The Koryo Tours Blog

Pyongyang Marathon Closed to Foreign Runners

We are sorry to announce that our North Korean partners contacted us this morning with news that the 2015 Pyongyang Marathon has — as of today — been closed to amateur and professional foreign runners. We were told that this is due to the ongoing precautions that the country has put in place in relation to fears held there over the Ebola virus.

 

It is still unclear when the borders will be reopened, but we were also advised not to cancel our March tours, and to expect an update on the border situation at the end of February. If you are booked on any of our tours in March or April then please do not hesitate to get in touch.

 

We have two further running events scheduled for 2015 — a 10K in Pyongyang in June, which will be held in support of our ongoing charity project providing food aid to several orphanages in North Korea, as well as a half-marathon in the Mount Paekdu area in August. Please email info@koryogroup.com for more.

 

Mass Games and Pyongyang’s May Day Stadium

In 2014 we were informed that the spectacular Mass Games events, held in the May Day stadium regularly since 2002, would not be taking place. The first Mass Games were held in North Korea in 1946, although the Mass Gymnastics Production Company was not formed until 1971. The May Day stadium itself was closed for renovation in 2014 and is set to re-open this year – scroll down for pictures of the new interior.

At Koryo we have watched all sorts of activities in the May Day stadium since we started our tours in 1993. The stadium was built in 1980 with a 150,000 capacity which is currently a world record – though physically it’s not the biggest stadium as is proved when you find yourself sitting in rather close quarters to your neighbour!

North Korean Linocut showing the Construction of the May Day Stadium

Mass Games originally were performed in the 100,000 seat Kim Il Sung stadium built in 1982 and it was only when Arirang started that the May Day Stadium was seen as the permanent venue for the Mass Games. See a video about the history and philosophy behind the Mass Games here.

For our documentary film The Game of Their Lives (2002) we filmed football teams who were still playing football matches in the stadium (they were later moved to Kim Il Sung stadium for their matches) and of course the  gymnast Pak Hyon Sun the star of A State of Mind (2004). We filmed  her practice outside the May Day stadium and watched her perform there in 2008.

 

Filming footballers for the documentary The Game of Their Lives

Filming footballers for the documentary The Game of Their Lives

 

We have had amazing access to the Stadium for filming and of course the preparations for the ‘largest picture in the world’ made up of around 20,000 school kids. The backdrop is painted onto small pieces of card which is then transformed into a page on the books the kids use to depict each scene.

Mass Games

Mass Games

Having spent almost every month since 1993 observing the May Day Stadium from almost new to tired to renovated we  are looking forward to getting you back in there!

 

The newly renovated May Day Stadium - complete with running track and football pitch.

The newly renovated May Day Stadium – complete with running track and football pitch.

 

 

Our Top Ten Moments in 2014!

2014 has been a truly exceptional year for us at Koryo Tours. 
 
From skiing, cycling and camping above the 38th parallel to riding reindeer and herding horses in some of Asia’s least visited locales, our 21st year has been our best yet – and it’s all thanks to you! 
Read on for our 2014 top ten – and we look forward to even more adventures in the New Year!
 

10. TRAVELLING ACROSS NORTH KOREA BY TRAIN!

  Koryo_Tour_Logo_Train

In May 2014 we took an intrepid group of tourists for our first ever train tour – something we have been keen to do since we first started travelling to DPRK, and which we have been pushing for since Koryo founder, Nick Bonner, travelled to Mount Paekdu by train while shooting award winning documentary, A State of Mind. 

 

Take a look at some of the footage we captured on our epic journey from Pyongyang to Chongjin, via Wonsan and Hamhung, and then check out our 2015 train tour, right here.

 

North Korea by Rail
North Korea by Rail

9. WINNING THE GOLDEN LION IN VENICE!

 

Utopian Tours

Building on decades of cultural exchange with North Korean artists, Nick Bonner commissioned paintings depicting visions of the future of architecture in North Korea, for the Korea Pavilion at the Venice Architectural Biennale – helping the pavilion to win the Golden Lion.

 

“We asked them to go crazy, to see what they would come up with given absolutely no constraints.” 

 

Read more here

 

 

8. PUBLIC TRANSPORT IN PYONGYANG! 

 Koryo_Tour_Logo_bus

2014 saw us offering trolley bus rides on all Pyongyang city tours – check out the video below to catch a glimpse of what it’s like to rumble around Pyongyang in a vintage trolley bus! 

 

 

Also this year we were allowed to do a preview tour of the entire Pyongyang Metro system – our 2015 public transport and architecture tours will also be allowed to see these so-called ‘secret’ stations.

 

Go Pro North Korean Tram and Trolleybus Rides
Go Pro North Korean Tram and Trolleybus Rides


7. CONTINUING OUR HUMANITARIAN WORK

 

 

 

At Koryo Tours, we have always been ­firm believers in responsible tourism, every year we facilitate humanitarian projects which benefi­t the people of North Korea. We never take in money, only goods that we ensure are delivered to where they are needed.

 

At the start of 2014 we launched an appeal to raise money to rebuild the school building attached to the Wonsan Primary School Orphanage. We’re pleased to say that thanks to the generosity of our tourists and some invaluable support from the British Embassy in Pyongyang, the project was completed in July 2014.

WPSO_before_renovations_web

Wonsan Primary School Orphanage BEFORE

Wonsan Primary School Orphanage AFTER

Wonsan Primary School Orphanage AFTER

 

 

 

In 2015 Koryo are working to raise a total of €40,000 to deliver 8 containers of nutritional 

food packets to 8 orphanages. 

These specially formulated meals are needed to ensure that the orphans receive all the necessary vitamins and minerals for heathy growth. Read more here.


 

6. TEACHING NORTH KOREANS HOW TO SKI

Koryo_Tour_Logo_Ski_pass

In January 2014 after no little controversy in the global press, North Korea’s first ski resort opened up at Masik Pass – we were among the first to test out the slopes, and brought over a ski instructor to help our guides master their newly required ski skills!


In winter, our tours have an optional Masik Pass Ski Extension if you fancy hitting the slopes of North Korea – or staying in one of DPRK’s fanciest hotels!

North Koreans Learning to Ski
North Koreans Learning to Ski


5. ATTENDING THE ‘CANNES OF THE EAST’

Koryo Tours has a long standing relationship with cinema in North Korea and the Pyongyang International Film Festival – and this year was no exception! After delivering a popcorn machine to the April 25th Film Studio earlier in the year, we then helped co-ordinate hundreds of international submissions to the Pyongyang International Film Festival and took a group of tourists to the 14th edition of PIFF. We also spotted a new addition to the hand-painted posters at the entrance to the International Cinema House – our very own Comrade Kim Goes Flying!

 

Pyongyang International Film Festival
Pyongyang International Film Festival


 

4. EXPANDING OUR HORIZONS

Our team at Koryo is made up of a group of passionate travellers, artists and adventurers, we thrive on developing new cultural projects – and exploring new destinations! In 2015 we went beyond DPRK with trips to Turkmenistan, Magadan, Mongolia and Tofalaria, our intrepid tourists travelled on horseback, by 4×4 and helicopter – some even hopping on the back of a reindeer! One of our Turkmenistan tourists, Patrik Wallner captured some incredible footage in the video below. 

 

In 2015, we’re excited to expanding our portfolio with another truly innovative Asian adventure - The Republic of Tajikistan!

 

Turkmenistan


3. VISITING A PYONGYANG APARTMENT

 

Koryo_Tour_Logo_Architecture

Almost every tour group we have taken to the DPRK since 1993 has asked the same question: “can we see where North Koreans live?” – up until 2014 the response was a chuckle from our guides, and “maybe next year”. 

 

Finally in April our Architecture Tour group were able to do just that, and visited a brand new housing complex occupied by faculty of Kim Il Sung University – read the full account on our blog.



 


 

2. OUR PYONGYANG TIMELAPSE WENT VIRAL!

 

Enter Pyongyang

 

Travelling to the top of the Juche Tower before 5am on a clear and chilly day in late April, we knew the timelapse video of Pyongyang we were shooting with JT Singh and photographer Rob Whitworth was going to be special – but when the views on the Vimeo upload started climbing past one, two, and then three million views, we were stunned!

 

Anyone who has travelled to North Korea with us knows that being able to see locals in Pyongyang going about their daily business can be a wonderful once in a lifetime travel experience – and through the incredible technical skills of Rob, we were able to share this experience with almost four million viewers.


 

1. RUNNING THROUGH THE STREETS OF PYONGYANG!

 


 

It’s been an incredible year for us at Koryo Tours but the highlight just has to be running the Pyongyang Marathon in April. Having old ladies cheer us on, and young kids high-fiving us before running off giggling this was the engagement experience. 

 

Whether it was getting a medal, simply finishing the route, or even cheering from the stands, all of our tourists (and the five Koryo Tours tour leaders who ran) had an incredible day. We’re excited to launch the Koryo Cup for 2015 and are looking forward to taking an unprecedented numbers of tourists over for the race. 

 

The Road to Pyongyang
The Road to Pyongyang

 

 

HERE’S TO 2015!

 

So that was 2014… we’d like to extend genuine thanks to all our tourists, collaborators, and supporters who helped make our 21st year our best yet. We wish you all the best in 2015 – and if your travels happen to bring you to Beijing, do drop by the office, we’d love to see you!

 

Happy New Year!

 

From all of us at Koryo Tours!

 

Comrade Kim Flies in Shanghai Again!

Comrade Kim Goes Flying

Comrade Kim Flies in Shanghai again! Free screening on 11th Dec at Kulou Bar, 19:00

Back by popular demand! Koryo Tours’ North Korean romantic comedy Comrade Kim Goes Flying will be screened at Kulou Bar at 7PM on Thursday 11th December.

Comrade Kim is the first UK/North Korea co-production ever made and tells the story of a young female coal miner who dreams of joining the Pyongyang circus. As with all films made in North Korea, production had to follow the guidelines laid out by Kim Jong Il on how to make a film, but the usual propaganda is twisted in a unique way in this one-of-a-kind movie. Come along and see for yourself!

Comrade Kim Goes Flying is 81 mins long, and is in Korean with English subtitles.

Simon Cockerell, Koryo Tours’ General Manager (who also worked on the film) will be there to present it, and to take any questions after the screening has finished.

Where: Kulou Bar, 222 Xiangyang Nan Lu (between Yongkang and Fuxing)

Reservations recommended to guarantee seating: email info@kuloubar.com

641

Buy-one-get-one happy hour will run from 6-9pm; don’t miss out on a unique film, and a great deal on drinks!

That’s Not All!

Simon Cockerell will also be speaking at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) in Shanghai on Tuesday 9th Dec, giving a brief presentation about the recent changes we’ve seen in Pyongyang and beyond. The talk will be open to non-members so if you’re interested in coming along please contact Shanghai FCCC for more details.

More about Comrade Kim Goes Flying

“Comrade Kim has the makings of a cult heroine” — Variety

Comrade Kim on left and her trapeze instructor, Jang Phil, on right.

Comrade Kim on left and her trapeze instructor, Jang Phil, on right.

COMRADE KIM GOES FLYING
Directors: Kim Gwang Hun, Nicholas Bonner, Anja Daelemans
Producers: Anja Daelemans, Nicholas Bonner, Ryom Mi Hwa

A Belgium/UK/North Korea co-production
Drama; live action — 81 min — 1:1.85 — color — sound 5.1 — DCP

Cast: Han Jong Sim, Pak Chung Guk, Ri Yong Ho, Kim Son Nam, Han Kil Myong, An Chang Sun
Screenplay: Sin Myong Sik, Kim Chol
Production info: Anja Daelemans (Another Dimension of an Idea/Belgium), Nicholas Bonner (Koryo Group /UK), Ryom Mi Hwa (KFEIC/North Korea)

Sales agent: Another Dimension of an Idea (ad.idea@telenet.be)

You can also find more information on the Comrade Kim goes Flying website
Follow Comrade Kim goes Flying:

Town of Dongrim Opens to Tourists!

Koryo Tours are excited to announce that the town of Dongrim is soon to be open to tourists!

For anyone looking for an exciting opportunity to travel in one of the least-seen parts of the least-seen nation in the world Koryo Tours is proud to offer the option to visit the city of Sinuiju, and take a drive down to the city of Dongrim – newly open to western tourists after years of our hard work pushing for access.

We have two options available for tours to this area; a day trip from the Chinese border city of Dandong, or an overnight extension to one of our regular DPRK trips as an extension to any tour that leaves the country by train – both on group and independent tours.

These areas were opened to western tourists due to the hard work of Koryo Tours’ staff in negotiating with the local and national authorities in the DPRK for access to these areas – know that if you join one of these trips, or any of our tours, you’re travelling with the company that made it all possible, we’d be glad to have you along with us!

You can now visit Sinuiju, Dongrim, and stay overnight either if you finish your tour in the DPRK by train travelling from Pyongyang up to Sinuiju on the Chinese border – this is a 24 hour extension that offers a great way to see some sites in North Pyongan province; a rarely seen part of North Korea.

This special offer is exclusive to clients of Koryo Tours – you won’t find this unique trip available anywhere else.

For more information: info@koryotours.com

Temporary Suspension of Tours to the DPRK – Update

Current suspension of tours expected to be lifted in Q1 2015

North Korean official confirms border will be reopened for tourists
in time for the Pyongyang Marathon in April

Last updated: Tue 9 Dec

The latest information we currently have from our contacts is that the temporary suspension of tours to North Korea – enacted by the DPRK government on 25 October 2014 in response to the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa – will be lifted at some point during Q1 of 2015.

While the exact date is yet to be confirmed at this stage we are confident that tours will resume during this period and will be sure to post more detailed news here as soon as we have further updates.

Additionally, a North Korean official at the DPRK’s Ministry of Sport has since confirmed with us that the Pyongyang Marathon on 12 April 2015 will be open to international tourists.

As official travel partner of the Pyongyang Marathon, we have received notice from contacts within North Korea’s Ministry of Sport that the IAAF event will be going ahead, and that foreign visitors will be welcomed to the race – only the second time in history that Western amateurs have been permitted to participate.

We’ve been unable to take any tourists to North Korea from 25 October through to the end of 2014 due to the border closure surrounding concerns held there over the potential threat posed by the international spread of the Ebola virus – a temporary measure that applies to all tourists while the necessary protocols are put in place.

However, having worked in the country since 1993, we were faced with a similar issue during the 2003 SARS crisis, and have been in lengthy discussions with our partners in Pyongyang to reach an agreement that those booked through our company should be cleared for entry into North Korea.

With the border set to reopen in time for the race, our North Korean partners have now asked Koryo Tours to help foreign amateur runners sign up, and reach out to the wider world.

We have five trips arranged for April 2015 for people wanting to run the Pyongyang Marathon. And, in keeping with the charity focus of many other marathons, Koryo Tours will, for each person travelling with us, be able to donate an extra 365 high-nutrition meals to our pre-existing humanitarian project supporting eight North Korean orphanages.

Such is the expectation surrounding the marathon that North Korea’s national carrier Air Koryo is even laying on an extra flight from Shanghai to Pyongyang on 9 April 2015 – an unusual route for the airline, with Koryo Tours having secured a limited number of spaces for Western tourists to travel aboard this rarely scheduled flight.

See here for more.

There is much to look forward to in 2015 – including, of course, the Pyongyang Marathon in April – and we look forward to receiving your booking for one of our scheduled trips in the year ahead.

International Pro-Wrestling Friendship Event

Koryo Tours was at the opening ceremony and wrestling bouts of the historic International Pro-Wrestling Friendship Event in Pyongyang hosted by the famous WWE Hall of Famer Japanese wrestler, Antonio Inoki (famous in North Korea as he was a student under Korean Rikidozan who was one of the most influential men in wrestling history).

The last time Koryo Tours witnessed a similar event was when we took over 100 tourists to the International Pro-Wrestling Friendship event in Pyongyang in 1995. This event was attended by Mohammed Ali amongst other world class wrestlers including the US and Japan. Only in the DPRK would they come up with this wrestling to celebrate peace friendship and independence.

Ali in Pyongyang

Enter Pyongyang – Timelapse

We’re very excited to announce the launch of our newest video co-production – an unprecedented time-lapse of Pyongyang! We shot this film in April with Shanghai-based Thrilling Cities – let us know what you think in the comments!

 

This extraordinary time-lapse video shows the North Korean capital of Pyongyang as it has never been seen before. Koryo Tours – a travel company set up by North Korea expert Nick Bonner in 1993 – used its 21 years of experience working in Pyongyang to secure JT Singh and Rob Whitworth unprecedented access to make ENTER PYONGYANG, a truly breathtaking piece of work.


ABOUT KORYO TOURS: Koryo Tours (www.koryogroup.com) specialises in travel to North Korea, and was founded in 1993 by Nick Bonner — a Brit living in Beijing. Koryo Tours now takes more Western tourists to North Korea than any other company and is a firm believer in responsible tourism, which includes raising money for charitable causes within the country, and participating in significant cultural engagement projects, such as taking Middlesbrough Ladies football team to Pyongyang in 2010 with the backing of the British Embassy there. The tour operator’s parent company, Koryo Group, has also made three award-winning documentaries about North Korea: The Game of Their Lives; A State of Mind; Crossing The Line. Koryo Tours runs regular trips to North Korea, including a special architecture tour in October, which will feature exclusive access and expert lectures

ABOUT ROB WHITWORTH: Rob Whitworth (www.robwhitworth.co.uk) is a prominent urban filmmaker. He is responsible for creating awe-inspiring videos that reveal locations in a powerful and compelling manner. The instantly identifiable style of his work has gained widespread critical acclaim, and received over five million online views. During 2014 Robert has been working on a number of major projects, including shoots for the upcoming ‘One Planet’ series for the BBC Natural History Unit, and a viral video of Barcelona. Originating from the UK, Robert gained his first-class honours degree in Photography from Norwich School of Art & Design. He is currently based in Shanghai.

ABOUT JT SINGH Toronto-born JT Singh (www.jtsingh.com) is a leading place-branding pioneer, creative director, global urban explorer and economic strategist focused on cities. He is the co-founder of Thrilling Cities (www.thrillingcities.com), which is the only exclusively place-oriented branding and creative agency in the world.

Film Screening at April 25th Studios, Pyongyang

Many tourists who have previously visited Pyongyang will have had the opportunity to visit the impressive Pyongyang Film Studio but on July 31st 2014, the Victory Day tourists became the first ever  to be allowed to visit to the April 25 Film Studio in Pyongyang!

As some readers may know, April 25th is the date when the Korean People’s Army (KPA) was founded, unsurprisingly then the studio mainly produces films for the army but in recent years have branched out, shooting many other types of films. DPRK film buffs will know that it was the April 25th Film Studio that co-produced the groundbreaking COMRADE KIM GOES FLYING along with Belgian production company Another Dimension of an Idea and Koryo Group!

The building was impressive, with a huge mosaic above the entrance and a grand lobby housing a mural of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il surrounded by soldiers from the KPA. To mark this exciting occasion we had exclusive access to  the screening of 1994 North Korean comedy, O YOUTH! Before we hit play, the director Jon Jong Pal, presented the film in front of the audience. What followed was one of those special ‘cultural engagement’ moments, when the audience had to cry out and stop his introduction (essentially a long description of the plot) to try and avoid spoilers! Well, from his point of view perhaps he assumed that given the film was 20 years old, we really should have seen it by now ;)

Not content with providing cinematic entertainment, spoiler-filled director introductions and opening up hitherto-closed cultural spaces in North Korea, we also brought the studio it’s first popcorn machine all the way from Beijing – so next time we visit there will be snacks all round!

Trips to the April 25 Film Studio are now offered on every group tour.

 All photos ©Koryo Group
Tourists relax before the screening

Tourists relax before the screening of ‘O Youth’

Mosaic entrance to the April 25th Film Studio, Pyongyang

Mosaic entrance to the April 25th Film Studio, Pyongyang

Director Jon Jong Pal, presents his film

Director Jon Jong Pal, presents his film

Mural in the lobby of April 25 Film Studio

Mural in the lobby of the film studio