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Tour Operators -- any recommendations?

Dallas
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Tour Operators -- any recommendations?

I have found the following tour operators and would like to know if anybody has experience with any of these.

It appears that most cover the same sights but there is a fairly wide price range. As they use the same hotel I'm guessing the other differences would be the type of room, quality of the meals and the bus/vans used for transportation (and of course the desired profit margin!)

In addition to finding a recommended tour operator, I'm trying to figure if there really are benefits in going with one of the higher priced tour operators.

KTG Travel north-korea-travel.com/north-korea-group-tou…

Koyro Tours http://www.koryogroup.com/

Explore North Korea http://www.explorenorthkorea.com/

Korea Konsult http://www.koreakonsult.com/index_eng.htm

North Korea 1 on 1 http://www.northkorea1on1.com/

Young Pioneers http://www.youngpioneertours.com/

Lupine Travel www.lupinetravel.co.uk/north-korea-tour.html

RegentHolidays regent-holidays.co.uk/country/north-korea/

(Appeared to be the best alternative but all 2010 tours are full)

Korean Friendship Association http://www.korea-dpr.com/travel.htm

Global Exchange www.globalexchange.org/

GOnSEE Korea http://www.gonseekorea.com/

(2 or 3 day tours to Mt. Kumgang & Kaesong from Seoul)

Any comments pro or con -- or info on any other recommended tour operators -- would be most welcome!

Los Angeles...
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31. Re: Tour Operators -- any recommendations?

Does anyone have any experiences with Juche Travel Services? They just started up, and their prices appear to be one of the lowest around if not the lowest.

london
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32. Re: Tour Operators -- any recommendations?

My husband and I are just back from a North Korean tour with Young Pioneer Tours and would thoroughly recommend them for the following reasons:

1, They are cheaper than the main competitor yet you get the exact same accommodation, meals ,transport, tours etc. All the tour companies link up with the North Korean tourist board (its mandatory) who seem to provide the same tour to everyone. All tours stay at the same hotel, eat at the same restaurants and visit the same attractions

2. The pre-tour support was excellent. Prompt and comprehensive response to all our enquiries. With little info available on North Korea and being almost 6months pregnant I had many questions before booking. Spoke at length on the phone with Gareth at Young Pioneers - i found this a really useful and efficient way to capture all the info I needed.

3. Richie our guide for the trip was most helpful, accommodating, good humoured and patient. Did his utmost to meet every request from us no matter how odd or difficult. Always felt we were in very capable and competent hands. And he was great fun too. He proved to be a great drinking buddy for my husband as I was unable to drink!

4. Smaller group numbers. Only 6 people in our tour compared to about 30-35 in the Koryo Tour group that were there at the same time as us. They seemed to just have one western guide for their entire group (though I can't confirm this) Moving around with just 6 of us was great rather than being tied to really large slow moving group .

North Korea was a fascinating place to visit. One of the most memorable and eye opening trips I've been on. Also one of the safest places you could travel to. Anyone considering it should definitely go for it. You won't be disappointed.

Los Angeles...
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33. Re: Tour Operators -- any recommendations?

What's unique about Young Pioneers is their ability to view military parades. Were you able to see the parade in honor of Kim Jong Il? And did you see everything that was outlined in their itinerary? I know that things change that are beyond their control but just wondering how much of a change there was (if any).

Singapore
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34. Re: Tour Operators -- any recommendations?

We are just back from a trip to NK with young pioneer tours.

As others have pointed out, the actual tour is in-country is done with the one NK tour operator, so you dont actually do the trip with Young Pioneers.

But they were great at getting our personal tour set up, not only were they the cheapest, they were the fastest to reply to our initial email. All subsqueqnt conversations were quick and any questions we had were answered pronto.

I wouldnt hestitate to use them if we went back to NK.

Here is our travel blog entry on our four day trip if you would like to know what you are in for:

…wordpress.com/2012/…

Maribor, Slovenia
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35. Re: Tour Operators -- any recommendations?

Coming back from NK 100th Anniversary tour with Young Pioneer Tours and I only say I am reaaaaallllllyyyyy glad we booked with them. First of all the group was compromised with mostly people from age 18-35 which suited us well, but the most important thing was, that those guys really gave us great tips on what/where/how and the guides were really loose compared to guides we saw with other groups. I can really say we enjoyed the whole trip and had great fun with all the guys and girls from YPT! Thank you again!

Dallas
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36. Re: Tour Operators -- any recommendations?

Greg -- I'm the one who started this thread last year.

Just read your blog -- great report! I've been trying for 2 years to convince my husband to go to NK but he is still refusing to do anything to support the regime since presumably the regime is the beneficiary of any tourism dollars. However, I will keep trying.

From your report, the 4-day trip sounds like ample time -- did you feel that was the right amount or would you recommend a few more days?

Also, the individuals you mentioned in your blog who were on the 9- and 14-day trips (not that I can really imagine spending THAT much time there!) -- do you know who they were arranging their travel with? I was under the impression that it was impossible to travel without a group -- were they essentially on a 2-person tour?

Thanks!

txky2

Tasmania
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37. Re: Tour Operators -- any recommendations?

Avoid Regent Holidays from the UK - we had a good trip with them, but there was a minor issue at the end of the trip about overcharging. In the end they insulted us (and the rest of the people on our tour) with a refund of GBP11 (not a misprint - this says "eleven") on a tour that cost GBP1,395 for 4 nights that we were not put in the standard of hotel we paid for.

We judge a company by their service recovery and theirs was appalling

As others have pointed out, all local arragements in DPRK go through local agent KITC anyway. DPRK was great - definitely visit!

Singapore, Singapore
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38. Re: Tour Operators -- any recommendations?

I have attemped to sign up for a tour with Koryo tour. But I've encountered several set back, mainly regarding transfer of payment to them (The intemidiary bank stopped the payment, transfer via Western Union was terminated because Koryo tour said they can't receive the money etc etc etc). I've done 4 trips to the bank/Western Union, and lost about 70 Euro because of all these transfers not going through. (Not to mention precious time).

I ended up having to go with a tour group in Singapore because that's where I live and I can pay them by cash. Meanwhile, I forgot to cancel my tour with Koryo and they demanded that I pay a 10% penalty fee. Given that this 10% penalty fee was stated in their contract, which I've signed, I agree that it's my duty to pay the 10%. However, given how difficult it was to transfer money to them, I raised the question of how am I going to transfer the 10% penalty fees.

My concern was met with a string of accusations: They claimed that they did not asked me to transfer money via Western Union (This is proven wrong. I still have the e-mail from Koryo tour saying I can transfer money via Western Union) and that I made up lies about not being able to transfer RMB to a bank account in China that belongs to a non-Chinese national (Again, this is proven wrong, with an e-mail from Bank of China itself).

My experience dealing with Koryo tour hasn't been pleasant. I do not get the impression that they take care of their clients -- worse still, I get the impression that if things go wrong, they will pile accusations on you without any basis.

I am so glad I am not going to Korea with Koryo tour. Maybe someone else have some good experiences with them. Certainly not me!

Washington DC...
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39. Re: Tour Operators -- any recommendations?

Pom = ?

Washington...
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40. Re: Tour Operators -- any recommendations?

The DPRK (North Korea) is the single greatest hidden gem in travel, and Juche Travel Services is the only way to see it, hands down. For what is probably the most fascinating place one could ever have the opportunity to visit, the DPRK sure gets a bum wrap. Hard to really put the experience into words, but I’ll give you a bit of an idea about what you can expect, if you make the correct decision to go.

I can say without any hesitation, it was the most amazing country I've ever been to, and the probably the most amazing country still in existence. The best travel experience in the world? Yes, no contest, close the voting! One could easily stay for a month or more; after that you still probably won’t be tired of it yet, but you will most likely start getting used to a lifestyle and reality that is dramatically different to what you will eventually have to return home to, all the pity. I was there for 9 days, and already seriously regret not signing up for the 16 day tour. I'm currently looking at the Juche schedule for next year and already getting waves of tingling excitement.

Jammed packed does not begin to describe your experience. They pack so much stuff into every day that you will be booked solid from 7am to 11pm at least, but strangely, you won’t ever really feel tired. This is certainly due to the fact that there is absolutely none of the stress that is usually part of a normal travel experience. Luckly, the DPRK is anything but normal. Unlike every other country in the world, where you are treated like little more then chattle, herded about, scammed, prodded, hassled and depleted, in the DPRK you are treated as prized visitors who will share your experience with the world. The government, your KITC guides and David at Juche Travel Services work their butts off to make sure you have such an amazing time that you not only return, but that you bring back 10 people with you. Go now dammit, before the DPRK becomes just another Thailand, full of lame one size fits all tours and drunk Cagney Brits!

In the DPRK you don't have to think about anything from the moment you step on the awesome flying museum that greets you in Beijing, to the moment it drops you safely back in the real world. David from Juche and your KITC guides painstakingly stay up till 3am every night taking care of EVERYTHING, VIP all the way.

This is a simplified rundown of a daily schedule that could just be yours.

Some really nice gal calls you up about 7:30 for a wake up call, urging you into the day with a questioning, “it is time to get up?” Occasionally you also get a rather curt, “get up!” from a rather harsh sounding gentleman, but this is quite rare. After you are awake, you just ride the elevator down to the dinning room for breakfast, which is an all you can eat buffet of really decent food, Kim Chi always included. You’re going to be a big fan of the yogurt drink, which may or may not come from a goat. You really don’t ever have to think about what you are going to eat… or really worry about indecision during your trip. They decide for you! The great food and damn fine beer are all just waiting for you when you get to the restaurant. To top it off, the meal is often accompanied by a live performance by beautiful gals in their early 20’s. As a matter of fact, the majority of your human interactions with, and the people serving and entertaining you, are incredibly attractive young North Korean gals. From a tourist’s perspective, they seem to be the fabric of society, doing everything from playing the best damn harp/drums/accordion/flute/etc. you ever heard, to ushering train cars into the station or guarding a parking lot with a polished AK-47.

Communism is awesome and you should take advantage of it while you still can. Full employment means full service! You don’t want to do it? No problem, they got someone to do everything! Who wants to call their own elevator after a night of local sucho and karaoke? No worries there, they got a guy 24 hours just sitting in front of each elevator waiting to serve your button pressing needs. Want someone to organize all your belongings in your room into neat little piles while your gone during the day? You won’t see her, but you’ll see her handy work! Need an attractive gal in a pressed uniform to make sure you safely board the escalator? No problem, they got that too! They got someone to pour your drinks, cut your meat, lick your stamps, butter your bread and tell you how good you look in your custom made President Kim Jong Il suite! Don’t forget to smile, you’ve just made the locals day!

Back to the schedule-

After breakfast, you walk 10 feet to the comfy brand spanking new bus, where you are whisked off to all the sights you will see that day. Not wanting to inconvenience you with even the thought of unnecessary exercise, they drive that bus right up to every single attraction, and I mean RIGHT ON UP! If you’re visiting a children’s school, they will drive over the playground to drop you at the door to each classroom, going about 45MPH with the horn blaring, as panic stricken adorable children in little sailor uniforms take flight for their lives.

And forget about lines, you never wait for anything, ever! When going to see a bear in a sailor uniform riding a bicycle while looking though binoculars show (yup!), the whole event waits for you. You are saved the best seats in the house, right in front (just behind the generals) and the concert does not start until you are seated…with the whole show, including the 300 people in the audience probably waiting in position about an hour for you to arrive. After the show, the audience stays in their seats and waits until you exit first. Folk, this is the kind of treatment only a president or foreign dignitary gets in most countries, and you certainly won’t find anything close anywhere else, including the Four Seasons in some boring tourist trap like Europe or Hawaii.

After the show, you are whisked off to a BBQ in the park, which has nicely been all prepared for you in advance, including the ice cold local beers in the cooler, which are fetched and poured by some very attractive gal, who also turns your skewers on the BBQ at your table. After she has seen to your every culinary need, she proceeds to produce an accordion and so begins your private concert. Did I mention she is an accordion protégée who has been studying since the age of 5….yup, that good. At this point, a couple more lovely gals emerge out of nowhere and start dancing and singing for you. It’s just that good.

From there your motorcade hits the road, off to the next attraction! You’re running a bit late from your leisurely BBQ, where you had a bit too much to drink, but no worries, your bus takes a 90-degree turn at 45 mph onto a 10-lane highway for your trip to a much anticipated turtle farm. With 10 lanes, only one other car in sight, no speed limits and a bus driver who really knows where the gas peddle is, you can just sit back, take in the rolling corn fields and know everything is going to be just fine.

Not only will you learn all sorts of interesting things about raising turtles for human consumption, but you also get to pick out your very own turtle, to be taken back and prepared for you by a chef who “majored in turtle food”.

Sadly, before dinner, you find out that the “turtle specialist” has the day off…yup they do get those. No worries, the friendly staff has set up the turtle experience for tomorrow’s lunch. In the interim, the guides have taken it upon themselves to keep your turtles on liquid for you on in the bus until tomorrow, to preserve freshness of course. But, just maybe you want to go a different route in terms of interim turtle storage. Unlike the rest of the world, in the DPRK the customer is still the boss. Being no stranger to an odd request or two, the guides are more then willing to accommodate your desire to bring the turtles up to your hotel room so that you can turn your bathtub into an aquatic habitat for them. In fact, the hotel staff don’t even bat an eye when you plop down your see-though netted turtle sack on the counter and ask for a laundry price list; nor does the elevator attendant look twice when tomorrow’s lunch starts hissing when startled by the opening elevator doors. The service is just that good.

After a nice rest in your room, watching Russian Oprah, or news about the rest of the world you no longer care about on Al Jazeera, you head down to dinner. Always the congenial host, David is there to greet you and let you know that your request for dog soup was no problem, and that it is waiting for you at tonight’s restaurant across town. You also learn that they brew their own beer at this particular establishment, DOUBLE WIN!

After dinner, it’s on to the Arirang Mass Games, VIP entrance of course. Honestly, your life sucks and you ain’t seen anything worth anything till you’ve seen the Arirang Mass Games. Never again in the history of the world will you get to sit in the world’s largest stadium and see 120,000 performers putting on a synchronized theatro-gymanstic performance with lock-step unity and precision. Entering the stadium, hearing the chanting and watching the endless stream of performers take the field, the power of it puts the hair on the back of your neck on end and restores your faith in any belief, no matter how outlandish or absurd you may have thought previous. Believe what you will, capitalism is incapable of creating this type of display or energy, it would never be financially profitable or possible. You may not agree with the DPRK, but after being lucky enough to see it, you won’t ever disagree that the Arirange Mass Games are the most amazing thing in the world. It never hurts to pay a little extra for your ticket and sit next to the generals either, the show was meant to be seen from the center-front… and you get iced coffee.

A bit about David and Juche Travel Services, especially in regards to the other tour choices. Not having gone on the other tours, but seeing them from a distance and meeting those who did while drinking heavily at the hotel basement Karaoke bar, I am more than able to comment on their quality vs. Juche. If you want the Wall-Mart, cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all, drain all the fat off the bacon sort of experience, please, by all means go with the other operators, like Koryo. Let them take you to the places where no one smiles. If on the other hand, you want a personalized, we’ll work our darndest to make all your strange and outlandish desires possible sort of experience, with service from an awesome team led by a great British fellow who takes down the frothy cold mugs with you, choose Juche Travel Services. David is the kind of guy who knows what he’s doing, knows the really interesting stuff about the DPRK (especially the really interesting stuff we read about on Wikipedia) but is not uptight and makes the whole experience more of a trip with old friends then a group of strangers.

Now go to sleep, cause you’ve got another packed day starting at 7:30 am tomorrow and it’s likely to be the most amazing day of you life, only to be exceeded by the day after that, and the day after that, until you leave the DPRK and return to the real world and your boring life making other people rich.

Also, cigarettes are nice, but bring some tasty rare candy bars to give out to the friendly and warm people of the DPRK.