose sole purpose are to give you gifts is even more disturbing then us enjoying the game.

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Russian Siberian countryside.

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Russian Siberian countryside.

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Passing a Russian tank.

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A station stop in Siberia.

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Truck load of coal to warm the carriages.

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Truck load of coal to warm the carriages.


Spring/Summer 2014 DPRK Trips!

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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:

May Day Tour: April 28th – May 8th

DPRK Fishing Tour: May 19th – May 28th

June Airport Tour – soon to be announced!

DPRK Hiking Tour: June 20th – June 30th

North/South Ultimate DMZ Tour: July 10th – July 19th

Mt. Paektu Tour: Aug 18th – Aug 30th

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.


Russian Visa In Beijing – Eurasian Adventure

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: 2350824570@qq.com 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!


Where In The World?

Where in the world is this? DPRK of course, but I find it striking that the below pics from the Rason seaside park could be of healthy and happy children at play in any random park in the first world – more visual testimony of how quickly North Korea is modernizing for the better.

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Photos by Joseph A Ferris III


Renovated Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum And Pueblo

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Downed American aircraft at the new Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum.

In 2012 Marshall Kim Jong Un declared the need to renovate the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum, as well as overhaul and move the American spy ship Pueblo for the 2013 commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Korean War Victory Day. Over this last year both sites were closed to tourism, and although I missed the grand opening and festivities for the 60th anniversary of Victory Day, I was able to visit both sites on my October 2013 DPRK trip.

Visitors now start their museum experience with a walk through the Monument to Victorious War statue park. Flanking these statues is a mock trench system leading the way to an outside gallery showcasing old American hardware: all the captured/destroyed tanks and downed airplanes which had been previously housed in the old museum basement.

Fresh from a dry dock overhaul, the Pueblo has been moved from the Taedong River into a dedicated basin adjacent the captured American hardware. The Pueblo visit includes a ship tour and a viewing of the standard propaganda video about the capture.

From the Pueblo visitors are taken to the new war museum; unfortunately no interior photos allowed. On entering visitors pay their respects and bow to a wax statue of Eternal President Kim Il Sung. The statue so remarkably resembles his grandson, Marshal Kim Jong Un, that local guides explain to visitors the distinction. The new museum is world class (although through a North Korean historical viewpoint) with modern galleries, displays, dioramas, and walkthrough environments of urban and countryside battle sites. After touring the new museum and a break at a modern cafe, visitors pass through a walkway gallery leading to the refurbished 360 degree revolving battlefield diorama. The diorama has been outfitted with a new light and video/lazer show overlay, effectively bringing the Battle of Taejon to life. The 360 degree battle diorama ends the visit.

Always an impressive site, the newly renovated Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum is now a true highlight to any visit to Pyongyang!

Pics of the new Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum and Pueblo:

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Emperor Hotel And Casino Room Rates

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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.

Rason, North Korea Emperor Hotel and Casino

Pipi Island and the Emperor Hotel and Casino – a custom gambling trip could easily be arranged if anyone is interested!


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.


Gift Photos To The Girls Of The Rason Foreign Language Institute

I spent some time last spring practicing conversational English with the girls of the Rason Foreign Language Institute. On my return I gifted them photos from the first visit:

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The girls checking out the photos.

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The girls checking out the photos.

Rason Foreign Language School North Korea

Gift photo from my first visit.

Rason Foreign Language School North Korea

Gift photo from my first visit.

The children we interact with at the Rason Foreign Language Institute are aged 13-15, and are chosen to converse with us because they rank the top of their class. Shy at first, the girls quickly warm up by asking questions about family life in the United States, asking about our favorite colors, sports, hobbies, and animals. I keep it simple and ask them similar questions, learning that they enjoy swimming, reading, piano, and watching cartoons. Most of the girls want to be teachers when the grow up; they all hope to someday live in Pyongyang.


Back From Rason Special Economic Zone, North Korea

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!

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Girl swinging at the Rason sea park – photo by Joseph A Ferris III


Tumen – North Hamgyong First Ever Group Tour!

In April 2013 I was the first American tourist to cross the Namyang/Tumen border into North Korea’s North Hamgyong province. Young Pioneer Tour’s head guide Troy Collings led the trip and wrote the following report – photos are mine:

Day 1

I was fortunate enough to be back in North Hamgyong leading the first Western tour group to cross the Tumen-Namyang border and see the cities of Hoeryong and Onsong, on April 24th-29th. There were 12 of us pioneering the way and we definitely had our fair share of crazy events. First we were followed everywhere in Tumen, China by guys from the PSB which is like internal security, and they kept warning us that it was dangerous for us to go outside in Tumen at night because the locals like to drink and fight a lot. They also had some trouble believing we were actually going to North Korea so they asked a lot of questions such as whether we were invited etc.

We also heard only a couple of days before that we wouldn’t be able to go from Chongjin to Rason on this trip as the Koreans had not been able to get the permission in time, so we had to make a few changes. In the end though our partners at Chilbosan Travel Company were amazing and made sure we were always entertained and had new sites to see.

In the end all was well and PSB showed up the next morning to watch us cross the border. Chinese customs took some time as they wanted all our names and nationalities, and took a lot of photos of us going through customs and walking onto the bridge. After walking the long bridge into DPRK our passports were checked by a soldier at the gate and we met our guides Mr So and Ri outside the customs building. Customs was a much easier affair than when I went in November 2012 as they had installed a scanner- so we had to simply declare all our electronics and then get our bags scanned.

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View from the Tumen – Chinese side of the border.

Finally we hit the road and were a fair way along when we came across a broken truck that had made the road impassable. So we got out and threw a football around in a yard in the miner’s village we had stopped in. After a while we started throwing it to some of the local village children. Our guides seemed to have no problem with it so it carried on for nearly an hour playing with them – it was a really memorable experience. Finally they decided we had no choice but to take a detour, so we drove back around to Namyang then towards the East Sea before swinging back around to Hoeryong. So we were lucky enough to be the first tourists of any kind to take that road, even Chinese tourists haven’t yet, and our driver constantly had to ask for directions. They also went and brought some local street food for us as we were well past lunchtime by this point.

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Troy getting a ride from fellow YPT guide Rowan Beard on a remote North Korean road – yes, Rowan is a giant.

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Waiting for truck and road repairs in a remote village.

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Trip member teaching local boys American football while waiting for truck repairs.

The downside of this of course was the time we lost- we ended up having to have dinner in Hoeryong at around 8.30 pm, and  finally arrived in Chongjin at 11pm, where we went to the Seaman’s Club for a quick bath. Some of us stayed to enjoy the club while those who were too tired went to the hotel to sleep. Rowan made friends with the manager over his iPad, while Joe, Mark, Ri and I chatted with the waitresses and showed them some pictures etc. It was an interesting start to what would prove to be an extremely interesting trip.

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Chongjin Seaman’s Club.

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Rowan and the Chongjin Seaman’s Club boss.

Day 2

We woke up at 8, though I had to get up earlier to meet Mr Koh, the manager of the Chilbosan travel company for a quick chat. After breakfast we headed out to see the statue of President Kim Il Sung in the central square , and the nearby E-Library.  It was Military Foundation day, so all the kids had the day off and a mass of them followed us around the area giving us hi-fives and waves, it was such an amazing welcome and they were so happy to see us. Joseph took some amazing pictures and we all felt like genuine rock stars.

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Posing with the Chongjin Kim Il Sung statue guide.

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Chongjin Kim Il Sung statue.

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Chongjin locals wait for us to move on before paying respects at the Chongjin Kim Il Sung statue.

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Chongjin E-Library.

After the E-Library we went to see the model plan for the future development of Chongjin – a scale model showing the intended renovations and new constructions to develop the city. It’s next door to the E-Library, so we got to see all the children again. It was almost impossible to squeeze through them and onto the bus, not that any one was in a rush to do so. After that we had to head down to Mt Chilbo (we returned to Chongjin later anyway). The drive to Chilbo was fairly uneventful but as always provided some amazing village views and we even saw a few local markets from the bus.

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Chongjin development model.

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Kids in Chongjin.

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Troy and Rowan with kids in Chongjin.

We stopped at the mineral painting showing the area – the largest of it’s kind in the world apparently, and received an explanation of the area. This is also the only place where you can take photos from the bus while it’s moving which is nice. We then ate lunch at the Outer Chilbo hotel – the manager of which also cooks all the food himself and is a rather famous chef in the area.  He was kind enough to take the time to meet me before we left the area.

Mt. Chilbo Map North Korea

DPRK guide Mr So showing us the Mt Chilbo mineral painting.

After lunch we took a tour of some scenic spots and walks in Inner Chilbo and the Kaesim Buddhist Temple, where we were told that Mt. Chilbo rewards those with good hearts by providing good weather, but for those with wicked hearts the weather will turn bad. We spent the night in the Outer Chilbo hotel where we had a long dinner and sang with the hotel’s waitresses, spending the night drinking and talking with them and the Korean guides.

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Rowan and the lovely waitresses of the Outer Chilbo hotel.

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Troy and the lovely waitresses of the Outer Chilbo hotel.

Day 3

In the morning after breakfast we set off for a long 8.5 kilometer hike to Gangsonmun area – unfortunately the path was still covered in deep snow in places, and near the peak it began to rain and snow. It seems at least one of us had a wicked heart, so we were punished by the mountain had to go back, of course as soon as we went back a far enough distance it became sunny again.

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Hike up a Mt. Chilbo peak.

After our hike we ate a riverside picnic lunch – spicy fish soup that the Koreans cooked up for us.   After lunch it was time to visit the home stay village, which I had been restless for all day.

Mt. Chilbo, North Korea Camp Lunch

Mr. So cooks mountain soup.

We arrived at the village, had a look around, and played volleyball with the locals – we ended up with two teams of 3 foreigners and 3 Koreans with some rotating subs. Each team even had their own cheer groups which was awesome.  After we had some snacks and drinks with the village chief, participated in traditional Korean wrestling, and had a bonfire party on the beach with the locals. That night the Americans in our group were driven back to the Outer Chilbo hotel where they had a small party and a great chat with Mr Ri. The rest of us went to our respective home stays and talked to the occupants, shared photo albums, and finally went to sleep.

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Volleyball at the Mt. Chilbo Home Stay.

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Troy prepares for traditional Korean wrestling.

Day 4

We woke up early to do some light farming work, which turned out to be very light indeed. Rowan and I planted a few seeds in a very, very small area that they asked us to plow. Some people helped sweep the yard, and one guy weeded a strawberry patch for a short while. After we had a stroll around the village area and breakfast. When the US citizens returned from the Outer Chilbo hotel we went out for a boat ride along the coastline in some old wooden fishing boats.

After the boating it was time for another hike up to Manulsang to enjoy the view and a visit to the famous Ponji spring to sample the water. We had lunch at the hotel in Outer Chilbo before departing for Kyongsong, stopping at the Yongbun revolutionary site along the coastline on the way.

After our arrival in Gyongsong we went to see the local revolutionary site where Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Suk had stayed in the past. Originally owned by a winemaker, it was the largest home in the area at the time. Following that we went to a local spa house to bathe which was great after two nights without running hot water – though in Outer Chilbo the hotel did provide us with a bucket of hot water each.  After the baths I saw some locals hitting badminton shuttle cocks back and forth so I asked if we could play with them and our guides said no problem.  We joined and played for some time, which was another unexpected, yet pleasant surprise.

Gyongsong Spa, North Korea

Gyongsong hot spa clinic.

North Korean Badminton

Locals playing badminton.

We spent that night at the Gyongsong hotel, having dinner there, and a party with the waitresses of the hotel. I was also able to get the guides to send someone out to the local shops to get us Swallow Beer (another type of beer not found in tourist shops and restaurants) and Craven A cigarettes (also not usually available for tourists), so again I was surprised at how amenable our guides were.

Northeast Extreme North Korea Trip

Gyongsong Hotel party.

Day 5

In the morning we went to the Jipsam Revolutionary Site while on the way to Chongjin, and finally returned to Chongjin, where we visited the Chonsam region kindergarten and enjoyed a children’s performance.   We had lunch at the Seaman’s club, where I was joined by Manager Koh who had brought Paeksul for us. Paeksul is one of the DPRK’s top liquors (It’s 30% alcohol and is made only from Pears), so it was a very pleasant surprise. I had to leave the others to enjoy lunch while I ate with the Koreans and discussed business for a while.  We had some very exciting discussions – the future for tourism up there looks very bright.

Kindergarten Performance Chongjin, North Korea

Chongjin kindergarten show.

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Troy with the Chongjin kindergarten teachers.

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Troy and Rowan in a kindergarten classroom.

After lunch we shopped in the seaman’s club shop and then drove by the port to have a look.  It was finally time to leave Chongjin and we drove off to Hyeryong city, where we were the first group of Western Tourists ever. Upon our arrival we paid respects to Kim Jong Suk’s (revolutionary war hero and mother of Kim Jong Il) statue and took photos of the central square area. We then walked over the hill to see the house where she was born, and  visited the Hyeryong Revolutionary Museum, before checking in at the hotel.

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Chongjing Seaman’s Club cold noodle lunch.

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Hyeryong Kim Jong Suk statue.

That night we sang and danced with the Hyeryong waitresses.  Everyone had a good time (expect for Joe who was sick), and I think the Koreans really enjoyed the chance to get to know some foreigners too, as they had only met Chinese before (and me in November of course).

Day 6

After breakfast we visited the Kim Ki Song (little brother of Kim Jong Suk) Middle School. We were the first tourists ever to visit, opening it according to my requests in November, it was very good to see them come through. We saw several classrooms of the school, but the highlight was having the opportunity to speak with the English class.  Never having spoken with foreigners before the kids were quite nervous, and with unfamiliar accents etc, it was quite a challenge, but fun and rewarding none the less.  Unfortunately the teacher’s college and maternity hospital have not yet decided to allow us or not – we will see in the future if those sites will be available.

Kim Ki-song Middle School Hyeryong, North Korea

Kim Ki Song Middle School.

Kim Ki-song Middle School Hyeryong, North Korea

Kim Ki Song Middle School.

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View of Hyeryong town.

From Hyeryong we drove to Onsong County, another first for a Western tour group.  We visited the Grand Monument at Wangjaesan, which is perhaps the most impressive monument I have ever seen in the country. After we toured the Wangjaesan revolutionary museum at the base of the hill.

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A small section of the Grand Monument at Wangjaesan.

Lastly it was time for customs; we had a customs official travel on the bus with us to check photos and help speed up formalities.  The border post still took a fair while, though the scanners really helped!  We then said farewell to our guides and crossed the bridge to return to Tumen. Chinese customs all seemed very happy to see us, and our PSB police friend was there to meet us.  Customs took a long time here too, but finally we left and headed by bus to Yanji.

It was a great trip and I see a lot of potential for continued tourism in this region.  Our partners up there seem very committed to helping us to access as much as we can.  For returners, or people who want to see a more representative area of the DPRK, I would definitely recommend it. As one of our group members said, the bus rides were almost a tour within a tour, as we could see a lot of authentic villages, markets etc up there. Of course photography off the bus is not allowed (except within Mt Chilbo region.) I’m definitely looking forward to the next one!

Troy Collings


Pyongyang Zoo

Located at the base of the Revolutionary Martyrs’ Cemetery, next to the Botanical Gardens, and serviced by the Rakwon Metro stop, the Pyongyang Zoo makes for a lovely visit. The Zoo is open daily, but weekends are an especially good time to visit as the zoo will be busy with locals on their day off, providing tourists with lots of relaxed opportunities to interact.

The zoo is nice by Asian standards. It is well stocked with most animals you would expect, and some surprises, such as sections for domestic cats and domestic dogs. Commonly found on most pens are signs describing how the animal on display was donated by Kim Jong Il. Opportunities to trot around the grounds on ponies and camels are available for those daring enough. The Pyongyang Zoo is not included on most itineraries, but a visit can be easily arranged provided available time in your itinerary.

Pyongyang Zoo Dog Pen

A lonly St. Bernard.

Pyongyang Zoo Dog Pen

Dalmatians donated by Kim Jong Il.

Pyongyang Zoo Dog Pen

Dalmatians donated by Kim Jong Il.

Pyongyang Zoo

Young Pioneers at bird cages.

Pyongyang Zoo

Pony cart rides.

Pyongyang Zoo

Pyongyang Zoo duck pond.

Pyongyang Vendor

Ice cream vendor.

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Pony rides.

North Korean Propaganda

Zoo construction site propaganda art.

Photos by Joseph A Ferris III


International Friendship Exhibition Crocodile Bar Set

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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.

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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.

Nicaragua's Sandinista Stuffed Crocodile Gift to Kim Il Sung

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.


Snow Skiing in North Korea

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!

North Korean Ski Slope

North Korean Ski Slope Hotel

North Korean Ski Slope

Construction at the Wonsan area ski slope – photos by Young Pioneer Tours