The Pyongyang Marathon 2014 took place on April 13th 2014, and this was the first time foreign amateur runners could also participate in the race, previously only open to professional foreign runners, a very special opportunity indeed!
50,000 people in the stadium and the marathon included three categories Full Marathon, Half-Marathon and 10K (Men / Women).
The amateur 10KM Marathon for men was won by a Koryo Tours tourist!
We also met with Jong Song Ok, the 1999 world female marathon champ, now she is the head of DPRK Marathon Committee
Collection of images from the Pyongyang Marathon 2014. You can now also sign up for 2015!
While not technically illegal this isn’t something which is commonly achieved. It is much discussed by certain tourists but despite some serious efforts by some of the people on tour I have never once known of this conclusively happening. North Korea places great pride in its national homogeneity and is a deeply conservative culture, thus hooking up with a visiting foreigner would be something a bit shameful and also something quite out of character for almost all the women there (the men too, despite their bouts of braggadocio and masculine preening regarding their pick-up skills), not to mention somewhat unprofessional for people in the service industry. Its basically not something that can be realistically expected to happen; flirting is common, developing a crush on someone is universal, but beyond that we would have to disappoint. But thwarted Casanovas shouldn’t feel too down about it; we travelled there a few years ago with a group of professional pick-up artists, and they all struck out too, to try and fail places you in illustrious company!
Koryo Tours’ Daniel in Haeju with KITC’s Yong Hui
2. Can I travel if I’m American or Israeli? What if I’m gay?
Yes. Until 2010 it was possible for Americans to visit only during the Mass Games (so for 2-3 month periods every year or so) and then only for 4 nights per trip. Since January 2010 it has been possible under the same conditions as other tourists (a couple of exceptions though: Americans cannot travel by train and cannot stay in some of the regional hotels), so that has meant more access to the country for US tourists than ever before. Israeli tourists have the same situation. DPRK has diplomatic relations with the Palestinian State and not with Israel, but in practice for tourists this doesn’t mean a thing, Israelis are welcome to come on tour.
While North Koreans will deny that homosexuality exists in the DPRK it is more a case of not existing culturally than anything else. It isn’t an inherently anti-gay country, just somewhere that this is never mentioned, and people grow up generally completely ignorant of the existence of alternative sexuality as well as gender issues, not to mention the mechanics of any kind of non-vanilla sex. We take quite a large number of gay tourists and for the most part, the guides and other Koreans have no idea if they are gay, even if it isn’t hidden or ambiguous at all. The signifiers and codes that people elsewhere recognise and are attuned to simply don’t exist in North Korea, so in that way it’s a very naïve place. Sadly this means that for gay North Koreans they would end up living lives of frustration based on a lack of understanding about their own identity, not having the references to understand themselves and not having society understand them. There is a long way to go in that respect. But for gay tourists this is no issue at all, almost nobody in North Korea has ever given homosexuality a second thought, and many people find it confusing and slightly amusing rather than having a major problem with it. You can travel openly and as freely as any other tourist.
A tourist leads a class at Kim Jong Suk Middle School in Pyongsong
3. Do you have to swear allegiance to the leaders to get a visa?
No, this isn’t necessary at all. At some places visited on most tours (statues of DPRK’s leaders, the Mausoleum of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il) visitors are asked to ‘pay respects’ which means to make a short bow. You can do this or just stand still, the local Koreans may take this as you honouring them sincerely, or just going along with the local ritual, in many ways it doesn’t matter. We equate this to the act of taking off your hat in church, or shoes in a temple; it’s just a case of going along with the social norms expected by the hosts, it doesn’t put you on their ‘side’ or mean anything more than you want it to mean. So no, you don’t have to leave any principles behind when you visit, you don’t have to pretend to be something you’re not, and you don’t have to pretend to be in favour of anything you aren’t. North Korea’s political ideology is specifically for Korean people, if you’re not a North Korean then you aren’t included in this calculation, you’re just a foreign visitor.
Bride, Groom, Best Man and Maid of Honour getting wedding photos taken.
4. How many tourists get arrested every year?
Koryo Tours has never once had a tourist arrested, detained, molested, questioned, expelled, etc from North Korea. Not once in 21 years of operation. We take great care to inform our travellers of the rules and regulations, limitations and realities of travelling to North Korea, both in pre-tour info packs we send out, and at the pre-tour briefing which we ask everyone to come to. All of our staff have been to North Korea a great many times, with some having been more than 100 times, and we bring the benefit of that experience to help make the tour as safe and secure as possible, our record speaks for itself. Actually it is very hard to get yourself arrested there, simple ‘mistakes’ such as taking the ‘wrong’ photo and getting caught usually mean being asked to delete it, or the guides getting told off, we do advise everyone that it is the guides who get into trouble, not the traveller, so be aware that personally responsibility is very much diminished for foreigner visitors (this isn’t a license to misbehave, this just means someone else gets into trouble for you, not ideal at all). There have been some recent high-profile cases of people visiting as tourists and getting arrested, the details of these incidents are widely known and are largely in the public record. In all these cases the reason for the arrests and detentions were not for the kinds of things that are normally done on a tour, these weren’t arbitrary incidents, and were not things that normal tourists commonly do, and we would advise everyone travelling there to be aware of what you are and aren’t allowed to do. Also we ask that if anyone has any concerns about this they contact us and we can explain in more detail. Fundamentally a trip to North Korea is not a case of taking your life or liberty into your hands, there is no reason why you would be detained or get in any trouble for no reason whatsoever, but to be informed is to be prepared and we have always been the company that gives the most information – so be safe on your adventure and come along with Koryo Tours!
Koryo Tours’ Amanda and KITC’s Kim Won Ik
5. Are the guides minders or government spies?
No, although it makes for a sexier holiday story to say that the government followed you around everywhere, the truth is that tour guides lead you around. The guides don’t work for the government, they work for KITC – the national travel company, which is state owned (there are many differences between the State, state-ownership, and the Government) but operated in many of the same ways we would recognise from any other company (profit motive, etc). Minders work for government ministers and organisations, they are something different. Spies are are something different again. Not wanting to burst anyone’s bubble but simply put; tourists are not very important, and have nothing to say that would be worth the government spying on them, there are more tourists going to North Korea than most people expect and the logistics and likelihood of everyone being under constant surveillance from their guides all the time is pretty remote, after all the guides are fallible humans too. I have read a claim online that the guide literally (and yes, this word was used, and used in the right way, not figuratively) follows you everywhere, even when you go to the bathroom. It’s hard to see how one guide could follow a whole group of people every time they g to the bathroom, it’s a case of a wild baseless exaggeration that is believable because it is related to North Korea. The reality is more boring and mundane; the guides are held responsible for the tourists they are charged with, the tourists have to stay with the guide, sometimes the guide needs to go to the bathroom too and it might be the same time as you – coincidence? Or irrefutable evidence of a massive government conspiracy to make sure you don’t do anything naughty while peeing? I’ll leave it up to you to decide (note: it’s the former)
Free entry at the Koryo Tours office with Organic Kimchi samplers by local foodie Sue Zhou Does Food: www.suezhoudoesfood.com
This film is a romantic-nationalist-propaganda-comedy. On the surface it is a fairly slight romantic comedy about the initial incompatibility between a young man and woman who have been simultaneously set up by their grandparents and also cast together in a fashion show. The young woman is a tour guide who is overly attracted to foreign ways and the young man is a Kimchi specialist who follows traditional values.
After many clashes due to these different values, the girl and her family eventually realise that the Korean way is best and are welcomed back to the fold and become close with the boy and his more traditional Korean family. The tipping point for the tour guide is when she takes her group of western tourists (actually Korean actors padded and bewigged to represent Europeans) to a park where they are lectured on Kimchi, the national dish, by her erstwhile boyfriend. She sees how she is a poor patriot by not knowing as much about her heritage as him and changes her and her family’s ways on the spot - an accessible film of contemporary DPRK that is well worth watching for anyone with an interest in Pyongyang life.
We are aware of reports of an Australian tourist detained in North Korea and can confirm he was not travelling with us. In our 20 years of operation we have never once had any of our tourists detained or arrested. We have a tour group in Pyongyang at the moment and we continue to operate all tours as usual.
Koryo Tours’ own Simon Cockerell and Amanda Carr present the uncut video from the recent Dennis Rodman Invitational in Pyongyang. Watch both games and the now infamous rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ by Rodman himself, accompanied by commentary and anecdotes by Simon and Amanda who were there – it’s the next best thing to being there yourself!
Get your revolutionary dance moves brushed off, it’s time to shake your thing to the latest in North Korean pop. From the infectiousArirang Echoed Through Jiansanfeng to the military inspired “Our Victory Day July 27” Koryo Tours’ DPRK DISCO! has everything you need for a unique night out on the tiles! We’ll be bringing you the most popular songs North of the 38th parallel, as immortalised by the Pochonbo Electronic Orchestra and the lovely leggy ladies of the Moranbong Band alongside a visual backdrop featuring music videos from the DPRK, this is a multimedia North Korean experience like no other!
A beautifully shot observational documentary following two young gymnasts and their families for over eight months in the lead up to the Mass Games -a choreographed socialist realism spectacular- the biggest and most elaborate human performance on earth. The film provides a rare glimpse into what, ten years on, is still one of the world’s least known societies. Producer Nicholas Bonner in attendance.
Staffed by Koryo Tours’ North Korea travel specialists, the pop-up shop is a chance to browse our range of merchandise, including DVDs, CDs, artwork, t-shirts and books as well as ask any questions you may have about travelling in North Korea. No need to book an appointment, just drop in for a travel consultation!
Discussion event. In 1993 Koryo Tours took their first ever tour group to Pyongyang, at this exclusive event, Nick Bonner and Simon Cockerell discuss their experiences working in and with North Korea for over 20 years. Find out how travel in North Korea has changed in two decades, hear stories from the very first tour in 1993 and discover what challenges they’ve experienced working with one of the most mysterious countries in the world.
Screening: Two-part TV travel documentary following two adventurous Canadians and their British tour guide as they spend a week exploring North Korea. The team and their local guides criss-cross the country from Pyongyang to the DMZ, and out to the west coast, encountering armies of picnicking children, local women unimpressed by wrestling prowess, clams cooked with burning gasoline, and the incredible Arirang Mass Games in an unforgettable odyssey into an almost unknown place.
Nick Bonner will be present at the screening to answer your questions about travel to DPRK, and the experience of filming a western TV show in North Korea.
SUNDAY MARCH 2 2014
THE BEAUTIFUL FUTURE
March 2nd – 12th (not 3rd, not 10th) Tue-Sat: 11am-7pm, Sun: 12-6pm@ART LABOR
Special event featuring pieces from The Beautiful Future - a unique collaboration between Nick Bonner of Koryo Studio, Dominic Johnson-Hill of Plastered 8, and a group of North Korean artists. Each piece was hand painted in Pyongyang developed from sketches by Nick and Dominic based on their 20 years in China. As outsiders looking in, Nick, Dominic and their North Korean artists have created a city that retains its socialist traditions, juxtaposed with present pleasures, and modern city idols.
In this unique future, socialism is made absurd and celebrated, juxtaposed with our present pleasures, and modern city idols. The socialist world with which the artists engage is disappearing; an invasion of karaoke halls, office buildings, and modern city monuments pave the way to a future skewed yet stunning.
YOU CAN’T TRAVEL TO NORTH KOREA (AND OTHER STORIES)
Discussion event. Can Americans travel to North Korea? How many tourists are arrested every year? Do tourists ever hook up with the locals? Do you need to swear allegiance to the leaders to get a North Korean visa? Koryo Tours’ General Manager, Simon Cockerell debunks myths and answers all your questions in this journey through the outrageous, the salacious and the down right implausible facts and fiction of DPRK Travel.
Film Screening: Ki Ho, a researcher majoring in history, is totally engrossed in the research for Taekwon-do, forgetting to marry though he is 30. His mother is anxious to get him married as soon as possible. Each of his five sisters, all athletes, introduces him a girl. But mother does not warm to their ideas as the girls are all athletes. One day Ki Ho makes friends with a girl. She is Un Gyong, a Taekwon-do player. But Ki Ho and his mother think that she is an embroiderer…
(From the book: Korean Film published in 2008 by Korea Film Export & Import Corporation)
Followed by exclusive extract from new North Korean-European co-productionCOMRADE KIM GOES FLYING introduced by co-director Nick Bonner. Find out about the North Korean film industry, how you can attend the Pyongyang International Film Festival and what ordinary North Koreans like to see at the cinema.
Koryo Tours has been asked by our partners in Pyongyang to announce that this year, 2014, the Arirang Mass Games in Pyongyang will not be taking place. Although disappointing this is not wholly unexpected as while they have been staged every year since 2007, the Mass Games are not a guaranteed annual event – and 2014 is not a year with any major anniversaries for the DPRK.
2015, on the other hand, sees the 70th anniversary of the end of the Japanese occupation (Liberation Day; August 15th), and the creation of the Workers’ Party of Korea, which rules the DPRK to this day (Party Foundation Day; Oct 10th) we can expect Mass Games of some kind (possibly not Arirang, but some new theme or story) between those dates and we will be listing a full range of tours to cover those planned events in 2015.
2014 TOURS RUNNING AS USUAL
Despite the lack of Mass Games this year Koryo Tours continues its 2 decade long tradition of being at the forefront of innovation in North Korean tourism with a full range of tours that we continue to offer, as well as some very special trips available only via the only true specialists in the field, a selection of which we have listed here for anyone considering a trip to the DPRK and who wants to do something even more than extraordinary.
Remember that when you travel with Koryo you take with you the benefit of many hundreds of visits, 21 years of history in operating the most in-depth tours and engagement projects in North Korea, and the comfort of knowing that you’re getting the best trip possible to this unique and fascinating destination – we bring experience and knowledge about visiting North Korea that nobody else can come close to matching, join us to see for yourself!
A brand new tour exclusively for those who have been with us before and want to see some of the newly-opened, little-visited, oft-overlooked, and just-plain-ignored parts of Pyongyang and beyond. Read on >
Scale the heights of some of the most iconic mountains in the DPRK, and be the first tourists ever to spend a couple of nights sleeping out in tents under the stars in these unspoiled areas…. Read on >
A stunning new travel opportunity that crosses North Korea overland by train from Pyongyang all the way to the rarely-visited East and North-East Coast, and the major industrial city of Chongjin… Read on >
There are now TEN WEEKS to go until the Pyongyang Marathon!
If you haven’t started training yet we recommend you dig out those running shoes and get limbered up – we want you in tip top shape as the first ever amateur foreign runners to participate in this event! We’ve provided ten week training plans for the half marathon and 10K options for you to cut out and keep (well, download and print…), plans are available here: 10K Training Plan and/or Half Marathon Training Plan! (click to view in a new window / print)
And don’t worry – you won’t be on your own… Koryo Tours’ very own Vicky and Sarah will be running the 10K and Amanda is going for the Half – remember for those seasoned runners out there, the full marathon is also a possibility! Full details can be found here and please note that half-marathoners now have two and a half hours to complete the route!
We’ll be posting updates so you can see our progress – and we’d love for you to do the same! You can tweet us @koryotours add us on Facebook or simply post a comment at the bottom of this blog!
We know a lot of people like to raise money when you run and we have received some requests for suggestions of North Korea charities to raise money for – as you may know we’re supporting the rehabilitation of the School Building attached to the Wonsan Primary School Orphanage and we’re very happy to accept donations on behalf of any amateur runners. You can get your friends and family to support this cause in your name by donating with PayPal here and adding a note with YOUR NAME/ MARATHON. After the event we’ll tally up all the donations received and let you know how much you raised! If you prefer you can also raise money at home and bring it as cash (USD/ EUR or RMB) when you come to go on the tour. Full details of our appeal here.
Good luck and happy running!
CT = Cross Training (Cycling, Swimming - not running)
PYONGYANG INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2014 AND EXCLUSIVE FILM FESTIVAL TOUR!
SUBMISSIONS FOR THE PYONGYANG INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL NOW OPEN!
The 14th Pyongyang International Film Festival (PIFF) will be held in Pyongyang, DPRK, from September 17th to 24th, 2014 to contribute to breaking new ground by promoting exchange and cooperation between world film makers with the ideal of “Independence, Peace and Friendship”. Koryo Tours has worked closely with the festival organisers to expand and improve the range of films shown at the festival and thus seen by large numbers of the DPRK population.
If you would like to submit your film to PIFF then please click here to see regulations and forms.
PIFF Welcoming Slogan and the Yanggakdo Hotel.
NOT A FILMMAKER? NO PROBLEM!
If you would like to be a part of the glitz and glamour of this very special event then you can travel there with Koryo Tours. See here for details of the itinerary and cost. Koryo Tours has exclusive rights to bring tourists to this film festival – you won’t get there with any other company.
Highlights of the PIFF Tour include an exclusive screening of Belgium, UK, North Korean co-production COMRADE KIM GOES FLYING, a chance to meet North Korean filmmakers, composers and actors in special Q&A sessions, to mingle with the stars and visiting filmmakers at the opening ceremony and watch films with the locals at Pyongyang’s International Cinema House – the only time foreigners are permitted to visit cinemas to watch films! All this of course on top of visiting the monuments and museums of one of the most intriguing cities in the least visited countries in the world – the full itinerary can be found here.
For more information about the Pyongyang International Film Festival,the 2014 PIFF Tour – or any other travel or cultural queries please email email@example.com
Koryo Tours is the World’s Leading DPRK (North Korea) Travel Specialist.
On January 4th this year I was invited for an inspection trip to the newly opened Mirim Horse-riding Centre located in a suburb of Pyongyang just a 20 minute drive from the city centre. This place used to be a training centre for military horses but in the last year has been enlarged, modernised and converted into a civilian equestrian centre, the first of its kind in North Korea. Now I’ve never been much of an equestrian but it was an interesting chance to see something that had sprung up very quickly with very little fanfare (at least compared to two of the other main prestige projects just opened in the DPRK; the Munsu Waterpark and the Masik Pass Ski Resort).
Prior to this visit the only time I had been in this part of town was for the Middlesbrough Women’s Football Team matches we arranged against local opposition in at the April 25th stadium (it’s the home ground of the main army team) so it was interesting to see a different part of an area I wasn’t too familiar with, the drive there takes one past the very large April 25th hotel complex, reserved for the military so that they can practice parades on a full size replica of Kim Il Sung square which is
located just outside of the Mirim area, sadly I wasn’t able to see this place (its top secret after all!). The centre itself is quite large, with various buildings for learning about horse-riding and cultivation, a museum, changing area, stables, an indoor riding area, and a large track for riding outdoors. It being winter most of the horses were indoors, although some intrepid souls were trotting around in the cold air nevertheless.
First stop was the museum though, as with almost all museums in the country regardless of their ostensible subject this is dedicated mainly to the activities of the DPRK’s leaders. So lots of photos of Kim Il Sung on horseback during the Korean War, Kim Jong Il and his favourite horse (which is actually in the centre, stuffed and on display, very well done in fact) and Kim Jong Un, the current leader, riding horses both as an adult and as a child. Pictures of Kim Jong Un as a child were previously non-existent in the DPRK and so it was quite fascinating to see my guides and local
colleagues looking at these pictures of a young boy in a green jumpsuit and big sunglasses sitting on a horse, of a baby being held by his father to see a horse close-up, pictures never before seen – and sadly not reproducible here, pictures inside the museum were not allowed, with one exception (my picture here of the stuffed horse belonging to Kim Jong Il).
After visiting the museum, and signing the guestbook signed it was on to the real action, the indoor centre for riding. There were a handful of local people visiting on that day and they were trying out the horses and ponies (for kids, I wasn’t allowed to try one of these). For $35 per hour you can ride around on a horse, the staff here kit you out in a helmet and bodyguard that makes you look like a SWAT team officer and you can either ride around yourself if you know what you’re doing, or cling on in abject terror while you’re led around at a slow walk if you don’t (or any points in-between), I chose the latter option and mounted my Russian Orlov breed (many of the horses here are of this breed, many of them were also said to have been
donated by Russian President Vladimir Putin, or bred from this stock) and was led by a capable young man around dirt track while a large video screen played clips from war movies and Moranbong band Karaoke videos.
A few days later I returned to the horse centre along with a tour group I was escorting at the time, actually they were the very first group of tourists to visit. We all had a go on horseback again, this time the centre had more people there and it was good to see some interaction going on between the group and the learners visiting from Pyongyang. Nobody seemed particularly expert at equestrianism with the exception of a handful of the trainers who had ridden horses in the military for years,
but it was an interesting time.
We’re glad to be able to offer trips to the Mirim Horse-riding Centre to anyone going on tour with us now, for anyone to just have a look, to do a lap or two on the indoor track, or to take to the outdoor track and ride their mount at a fast pace, all these options are available. Just don’t miss the photos in the museum first!
We have finally been informed of some confirmed information from the sports authority in Pyongyang regarding the Pyongyang Marathon, taking place on April 13th this year.
We can now give you the following information;
Full Marathon – cost of entry is $100 (US) and you have a maximum of 5 hours in which to finish the race
Half Marathon – cost of entry is $70 and you have a maximum time of 2.5 hours in which to finish the race
10 Kilometres – cost of entry is $50 and you have a maximum time of 2 hours to finish the race
Obviously the half marathon finish time is a little tight for many amateurs, we will ask for an extension on this but if you run a half in much more than 2 hours we would have to currently recommend doing the 10k or the full marathon. We will update when we know more
All entry fees should be paid in cash at the time of registration in Pyongyang. We do need to know in advance which of the three races you will run, all start at the same time though
Anyone joining any tour offered by Koryo Tours over the Marathon period is eligible to run, you can carry a camera, music player, water bottle on the run, there will be water stations and WCs along the route and it will be a wonderful opportunity to run through Pyongyang along with local marathoners (who will be fast, don’t worry if you can’t keep up) starting and finishing in a packed Kim Il Sung stadium! All you have to do to run in this race is join any of these tours below or take an independent tour over the same time. If you want to travel on the tours and not run then this is fine too, not a problem at all and there is no obligation whatsoever to take part in the race.
If you are running though please be aware that we have been asked to inform you to wear something ‘plain’ the organisers will not tolerate any clothes with what they think may be political slogans, so go conservative please!
3) Architecture Tour - a specialised tour, see inside a North Korean apartment as well as tour some of the most iconic buildings in the country, something ideal for anyone with a specific interest in the buildings of the DPRK and a Koryo Tours’ exclusive offer