My first trip to North Korea

People often ask me about how I ended up creating a travel agency specializing in North Korea and indeed about my first trip to the country. Well it turns out there is only so much food I can write about in Siem Reap, so I have decided to go on a bit a blog rampage!

Why would you start a travel agency to North Korea?

On October 27th 2001, I decided to leave the green fields of England to seek my fortune in a warmer climate, this took me to the Cayman Islands. The Cayman Islands is very near to Cuba, so I ended up spending a month in Cuba. This only made my fascination with all things communist more obsessive. The seeds were set.

In the intervening years I did some travel (including through the old USSR) as well as a stint on cruise ships. I eventually ended up teaching English in Xi’an.

Teaching English in China

As I was in China anyways the idea of going to North Korea made a lot more sense! At the time it was around 10 RMB to 1 Euro, but trips to North Korea with the established players like Koryo Tours were 1500+. At the time there was very little competition.

I eventually found a tour company in Hong Kong (who no longer exist) and managed to get a much cheaper price, design my own itinerary, but all I needed was to recruit 5 other people. I had one in my girlfriend of the time, so then convinced 4 more people. We had a trip ready.

Going into North Korea

going to north korea

Keep in mind that I am going back to 2007 with this, so in this time period an absolute shit ton has changed in North Korea, but you really cannot beat that first train journey into the country.

train in north korea

At the time no other tour companies offered “train in” to North Korea, something Young Pioneer Tours would very much innovate with! You really cannot explain just how different things are when you cross that border, and whilst I know all of the immigration and customs people now on your first trip in it is a a little bit terrifying to say the least.

Arriving in Pyongyang

may day celebration north korea

We were met at the train station by two guides that sadly I have not seen since and our adventure began! We were there for the May Day celebrations, a big deal in North Korea and at the time part of Golden Week in China. There are so many highlights to this trip, but probably the biggest was singing, dancing, eating and indeed drinking with the locals on Moran Hill.

may day celebration north korea
may day celebration north korea

The Diplomatic Club

Or as it is colloquially known “The Diplo” according to the Lonely Planet of the time it was impossible to go here, but go here we did and drink we did! It later became a mainstay of tours to North Korea, although as the nightlife of Pyongyang has improved, we have tended to go to other places now.

How do you start a travel agency to North Korea?

In all honesty I got into a conversation which led me to meet one of the North Korean Tour managers, who suggested that I start a travel agency going to North Korea (this was actually already my idea).

And the rest as they say is history….

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