Okay, signing off. Thanks for all of the great questions. Hope to see some of you soon in the DPRK - uritours.com (148 NYC time, 248 Pyongyang time)

It's getting late here (past 230 am). I'm going to try to answer a few more questions for about 5 minutes or so and then I have to go to bed :( We have an 8am start in the morning. Going to the DMZ! I had a blast and I hope you did too! Please contact us if you want to travel to the DPRK! (241 am Pyongyang time/141 pm NYC time)

First ever IAmA from Pyongyang!

My name is Andrea Lee, CEO of Uri Tours a provider of travel services to North Korea. I am currently in Pyongyang with a group of our travelers (see my proof from lobby of Yanggakdo Hotel - http://instagram.com/p/YDODyALqoF/ or twitter.com/uritoursinc). Let's have a chat!

Comments: 163 • Responses: 40  • Date: 

tehhunter55 karma

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UriTours64 karma

This is John Dantzler-Wolfe, Operations Chief at Uri Tours. In all fairness, Andrea had signed off by the time you asked this question. It was pretty late in Pyongyang. I am answering this question from our headquarters in the US. This is an important question and something that we are inevitably asked as DPRK tour operators.

Ultimately, if you believe that there is a peaceful solution to the difficulties that plague the Korean peninsula, then cultural isolation and chest thumping are not solutions because they tend to lead to misunderstanding and violence. Furthermore, economic sanctions really can't get much tighter. All of these pressures can only serve to make matters worse for the people of the DPRK.

So from the perspective of a business that believes that the people of the DPRK deserve as much attention as their government in the media and otherwise, we believe that cultural dialogue is a key component of fostering understanding and constructive progress between North Korea and the rest of the world.

You are correct in saying that tourism in the DPRK is highly restricted and that we only get to see a certain pre-approved cross section of locations and situations. However, those who travel there frequently know that there are also many unexpected, genuine and unscripted moments between western tourists and DPRK citizens. In addition, while we obviously can't audit where our funds go, we do know that a substantial portion of the money goes to actual everyday working people. We have seen how our business helps rank and file members of the companies we work with. These are every day North Koreans with families and regular everyman concerns. It's just not true that everyone we meet is some sort of secret agent or spy.

The bottom line is whether you believe that cultural exchange and dialogue is important for helping the people of North Korea. In addition, there are many preconceived notions that westerners hold about the DPRK that should be tested by an actual trip to the country itself. We believe that cultural contact and dialogue is constructive for both the west and the DPRK, and we also believe that our service is an important conduit for such dialogue.

I hope that Andrea will be able to sign on again before she leaves the DPRK, so please keep the conversation going.

2orangey4crows28 karma

I was in NK a year ago and tourists can not use the Internet.

How are you able to use the Internet?

UriTours32 karma

Starting this year, Koryolink has provided the option of purchasing a local SIM and accessing the internet, although the prices are pretty high for a one-time visitor.

[deleted]-16 karma

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tgjr3 karma

That story was just 2nd hand from another NK tour operator. But this Uri Tours has been posting legit pics on instagram for the last couple of days - http://instagram.com/uritours. So I guess there's some mixed information out there. Andrea can you tell us for sure?

UriTours6 karma

Internet is still available but only on a monthly plan.

tslj13 karma

What (if any) restrictions do you have when it comes to traveling or showing off certain areas? When Vice went to DPRK it seemed like they were shown only very carefully chosen areas.

UriTours12 karma

We actually travel all over the country. We are guided by our partner company and their professional guides, all of whom we know very well. There is no freedom of movement purely on your own. It must be with a local guide. But when you get past that, you actually can see a lot of the country. We drive 5-7 hours sometimes to get to more remote parts of the country.

bobbycans-7 karma

You're talking absolute bollox. Your tour cannot be anything more than any other tour that goes on. You all get shown to the same places. There is no freedom of movement at all. Every place you get brought to has been predetermined.

Sil36912 karma

i read that in a meanie voice

bobbycans14 karma

I hope you had clenched fists too. This woman comes on here advertising her tour as if its different to the other tours that go to the place. Have a look at any video about the tours to the DPRK. Everyone of them is the same no matter what video you see, the people are all taken to the same locations. This isnt an AMA, its commercial for your uritours.

Sil3699 karma

i think ur right, im looking at the OP's posting history:

  • she posted a similar iama one month ago :/
  • only posted in this subreddit
  • interesting time frame chosen to post BOTH iama's

but this all speculative

bobbycans8 karma

Yeah, defo something up. /r/hailcorporate would agree......

bobbycans1 karma

jinx, touch wood.

UriTours10 karma

This is John Dantzler-Wolfe, again posting from our US headquarters since your question came after Andrea signed off in Pyongyang. In answer to your first comment, nobody here is denying that DPRK tourism is unstructured. I don't believe Andrea made that claim. In fact her post above states that there is "no freedom of movement at all." So that's a given. What we do try to do on our tours is maximize the chances for our tourists to interact with local DPRK citizens. We are also always putting in new requests to our DPRK partners to open up new activities and locations for us to visit. Hopefully the DPRK will open further as time goes on, but if you are serious about traveling there, you should realize that this is the current situation.

As for posting as an "advertisement," I would say that the difference between an AMA and an advertisement is that the latter doesn't even try to provide a discussion of any value to the community. I don't think there has ever been an AMA from within the DPRK, so that's the value we were trying to add here. Obviously it's up to all of you to decide whether this discussion was useful or not. All we can do is put ourselves out there. As for /r/hailcorporate, I used to be a corporate attorney and I can tell you that this is nothing like that.

donkeychoir11 karma

Do the officials behave differently to the tourists?

UriTours11 karma

Differently to the tourists as opposed to who? I think it depends on the official, but generally people, including officials, are cordial and polite.

ShitsAndGigglesSake3 karma

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UriTours11 karma

No arrests or harassment. Stared at, maybe, but in a harmless more curious way. We've had disagreements in conversation between tourists and our guides about history, politics, but it's usually resolved by agreeing to disagree. Our guides have never, not once, lost their temper and our tourists are pretty well-educated and respectful to those with differing viewpoints.

Drunken_Economist11 karma

What is the demographic of people that decide to come to North Korea as tourists?

UriTours10 karma

We tend to get a lot of students and scholars, world travelers, adventurers, and business people. Along with that, we also get regular vacationers looking for a different experience.

jvm4th10 karma

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UriTours19 karma

Never. People are warm and very curious about foreigners. They will stare at first, and if you wave, they wave back. Soldiers as well, they're generally friendly, at least the ones at the DMZ.

mcfattykins10 karma

How monitored by the government are you on this?

UriTours20 karma

I'm not sure. They may be reading this, but they're not looking over my shoulder at this moment, if that's the question. But if you have access to the internet, it is not very censored, in that you can access facebook, twitter, etc., all of which you cannot in China.

mcfattykins11 karma

Let me rephrase, are you scared about posting something bad about the regime?

UriTours25 karma

I do need to be respectful as I am in a foreign land. I would be the same way in any other country, even my own. But I'm not afraid to talk about my opinions on matters I know, which is business, here in the context of tourism.

ChewbaccasCousinDick6 karma

What are the difficulties you face in running tours in a place like North Korea?

Also, can I ask Where you're from? I assume you're not actually North Korean.

UriTours14 karma

I am American, Korean-American. But Uri Tours is a 100% U.S. private company based in the U.S. Difficulties we face are not all that different to other businesses -- sales, marketing, risk management. But of course, the fact that we're dealing in an environment that is so politically charged is an added challenge. But we're used to it and that's what makes our business exciting.

ChewbaccasCousinDick2 karma

What are the difficulties you face with only being allowed to show certain aspects of the country? How much are you held back from showing tourists the actual country and not just what their government would like them to see?

UriTours8 karma

We may not be able to peer into everyone's homes, but you don't travel blind-folded here. You see what you see, and you're left to make your own opinions of it. Our guides, whom we select, are extremely professional and knowledgeable. They'll share their viewpoints and will admit to some of the failures of the country, although for the most part, Korean people are extremely proud. Tourism is run in a unique way here, but it's not stagnant and they are always looking for suggestions on how to improve the user experience, which is encouraging and something that the users don't necessarily know. So as we keep working with our partners, we think that more and more access will be given to westerners.

nc_cyclist6 karma

Can you take photos of anything or is certain things off limits? Also, aren't those "guides" with you actually secret police of NK?

UriTours8 karma

Photos are generally allowed. But they ask that you don't take photos of military. We've worked with our guides for several years. They are the same people that guide us and this is their profession. I'm fairly certain they are not secret police...

zylerbram5 karma

How likely or often is it that any outsiders have the ability to even get into North Korea? I was actually having a discussion with a friend earlier this morning, and we have no idea.

UriTours8 karma

There are tour agencies, like ours (see above description), that can get you in. We take care of visa processing, itinerary creation, airfare from China to Pyongyang, etc. It's actually quite easy for the traveler. Just prepare about 1 month in advance and the tourist visas are now becoming quite automatic.

churc225 karma

Are you afraid war could break out at any moment?

UriTours8 karma

Not at the moment. Everything seems peaceful on the surface here. Feels very safe actually. People are getting ready for the April 15th holiday so there's some hustle and bustle around the city. Local people have been very receptive towards our group.

churc225 karma

What is the weather there like today?

UriTours5 karma

A little chilly. About 55-58 degrees. It rained later in the afternoon.

luqskywalker3 karma

What is the situation like in Pyongyang? Any anti US/S.Kor rallies?

UriTours8 karma

We have not seen any anti-U.S. rallies. We'll be going to Kaesong/DMZ tomorrow, so we'll see there, but so far, it's been very peaceful. People have been very receptive to our group, as they usually are, even though we always state that we're a mostly American group. Locals are curious now why in a state of so much tension, we had a desire to visit their country. I think after meeting our group, people feel appreciative that there are actual Americans that want to learn more about their country and hear their perspective.

luqskywalker5 karma

Cool! I'd love to visit North Korea one day!

UriTours5 karma

Anytime. It's very easy. Contact us for more info.

teslaspark3 karma

What did you have to do in order to set up a company that does tourism in North Korea? What were the legal hurdles, and how long did it take?

UriTours3 karma

We've been in business for about 10 years. Legal hurdles are the same as it is for any U.S. company, formation, licensing requirements etc. Developing contacts and finding reliable local partners is the biggest hurdle.

tgjr2 karma

What? Pyongyang? I thought the country was on lockdown!!!

UriTours11 karma

Still open to tourists and people here on business. There's also an international marathon going on (tomorrow actually) and so a lot of athletes here.

tragic-waste-of-skin10 karma

International marathon in North Korea? How?

Who's competing?

UriTours11 karma

Some Africans, europeans, asians, etc. It's an international marathon that Pyongyang hosts.

JasonGD19822 karma

How much does this kind of thing cost?

UriTours3 karma

Anywhere from 1500 to 3500 USD, depending how long you go for, private vs group, etc.

Jigglyly2 karma

How did you end up in your position? Academics/contacts...? For how long have you been doing these trips?

UriTours6 karma

A number of cross-sections brought me here: I studied comparative politics, loved the idea of conflict mediation and resolution, wanted to work at the UN but practiced law instead, I'm entrepreneurial, I'm Korean-American and lastly, I love to travel. So, I suppose this is a natural position for me. I have always had a very heavy interest in peace in the Korean peninsula and for bringing people together. We've been in business for about 10 years. I've been traveling to North Korea since 2003.

Atlas77112 karma

What was it like when Kim Jong il died, and also when Kim Jong Un assumed command?

UriTours6 karma

The country was in a period of mourning. When the new leader took over, I think people may have been apprehensive. I'm not sure. But from what it seems like now, public perception of the new leader is pretty positive. Lots of new constructions going on, more parks and recreational facilities are being built, etc. so people feel like just even in his short time of being in charge, he's accomplished a lot. This is what I gather from my conversations.

hervethegnome2 karma

Have you ever seen any rather interesting things happen in North Korea that most people have probably never seen?

UriTours1 karma

Yes, probably, though nothing specific comes to mind. It helps to speak Korean, then you start to understand the cultural nuances.

BuDDix1 karma

Which countries do most tourists usually come from? Are there any countries that face more difficulty?

UriTours1 karma

We get mostly Americans, but people from all over the world travel with us. South Koreans cannot be granted a tourist visa. Other than that, we can apply for tourist visas pretty easily for everyone else.

Centaurdragon971 karma

How do locals interact with you and other tourists?

UriTours4 karma

Through certain activities. Hanging out at the park, going skating, sharing some sort of activity. It's hard to walk up to a stranger on the street and just automatically expect to interact. Plus, there is a language barrier.

But there are opportunities. This time, we walked into an English class. They were in the 3rd month of a 6 month language program. The teacher asked if our tourists wanted to say anything to the class (100 people or so). One of our tourists went up and started to engage the audience. There was laughter and just enjoyment. It's valuable when learning another language to hear a native just speak.

henry_blackie1 karma

Is the country really as bad as people say? All the media really says is that it's full of starving people and technology from the 70's.

UriTours8 karma

Bad, in terms of economy? Well, it's definitely struggling. There was a huge famine in the 90s, which people here admit and have painful memories from, but the general attitude now is that they are emerging out of those hard times and looking towards a better economy. Still, people lack a heavy protein diet and there is poverty, though not very apparent on the surface. As for technology, North Koreans are pretty clever people. They don't have much in terms of advanced equipment, but they find ways to develop software, get buildings built, etc. Architecture is impressive here. But much of farming and construction is done by hand without use of much machinery.

TheAutolatryGiraffe1 karma

What types of people come as tourists? What is there to see? Most commonly visited tourist site?

UriTours3 karma

We get a lot of students/scholars, adventurers, world travelers, curious business people. Lots to see - Pyongyang, countryside, mountains, beaches, DMZ, etc. Commonly visited are Pyongyang, the DMZ, Myohyangsan, Nampho, Wonsan, etc. The country is so unique and stands apart from other countries so every thing we see is something new for people.

[deleted]1 karma

[deleted]

UriTours5 karma

No to your first question. Second question, misconception is that everything/everyone is staged, which is untrue.

nonparticipant1 karma

What kinds of things are there to see in DPRK? Anything that you think is a "must see"?

UriTours5 karma

Besides all of the monuments, which are incredible in size and stature, I like our trips out to the countryside. Mountains here are absolutely breath-taking. DMZ, a must see. Arirang mass games - also a must see. Some of the newer skate parks or amusement parks are a really fun way to interact with people.

Dr_Medic3451 karma

Are you afriad of Kim Jong Un starting a war?

UriTours2 karma

I am definitely cautious and it does worry me. But we have seen this type of tension before between the U.S. and the DPRK. I'm hoping this year will be the year for peace in some fashion, in light of this year being the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War.

Fozzyy1 karma

I apologize if this has already been asked, but can you explain the whole process which you must take to tour North Korea? Also, is there certain qualifications?

UriTours5 karma

You may sign up via our website or with us via email. If on the website, choose the tour you want, click book now and follow the steps. We need a short visa application form, a color scan of your passport biographical pages and a color scan of a visa photo (headshot). The only restrictions are that you cannot be a journalist or South Korean citizen, both situations requiring special visas.

pera_lurk1 karma

How do you have Internet access?

UriTours1 karma

Starting this year, foreigners have been given the option to purchase a local SIM and access the internet.

dre512981 karma

Whats is like being in north Korea dueing the recent tensions with the us and south Korea

UriTours3 karma

Very interesting. Fascinating in fact. You don't feel the tensions much here, although people do talk about it. You feel quite safe in fact.

OwenVersteeg1 karma

Are the people there actually short like the US media says?

Do people there have products from different countries?

It's awesome that you're doing this!

UriTours5 karma

Maybe a little shorter than the average Asian, who tend to be shorter than westerners. But there are some very tall people here too. Yup, they have imported products. Nutella for one here at the hotel.

unclepj600 karma

Are there certain parts that they won't allow you to see? I've always wanted to visit NK, but I feel like all they would show me is a white washed version where you can only see the very best of it. I doubt they'll let you see where people are starving to death or their work/death camps.

UriTours4 karma

Our attitude is that we need to abide by the rules of tourism in the land, as we do rules of any other foreign lands. But I do feel that our guides are as honest as they can be and we see more than you may expect. Overwhelming response about our tours is that they did not know they could actually have fun in North Korea.

[deleted]-1 karma

[deleted]

UriTours10 karma

It is one of the two Koreas.

[deleted]-2 karma

[deleted]

UriTours1 karma

Yes, please.