When choosing a tour to North Korea there are a hand full of options. I chose YPT for their
unique backpacker's attitude towards travel.
Founded by travelers, usually turned off by group tours, YPT offers a unique and unusually authentic experience in countries often stigmatized or rarely seen first-hand by your average traveler.
I had few expectations when booking my first tour with the Young Pioneers, but I never thought planning 11 days in such a tightly regulated nation could be as easy as emailing John Mcgovern to save a spot for me on what would end up being a life changing trip. Maybe I too easily throw caution to the wind, but North Korea was all too simple and my plans were in motion with only a few clicks.
After the thrill of booking flights to Beijing, and applying for a Visa to the DPRK wore off, I hunkered down for the long haul between when I made my booking and when I was set to enter this crazy nation that had a reputation that hung like an ever-present fog in mainstream media.
"You're insane. You'll be detained. Aren't you afraid?. These were all quite common remarks when I told friends of my next destination. During this time, I learned there are three types of reactions when hearing a friend is willingly entering North Korea..."
1. Shock and denial - an average response, usually paired with comments like "I had no idea travelers were even allowed in there" and "People live in North Korea?" This reaction, while ignorant, was a perfectly normal response for someone not up-to-date with the issues.
2. Fear and anger - an unfortunately common attitude towards the country. This response was driven by a lot of western propaganda that tells us to fear what we do not understand. These people had a hard time interacting with me up until the day I came home safe and sound, and still refused to hear about the trip and the nuances of the conflict - or even simple stories of humanity and normality.
3. Excitement and support - The rarest but most wonderful response. This reaction was a great insight into an individuals openness and exposure to other cultures. A few friends were even sad they didn't have the time to tag along with me.
When the months of waiting were finally closing in, I felt a bit unsure of the trip. At the height of a media frenzy - Trump throwing tantrums left and right - the future of the DPRK was unclear and we had the impression that we were about to walk into a war zone, with both leaders with their hands on nuclear buttons.
But from the moment we met our guides in the dingy basement of a Beijing hotel, to the middle of our trip, when all stigma of the DPRK had melted away and we all truly felt at-ease - The Young Pioneer staff was professional, knowledgeable, kind, and always insured we felt safe and had fun.
Even with safety and professionalism as a top priority, YPT knows how to have a good time. With an extra pack of cigarettes and witty jokes at their disposal, the guides build lasting relationships with the locals, which has the potential to elevate the tour from just being good to being something special.
If you find yourself craving an interesting, once-in-a-lifetime trip, I highly recommend seeing North Korea, and I can't wait to travel with YPT again very soon.
In a county no one travels to, the least visited province was the most genuine. North Hamgyong greeted us with excited smiles, warm waters, and bonfire party nights.
Early morning you may open up your window on the 40th floor, briefly notice there is nothing stopping you from jumping straight out to your demise, and take a listen to the eerie sounds of the city waking up.