Archive for the ‘Koryo Tours’ Category

Pyongyang International Film Festival 2012

Monday, September 26th, 2011

Pictured above (Google Maps): Pyongyang International Cinema Hall, home of the Pyongyang International Film Festival.

Koryo Tours sent out the following press release today:

Dates announced for the 13th Pyongyang International Film Festival – Pyongyang, DRPK (North Korea), 20th – 27th September 2012.

Koryo Tours has been the official Foreign Representative for the biennial Pyongyang International Film Festival since 2002 when they first submitted their film on the North Korean World Cup football team of 1966 The Game of Their Lives to a packed North Korean audience. “It was the first time that the North Koreans had seen just how their fans were received in 1966 – and the first foreign-made documentary about their country to be shown in their country. Myself and director Dan Gordon were pinched by the girls in the hotel restaurant as they wanted us to help get tickets to the best screenings” said Nicholas Bonner, co-producer of the film. “It will be some time before the festival becomes the Cannes of the East but we hope to get one or two film stars for the experience of a lifetime… probably one of the few places they can avoid being mobbed. The motto of the festival is independence, peace and friendship and is a great way of showing locals what is going on in the world of cinema.”

Perhaps the festival’s biggest achievement was the screening of the British Film Bend It Like Beckham at the festival in 2004 (seen by an audience of 12,000 locals) which cleared the path to make it the first western film to be broadcast nationwide on December 26th 2011. “We spoke to Gurinder Chadha, the Director, who was thrilled her film had been seen by a country who just adore football and of course it was the ideal film to show, full of hope – it has become unbelievably popular in the country and a talking point for everyone.

Koryo Tours director Nicholas Bonner is asking for submissions:

“Ealing Studios, The Goethe Institute and various embassies have all presented films but there is always room for more. Romantic comedy and period dramas are popular and we have managed to show films as diverse as Mr. Bean, the Swedish horror comedy Frostbiten to the South African drama Cry, The Beloved Country and UK’s Elizabeth I: The Golden Age.

Koryo Tours will run an exclusive tour for tourists during the festival and will include screenings of North Korean films such as the classic Flower Girl (very popular in China during the 1970’s), a visit to the North Korean film studio with mock up streets and meeting various North Korean film celebrities.

For further information and images contact: [email protected]
Tel: +86 (10) 6416 7544


Koryo Tours completes first bike tour of DPRK

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Only weeks after helping launch the DPRK’s first Ultimate Frisbee tournament (see here and here), Koryo Tours launched the first bicycle tour of the DPRK. According to the Telegraph:

Beijing-based Koryo Group took 24 tourists from 10 nations on a 10-day tour of the most isolated nation on Earth.

The cyclists pedalled as far as 30 miles a day, often along dirt tracks in some of the most remote parts of the country, but also journeyed along the 10-lane Youth Hero Highway from Pyongyang to Nampo, on the west coast.

The itinerary is here. The Telegraph has a video of the tour here, and Koryo Tours has posted additional pictures here.

KCNA even gave an “interesting” shout out to the bike tour:

DPRK Directs Effort to Developing Tourism

Pyongyang, September 27 (KCNA) — The DPRK is directing much effort to developing tourism, with an eye to promoting the understanding, harmony, friendship and cooperation among nations and people of the world.

The country joined the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in September Juche 76 (1987) and the Pacific-Asia Tourism Association (PATA) in April 1996.

On September 27, World Tourism Day, Hong In Chol, a department director of the State General Bureau of Tourism, told KCNA:

The number of travel companies and people interested in the DPRK tourism is steadily increasing in Asian and European countries.

In particular, many tourists have visited the DPRK in the period of the grand gymnastic and artistic performance “Arirang” through international air routes and chartered flights from Shanghai, Xi An and Haerbin of China and Kuala Lumpur of Malaysia.

We have travel offices in China, Malaysia and Germany and plan to open such offices in other countries.

The bicycle tourism which took place in the DPRK some time ago under the sponsorship of the “Koryo Tours”, a British tourist agency, was very interesting.

The country’s tourist destinations have taken on a new look under the deep care of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the government, while the project for modernizing the infrastructure of tourism is progressing apace.

We will diversify the tourist program with cultural, sports, bicycle, golf and treatment tourism and improve all services.


Koryo Tours update

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

2012 DPRK tour dates: Koryo has posted travel dates for 2012, including a tour for Kim Il-sung’s 100th birthday.  Check the dates and itineraries here.

2011 Ultimate Frisbee tourney: Pyongyang will be home to its first ever Ultimate Frisbee tourney this summer.  August 27th.  Sign up now.

Ultimate Frisbee in North Korea. The most interesting sports thing you’ve ever done. Unless you’re Usain Bolt, who isn’t responding to my friend request.

The cost will be 890 Euros. This includes flights from and back to Beijing, tourist stuff Saturday and Monday, pizza, all other food that isn’t pizza, hotel, fields, entertainment. Visa fee (not optiona, 50 Euro) and ticket to the mass games (optional, but would be weird not to go: 80, 100, 150 or 300 Euro options) will be extra. North Korean microbrewed beer will be extra, but cheap (and good).

The itinerary includes two full days and three nights of touring. The tournament is a one day hat. We leave Beijing early Saturday and return early Tuesday. Participants should be in Beijing by Friday afternoon in order to collect visas get final info at Koryo Tours.
All nationalities except South Korean can participate.

Write an email to [email protected] if interested in attending and want more info.

If you know you’re in, write [email protected] and ask for the necessary forms to get it going.

It ain’t cheap, but it will be amazing. We’re looking to get deposits by June 30th.

Tentative Itinerary for Ultimate Frisbee Tour
Thurs 25th Aug: Pickup in Beijing -Introduction to “Extreme Pollution Ultimate”, dinner at Dong Bei Ren Restaurant (Not included in tour fee)

Fri 26th Aug: Briefing/Collect Visas at Koryo Tours office in Beijing

Sat 27th Aug: N/A Arrival by Air Koryo flight from Beijing at 14:20, Fountain Park, Mansudae Grand Monument, Kim Il Sung Square, ARIRANG MASS GAMES

Sun 28th Aug: Taesongsan Park for Frisbee Tournament, picnic lunch Frisbee tournament, evening trip to Kaeson Youth funfair, dinner at Korean restaurant

Mon 29th Aug: Juche Tower, Mansudae Art Studio, Pyongyang Metro (extended ride on the subway), Arch of Triumph, USS Pueblo, Pizza Restaurant Lunch, FRISBEE CLINIC AT LOCAL MIDDLE SCHOOL. Paradise Micro-Brewery, Foreign Languages Bookshop, Farewell dinner at Duck BBQ restaurant, evening Karaoke option.

Tues 30th Aug: 9:00 Air Koryo Flight to Beijing. End of tour.

Previously, Koryo Tours hosted the first cricket match (2008) and first golf tournament (2005) in the DPRK.

Middlesbrough Women’s Football Team booklet: It has been posted to the Koryo Tours web page. You can download it here (PDF).  Learn more about this effort here and here.


DPRK’s new magic show: Koryo Tours newsletter (Feb 2011)

Monday, April 18th, 2011

UPDATE 4 (2011-11-16): An American magician performed in the magic show.  According to Foreign Policy:

An English literature professor from Southern California by day and a world-class magician by night, Dale Salwak holds the distinction of being the only American invited to perform his act in North Korea. At SAIS recently, Salwak chronicled his experiences in Pyongyang in 2009 and this past April for the Grand Magic Show, the largest ever in the country’s history. His perspective on North Korea offered a look beyond stereotypes of a totalitarian system, mass famine, and nuclear proliferation, and focused instead on magic as a great leveler which emphasized entertainment value before political differences between two countries.

–Magic, as a trade, is taken very seriously in North Korea. Similar in structure to the Chinese system, admission into its exclusive society is followed by a father-son bond of lifelong apprenticeship. Isolated from the West and having limited or no access to DVDs, books and the Internet, North Korean magicians have devised their own methods to magic that have long been known to performers like Salwak. A typical range of acts includes balancing telephones on handkerchiefs and life-sized dolls performing choreographed dance routines to traditional music. The local performers Salwak encountered on his trips cherished every new trick acquired and pleaded with him to share current “world trends” on magic.

–The culmination of Kim Jong Il’s investment in the arts took place this past April at the Grand Magic Show, a tribute to the late Kim Il Sung. Like his father, Kim Jong Il appears to hold a great interest in magic and the circus, dating back to the country’s early history of Soviet influence. In a place where high-tech entertainment is hard to come by, the Grand Magic Show dazzled a crowd of 150,000 at May Day Stadium, which is the site of the Arirang Games, an annual two-month-long gymnastics festival also in honor of Kim Il Sung. As a spectator at the Grand Magic Show, Salwak watched as the country’s most famous magician, Kim Chol, appeared in a cloud of smoke and fireworks, forcing a bus full of giddy local residents to levitate several feet above the ground, and later, make a horse, an elephant and a helicopter materialize out of thin air. What would have otherwise invoked a roaring response from a typical American audience, the crowd respectfully cheered with subdued, tepid applause.

UPDATE 3 (2011-4-18): The DPRK has finally put on the long anticipated magic show.  According to the Associated Press (via ABC News):

Amid a burst of fireworks and a haze of smoke, a burly showman in a white sequined suit and gold lame cape appears with a flourish. Over the next 45 minutes, he appears to make a Pyongyang bus levitate and wriggles free from a box sent crashing to the stage through a ring of fire.

This is magic North Korean-style performed in a show touted as the country’s biggest ever and mounted in a city where good, old-fashioned illusion, a dancing bear and a dose of slapstick comedy can still command the biggest crowds of the year.

The country’s love for magic is a legacy of the circus traditions they inherited decades ago, during an era of Soviet influence.

North Korean founder Kim Il Sung ordered the creation of the Pyongyang Circus in 1952 in the middle of the Korean War. The tradition of highly technical stagecraft — including the Arirang mass games, where 100,000 performers move in sync in a feat that has come to embody North Korean discipline and regimentation — still dazzles in a country where high-tech entertainment is scarce.

“They love magic shows, together with the circus,” said Tony Namkung, a scholar who often serves as a liaison between North Korea and the U.S. and other governments. “Like so many other things, it harkens back to a pre-electronic past when things were much simpler.”

In fact, North Koreans so love magic that two diplomats dispatched to the United Nations had a special request in 1995 of their American hosts: They wanted to go to Las Vegas to see David Copperfield.

Wowed by the world-famous illusionist, the diplomats were determined to bring Copperfield to Pyongyang. But politics and finances trumped entertainment, and plans to bring the American magician to a nation still technically at war with the United States vanished in the haze of diplomatic tensions.

Undeterred, North Korea has kept putting on shows of its own, and it unveiled a massive one Monday at the capital’s May Day Stadium. It was designed by Kim Chol, dubbed the “David Copperfield of North Korea,” and will include seven performances in all.

The show stars Ri Thai Gum, a beefy showman with the extravagant flair — and physique — of a pro wrestler and the skills of Houdini. He whips off his white suit with silver-sequinned lapels to reveal a tank top and then straps on a gold-appliqued cummerbund onto his hefty waist.

The event was a highlight in a week of festivities surrounding Kim Il Sung’s April 15 birthday. Many of the women turned out in festive traditional Korean dresses reserved for special occasions, sparkles sprinkled into their hair and wearing fur-lined vests to keep warm in the spring chill. Outside, pink and yellow lights illuminated a fountain as music played to crowds enjoying an evening out.

An advertisement boasts that the show features “aircraft and a large bus appearing and then suddenly disappearing, elephants and other heavy animals appearing mysteriously, a motorcyclist performing fantastic skills, magicians floating in the air as if in a gravity-free space.”

And it does, adding in a healthy dose of slapstick comedy.

The tricks are simple crowd pleasers: A Pyongyang city bus filled with waving passengers appears to levitate and then disappear; an acrobat seems to float through a magical skyscape of clouds.

There’s the classic magician’s assistant dressed in traditional Korean dress who gets into a box and reappears halfway across the stadium.

In another trick, a man goes into a box but after a wave of the Korean Houdini’s hand, out comes a girl in a short, spangly miniskirt with a prancing baby bear on a leash bowing hello to the audience

The highlight involves a helicopter and a ring of fire that aim to have the clapping audience, mostly Koreans and a smattering of tourists and foreign dancers and musicians visiting the city for an arts festival, on edge.

“I thought it was great. The quality of the tricks that they pulled off was really high,” said Chris Andrews, a tourist from Sydney, Australia. “That bear trick I thought was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.”

Current leader Kim Jong Il is said to have inherited his father’s love of the circus and is thought to be the one to push to bring Copperfield to North Korea.

Copperfield’s stage manager once called North Korea’s staging technology “among the most sophisticated in the world,” according to Namkung.

Namkung, who took the North Korean diplomats to Vegas and later brought a Copperfield delegation to Pyongyang to discuss a visit, recalled that the time was ripe to bring a big American star to the North Korean capital.

The U.S. and North Korea had just signed an agreement for Pyongyang to freeze its nuclear power plants and to replace them with light water reactors less prone to weapons proliferation as part of a plan to normalize relations between the longtime enemies.

There were high hopes that Copperfield’s show — to be broadcast live on state TV in North Korea — could pave the way for a new era in relations between the bitter wartime foes. And in a symbolic show of support for reunification, Copperfield agreed to travel through the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas and perform for the South Koreans as well.

“This was right after the ‘agreed framework’ signing at a time when it looked as if the two nations would go down an entirely new path, and the atmosphere in Pyongyang was giddy,” said Namkung, who also serves as a consultant to The Associated Press.

Copperfield himself was game, promising to make the city’s iconic Juche Tower disappear, just as he did the Great Wall of China and the Statue of Liberty.

So seriously did the North Koreans take Copperfield’s visit that they staged a private viewing of the circus for his production team’s visit to Pyongyang and promised to give the illusionist a vast suite once used by former President Jimmy Carter on his visit in 1994, Namkung recalled.

But the State Department thought it was too early to back the venture, and the plan eventually foundered over how to finance the trip.

The AP was not allowed shoot video of the performance, but here is the AP’s video coverage of the event.

UPDATE 2 (2011-3-14): KCNA reveals a little more information about the DPRK’s upcoming magic show:

A large-scale magic performance will take place in Pyongyang, the capital of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The program will include appearance and disappearance of aircraft, large bus with full passengers and big animals like elephant, as well as a motorcyclist’s fantastic skill and the magician’s floating in the air as if in a gravity-free space.

The aircraft, large bus and elephants are all real ones.

The spectators will enjoy a new form of magic show with several numbers connected with each other.

The performer is Kim Chol (50), a vice-chairman of the Magicians Association of Korea and head of the magic creation group of the Pyongyang Circus.

His father Kim Thaek Song and his younger brother Kim Kwang Chol are also talented magician.

He became an eye-catcher already in his teens, drawing the limelight of the magic circles.

He began to distinguish himself with his marked individuality at international magic festivals from the 1980s.

His masterpieces are “Girls Reflected in a Mirror” and “A Rich Catch of Catfish”.

Magic pieces of the DPRK won more than 20 top prizes at international magic festivals..

Founded in Juche 41 (1952), the Pyongyang Circus has produced 1,200 acrobatic works, winning more than 70 awards including 36 gold prizes at 38 international circus festivals.

The circus has performed on 35,000 occasions in total at home and abroad, including 250 tours around the globe, earning international prestige.

The premiere of the magic show will be given on April 18, a day of the 27th April Spring Friendship Art Festival.

The performance will be staged about six times, twice a week.

Its venue is May Day Stadium, well known for the grand gymnastic and artistic performance “Arirang.”

Many local and foreign people have booked tickets for the spectacle.

UPDATE 1: Xinhua (PRC, 2011-3-9) offers some more information on the DPRK’s upcoming magic show mentioned in the Koryo Tours newsletter below:

According to the KCNA, the performance will include the appearance and disappearance of an airplane, bus and elephant, and a magician floating in a weightless state.

Kim Chol, the performer, is a magician with the Pyongyang Circus, according to the report.

It would premiere on April 18 at the stadium, which was also the venue for the grand gymnastic and artistic performance “Arirang,” the report said. There would be six performances in total, given twice a week.


Koryo Tours is the leading DPRK travel coordinator.  The company is operated by some very pleasant Brits based in Beijing.  Each year they expand the range of options available for visitors to the DPRK, and this year seems to be no exception.  According to their most recent email newsletter they are offering trips to the DPRK’s first ‘Grand Magic Festival’, the Tax Abolition Day tour, and resuming the fascinating Tumen Triangle tour.  See excerpts from their email below:

Grand Magic Festival in May Day Stadium
This is an all new event that is taking place for the first time this year between April 18th and May 9th in the massive May Day Stadium in Pyongyang. The exact nature of the event is thus-far unclear so we cannot confirm or deny that any actual ‘magic’ will take place but suffice to say it will be an event on a very large scale comparable to the Arirang Mass Games (running this year from Aug 1st – Sept 10th). We Will be able to take anyone who visits DPRK during this time to the event which is running every Wednesday and Saturday night.

This should be something not to miss and anyone who goes will be seeing one of North Korea’s trademark spectacular events for the first time, something to make all your friends jealous!

Our full tour list is online here and any tour during that date will get you to the Grand Magic Festival!

No tax on the March tour!
Our March Madness tour this year is closing fast but we still have time and space to add more people to this economically priced but amazing trip. The full details are online here and we’re accepting applications until the end of this month. The chance to be in North Korea on the anniversary of tax abolition is priceless indeed!

Tuman Triangle May Tour
For the second year running Koryo Tours is proud to run this utterly unique tour, something available only through us and we would love you to come along and join us on this amazing trip that goes from North East China into the obscure and little-known North Korean free trade zone of Rason, then to become only the second ever tour group (our group last year being the first) to cross into Russia by train, we enjoy sometime at and around a local beach there before heading to Vladivostok, the main city of far-eastern Russia to see what this previously-closed city is all about.

The full details for this tour are online here. Please ask us any questions about this tour, if you ever wanted to do anything completely unique then this is your chance. It’s an amazing trip and something truly memorable!

Although I have never traveled with Koryo Tours to the DPRK, I have traveled with them to Turkmenistan and that was an amazing trip.

Also, “Magic” seems to be popular in the DPRK.  A quick search through YouTube finds lots of North Korean magic shows.  I even posted a North Korean magic show that aired on TV earlier this year.  You can see it all on YouTube starting here.


Friday grab bag: Tourism and DMZ history

Friday, December 17th, 2010

New Tourism opportunities:
Koryo Tours is offering new and interesting travel destinations in Northeast Asia.  According to their email newsletter (slightly edited):

We are very excited to offer a brand new tour for 2011, a trip to somewhere that no other company can take you or would probably even think of taking you! To Magadan – the remotest part of Russia and known mostly for being the site of the most infamous of the soviet gulags, where countless thousands of prisoners mined gold in terrible conditions including -50 degree winters. Today’s Magadan city has a population of close to 100,000 and is the largest settlement in the infamous Kolyma area. A place of stunning natural beauty and stark desolation, the province remains one of the least-visited parts of Russia with no train connections to what the locals call ‘the mainland’ and a road that only exists for 4 months of the year and takes 4 days to travel to the nearest major habitation (Yakutsk). We will visit a local ethnic village (of the Evenk people), stay in the city of Magadan (the regional capital), and see what life is like in this distant and evocative place. We’ll visit the site of the gulag as well as seeing local sights and industry (gold mining was the reason for the prison being in this location).

But that’s not all! If being one of the very few westerners ever to get as far as Magadan is still not enough then we have a further extension on offer. An itinerary that offers an even more in-depth look at the lives of people in the area as well as travelling deep into the near-deserted inner reaches of Magadan province to the abandoned city of Kadykchan. A place no other tour company, even in Russia, takes people to.  For some photos of the city we will spend a day exploring, click here.

Koryo is also repeating its innovative “Tumen Triangle” tour:

Join our Tuman Triangle II Tour – This tour, utterly unique to Koryo Tours takes in 3 countries, time zones, and cultures in some of the least visited parts of Asia, we go to NE China’s Korean Autonomous region to start, then drive to Rason, the North Korean free trade zone. After this we travel to Russia by train, first to the resort of Andreyvka and finally by ferry to Vladivostok. After the program ends with a couple of days here some of the group return to Beijing, others begin the first ever group tour to Magadan!

And for the DMZ history angle, here are a couple more interesting videos filmed by Czechoslovakians stationd in the DPRK in 1989-1990.

Driving through Kaesong.

Repatriating remains from the ROK side of the DMZ to the DPRK side.

You can see all of the videos here.


Friday Fun: DPRK Bike Tour

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

Koryo Tours plans to launch the first ever bicycle tour of the the DPRK in September 2011.

According to the Wall Street Journal’s Korea Real Time:

North Korea may not be at the top of most vacation destination planning lists, but it’s relatively easy to visit and safe. A number of tour companies run trips through much of the year, including for the Mass Games during late summer. There are no limitations on US citizens joining tours inside the country.

One of the tour operators, Koryo Tours, has lined up something a little different for 2011: a cycling trip through the country in September.

According to Koryo, this will be the first ever cycling tour around the communist nation. Participants on the trip will be in the saddle for around 4-8 hours a day over the course of a week, pedaling to Nampo on the west coast, through the ancient capital of Kaesong and with an option to head up into the mountains around Mt. Paekdu.

The company is planning to bring in mountain bikes from Beijing for the trip and will carry spare parts in a support vehicle, where the saddle-sore can take a break. All the cycling will be on tarmac roads.

As with all trips to North Korea, the group will be chaperoned by local guides. Hannah Barraclough at Koryo says the guides have been in training for the trip and have been cutting back on smoking in preparation. While there will be limitations on where photographs can be taken, regular stops for picture-taking are planned.

Ms. Barraclough says Koryo is planning to take around 20 people on the trip and initial interest has been good.

At the end of the trip, the company plans to donate the bikes to the local people.

The Koryo Tours web page is here.

Read the full story here:
Tour De Corée du Nord
Wall Street Journal Korea Real Time
Alastair Gale


Koryo Tours November 2010 newsletter

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Koryo Tours continues to expand tourism opportunities in the DPRK and confirms the mass games will take place in 2011. According to their newsletter:

1. Mass Games (August 1 – Spetember 9, 2011): The performance will take place in the giant May Day Stadium in Pyongyang, DPRK (North Korea). We do not yet know if the show will continue on into October as it usually does so we advise anyone who is keen to see and experience this unique and spectacular show to aim at booking a tour within these dates in order to have a travel experience like no other. TOUR LIST.

2. Hamhung, Rason: We have some very special tours in 2011 we are able to offer to all tourists including those from the US. Hamhung – DPRK’s industrial 2nd city on the east coast Rason – North Korea’s free trade zone with a train exit to Vladivostok.

3. 16 Day Tour: Our new ultimate tour taking in pretty much everywhere it is possible for tourists to visit in North Korea.

4. Cycling Tour: Experince the DPRK by bike.

5. Madagan, Russia: In June we will offer a trip to the Russian province of Magadan, a place so remote that the locals call the rest of Russia ‘the mainland’.

Here is a full list of 2011 tours.


Rason: beyond Pyongyang lies a different world

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

Michael Rank writes in the Guardian:

If Pyongyang is North Korea’s showpiece city – albeit an empty and forbidding place – then the country’s interior is something else altogether.

In this desolate city [Rason] 800 kilometres from the capital, the main square turns to a sea of mud in the rain, and there are no street lights so it’s impossible to avoid the puddles at night.

Rason is 50km from the border with China, over a twisting dirt track through the mountains, but it could be another planet.

The cities on the Chinese side are frenetic with activity, skyscrapers sprouting like mushrooms in the rain and traffic jams unavoidable. Rason couldn’t be more different, stuck in a Stalinist time warp. Traffic chiefly consists of ox carts and Chinese lorries. Roads are repaired by teams of workers armed with shovels and picks.

Tourists are a rarity, just 20 so far this year and none at all in 2009, according to Simon Cockerell of Beijing-based Koryo Tours, which specialises in travel to North Korea.

Officially this is a “free economic and trade zone”. In practice that special designation doesn’t appear to make much difference.

The overwhelming majority of those who do venture in are Chinese, many of them lured by the area’s only apparent growth industry – a glittering casino and hotel built by a Hong-Kong multimillionaire.

The Emperor casino was supposed to have shut its doors in 2005 after a senior Chinese transport official gambled away more than 3.5 million yuan (£340,000), much of it public money.

But a few dozen Chinese were observed gambling in the smoky windowless rooms on the top floor of the venue on a recent evening.

Near the casino there is a small island that is linked to the mainland by a short causeway where tourists can relax over a seafood lunch consisting of raw sea urchins, chargrilled octopus and squid washed down with Chinese beer.

Not that Rason is awash with produce. In the 1990s, an acute famine killed many thousands. Although the worst is over, millions continue to go hungry and in Rason a British- charity, Love North Korean Children, makes enormous efforts to ensure that children in the area get enough to eat.

The charity feeds 2,500 children a day, and the youngsters in the Hahyeon nursery school looked well nourished when this reporter visited. But George Rhee, the charity’s founder and powerhouse, stressed that without the steamed buns his bakery provides “all these children would go hungry”.

Rason’s remoteness means it is easier to evade the central government’s relentless grip and benefit from trade, legal and illicit, with nearby China.

North Korea officially maintains the fiction that all economic activity is state-run. It therefore bans foreigners from visiting private markets which help to relieve dire shortages of even staple foods.

Yet during our visit, the Guardian was encouraged to shop in the market for crab for supper, which was cooked in a local restaurant. Apart from seafood, the market also sells cigarettes and alcohol imported from China.

For travellers who like to learn about their surroundings from the locals, North Korea is probably not the best destination.

The Guardian was closely manmarked by minders and ignored by locals. Local officials have been hoping to attract more tourists to Rason by building a golf course and racetrack, but it is hard to imagine these ever materialising in such an isolated and impoverished location.

Read the full story here:
North Korea: beyond the capital lies a different world
The Guardian
Michael Rank


Middlesbrough vs. DPRK Ladies

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

Pictured above: April 25th Sports Club field in Sadong-guyok (사동구역) where the matches were held (Google Maps)

UPDATE 4 (2011-4-25): To mark the ten-year anniversary of DPRK-UK diplomatic relations in September 2010, the British Embassy in Pyongyang and Koryo Tours arranged for the Middlesbrough Ladies Football Club to travel to the DPRK for two friendly matches against the DPRK’s national ladies team.  In addition to the two matches, the ladies team spent an afternoon training children at a local school, and an edited version of the film Bend it like Beckham was shown on North Korean television.  If you can access Facebook, you can see pictures of the visit here and  some videos here.

I managed to get video of one of the matches that was aired on North Korean television, so I edited it and posted it to YouTube:

It is in severn parts.  Part 1 of 7 is here.  The resolution is not great, but I am not a professional video editor!

Koryo Tours now has the ambitious goal of bringing a DPRK women’s football team to Middlesbrough.  According to a recent Koryo Tours newsletter:

We are therefore looking to take a North Korean women’s football team to the UK in 2012.  We also plan to bring a female DPRK film crew to accompany the squad and make a documentary of their time in the UK for both North Korean and international screening.

We do have support from both the British Embassy in Pyongyang and various international institutions but we also need financial support.  It would be extremely useful to have introductions to companies or individuals who you think might be interested in helping us.

Contact Koryo Tours for more information.

UPDATE 3: Sky News has a good summary of the events and a video.

UPDATE 2: According to the BBC, the Middlesbrough FC Ladies lost their second game.

UPDATE 1: According to the AFP, the Middlesbrough FC Ladies lost their first game.

ORIGINAL POST: According to the Guardian:

North Korea, the most secretive country on earth, the nation George Bush located on the Axis of Evil, where the flame of Marxism-Leninism still burns strong, will this week welcome its first British football team: 14 Teesside women players aged from 17 to 23, and their manager, Marrie Wieczorek.

On Thursday, Middlesbrough FC Ladies set off on a football tour with less bar-hopping (it’s illegal to leave your hotel without your guide) and probably more talk about dialectical materialism than usual. “I think it is going to be a bit of a culture shock,” says Wieczorek. “The whole place is shrouded in secrecy.”

At a time of mounting speculation that Kim Jong-il may be stepping down and appointing his son as successor, the team will fly to Beijing and then board an Air Koryo flight to Pyongyang, where they will play two games.

Middlesbrough Ladies will, in their way, be making history. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (as it prefers to be known) has so little contact with the outside world that the tour represents one of the most significant cultural exchanges of recent years. But it is also the latest episode in the entirely unlikely relationship between Middlesbrough and North Korea.

Historical link

Back in 1966, when England hosted the World Cup, North Korea played its three group games in the town, and Dave Allan, Middlesbrough’s media manager, said that a bond had existed ever since.

“It wasn’t that long after the Korean War and there were people in Teesside who’d fought in that, and when the Korean team came they were seen as the enemy,” Allan said. “But people really just took them to their hearts. It helped that they played in red, which was the Middlesbrough team colour. But it really was the people themselves, non-stop smiling, and very friendly and open.”

In 1966, North Korea beat Italy in what is routinely referred to as “one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history”, but the team’s failure to win a single game in this year’s finals – the first time they had qualified since then – led to rumours that the national coach had been sent to be “re-educated” on a building site on his return home.

In 2002, Nick Bonner of the travel company Koryo Tours tracked down the 1966 players and brought them back to Middlesbrough in what is still North Korea’s most important non-political exchange with the outside world.

“You don’t hear much about Middlesbrough in this country. But in North Korea they love us,” said Wieczorek. Even more astonishing, she said, they also love women’s football. The North Korean women’s team is currently fifth in the world, and it is as popular a spectator sport as the men’s game.

“Here, on the other hand, it was a battle to even play it when I started out 34 years ago,” said Wieczorek, “and although we’re supported by Middlesbrough FC we still have to raise our own money for transport.”

Culture shock

In North Korea, visitors are expected to bow before statues of the Supreme Leader. Do the Middlesbrough team have any idea what to expect?

Acting captain Rachael Hine, a mortgage adviser with Santander, said: “We know it’s going to be different. But nobody really knows how different.

“We’re just trying to go there with an open mind.”

This was a philosophy that has already been tested. “I told the girls their mobile phones will be confiscated at the airport,” said Wieczorek. “Their jaws just dropped.”

Read the full story here:
Middlesbrough Ladies’ North Korean football tour guarantees place in history
Carole Cadwalladr


Koryo Tours offers short trips to DPRK

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

According to an update email from Koryo Tours:

Over the 2010 Oct 1st holiday period Koryo Tours has two group departures to Pyongyang and beyond, one short 2 night trip around the highlights of the North Korean capital city, the other a week long trip around the country, seeing not only the capital but places beyond as well, the itineraries, prices, and other details of these tours can be found at the following links;

Mass Games Mini-Break 2: Sept 30 – Oct 2

China National Day Tour: Sept 30 – Oct 6/7

The tour is suitable for all ages and almost all nationalities (US citizens are welcome as well), discounts for children, groups, and those who have travelled with us before.  We guarantee an unforgettable experience that can only be brought to you by Koryo
Tours, the only North Korean travel specialist in the world! See for
yourself this Chinese National Day holiday!

 Contact us on [email protected] if you have any questions at all and if you’d like to sign up the simple process (we don’t need your passport at all) is explained in full detail at