The YPT Team
What separates YPT team from the crowd in our own humble opinion are our professional, friendly and super fun guides who accompany every group tour. Not only do we enjoy fantastic relations with our colleagues in the DPRK and around the world, but have the first-hand knowledge and know how to open doors that would otherwise remained closed if not travelling with us. All guides work full time for the company, and are supported by a great team of staff that help out in the office.
GARETH JOHNSON – 38 – UK
I founded YPT way back in 2008, as at the time I realised there was nothing in the way of a budget company that catered for the demographic of people who would not usually do “group tours”, so felt I could combine my love of travel with my new-found love for the people and culture of the DPRK!
Later I was lucky enough to meet people who shared my ideas and passions, which has led us to where we are today. In North Korea my favourite place is hard to say, but would probably be a combination of Mt Paektu and Chongjin. Mt. Paektu simply for what it represents, and its utter beauty, and Chongjin because it is so rarely visited and offers a really interesting insight into the the DPRK, both from a business and social point of view. The seafood in Chongjin is also great, plentiful and cheap!
Aside from North Korea I like to “pioneer” our new destinations to other interesting places around the world. Having lived away from the UK since 2001, and having visited many countries, I still get the biggest thrill in soaking up a new place and everything it has to offer. I am pretty sure this is something I will never grow out of. What I love most about YPT and my job is that the people we attract on our tours are people that I would genuinely be happy to be travelling with. They are “my” kind of people, and I am happy to say I have made a lot of friends through the job. My other passion is Street Food, which you can read about here!
TROY COLLINGS – 32 – NEW ZEALAND
I’ve been a partner at YPT since May 2009 and I think it’s the best job in the world. I love visiting North Korea and feel fortunate to have some wonderful friends there and to be able to see things changing over time. Before moving to China, I studied International Business, Management and Employment relations and Commercial Law at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.
My favourite city would have to be Pyongyang, mostly because it has more nightlife. Kaeson Youth Park is absolutely amazing, and the superman-style roller coaster there is legitimately world-class scary, I also enjoy the local bars and places such as Munsu Water Park. Outside of Pyongyang I have a soft spot for Rason – it’s the only place in the DPRK where tourists can visit a local market, and I love to go there, get some fresh seafood and eat it for dinner that evening. I also like the barber shop there, it’s so relaxing to just sit down and get an old-fashioned close shave.
I tend to find the two most common questions I get asked about my job (not the DPRK) are how did I get end up a partner at YPT and does it get boring seeing the same things? Well the answer to the first is pretty simple: Luck. I was fortunate enough to meet Gareth, become friends, travel to the DPRK with YPT and then wanted to get involved. Finally: it never gets boring. I love the little discoveries on every trip, the excitement of any new destination and most importantly making new friends and sharing an adventure with a group of like-minded individuals.
SHAN YU – 35 – CHINA
I’ve been a partner at YPT since 2009 and manage the financial side of the company. I fell in love with North Korea from my first trip there. Not only because of the friendly people, beautiful sights and colourful events there, but also because it resonates with my Chinese background. Before returning to China, I lived in New Zealand for 8 years where I studied Marketing and Finance at the University of Auckland. My favourite place to visit in the DPRK is the Chonsam co-operative farm, just outside Wonsan city. Experiencing the model rural lifestyle of the local people always makes me feel closer to them. I love children so I like the nursery and the kindergarten there. I also love Tibet- I always find it so spiritual to camp at Mt. Everest base camp – it seems like I can nearly touch the sky, and as a photography fan I love capturing the scenery, people and clouds there. I hope one day I can show you these places!
ROWAN BEARD – 32 – AUSTRALIA
I was based in Vietnam for a few years living the simple South East Asian life. I’ve always had a fascination for the DPRK. I’m not entirely sure if it was because of all the reports I would read about it in the media or if it was just one of those places people wouldn’t expect you to travel to.. or both? I made my first trek to North Korea with YPT back in 2012 where I met Troy as my western YPT guide. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect whilst being in the country but what happened to me during my time in Pyongyang completely changed my perception of the people.
It was May Day tour and there were lots of Koreans out and about celebrating. I found myself laughing, singing, drinking and dancing with the locals to welcome in the warm Spring weather. Something I would never have imagined at first. Also something I knew my mates wouldn’t quite believe me if I told them. In 2013 I became a tour guide for YPT focusing my efforts and YPT’s progression on the DPRK. I get a big kick out of taking in tour groups and having a good time with our customers. When I see newcomers enter North Korea with uncertainty on their faces it reminds me of my first visit. However, it’s the ending result of high fives, smiles and farewell hugs to their Korean guides which reminds me why I decided to become a North Korean tour guide.
MATT KULESZA – 33 – AUSTRALIA
I’m a musician and former teacher originally from Melbourne, Australia with a degree in International Relations and World Religions. I’ve lived in Tokyo and been lucky enough to have travelled to over 30 countries. However, none of these places affected me quite like my time in the DPRK.
I’ve been fascinated with the DPRK for as long as I can remember. My first trip to the DPRK was in 2014 with Young Pioneer Tours. After those first two weeks, I was officially hooked. Aside from all the Soju, Nampo’s famous ‘petrol clams’, and the friendships made with my Korean guides, the highlight of my time in DPRK was learning to sing the popular Korean song ‘Pangapsumnida’ (translated as ‘nice to meet you’)… and being subsequently dragged by one of my Korean guides to perform the song in front of hundreds of locals during the holiday celebrations at Moran Hill in Pyongyang… my first act of musical diplomacy!
Now, working at Young Pioneer Tours, I hope to help facilitate similarly meaningful experiences for future tourists travelling to these fascinating parts of the world.
Nicolas Platt – 21 – Canada
Originally from Victoria, Canada with a background in the automotive industry, I’ve always had a fascination with travel to off the beaten path locations since a visit to Chernobyl on a backpacking trip after high school. No place, however, had peaked my interest as much as the DPRK which culminated in June 2017 when I travelled with YPT on the epic “All Korea’s” tour spending three weeks exploring and traversing both the DPRK and the Sino-Korean borderlands region in China. Those three weeks were very impactful and left me incredibly enamoured with both the people and customs of the DPRK. It didn’t matter whether I was among the glitz and glamour of the modern Pyongyang skyline drinking coffee at one of the cities new cafes or camped out on the beach roasting marshmallows and drinking Soju at the remote homestay village located on the shores of Sea Chilbo. All the Koreans I had the chance to interact with were among the most hospitable people I had ever encountered and left me with a genuinely different and much more positive perspective on the country then I had initially entered with.
Having the opportunity to work for YPT, a company at the forefront of tourism in the DPRK is an absolute dream come true. I look forward to showing our customers a different side of the DPRK then they are used hearing and providing them with similarly fantastic life-changing experiences that I experienced on my first trip to the DPRK. In addition to this, I am also looking forward to continuing to build on the excellent relationships, and legacy YPT has established within the DPRK. I look forward to meeting you on tour and showing you around a rapidly changing Pyongyang and beyond!
Michelle Liang – 28 – China
I first moved to Dandong from Chaoyang city in 2012 to complete my college masters in tourism at Liaodong University. Moving to Dandong placed me right on the border of North Korea which gave me the biggest advantage of understanding more of the DPRK culture and way of life.
Most Chinese don’t think much of North Korea but the mystique and natural beauty I saw every day from across the Yalu River always captured my curiosity. In 2017 I decided to become a North Korean tour guide and use my bilingual skills to help teach and show foreigners my homeland and the DPRK.
The reason why I decided to work for YPT because I like the open-mindedness and the curiosity tourists share with me. I will do my best to help you understand the friendship between China and North Korea, because I personally feel that North Korea is a good friend of mine. I hope to see you on the road!
Pier-André Doyon – 28 – Canada
I have been living away from Quebec for seven years now. I am interested in languages, scuba diving and everything surrounding human societies but my biggest passion, surely, is travelling.
It all started after I caught a bad case of wanderlust, wanting to escape a pre-determined stable life, I first moved to Japan to do my master degree, but quickly, after a semester, I felt it wouldn’t do. It soon dawned on me that moving to the other side of the world wouldn’t be enough to quench my thirst, what I was looking for was an adventure and the opportunity to meet people, connect and create memories with them.
I first joined YPT after travelling on tours to DPRK twice in 2011. Since then, I worked in a bar in Yangshuo and travelled to all provinces of China and abroad, slept standing in overcrowded trains during Chinese New Year, bumped into George R.R Martin in Moscow and swam next to hippos in Burundi. I’ve accumulated stories and friends from all over the world. The more I travel, the more I meet people, the more I wish it will never stop. There is always a new region, a new country that I want to visit and old and new friends that I want to catch up with.
My dearest goal in the company now is to create bridges to African countries. Often avoided by travellers due to fears or prejudice, I believe a lot of African countries are treasures waiting to be seen and that travel to lesser-visited countries is often the key to mutual understanding and growth between communities.
For me, YPT is a network of like-minded adventurers looking to connect over trips to bold destinations. It is an honour for me to get the opportunity to meet people, both travellers and locals, and learn more about them and their environment. As a YPT guide, I get to experiment so much of our world’s majesty and, hopefully, share it with our customers through once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
JOHN MCGOVERN – 35 – UK
While doing fieldwork in the countryside of the old red capital Yan’an, north China, in 2010, I was put in touch with YPT by a friend. As luck would have it a tour of revolutionary China was soon to be passing through, and I was able to host them in my town for a day’s sightseeing and a night’s drinking. One thing led to another and I am now working full time at YPT as a tour guide to the DPRK but mainly working in our International Tours department and designing and leading the China tours.
I have lived in China for over 6 years after studying Chinese at university, interested in all things communism from the DPRK to Cuba, without forgetting the old red base of Yan’an. So it was a no brainer to join the YPT team, both for my colleagues and to meet the people who come on our tours!
Lee Parry – 37 – UK
I’m a writer and guide originally from Manchester in the UK, and have spent around 13 years in China. I moved to China in 2006 seeking adventure and thrills, and instead did funny dances for children up until 2018.
I’m relatively new to YPT but I absolutely love it; I first visited the DPRK in 2008 on YPT’s first-ever tour, and I found what I saw there absolutely fantastic. On that tour we visited the park during May Day celebrations, and got to sit down with locals and share barbecued squid and soju. It was then and there that I was sold on visiting the DPRK, whether as a tourist or guide, and I immediately became a guide ten years later.
Whether returning to the DPRK, leading a tour in China or even further afield, I find that YPT is constantly throwing fresh challenges and opening my eyes to parts of the world I didn’t even know existed.
Joel Gallagher – 25 – UK
I’ve been working and traveling throughout the former USSR for a number of years. Before YPT, I was a security advisor, fixer and guide specializing in high risk and hostile environments around the world. But I’m a Soviet history lover at heart, so when the opportunity appeared to join the YPT team and create and lead tours to the far-flung relics of the fallen Soviet Empire, I jumped at the chance and over two years later, I haven’t looked back.
I love all things Soviet, but my biggest passion is taking people into the four post-Soviet rebel republics of Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh. They are by definition bizarre, steeped in dark and fascinating history and completely off the beaten track.
My other favorite part of the job is location scouting trips hunting down relics across former Soviet states and meeting like-minded people from across the world, guiding them through the old USSR and breaking stereotypes about the region. Looking forward to meeting you on tour!
Polina Valdoner – 23 – Russia/Sweden/Poland
I am passionate about history, Stalin-era architecture, military equipment and cuisine from different parts of the world. Originating from the biggest country of the former USSR, I enjoy exploring original everyday life traditions, culture, as well as trivia and various historical events. My story with YPT began when I saw a presentation about the DPRK at a small coffee shop in Gdansk in November 2017. I double checked with him the company name to save it for the future and treat myself some time in the future with a trip to one of the last national-communist countries in the world. Yet once I saw the trips to Soviet Europe, I realised that this is a job where I can have all my passion for the USSR and history in full bloom!
FIONA FU – 25 – CHINA
I studied in Xi’an for five years, majoring in English. When I graduated, I was hesitant about whether should I go back to my hometown of Tianshui, or stay in Xi’an, but the slogan of YPT really attracted me. Now I feel joining this family was the correct decision! Every day we receive many emails from different countries, and through YPT everyone can communicate their experience about travel and DPRK culture and history. I can make contact with so many people from all over the world.
Working at YPT really makes me happy, travel is one of the most enjoyable and relaxing things, and although I haven’t been to the DPRK yet, I hope you can enjoy a happy time there and share it with us. If you are also interested in Xi’an and the long history of this cultural city, we all welcome you to visit and I am sure you will spend an unforgettable time!
JOY CHEN – 23 – CHINA
SHANE HORAN – 33 – IRELAND
I moved to Beijing to start working for YPT in April 2014, before that I’ve been hopping around the globe for the last 5 years living in New Zealand, Australia, Vietnam, India, Laos and Cambodia. Having studied International Relations, History and Geography I’ve always been interested in the world around me.My favourite part of Korea is the east coast. There’s a lot to be said for BBQ clams washed down with litres of soju followed by a sing song around the beach fire!I’m passionate about travel to so called “rogue nations” and changing people’s often incorrect perceptions of them. Working for YPT has proved to be a perfect fit for me. We’re all like minded avid travellers and a small tight knit family passionate about the DPRK and our other international destinations. I’m living the dream and long may it continue!
RIK BRINKS – 33 – THE NETHERLANDS
From the moment I decided to go to DPRK I was excited knowing I would go and experience something different. Even for Dutch people – who seem to travel all over the world- DPRK seems a small bridge too far. It’s not, though. All expectations were easily met on the tour I did in September 2013 when I joined the Mid-September Mass Games-tour. Ever since, I felt sympathy for YPT; their relaxed, open-minded, and progressive way of organizing tours across the world spoke to me. After returning to The Netherlands I stayed in touch with YPT and introduced a new destination; Haiti. Interesting about this island is the noticeable contrast between the troubled past and the cultural heritage e.g. the mysterious Vodou. This place should definitely be on your list, too! The first trip to Haiti took place in May 2014. It was a successful and interesting travel experience. In the future I will be in charge of tours to Haiti, Venezuela and who knows what else!
MARKO MOUDRAK – UNKNOWN
I was born in a country that no longer exists – the old Soviet Union. Once the Iron Curtain fell, I did what any caged animal would do – run, eventually ending up in the great white north, aka Canada. After getting a degree in engineering and a number of years in corporate life, I got bored, got a degree in photography in New York and went back on the road. 70+ countries and a number of passports later I never looked back.
In 2011 I met Gareth, Shan, and Troy and the rest of the YPT team – people that share my passion for travel and views; I have worked with them ever since. I now run tours to Iran, Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine and the rest of Eastern Europe as well as a basket of unrecognized countries.
I am passionate about travel and sharing the world around us. I strive to give customers unforgettable experiences and get as much exposure with locals as I can in order to dispel negative myths about people of so called rogue nations.
BEN & EILIDH CROWLEY – 30 & 28 – AUSTRALIA & SCOTLAND
Having developed a knack for travelling to unusual destinations, our travel experiences include over 90 countries each. Most of which we’ve driven our own car to, and many of which are the types of places YPT takes tours to. Some of our favourites being Iran, NagornoKarabakh and Transnistria. After Ben proposed at the Gates of Hell in Turkmenistan, the world’s second most closed country, we thought it was only fitting that we honeymoon in the world’s first most closed country, North Korea. Not only did we fall in love with DPRK while we were there, but somehow over way too many Taedonggang beers and sojus, we also fell in love with Troy, Rowan and the YPT team and started hatching plans to start YPT’s tours to Turkmenistan and Central Asia. With Ben’s Masters thesis on Central Asian politics, Eilidh’s career in tourism, and our desire to explore and show others the hidden corners of the world, it was a perfect match.
ALISTAIR RIDDELL – 40 – Scotland
I ran away to join the circus a few years ago and now work as an independent theatre production consultant in between taking tourists to places their mother definitely would rather they didn’t go to. I also host tours around Chernobyl but spend most of my time in Cuba, and despite having visited every province of the island I still have a long and growing bucket list of places to explore. I particularly enjoy the lesser-seen side of Cuba where regular tourists don’t venture, such as relics of Cuba’s Soviet relations but I also like exploring the ‘new’ Cuba – checking out the new restaurants, bars and other private businesses that are springing up every day. I feel my nickname of Sir Buzz Killington is unfair.