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.
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:
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!
The journey there will be an epic two week adventure from Beijing to Moscow on the Trans Siberian Express, touring through Belarus and Chernobyl in the Ukraine, and finally spending a few days in Moldova, the only ex-Soviet republic to vote the communists back in!
Phil Le Gal visited Transnistria on one of Young Pioneer Tour’s Eurasian Adventure Tours. He has graciously allowed me to share his photos and comments on the experience:
Only a couple of hours away from Europe’s biggest cities exist countries we know very little about. Sitting between western and eastern Europe is Transnistria, the “Prydnistrovska Moldavska Respublika” (also called Trans-Dniestr or Transdniestria). Tucked between Moldova and neighboring Ukraine, Transinistria is an unknown and officially non-existent territory.
After the fall of the USSR Transnistria found itself integrated to Moldova. Transnistria proclaimed its independence in 1990 which led to the 1990-1992 independence war between the breakaway republic of Transnistria, backed by the Russia and the republic of Moldova. Although the ceasefire has held, the territory’s political status remains unresolved. The outcome of the war was the birth of the republic of Transnistria.
Transnistria is currently only recognized by three UN non-members: Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia, themselves part of the list of states with limited recognition and not recognized by the international community. Transnistria has its own constitution, parliament, central bank and money (the transnistrian rubble), army, flag, national anthem, passports and even stamps. Still it is officially considered as being part of the Moldovan territory.
The border between Moldova and Transnistria, although not recognized, is very real with several checkpoints from both Transinistrian and Moldavian guards. The Prydnistrovska Moldavska Respublika boast many of the USSR relics, war memorials and soviet era style architecture.
Welcome to Transnistria, Europe’s forgotten country:
A young Moldovan army recruit proudly guards the eternal flame at the war memorial Eternity.
It is dedicated to the soldiers who fell in World War II and the military conflict in Transnistria.
The biggest statue of Vladimir Lenin outside Russia is displayed in front of the Transnistrian parliament. According to the 2006 referendum 97.2% of the population voted in favor of “independence from Moldova and free association with Russia”. EU and several other countries didn’t acknowledge these results.
A man is wearing a traditional costume.
Tiraspol – Transnistria (Moldova). Entrance of Tiraspol’s central Pobedi Park (or “Victory” park) containing a 50’s style amusement park.
Remains from the war, like this Russian MIG plane are left outside rusting.
All photos by Phil Le Gal.
Phil Le Gal is a French documentary photographer based in London UK specializing in photo documentary, reportage and portraiture. He is passionate about stories, travels, revealing how others live, the contradictions and oddities of this world. He is currently undertaking a Master in Photojournalism and Documentary photography at the London college of Communication.
Interested in joining me for the 2013 Eurasian Adventure Tour? Email me at email@example.com and I will set you up with a 5% trip discount!
This fall I will be helping out on YPT’s Eurasian Adventure Tour!
Beijing – Moscow – Minsk – Kiev – Chernobyl – Transnistria – Chisinau – Bucharest – Sofia – Macedonia – Kosovo – Tirana
Group 1 (Beijing – Moscow) = €695
Group 2 (Moscow – Minsk – Kiev)= €255 / 950
Group 3 (Kiev – Pripya – Kiev) = €349 / 1299
Group 4 (Kiev – Odessa – Transnistria – Moldova – Romania) = €249 /1548
Group 5 (Bucharest – Sofia – Skopje – Kosovo – Tirana) = €350 / 1898
Quite frankly one of our favorite tours, our third annual Eurasian Adventure Tour!
The tour starts in Beijing, with an overnight stay and optional visit to the Mausoleum of Chairman Mao, before embarking on the 6 day epic that is the Trans-Mongolian, or the “party train” as it also known. We already have a number of people signed up for this part, so if you are considering taking the train anyway, why not join us fun young people?
Following our arrival in Moscow we start to fully embrace Soviet nostalgia, by visiting all of Moscow’s top sites, before taking the train to the most Soviet of all republics Belarus, and it’s capital Minsk, where we will be seeing such treasures as the former residence of Lee Harvey-Oswald, as well as staying in our own little pimping apartment.
This leads us on to group 3, our big group, where we will be visiting not only Pripyat (Chernobyl), but also doing the extreme missile base tour, as well as sampling the night time delights on a bar crawl. Accommodation? Old style Soviet Hotel, complete with rude staff, peeling wallpaper, and more corruption than you can shake a sickle at.
After group 3 leave us in Kiev, group 4 continue firstly to Odessa, then onto Tiraspol, capital of the breakaway republic of Transnistria. If you do not know anything about the place, Google it. And if you want off the beaten track this is it. There is one hostel in the whole country, and we are the first group to ever inquire about going there. A true Soviet Time-warp. Following a few nights here, we visit Moldova, the only ex-Soviet republic to vote the communists back in! Before taking the overnight bus to Bucharest, which as a flight hub, and will make it easier to arrange onward flights.
Group 5 completes the full communist chic element, with us visiting the former homes of Ceausescu, Tito, and Hoxxa, via Romania, Macedonia and Albania, as well as visiting the contemporary hot spots that are Mitrovice, and Kosovo, before finishing in Albania, which has ferry, road, and air links to aid your onward journey.
YPT are all about budget, and this tour is by no means any different, many companies, charge over 1000 Euro just for the trans-Mongolian, or 250 Euro just for a day at Pripya, we have managed to budget the whole thing, Beijing – Tirana, over 26 barmy days, to just €1898, all in. With the tour being split into 5 manageable parts, each part is completely optional, with guests having full autonomy to do any part they fancy, from just 1, to all 5
Join me for one leg, or for the entire crazy journey – email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a trip discount!
Tirana, Albania – from my travels 10 years ago.
It’s going to be a busy spring; in addition to the two custom group trips I am planning, and the private owners/investors tour to Rason, I am also now scheduled to work as one of the guides on Young Pioneer Tour’s DPRK May Day Extravaganza Tour!
This May Day Tour is going to be a blast! It coincides with Young Pioneer Tour’s five year anniversary, and they plan to make the event a massive party!
Join us for of the most spectacular holidays to take part in North Korea, the May Day Festival. Aside from all the usual sites May Day gives us one of the best opportunities to relax meet and hang out with locals during the celebrations on Moronbong Hill. Koreans take this holiday very seriously and you will more than be expected to sing dance and play around with them. Could there be a better time to go?
This tour also marks the 5 year “birthday” of YPT taking revelers into the DPRK, and as such for a VERY limited time we are offering the tour at our very retro 2008 price. We are aiming for this tour to be massive, and are hoping for all of our guides to be present for the tour.
As with all tours we are currently offering a free upgrade to flight for the journey in, with us taking the amazing train out as standard, or a small extra charge if your preference is to fly.
We are also offering a very special extension to Rason directly following the tour that can be done as a standalone trip, or both combined for a great discount. For those not in the know Rason is the Special Economic Zone of the DPRK, and the only place where you currently receive a stamp in your passport (excluding US and Japanese passports), and can legally use Korean Won, as well as visit the local markets.
April 29th – May 5th/7th
North Koreans on holiday – photo by Joseph A Ferris III
We are scheduling the May 1st holiday to be a day of fun and relaxation. In the morning we will join locals for dancing and folk games at the Mt Taesong Amusement park. A BBQ lunch at Moranbong Hill and continued local festivities is scheduled for the afternoon.
This tour also includes a visit to the newly opened Pyongyang Rungna Island funfair- with rides and even a dolphin show – as well as overnight visits to Nampo and Kaesong. If interested send me off an email; I can’t offer the 5% discount as this trip is already heavily discounted as an anniversary gift to our customers, but I can arrange to have you placed in my group.
I still have some spots available on my early April and mid May custom tours, those itineraries are posted on my American in North Korea Facebook Page.