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.
Pipi Island and the Emperor Hotel and Casino – a custom gambling trip could easily be arranged if anyone is interested!
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!
Group A Dates: December 31 – January 2 2013
Group A Price: 395 Euros
December 30 – January 5 2013
Price: 895 Euros
Minnie Mouse at the Mangyongdae Children’s Palace.
I have never been a fan of graphic novels, but recently I read and enjoyed Guy Delisle’s Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea.
Guy Delisle worked in Pyongyang as a project manager for a French animation company in the early 2000’s. The outsourced animation projects he oversaw seemed to run themselves, and finding himself without much to do, Guy busied himself by sketching scenes of Pyongyang and documenting instances of culture shock he encountered.
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea is witty, and fair (I believe) to what the experience must have been like as an expat there in the early 2000’s. His portrayal of Pyongyang’s unique buildings and architecture is spot on, and I found myself reminiscing over the many little details of Pyongyang he sketched: 50’s era Hungarian buses with star embalms, each star indicating 5,000 accident free driving miles, ladies of Pyongyang wearing socks hiked up over their nylons, and fly swatting waitresses. Even the lonely (and endangered – so I’m told) turtle in the giant fish tank at the Yanggakdo Hotel bar is a recurring character.
For North Korea watchers not fortunate to have visited the country, perhaps the most useful sketches from Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea are of Guy’s visit to the International Friendship Exhibition, a site where interior photography is prohibited.
It’s a shame Guy never visited the Kumsusan Memorial Palace and Mausoleum; his sketches would have been quite valuable as interior photography is also prohibited there.
For fans of graphic novels, and for those waiting to properly fill out their North Korean book collection, I certainly suggest picking up Guy Delisle’s Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea.
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.
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.
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.
Young Pioneer Stanley
I’m excited to announce that this Fall I will be the first person to bring the Flat Stanley Project to North Korea!
Originating from the Flat Stanley book series, Flat Stanley is flattened to half an inch thick when a bulletin board falls on him in the first book. Stanley takes advantage of his new dimensions by traveling by air mail and engaging in adventures around the world.
The books have developed into the Flat Stanley Project, with schoolchildren creating their own Flat Stanley characters and mailing them to hosts around the world.
The basic principle of The Flat Stanley Project is to connect your child, student or classroom with other children or classrooms participating in the Project by sending out “flat” visitors, created by the children, through the mail (or digitally, with The Flat Stanley app). Kids then talk about, track, and write about their flat character’s journey and adventures. Although similar to a pen-pal activity, Flat Stanley is actually much more enriching-students don’t have to wonder where to begin or what to write about. The sender and the recipient already have a mutual friend, Flat Stanley. Writing and learning becomes easier, flows naturally, and tends to be more creative. This is what teachers call an “authentic” literacy project, in that kids are inspired to write of their own passion and excitement about the project, and given the freedom to write about many things through the rubric of the Flat Stanley character.
I love geography education and am very excited to take part in this project – especially since I will have the Young Pioneer Tour’s company smart phone and North Korean 3G access to document everything in real time.
If you would like to follow my Young Pioneer Stanley, or the several Flat Stanley charterers I’m bringing to North Korea, please join the Flat Stanley website or mobile app, and search for me under the user name josephferris76.
Young Pioneer Flat Stanley starting his journey on the Research Vessel Melville.
I made a PDF photo book about the Pyongyang traffic girls.
Right click and save to download for free – looks great when viewed on an iPad!
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:
No visit to Rason, North Korea would be complete (at least for those interested in business or entertainment) without a stop at the Hong Kong investor owned Emperor Hotel and Casino. The second casino in North Korea (the original being a small dodgy room in the Yanggakdo International Hotel basement), the Emperor Hotel and Casino is located on a lonely stretch of coast with farmers and oxen tilling fields right up to the empty parking lots.
The lobby is spotless, the restaurant promising (but empty), and the signs politely remind Chinese gamblers not to spit. Visitors can only gamble if they exchange a minimum of 500 dollars into chips – we didn’t, so we couldn’t visit the gaming floor. Neither did we visit the dodgy Chinese massage parlor, but as per our guide’s proud recommendation, we did use the county’s only 5 star bathroom.
The casino has a fleet of Humvee vehicles reportedly confiscated from Chinese mafia gamblers who lost millions of dollars and refused to pay their debt. They left the Humvees instead, which are now used to shuttle patrons down from the Chinese border – they must have been on a run, we searched for the Humvees but the casino motor pool was empty.
And if this wasn’t all surreal enough, there is even an associated pawn shop for unlucky gamblers located on the road leading to the casino!
More pics of the Emperor Hotel and Casino:
Dodgy Chinese massage!
Friend and fellow Young Pioneer Tours guide, Chris White, had an epic encounter with a Pyongyang Traffic Girl last week in the DPRK:
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!
Looking forward to the release of our 2014 DPRK lineup:
By August 2nd YPT will be launching our DPRK 2014 program, which whilst having some similar bits to 2013, will have a few cool extras thrown in. We will also once again be offering massive discounts to early bookers.
A guide picks azaleas on Musk Dear Mountain in Rason, North Korea – photo by Joseph A Ferris III
I have a quiet autumn for DPRK trips; a private Rason trip is currently the only thing on my schedule for North Korea. In November I will helping Gareth Johnson, YPT founder, on the month long Eurasian Adventure Tour, and in December I plan to head down to Africa to scout out Djibouti, Eritrea, and Somaliland for a spring Young Pioneer Tours trip that I plan to guide in that region. My hope is to work a long winter and spring on my ship and have the 2014 summer free to guide during the busy DPRK season – with luck I will score the Mt. Baekdu trip!
The bar is staffed at all times by at least one, but oftentimes a few YPT full time guides/tour organizers, with our being that it can be a great place in the sun to sit, enjoy a beer, and talk about all things tour related with an expert about the DPRK, and all of the other great places we go to with YPT. Essentially it is as much a branch office as it is a bar, with it being fully fitted with books and brochures about the country as well as our experts.
Therefore to add a little spice to the place we are offering a 5% discount on all tours booked, and where the cash deposit has been paid at the bar. Very simple, you make the effort to come to the bar, or by even luckier chance happen to be going through there anyway, and YPT give you a sexy little discount, and you never know, you might actually enjoy yourselves!
With all the colors and adorable costumes, the Chongjin City kindergarten performance is my favorite student’s show in North Korea. Below are photos from my April 2013 Chongjin kindergarten visit:
Shhhhh, dont tell, but the FBI has infiltrated North Korea!
Actually it’s just a Chinese knockoff hat worn by a North Korean at the Mt. Chilbo Home Stay Village. The man had no idea what the hat signified and seemed bewildered by all the attention and requests for photos – and just to be clear, he was wearing the hat, we didn’t put it on him.
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:
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.
And no, this is not a real American G.I., but a North Korean soldier with a fake nose and a heavy makeup job.