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.






Photos by Joseph A Ferris III

Emperor Hotel And Casino Room Rates


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!

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:

DSC09209 (1)

The girls checking out the photos.


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!


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

Rason Business Interest Tour

Rason, North Korea

Development under the watchful eyes of a Kim mosaic in Rason, North Korea.

Join me for the September 22nd – September 27th Rason Business Interest Tour.

The 3 night, 4 day trip has us visiting many of the major joint-venture and foreign owned companies in the area as well as most importantly meeting people involved with the foreign affairs and investment departments in the area to explore opportunities in the region as well as the logistics of doing business here.

Whilst we will be visiting tourist attractions whilst here the trip will primarily be based around doing business, and as such we will only be accepting bookings from people looking to do business here.

This is an excellent opportunity to meet the people that matter, set up further appointments, and begin what can be a long process of doing business in the DPRK.

The trip starts and finishes in Beijing/Yanji, with us doing a Rason Business presentation at the wonderful LiuJing Hotel, Yanji on the evening prior to departure.

4 nights, 5 days • €695 (650 meet in Yanji) • (Beijing – Yanji – Rason – Yanji. (3 nights, 4 days in Rason, 1 night, 2 days in China)

This trip is capped at 6 people, three more spaces available, and time to sign up is limited.

Full itinerary can be found here.

Rason Special Economic Zone Shoe Factory

The Rason shoe factory is one of the various light industry sites open to tourists in the North Korean Special Economic Zone. Unlike the bustling Rason textile factory, the shoe factory was only running at half capacity on my visit. Factory officials embarrassingly explained that output was down due to sanctions – although that seemed a dubious excuse after having witnessed the busy textile factory production floors. But then again, I’m not an expert on sanctions, and keeping North Korean high heels off the international market might truly be part of American strategy to force regime change.

Rason Shoe Factory North Korea

Rason Shoe Factory North Korea

Rason Shoe Factory North Korea

Rason Shoe Factory North Korea

Rason Shoe Factory North Korea

Rason Shoe Factory North Korea

Rason Shoe Factory North Korea

Rason Shoe Factory North Korea

Rason Shoe Factory North Korea

Rason Shoe Factory North Korea

Rason Shoe Factory North Korea

Rason Shoe Factory North Korea

Photos by Joseph A Ferris III

Kindergarten Tank Art


Crayon drawing of a tank displayed at a Kindergarten in Rason, North Korea – photo by Joseph A Ferris III

Rason Korean Language Tour

Rason Korean Language Tour

Dates: August 13 – August 19 2013
Price: 995 Euros

Rason Foreign Language School North Korea

An afternoon of interaction and study with the lovely students of the  Rason Foreign Language School is included in the itinerary.

Join us for our first ever Korean Language Tour, being held in the Rason Special Economic Zone of the DPRK. This trip is perfect for beginner level speakers of Korean to come and learn the local DPRK dialect in a relaxed setting with both a Korean-American and DPR Korean teacher in the morning, whilst using your afternoons and evenings to practice your new language skills authentically.

This trip is aimed at those with little to no knowledge of Korean. For speakers of a higher level, alternative classes and itinerary can be arranged.

The classes will involve learning the Korean alphabet, everyday Korean, as well as essentials like restaurant and shopping vocabulary.

This tour would be of particular interest to people who have already been to the DPRK “mainland”, and wish to step really off the beaten track. Those people interested in the opening up of the DPRK economy (we can arrange business meetings for those joining the tour), and anyone with an interest in seeing this very unique part of the country.

Not to mention that Rason is the ONLY place in the DPRK where you receive a stamp in your passport (excluding US and Japanese passports), and can also change local money freely, as well visit the private markets.

We are currently offering discounts for group bookings, students, return customers and those combining the language course with other tours.

Unfortunately I’m still working on my ship in Aug. and wont be available to guide this trip (hopefully next year), but for those interested in joining up with one of YPT’s other fantastic guides there is still time to sign up and get a discount by contacting me at joseph@youngpioneertours.com

Late September Rason SEZ Trip

Join Young Pioneer Tours founder Gareth Johnson and I for a late September VIP business interests trip to the Rason Special Economic Zone of North Korea.


Jets, missiles, and tanks at a Rason SEZ kindergarten playground.

We are still finalizing itinerary details and dates, but in addition to planned meetings with officials (perfect for those interested in the opening up of the DPRK economy), we will visit the Triangle Bank, the only place in North Korea where it is permitted for tourists to change the Korean Won at the “street” rate, and visit the Rason public market, the only place where you can legally spend your newly acquired Won – truly unique experiences!

We are only taking a limited amount of travelers on this trip, but spaces are available.  I will post the dates (probably heading there around Sept 23rd), price, and itinerary as soon as I get them confirmed by the North Koreans.  Email me at joseph@youngpioneertours.com for more info.

Pics from my May 2013 trip to Rason SEZ:


With kindergarten students after a performance.


A hike to revolutionary sites on Musk Dear Mountain.

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A close look at North Korean ships at the Rason port.


Seafood I bought with local currency at the Rason public market.


With North Korean guide Mr. Moon at the monument to Ri Song Sin – builder of the Turtle Boat.

Rason Special Economic Zone Textile Factory

Closed during the height of the spring 2013 tensions, the Kaesong Industrial Complex will probably never be a tourist attraction, even if reopened.  But if light industry is your thing, it is still possible to gain access and check out the behind the scenes action at various factories in the Rason Special Economic Zone.

Despite sanctions, one of the busiest factories I visited in Rason was the textile and garment plant.  During our visit my group was led to the 2nd floor production halls where we watched Chinese supervisors make rounds to oversee the quality of work of the local North Korean staff.

There were no children working at the plant, the work space was clean and well ventilated, and in the parking lot we witnessed the distribution of the worker’s monthly rations.  But for those who must have controversy and scandal when it comes to North Korean issues, I can report that the tags on the jackets being produced there claimed “Made in China”.


Rason Garment Factory North Korea



Rason Garment Factory North Korea


Rason Garment Factory North Korea

Rason Garment Factory North Korea

Rason Garment Factory North Korea

Rason Garment Factory North Korea


Rason Garment Factory North Korea

Photos by Joseph A Ferris III

Safely Returned From The Rason SEZ, North Korea

Kindergarten Tank Rason SEZ, North Korea

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.

Rason SEZ, North Korea Travel Permit

Rason SEZ, North Korea Travel Permit

Rason SEZ, North Korea Travel Permit

Heading into the Rason Special Economic Zone of North Korea. Visas are not required but travel permits are – above are our permissions.

Back to North Korea – Rason SEZ

Kindergarten Performance Chongjin, North Korea

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!

New Cruise Line for DPRK

Exciting news from Young Pioneer Tours:

The DPRK has announced that they will be restarting cruises from Rajin Port, to the Mt Kumgang resort on 3 night, 4 day cruises starting from April. Singaporean cruise ship called the Royale Star has a capacity for around 800 paying passengers, offering monthly trips from April until October.

We have been given the confirmed dates for this cruise, and most excitingly that we will be able to sell foreign places (non-Chinese) on these trips. We are still waiting to have prices confirmed on this, but are hoping to have this done within 48 hours.

Apr 29-May 3, May 30-June 3, June 28-July 2, July 29-Aug 2, Aug 29-Sep 2, Sep 30-Oct 4, Oct 14-18

As a Master Mariner I have vowed never to take a cruise. Seven months a year on the ocean for my professional job is usually enough for me, but for a North Korea Rason cruise I will make an exception!

With this breaking news I’m already in touch with the office and developing a tour for May 30-June 3 (I guess Mongolia will have to wait until next year).

Get in touch with me if interested, plenty of time to customize the trip for a few days exploring the Rason region before sailing the North Korean waters with me, your very own maritime expert.

North Korea watchers will remember that this isn’t the first attempt North Korea made at launching a cruise route.   Below are pictures of the Mangyongbong cruise ship. Back in 2011 YPT was the only Western tour company to take the cruise from Rason to Kumgang.  Unfortunately it stopped operating after Western Journalists gave it too much stick.


Our lovely guide Shan with North Korean guides in front of the M/V Mangyongbong cruise ship.


M/V Mangyongbong gangway.


DPRK flag on the M/V Mangyongbong’s stack.

644185_467094956679422_898768257_nLovely North Korean ship’s staff.

All pics thanks to the Young Pioneer Tours Facebook page.

Rason Korean Language Tour

Grand People’s Study House

Students hit the books at the Pyongyang Grand Peoples Study House.

I’m out on the Pacific Ocean, 4 days Southeast of Hawaii, and just one month into a four month rotation on a scientific research ship conducting expeditions from San Diego to Japan.

Being on the ocean gives a person the gift of a lot of free time away from the normal distractions of life. With that time I have started to study the Korean language; for these cruises I brought with me the Pimsleur audio Korean course (great for the days when I’m walking the deck for a little exercise), as well as several textbooks and workbooks, and a ton a Korean language learning podcasts. Its going as well as one could expect, some things are starting to stick, all the honorific tenses are confusing, but the hangul characters are not too bad – kinda fun actually.

Of course nothing beats time working with a real teacher in a native environment, and that’s just what Young Pioneer Tours is offering this summer to those who join up with their first ever Rason Korean Language Tour.

Far off the beaten track (up until 2009 no western foreign tourist had ever visited), a trip to the Rason Special Economic Zone allows for special opportunities; Rason is the only place in the DPRK where foreigners are legally allowed to use North Korean currency and to mix freely with locals while shopping in the public markets – this is your opportunity to pick up all your own school supplies and practice your daily lessons as you buy fresh seafood for the nightly BBQ. Rason is also the only place where visitors (expect for Americans and Japanese) can get a North Korean visa stamped into their passport.

This tour has time scheduled for local sightseeing but the focus of this trip will be classroom time for the study of basic Korean with a North Korean instructor. You will also visit the local foreign language institute for conversational exchanges with older students, and have the chance to develop a lesson plan and teach an English class to elementary children!

Already proficient at the basic level? Alternative intermediate or advanced class time can be arranged.

Young Pioneer Tours will be running this tour in Aug 2013, unfortunately I’m going to be at my professional job at that time, but I’m certainly interested in doing this trip myself. I will be making my first trip up to Rason this spring; by my following vacation in the fall of 2013 I will be qualified to run this program on a custom basis if anyone is interested.

"For Study English" in North Korea

I peaked into a North Korean hotel kitchen and found this sign.

For the scheduled Aug language tour, as well as any of Young Pioneer Tours scheduled tours, a referral from me can get you 5% off!