Archive for the ‘Koryo Tours’ Category

Koryo Tours August 2010 Newsletter

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

Learn more about Koryo Tours at their web page.

New Trips departing from Pyongayng
Be one fo the firts visitors to the DPRK’s second city – newly opened to Koryo Tours’ tourists- Hamhung, the second largest city in North Korea and a major industrial hub on the East Coast of the Korean peninsula, Previously the only foreigners who had been to this remote and very different part of the country were East Germans who participated in the post-war reconstruction of the area’s industry, NGO staff working on projects in the city, and the occasional diplomat or sailor. In May, however, Koryo Tours’ Simon Cockerell became the first tourist ever to go there since Liberation from Japan in 1945. Koryo Tours is pleased to be able to offer this destination to group and independent tourists staying in the city centre or at the nearby Majon beach. Among the places to visit are the giant Hamhung Grand Theatre (the city’s largest building that dominates the skyline), the Hungnam fertiliser factory (where Kim Il Sung made the remark “fertiliser is rice, and rice is communism”), the home of Ri Song Gye (a notable king of ancient Korea), and much more besides. Find more about our independent tours here

Pyongyang to Hamhung is a few hours by road via the port city of Wonsan, so this is not a daytrip destination; but, for pervious visitors or people staying for more than a few days in the DPRK, this is a very good place to head to – amazing views of the countryside all the way there and back contribute to a feeling that you have visited somewhere very special. An unforgettable addition to any tour.

VISIT OUTER MOUNT KUMGANG – In addition to our opening of Hamhung as a destination for tourists, there are more places on DPRK’s East Coast that are now possible to visit; including – for the first time from North Korea – the Hyundai-run resort of Outer Kumgang. This has been closed to tourists who previously went there in their thousands from the South since an incident in 2008, where a tourist was shot by a soldier in mysterious circumstances. Since then the agreement between the government of North Korea and Hyundai – who had leased the area for tourists – has collapsed and it isnow possible to visit (although not stay overnight) from the North. Some stunning hiking trails, within what is justly considered Korea’s most beautiful mountain range, can be embarked upon. Also a visit to the serene and peaceful Samil Lagoon is a must. A visit here takes the best part of a day for any tour already at the East Coast and is a must for anyone interested in seeing some of the most remarkable natural landscapes in East Asia. Good for getting a bit of exercise after the long drive to the East Coast as well!

New Trips to the DPRK’s North East
RASON INDEPENDENT TOURS AVAILABLE – On the subject of the Rason area of North Korea, we are now offering independent tours to this area and have a new page of our website dedicated to this  soon. Koryo Tours is the only western travel company ever to have been to Rason, so do feel free to ask us any questions at all; very few people have even heard of this place, let alone thought about going so if you want reliable advice and information, you know who to call! Full details and information about all the options we offer are available at the above link. Please have a look and let us know if you fancy it. The tour is unforgettable and very unlike the usual areas of the DPRK that we visit. Also it’s an amazing boast to have been there if you’re looking for a great travel story; the least visited part of the least visited country in the world! [email protected] for more info!

DPRK’s North East and Russia
THE TUMAN TRIANGLE- CHINA/DPRK/RUSSIA – In July we embarked on a brand new tour available exclusively through Koryo Tours. We call it the Tuman Triangle tour as it includes visits to three different countries in the region of the Tuman River (Tumen in China for all the pedants!). The route that our pioneering group of 18 took was a flight to Yanji in NE China’s Jilin province, then to the North Korean free trade zone of Rason (previously known as Rajin-Sonbong, a place where western tourists are almost unheard of but which Koryo tours have been visiting since 1996). We spent 4 days in the area doing a diverse range of activities such as seeing ports and seafood factories, playing beach football against Russian railway engineers, shopping in a public market – the only place this can be done in North Korea – going to the obligatory revolutionary sites, visiting the doctors (!) and local kindergartens, going to a deserted casino, doing a boat trip around the nearby islands, and more!

From DPRK we became the first tourists ever to cross into Russia by train to the town of Khasan and then spent a couple of days in the Russian countryside relaxing and taking a boat trip to a fascinating island in a nature reserve where abandoned WWII bases now provide nesting places for seagulls, before heading to Vladivostok by ferry and touring that previously-closed city and having free time to experience the delights and sights of the Russian Far East. We even made it to a Russian second division football match (Luch Energiya beat Belograd Salut 2-0 in case you’re interested!) before flying back to Beijing to complete this brand new and utterly unique itinerary.

The tour was a great success and we will be offering this again a couple of times next year. Dates and details will go online in a few weeks but do drop us a line on if you’d like to register an early interest; we aim to expand this tour even more for 2011.

A WILD AND MAGNIFICENT TRIP IN 2011 We will have an optional extension that will go to the remote Russian city of Magadan (infamous for Stalin’s gulags) – from Chollima to Kolyma! – as well as to the volcanic peninsula of Kamchatka. If you like the sound of this, then get in touch now! This tour, exclusively available from Koryo Tours will just get better and better. Join us if you want a completely different kind of holiday, and this sounds like your kind of thing!

4. Last chance to see Turkmenistan before the changes
TURKMENISTAN TOUR NOVEMBER 2010 – With the recent news that the Arch of Neutrality in Central Ashgabat is being torn down and replaced with something yet to be confirmed, the plan to relocate Central Asia’s largest market (the anarchic Tolkuchka Bazaar) to a sterile new location, and President Berdymuhammedov’s statement that he wants the amazing Darvaza gas crater to be extinguished and filled-in, it definitely seems like this is the time to visit, and see Turkmenistan at its weirdest and most unique. It will probably take at least a few months for the gas crater to be removed, (it’s the single most remarkable thing you will ever see; look for videos on YouTube for proof and bear in mind, they do not do it justice!) so  and camp next to the strangest accidentally-formed attraction in the world! Full tour details for this trip can be found at and the tour can be started from a variety of destinations.

We have a lot more plans for additions to this November tour so if you’ve been thinking about going to Central Asia’s most enigmatic country, then now may be the time. Drop us a line for more information and we hope you can be there to see it with your own eyes!


Mass Games to be performed in 2010

Monday, May 17th, 2010

According to the Koryo Tours newsletter:

Koryo Tours has been officially informed by the Korea International Travel Company that Arirang Mass Gymnastics (Mass Games) will be performed from August 2nd throughout to October 10th, 2010. Mass Games can basically be described as a synchronized socialist-realist spectacular, featuring over 100,000 participants in a 90 minute display of gymnastics, dance, acrobatics, and dramatic performance, accompanied by music and other effects, all wrapped in a highly politicized package. Literally no other place on Earth has anything comparable and it has to be seen with your own two eyes to truly appreciate the scale on display.

Book your tour here.

See the group tours we offer during Mass Games.

You can choose your dates of travel, methods of entry and exit and also the itinerary can be tailored to suit your requests if you prefer to travel with an independent tour. Find more information here.

Preparations are visible on the streets of Pyongyang well in advance of the Mass Games with tens of thousands of gymnasts preparing their routines in the city’s open spaces and parks. The 2009 performance was entitled ‘Arirang’ based on a historic tragic love story but was adapted to represent the struggle of North Korea during the Japanese occupation and Korean War. Students practiced every day from January onwards. The 90 minute performance is held every evening at 7pm and features the ‘largest picture in the world’ a giant mosaic of individual students each holding a book whose pages links with their neighbours’ to make up one gigantic scene. When the students turn the pages the scene or individual elements of the scene change, up to 170 pages make up one book.

In 2003 we made our film on the Mass Games A State of Mind (Koryo Tours, VeryMuchSo productions and BBC4), The film has been broadcast unedited in both North and South Korea and in 2004 won the Pyongyang Film Festival Special Prize and best film music award as well as various international awards and is currently on worldwide release.


Tour the “Tuman Triangle”

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

Koryo Tours is offering a unique travel experience:

At long last we are proud to bring you news of our brand new tour, on a route that no other company offers and that Koryo Tours has spent great effort pioneering. From June 30th to July 10th this year we are offering a 3 country, 3 cultures, 3 time zone tour in an area you may well have never heard of before – we’re calling it the “Tuman Triangle” and if you’re interested in learning more then please hit the following links to download our brochure and itinerary for this remarkable journey:

Information Brochure – click here

Full Itinerary – click here

In brief, this tour travels from Beijing up to the North East Chinese city of Yanji from where we enter North Korea’s Rajin-Sonbong free trade zone, we then journey into DPRK-proper and the industrial city of Chongjin and the stunning and remote Chilbo mountains before heading back up the coast and crossing into Russia by train, visiting some remote areas and then heading by boat to Vladivostok from where we fly back to Beijing having seen a vast variety of sites, experienced several distinct cultures and seen places and things that almost no western tourists have ever been anywhere near.

Simon Cockerell will accompany this tour and we have a mere 20 spaces open for this first time trip, if you’d like to know more then please get in contact with us and we hope you can come along with us, this is the first time such a tour has ever been offered by anyone. Be a part of regional tourism history!

Best regards from Beijing,

Koryo Tours


Friday Fun: Centre Forward and Mass Games photos

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Koryo Tours is distributing the North Korean film Centre Forward–a film which “critics are already hailing as the best North Korean-themed football movie of all time”.


See the trailer you YouTube here.

See the trailer on Youku (PR China) here.

You can order the film directly from Koryo Tours by email: [email protected]

Also, photographer Werner Kranwetvogel worked with Nick Bonner to produce high quality photography of the Mass Games:


See more about his work here.


DPRK to permit US tourists year-round

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

According to a press release from Koryo Tours:

Koryo Tours has been informed that a more general opening of the DPRK (North Korea) to US tourists is likely to take effect in 2010. It is expected that American citizens, who had previously been restricted to visiting North Korea only during the annual Arirang Mass Games festival which runs from August to October may now be permitted to enter the country year-round. Normal restrictions on American tourists also include staying in North Korea a maximum of 4 nights and only being permitted to enter and exit the country by plane from China, there is also a 4 times weekly train that runs from Pyongyang to Beijing, as yet it is unclear whether these restrictions will also be dropped but a decision is expected before too long.

Koryo Tours has been operating trips to North Korea since 1993 and is universally recognised as the only specialist/expert in this unique area. Unlike the competition, we are also regular visitors; rather than ship our clients off and hope for the best, we work in conjunction with the Korean tour guides as cultural conduits. ensuring everyone has the optimum experience from this journey of a lifetime. Recommended by all the North Korean guidebooks, we consult with international media regarding information and analysis on DPRK tourism and have produced three award winning documentaries on North Korea in association with the BBC (www.koryogroupcom). There’s more to see in North Korea than most people imagine, and with this new policy it seems likely that Americans will now have the opportunity to see more than ever.

I have visited the DPRK twice (though not wth Koryo Tours) and I recommend the trip. Koryo’s tour dates can be found here—although the dates for American tourists will likely be expanded.


Braille dictionaries for the DPRK

Friday, October 16th, 2009

From Koryo Tours:

Throughout 2009 we have been raising money for 2 humanitarian projects in the DPRK. We are aiming to complete one of these – a project to buy braille dictionaries which have been previously unavailable in the DPRK – by the end of October.

The total amount needed for for the dictionaries is EUR 2400 and the amount raised so far is EUR 505. We only have 2 more weeks to complete this project so your help is needed. More information about this project can be found here.

If you would like to make a donation to this worthwhile cause please do contact us for details of how to send us the money. Any amount really makes a difference! Surplus funds will be put towards our second project to buy playground equipment for an orphanage in Wonsan. If we can complete both these projects by the end of this year it will be fantastic.

Many thanks to all of you who have already donated money and we will be in touch with the results.

Nick, Simon and Hannah
Koryo Tours Ltd


North Korea looks to southern China to attract tourists

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

By Michael Rank

North Korea is spreading its net wider in its quest to attract more tourists from China, and now has its eye on the southern province of Guangdong as well as Shanghai.

A Chinese website (link here) reports that a delegation of North Korean travel agents is expected to travel to Guangzhou next month and that local tour operators in Guangzhou and nearby Shenzhen, on the Hong Kong border, are eager to do business.

Tourists will have a choice of two routes to North Korea – they can either fly to Shenyang or Dalian in northeast China and then take the train to Pyongyang via Dandong, or they can fly to Pyongyang via Shenyang. It puts the price at 5,000 yuan ($730) but doesn’t say how many days the tours last or any further details. It says the main attractions will be the usual ones of Pyongyang, the DMZ at Panmunjom, the Myohyang mountains and the annual Arirang pageant.

As NKEW reported in July, North Korea is also targeting Shanghai as a source of tourism revenue, and there is further talk of charter flights from Qingdao in Shandong province to Pyongyang.

Quite apart from the question of how many Chinese are likely to be tempted to visit a Cultural Revolution-type theme park like North Korea, there are also bureaucratic hurdles to overcome. North Korea does not have “approved destination status” for Chinese tourists, which means in theory at least that travel there is restricted to business groups and official delegations. (Incidentally, South Korea doesn’t seem to be an ADS country either).

As the website notes, “An important issue within ADS is to avoid possible illegal immigration through tourism channels. All tourism groups travelling within the ADS framework are supposed to be monitored by both Chinese and foreign authorities to ensure they return to China. Embassies and consulates apply different methods to monitor the return of the Chinese tourists. Whenever a tourism group member does not return to China, the local travel agency is held responsible and sanctions are applied.” Not that there is much likelihood of Chinese tourists defecting to North Korea.

Furthermore, China is encouraging tourists to counter the world recession by spending their money at home, and although this is China-DPRK year marking the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations, a further obstacle is the fact that Chinese citizens now need a passport to travel there, not just a border pass that was all that was needed previously to cross into the country at Dandong by train.

Nick Bonner of Koryo Tours says: “We have noticed a sharp drop in Chinese tourists visiting DPRK in comparison to this time last year – even though the spectacle of the 100,000 strong performance of the mass games is still going on and has been extended to October 15th.

“I think next year Chinese tourism will be coming back strong – there is a certain ‘busman’s holiday’ attraction for Chinese tourists to visit DPRK.”


See Mass Games more affordably this year

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

UPDATE 9/2/2009: According to the Koryo Tours newsletter, the mass games will be extended to the 10th October–so an extra 2 weeks for Americans to visit DPRK this year.  Also, a quick mass games tour for 850 Euros will be repeated Sept. 24-26. Finally, Koryo Tours is resuming a tour of Turkmenistan this November.  I took this trip and recommend it.  Learn more about travel to Turkmenistan here.

ORIGINAL POST: Koryo Tours sent out  a newsletter highlighting an affordable trip to see the Mass Games in Pyongyang this year:

Following on from the success of our first ever mini-break, we are pleased to be able to offer you a re-run of the most affordable trip we have ever run to North Korea. This is an amazing opportunity to experience the Arirang Mass Games as well as the highlights of the capital city of Pyongyang, see what all the fuss is about this August on a journey we guarantee you will never forget. Koryo Tours has been running trips to North Korea for over 16 years now and is the only expert in the field.

-only 850 Euros all inclusive from Beijing
-3 days in North Korea
-package includes return flights from Beijing, deluxe accommodation, transportation in North Korea, entry fees, guides services, etc
-2 opportunities to see the Arirang Mass Games, literally the most amazing spectacle you will ever witness
-full itinerary in Pyongyang city, including the Juche Tower, Korean War Museum, Kim Il Sung Square, Pyongyang Metro, and much more
-meals in local restaurants
-US citizens welcome to join this tour also
-accompanied by our expert British staff and the best Korean guides available
-the maximum experience for the minimum cost
-discounts available for students, children, and groups of 3+ booking together

This tour will take place from September 24th – 26th and the deadline for booking is Monday September 14th, please get in contact if you are interested in being part of this journey of a lifetime to the country that makes the most news but still has only a trickle of western visitors per year. See it for yourself a mere 90 minutes from Beijing by plane. A fascinating, safe and unique experience is guaranteed.

Check out Koryo Tours’ web page here.


DPRK tourism getting cheaper…

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

I just got a newsletter update from Koryo Tours.  They are offering a discount tourist trip to North Korea for three days (Euro 750).  You can learn more about it here.

The price of the package is all inclusive from beijing including flights, accommodations, guides, entry fees and the other basics. You’ll also get two chances to see the Mass Games and a tour of Pyongyang’s monuments. Apparently you will also get to eat in local restaurants as opposed to staying sequestered in the hotel.

The trip runs from August 27 – 29, 2009, with the last date to book August 17, 2009. Students, children and groups of at least three are also eligible for discounts. And, Americans are allowed to take the trip.


Nick Bonner offers comments on North Korea tourism

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

From China Business News:

Q: Koryo Tours has built its business by providing tour trips to North Korea. Why did you choose North Korea, and how tricky was it to get the business started?

A: In 1993, Joshua Green and I were approached by a North Korean colleague (that Josh had studied Chinese with at the Beijing Foreign Language University in 1998 and Nick played football with in 1993) who, after returning to Pyongyang had worked in the national travel company. At that time, it was a real fledgling travel industry (they only opened to western tourism in 1987) and less than 50 western tourists visited per year. We started going every month but with very few tourists, mainly driven by fascination, realisation that we had incredible access and the fun of working with some amazing Koreans. During the famine, we worked with aid agencies and continued tourism which brought in a steady amount of work for our Korean colleagues. in the past five years, DPRK tourism have seen growth, and we now take just under 1,000 tourists a year – about half of all western visitors. With my colleagues Simon and Hannah, we make sure that tourists have the best access possible to the country and people. Having specialised in one country for 16 years, it really does mean we are literally the only experts in this destination, and for every tourist we have taken it rates as one of their most amazing experiences.

Q: What effect does North Korea’s aggressive stance on defense have on your business – do people become more or less interested in visiting when it tests a nuclear bomb or fires a missile?

A: Every few weeks, North Korea makes the news for one reason or another, usually a negative reason of course. However, North Korea remains one of the safest and most fascinating countries in the world to visit. For those who are of the opinion that seeing a country for yourself is more valuable than watching the interpretation on the world news, then we provide them that access. In addition, as we accompany the tours, we provide an insight into the country that is difficult for a visitor to interpret. Our clientele are generally very worldly and aware and interested in what is going on, I think the DPRK being in the news for any reason puts it on people’s mental map and thus makes more people visit rather than being scared off.  

Q: North Korea is a pretty ‘left-field’ travel destination. What have been the key approaches to marketing your company, both locally and internationally?  

A: Our reputation has been established because we provide excellent service and we really do make sure that any visitor to Korea will have the time of their lives. We have a company responsibility to engage with the Koreans and much of our work is involved in cultural exchanges, film making and charity projects. I think this aspect of our work comes across to potential clients who see we really are more than a travel agency. We rely heavily on word of mouth and a great deal of our tourists know someone else who has been before, also we get a good number of repeat visitors as we don’t simply run the same tour over and over again. Being honest, doing the best job possible and maintaining good contacts with our previous clients are critical. This is how we keep a good reputation which we see as being the key to selling our product.  

Q:  Are you planning to diversify to other locations beyond North Korea – and if so, how do you choose new destinations?

A: Since 2006, we have been running twice-yearly tours to Turkmenistan, which is a fascinating and amazing place to go. In addition to this, in 2010, we are planning on offering a wider range of tours to places such as Tajikistan (for Persian New Year – when they hold a Buzkashi event), to the Tumen river area including Yanji in China, the North Korean free trade zone of Rajin-Sonbong, and Far Eastern Russia (around Vladivostok), also a tour to the North Western Caspian Sea region including Volgograd (once known as Stalingrad) and the mysterious republics of Kalmykia and Dagestan. All are remarkable, highly-interesting, and unique places that we think our discerning clients will be interested in. North Korea remains the focal point of our company, but these other destinations fit well in the mould of visiting unusual but interesting places.

Although I have never visited the DPRK with Koryo Tours, I did travel to Turkmenistan and I recommend it.  That trip launched my interest in Central Asia, and I quickly followed it up with visits to Iran and Tajikistan.

Read the full story here:
BizTalk Interview: Nick Bonner, Founder of Koryo Group
Gary Bowerman