Young Pioneers visit the new Kim Jong-il stature and pay respects to Kim Il-sung on his 100th birthday. This was the first day foreigners were allowed to visit the new statue, it was ceremoniously unveiled to North Koreans the day before – photo by Joseph A Ferris III
I am happy to announce that I am now partnered with Young Pioneer Tours!
What does that mean for this website? Not much I hope, I want to continue to serve up interesting and original content true to my high standards of presenting an accurate representation of the North Korean experience. In the past I have been approached by Internet advertising companies with offers for the sale of advertising space or paid content, but I pledge not to sell out, anything I advertise or promote on this blog will be due to my genuine interest in the subject, or my direct involvement or investment in the project.
How then am I partnered with Young Pioneer Tours? I’m excited to announce that I’m an investor in our soon to open (Feb. 2013) North Korean themed beach bar at White Sand beach Puerto Galera, Philippines. There you may find me as a company representative, selling trips to curious visitors, blogging while on the beach, and perhaps serving up a North Korean beer or two – more on all this as things develop. We have some other big investment projects in the works, they are too sensitive and it’s too early to go into detail about them now, but readers can expect some absolutely unique DPRK content on the horizon.
In general I plan to continue running private custom DPRK trips with Young Pioneer Tours providing the logistics, but YPT also plans on having me on as one of their part time professional DPRK guides for their regularly scheduled trips. For their regularly scheduled trips I can offer 5% off via my referral – that’s not just for North Korea, we also offer excellent regularly scheduled Tibet, Myanmar, Iran, and trans Asian trips too!
Please check out the schedule below if interested in joining up with one of my 2013 trips:
March 30th – April 6th: Pyongyang, Nampo, Sariwan, Kaesong, and Mt. Myohyang.
April 22nd – April 29th: VIP private investors tour to the Rason Free Trade Zone and first time visits to newly opened sites in the far north – closed trip.
Late September/Early October: Mass Games tour with possibility of a documentary film crew – spots available.
I also expect to be helping out Young Pioneer Tours with their big November 2013 Eurasian Tour: Trans Siberian Express Beijing to Moscow, Minsk, Kiev, Chernobyl, Odessa, Transnistria, Moldova, and Romania.
For more info email me:
Our lovely guide shares a laugh and smile during our return visit to the US spy ship Pueblo.
This wasn’t our first time meeting this guide – Jordan, Josh, and I remembered her from last year (and she confessed to remembering us too), she was our guide during our 2011 visit to the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum. It was with her that we shared one of our favorite interactions of last year’s trip:
After being told of our impending annihilation we split our group between our trip guides and the local museum guide to fit into a small elevator to return to the museum entrance. Stuffed in the elevator between 5 big western men our guide asked us where we were from – Michigan, Maine, California, and so on. The look on our guide’s face was priceless, she was stuck in an elevator with 5 arch enemy Americans just moments after she predicted our impending annihilation by North Korean troops. The look of shock on her face changed into a big smile as our guide declared “I love American civilians!” and together we all all broke out into laughter – one of the best moments of the trip!
- Thank You to Polaroid for Camera Sponsership (americaninnorthkorea.com)
Photo and story by Gabriel Mizrahi
Crumbling from end to end and punctured by gaping holes, Pyongyang’s massive 12-lane Youth Hero Highway is a free-for-all for the few dozen vehicles that actually use it. Trucks, buses and the occasional sedan weave in and out of oncoming traffic in order to avoid the sickly workers stooping to repair the road, a symbol of the mindless excess and abject failure of North Korea’s infrastructure. The road was built, James Bond Villain explained, by students and people under the age of 30. It is a point of national pride………..Continue reading this post at The North Korea Blog.
By Contributing Writer Gabriel Mizrahi
On the escalator into Pyongyang’s mass-transit underworld, I asked one of our guides why the subway is built so deep.
“Loose soil,” she responded, gripping my elbow.
“Cool in the summer, warm in the winter,” said another guide.
Structural requirements aside, the subway was clearly designed with war in mind. The tunnels double as a massive bomb shelter or vast storage space when the inevitable occurs. We inquired until one of our guides relented.
“Anti-bombing,” she conceded, though I later learned that this is a well-known and openly admitted fact………….Continue reading this post at The North Korea Blog.
Pyongyang Metro – Photo by Joseph Ferris
My final profile of our North Korean guides looks at our senior guide, the imposing Mr Lee. Tall and lanky, Mr Lee exudes the aura of authority – of all our guides and minders we pegged him as the secret state security agent (but then at some point we had believed each of our guides had to be working for the secret police – and they probably were).
As I mentioned in an earlier post, breaking the rules concerning photography can get the guides in a lot of trouble and can quickly sour the relationship between the tour group and guides. I was crushed when on the 2nd day of the trip, after being granted the opportunity to take a 20 min. escorted walk through downtown Pyongyang, Mr Lee slapped a big hand down on my shoulder and told me “no more pictures Joe”. I believed my photography was being shut down for the remainder of the trip and that I had put the guides in danger and my group in bad standing for excessive picture taking – I had been taking a LOT of pictures. So I put my camera away and vowed to do a better job at staying out of trouble. Later that night in the gift shop of a cold noodle restaurant, Mr Lee again put his big hand on my shoulder and bid me to follow him. As I was drawn away from the group and towards a secluded display case I thought to myself that an ass chewing for my illegal photography was at hand. But instead Mr Lee simply pointed to a box in the display and flashed me a big smile and a nod as he said “North Korean Viagra!” Oh yo me! I wasn’t in trouble one bit, earlier on the street I was simply being warned that we had entered an area where locals would complain about pictures, I was actually being an exemplary tourist by doing what was asked of me, putting my camera away and not sneaking shots.
Mr Lee on the North Korean cell network – no foreign cell phones are allowed in the country.
Mr Lee has a dry sense of humor. On the bus we begged him to tell us a North Korean joke and after declining several times he finally agreed. With a raised finger he commanded our attention and maintained a serious gaze for several long moments, finally through the microphone he delivered a deadpan “George W. Bush”, and to our cheers he gave an appreciative “thank you very much!”
Senior guide Mr Lee. Photo by fellow North Korea tour group member Andrew Lombardi.
On the final night of our trip our group had dinner at a Pyongyang BBQ duck restaurant. Beer and Korean soju rice wine/liquor flowed liberally and the plates of barbequed duck tasted great. After already having ordered several extra plates, one of our group decided to lean back and steal one last plate of meat from the table behind us (a strange custom in most of the restaurants tourists frequent in North Korea is that all the vacant tables are laid out with dishes of food). No sooner was this plate of duck snatched and thrown on the BBQ then a stern faced waitress was on to our scam stomped off to inform Mr Lee of our pilferage. Mr Lee strided over with a serious look on his face and demanded to know who stole the duck and eventually one of our group sheepishly fessed up. “Stealing in North Korea is a serious crime, you must be punished!” Mr Lee then proceeded to pore out a HUGE glass of soju and passed it to the thief declaring “this is your punishment.” He then raised his own glass of soju in a gesture of a toast and simply informed us “you will be charged one Euro for the extra plate of duck!”
Mr. Lee at the BBQ duck restaurant. Photo by fellow North Korea tour group member Andrew Lombardi.
Myself after a little too much “punishment” at the BBQ duck restaurant – and no, I was not the thief. Photo by fellow North Korea tour group member Andrew Lombardi.
And I just want to make it clear in case any North Korean officials are reading – our guides were fantastic! They helped to make the trip the special experience that it truly was and I really hope that if I’m lucky enough to make a second trip (or more) to the DPRK that I will have the opportunity to travel with them again.
- This North Korean Hamburger Looks Pretty Damn Gross [Culture Smash] (kotaku.com)
- North Korean Guide “Crazy” Kim (josephferrispics.wordpress.com)
- North Korean Guide Ms. Yu (josephferrispics.wordpress.com)
Here is Mr. “Crazy” Kim, the Jr. guide for our North Korea tour. For his English studies Mr. Kim had access to a wide selection of western films. He has an absolute love affair with gladiator movies and of Brad Pitt – “Brad Pitt has to kiss Angelina Jolie’s lips….YUCK!”. When we would need to settle him down for a spell one of the guys would produce the film Dumb and Dumber loaded on an ipod and hand it over, this would keep Mr. Kim enraptured for hours. I could write a book about this guy but I think it would be best if I only leave this pic since it says it all.
Planning a trip to North Korea? Your girlfriend will cry, your friends will ridicule you, your family will look up Bill Clinton’s number so they can spring you out of jail, and just about everyone else will think you are joking. I have been to over 80 countries but getting my family to accept the idea that I was truly going to the DPRK was a tough sell. By sharing the Koryo Tours website with my family I was finally able to convince my Dad to help arrange the money transfer to China to pay for the trip, and while everyone else had gross misconceptions of what the North Korean travel experience would be, everything turned out to go more or less as I expected – in general it was more of a blast than I ever thought it would be! The one wild card that neither my travel buddy Jordon Harbinger or myself were sure about was what our North Korean guides would be like. A few documentaries out there (while entertaining the Vice Guide to North Korea is bullshit) portray the North Korean guides as iron fisted minders, strait from the secret police academy, and ready to deport you on your first infraction of the rules. The truth is a little less severe – you wont get deported until your 3rd rule infraction!
Our guides truly were wonderful people. In North Korea, working as a guide for foreign tourists is an enviable job – good food, travel, foreign gifts, and regular access to hard currency, but with all this comes the risk of managing groups of unpredictable foreigners. As a foreign tourist you really cant get into too much trouble, but the trouble you make can get your guides into a lot of trouble. When they tell you not to take photos – don’t take photos. When you break the rules you put your guides at risk. There is a bit of trust to be developed at the start of the tour, be a good tourist, do what you are asked, and show a little respect (you are not expected to believe but just to be respectful to their official viewpoint) and by the end of the week everyone will be having a great time!
She doesn’t look that scary – our guide and minder in DPRK, North Korea, Ms. Yu.
Ms. Yu and myself hamming it up for the camera.
Our guide and minder in DPRK, North Korea, Ms. Yu wearing my bunny hat.
Miss Yu with sun umbrella.